Regarding claims being made by the petitioners, please see note at the bottom.
Today, in a step forward for millions of forest dwellers who were living in fear and uncertainty, the Supreme Court put its order of February 13th – in which it had directed the eviction of over a million claimants for forest rights – on hold. The eviction order was the direct result of the BJP government’s failure to argue in defense of the Act at all for the preceding four hearings. Indeed, the Court itself asked the Solicitor General, “Why were you slumbering for so long? Why didn’t you argue about any of this earlier?”
The reality is that the Central government only filed this modification application after a nationwide outpouring of outrage, including mass protests in Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of central India, the “wave of struggle” announced up to March 10th, and so on. The Congress party also directed its CMs to act. Even the RSS’ own affiliate, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, joined the protests.
Moreover, the Indian and world wildlife conservation communities joined hands against this order – more than a hundred senior conservation biologists and experts, from organisations and institutions around the world, have signed a joint statement describing the planned evictions as a “huge setback for conservation in India.”
It was only after all this that the government realised it could not get away with what senior opposition leaders had earlier described as a backdoor attempt to scuttle the Forest Rights Act.
But the struggle is not over. The written order is not out yet, and what was said orally asks the State governments to report on the processes they have followed under the Act. The February 13th order has only been put on hold, not withdrawn. None of this would have arisen if the sabotage of forest rights – above all by the BJP government over the past five years – had not happened. Both the Central and State governments should know that forest dwellers will continue to fight for recognition of all of their rights. As happened this time, so in future, evictions or the denial of rights will never be accepted.
The struggle for a society and a forest regime built around justice, democracy and law – rather than corporate profit and state extortion – will continue.
NB: It has been brought to our notice that some of the petitioners in the case are claiming that the court has endorsed the use of satellite imagery for verification of forest rights claims. To our knowledge this is a distortion. While the final order is not yet out, from the oral discussions, both the present order and the previous one only asked the Forest Survey of India to provide satellite imagery for the ground position and not for verification.