The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case against the Forest Rights Act tomorrow, September 12th (see here for a brief explainer about the Act and the case). The petitioners have filed new applications in this case that could again result in millions of people being denied their rights.
The key question tomorrow will be – will the Central government oppose these applications and defend the FRA? Or will it again choose to just argue on technicalities?
In three new applications before the Court, the petitioners are again seeking to turn the focus of their case away from the constitutionality of the law and on to new subjects which have nothing to do with their original petition. The two main applications are here and here, but relevant paras are linked below. They want the Court to:
- Stop State governments from reviewing illegal rejections of claims by forest dwellers (see para 9 here). They also want to stop acceptance of claims for rights (see para 10 here). This at a time when the Supreme Court was just about to being considering how States have violated the law. The petitioners clearly don’t want this. Most States have admitted that the process undertaken for rejection of claims for rights was largely illegal. Not only that, the law provides no time limit for filing of claims for rights (contrary to what the petitioners say), given that the affected people are oppressed, marginalised and often non-literate.
- Ask the Forest Survey of India to survey all forest destruction in the country (see paras 6 and 7 here). The aim, presumably, is to hold forest dwellers responsible for this, when the government itself has been illegally diverting forest land en masse. In fact, satellite imagery is not a deciding factor for claims under this Act – it is legally untenable, impossible to use without ground truthing, irrelevant to most rights under the Act, and can be misleading when people grow tree crops or trees are planted illegally on their land.
- Implead the Forest Survey of India as a party. The petitioners have gone from being supposedly against the constitutionality of the Act; to assuming that the Act is constitutional and asking for decisions under it to be used to evict people; and now they want to make this a case about using satellite images to examine supposed “encroachment.”
The only reason they have gotten away with all this so far is because of the silence of the Central government. Back in February, the Court had passed orders that would have resulted in the eviction of at least nine million people. These orders were subsequently put “on hold” after nationwide protests resulted in the Central government asking the Court to do so.
Till date, the Central government has never asked the Court to withdraw these orders. It has instead only seemed to be wanting to buy time. Will it oppose these new applications?
Again, to know more about this case and the background to it and the Act, see our explainer here.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity