The Forest Rights Act

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Court Cases

Forest officials and hardline conservationists have now filed a total of nine court cases in an attempt to get the Forest Rights Act or orders under it struck down as unconstitutional. All the cases basically claim the following:

  • The colonial authorities were fully sensitive to the needs of forest dwellers; the Indian Forest Act and its sucessor, the Wildlife Protection Act, provide adequate protections. The forest bureaucracy has correctly implemented the law, and even if they haven’t, all that is required is to order them to do so. All forest dwellers are therefore “encroachers.”
  • By recognising the rights of forest dwellers, the Act will encourage false claims of rights over forests and forest lands, leading to forest destruction. The current situation, whereby such claims are settled by forest officials, should remain.
  • The gram sabha is the deciding body on rights under the Act [NB: this is untrue], but the gram sabha is an unskilled open body in which all local residents, including claimants for rights, can participate. Recognition of rights should only be decided by officials.
  • Being a later statute, this law is contrary to some parts of the Forest (Conservation) Act, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, and the Indian Forest Act, as well as some Supreme Court interim orders passed on the basis of those earlier Acts. But the existing system of forest management, the petitioners say, should be treated as part of the Constitution and cannot be changed.

Six of the nine court cases are cut and paste jobs of each other, filed in various High Courts by retired forest officers (and in one case by an ex-zamindar).

In January 2015, the Supreme Court transferred all the High Court cases to itself. As of April 2016, it is currently hearing the cases together.  On February 1, 2016, the Supreme Court overturned the only order by any court that had interfered with the Act.