On Wednesday, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Centre’s petition seeking withholding of its February 13 Order, asked 21 states to expel about 11.8 lakh forest dwellers whose claims on the land have been dismissed by the authorities.

The petition reads that as the forest dwellers were enormously poor and illiterate, it was hard for them to validate their claims ahead of the competent authorities.

The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, with the assistance of Advocate General Tushar Mehta has appeared to the Supreme Court for modification of the order, says that the ST and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was a ‘beneficial’ legislation and should be generously construed to assist “extremely poor and illiterate people”, who were unaware of their rights and procedure under the law.

On February 13, the Supreme Court had directed 21 states to evaluate it about the action taken by them on the eviction of forest dwellers and tribals, whose claims have already been dismissed.

A justice-bench comprising of Justice Naveen Sinha and Arun Mishra had taken note of the submissions of the Advocate General and agreed to hear the Centre’s petition today.

The Ministry said in its petition that “It is respectfully prayed that this court may consider modifying its order…and direct the state governments to file detailed affidavits regarding the procedure followed and details of the rejection of claims and till then the eviction of tribal may be withheld.”

“The eviction of tribals, without such information, would cause serious prejudice to such tribal who have been residing in forests for generations,” added the Ministry.

In the larger interests of farmers, tribals, and forest-dwelling communities, the Centre wishes to “take a holistic re-look” at the matter so that their “interests are fully protected”, it said.

Advocate Mehta has pointed out that the Centre has decided to move to the Supreme Court as it received feedback from the affected people and from several state governments that due law process has not followed in several cases.

The application reads that the Act was made with an aim to recognize the rights in “Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST)” and “Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs)”, who have been residing in forests for years but whose rights have not yet been recorded.

The Centre said that “the FDSTs and OTFDs are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities.”

It continued that the Centre has time and again attempted to sensitize state governments while decided the claims of the forest dwellers.

The petition also said that “It has come to light that the claims of FDSTs and OTFDs were rejected in a summary manner where no due opportunity is provided to the claimants. The rejection orders are not communicated or the same are without reasons. It is also noted that in certain cases, eviction orders are issued even before the appeals under the Act are exhausted.”

There are no terms in the Act, which offer eviction after a claim was rejected, then the appropriate state government would be gratified to resort appropriate provisions to expel a person fr45om the forest in the context of law, said the plea.

The Supreme Court is dealing with a batch of petitions over the issue, which were registered in the Apex Court since 2006.

The states have already come under the scanner of the Supreme Court are- Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Gujarat, Goa, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tripura, Telangana, West Bengal, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

While dealing with the issue related to Andhra Pradesh, the justice-bench has said that “Once the orders of eviction have been passed, the eviction ought to have taken place.”

In the issue of Assam, the top court had said, “In case the eviction orders have attained finality, we direct the concerned authority including the Chief Secretary to ensure that the eviction is made on or before the next date of hearing.”

The Supreme Court had perused the affidavits of all the states and accordingly passed orders like if the task had not been carried out yet, the reasons need to be mentioned.

The top court has said that if there were any troubles, the states have to come with the details regarding such issues and if the orders have been fulfilled with the same needs to be disclosed.

It had further asked the Chief Secretaries of these states to register their respective affidavits by July 12 and on July 24, the matter to be posted for hearing.

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