Brinda Karat, member of the Polit Bureau of Communist Party of India (Marxist), has written the following letter to the Prime Minister of India on written orders issued by the Supreme Court to evict adivasis and traditional forest dwellers from forest land and demanding appropriate action. We are releasing the text of the letter for publication.
Dear Shri Narendra Modi ji,
This is to draw your urgent attention to the written orders issued by the Supreme Court made public on February 20, to evict all adivasis and traditional forest dwellers from forest land whose claims have not been accepted. These orders came on the petition Wild Life First vs Ministry of Forest and Environment, (Writ petition(s) Civil No(s) 109/2008, order dated 13-2-2019) which challenged the Forest Rights Act itself.
At present according to the latest figures available (December 2018) of the 42.19 lakh claims made only 18.89 lakh claims have been accepted. This means that 23.30 lakh adivasis and traditional forest dwellers are vulnerable to eviction according to the Supreme Court orders.
On behalf of the CPI(M) we demand that your Government urgently issue an ordinance to protect all adivasis and traditional forest dwellers from eviction. If this is not done it will be virtual declaration of war against adivasis.
It is highly regrettable that the counsel arguing for the Central Government was absent from the Court on the crucial date. This betrayal of the rights of adivasis was the culmination of the connivance of the Ministry concerned with the petitioners. Many of the petitioners in the case are retired officers of the Forest department. At no point in these years did the legal representatives of your Government take a strong position in court in defence of the rights of adivasis and traditional forest dwellers.
The nodal agency for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act is the Tribal Affairs Ministry but instead of giving the responsibility of the case to them, your Government has left it deliberately to the Ministry which has been totally against the Act from the beginning.
The Forest Rights Act specifies under Sec 4 (5) that no one can be evicted without proper procedure. However the authorities who are supposed to follow this procedure are themselves responsible for the violation and arbitrary rejection of claims even those claims which have been recommended by the gram sabhas.
Community Forest Rights are not being recognized and land occupied by adivasis is being handed over to big companies for various projects and also for mining under the programme of “ease of business.”
Therefore it is essential to set up an impartial body to go through the claims of adivasis which have been rejected and not leave it to the Ministries.
In the last five years your Government has passed several laws which dilute and eliminate the protections given by the Forest Rights Act. These include amendments passed to the Mining Act, the Compensatory Afforestation Act and several notifications from the MOEF which dilute the FRA. State Governments under the NDA have adopted amendments which dilute the provisions of the LARR Act 2013.
The earlier NDA Government also had failed to protect the rights of adivasis in the earlier petitions in Supreme Court. In May 2002 the NDA Government had given an order for eviction of adivasis following which lakhs of adivasis were evicted.
After the advent of the UPA Government in 2004, the present Forest Rights Act was passed in 2005 to right the historical injustices against adivasis. On behalf of the CPI(M) I had been a member of the Select Committee of Parliament looking into the Bill and I am personally aware of the strong lobbies that argued against granting any rights to adivasis. Parliament overruled such wrong arguments and passed the law. We cannot allow that step to be reversed.
Your Government has adopted ordinances on other issues. It will be highly unjust to adivasis and traditional forest dwellers if an ordinance is not passed immediately to protect them from eviction.