Lakhs of tribals living in forest areas across different parts of the country got a respite from displacement after Supreme Court put hold its earlier order to remove these forest families following a petition by the Centre.
The order by apex court was expected to affect around 11 lakh families across 21 states. As the Lok Sabha elections approach, Centre is under pressure to reassure the tribals. Forty-seven seats in the Lok Sabha are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, as per the local news.
According to the apex court order, the state governments were directed to carry out the displacement process by July 12 and asked the Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India to submit a satellite-image based report on the encroachments removed.
Some citizens, including wildlife conservation NGOs, filed a petition challenging the Forest Rights Act. The Act was passed in 2006 and grants forest-dwellers, many of whom belong to marginalised communities, official access to forest places they have called home for centuries.
Close to 11,72,931 (1.17 million) land ownership claims made by scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act have been rejected under various grounds, including lack of proof that the land was under their possession for at least three generations. The law provides for giving land rights to those living on a forest land for at least three generations before 31st December 2005.
These families were tagged as illegal residents by the state governments. The Centre argued that the “illegal” families failed to prove their rights as they were mostly poor and uneducated and lived in remote, inaccessible areas — received loud criticism from the top court.
The Centre has been under extreme pressure from opposition parties and activists working for the rights of the tribals. Activists have argued that tribal’s see land as communal property and not individual ownership.