DISTRICTS with sizeable tribal populations saw several protests and demonstrations on Monday. The protests were organised by the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan. There were two issues that the demonstrators were decrying.
One, the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927; the concerned amendments to the IFA have been sent to states for consultation. Two, a move to oust forest-dwellers from forest land; a case to this effect concerning the Forest Rights Act (FRA) comes up for its next hearing before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
What is the FRA case before the Supreme Court?
On February 13 this year, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of lakhs of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims under The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (or FRA), 2006, had been rejected following a three-tier process. Later, the SC temporarily put on hold the eviction by an order on February 28, giving state governments time to file affidavits on whether due process was followed before claims were rejected.
On July 24, the Centre and states are expected to file affidavits regarding the implementation of the FRA.
Who are the petitioners, and what is their contention?
The petitioners are Wildlife First, Nature Conservation Society, and Tiger Research and Conservation Trust. They contend that the protection of forests has been severely affected due to bogus claims under the FRA, and that the bogus claimants continue to occupy large areas of forest lands, including inside national parks and sanctuaries, despite their applications being rejected under the appeals process of the FRA.
What are the proposed amendments to the IFA?
The FRA, enacted in 2006, envisions the forest rights committee of a village as the central unit in managing forest resources. The proposed IFA amendments will revert to giving overriding powers to Forest Department officials. The greater policing powers to the Forest Department include the use of firearms, and veto power to override the FRA. Further, if rights under FRA are seen as hampering forest conservation efforts, the state may commute such rights through compensation to the tribals. The changes also propose to open up forest land specifically for commercial exploitation of timber or non-timber forest produce.
Across India, tribal rights activists are of the view that the proposed IFA amendments will divest tribals and other forest-dwelling communities of their rights over forest land and resources.
What are the demands of those holding agitations ahead of the SC hearing?
When the apex court passed its order on February 13, the central government had not represented itself in court. These agitations are primarily targeted at exhorting the Centre and state governments to present a defence of the FRA in court.
Other demands include shelving the proposed IFA amendments, which activists have called more draconian than the original colonial-era law.