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Above: A forest official on an elephant removes illegal dwellers from Kakan Nagar forest in Guwahati/Photo: UNI

Decision comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court ordering stay on its earlier order that had directed eviction of nearly 12 lakh forest dwellers

Days after its order directing the eviction of nearly 12 lakh tribals and forest dwellers from across 16 States triggered a political storm, the Supreme Court, on Tuesday (March 5), agreed to hear a petition that has sought an investigation into incidents of encroachment of forest areas.

The decision to entertain the plea filed by a tribal woman from Chhattisgarh, Tarika Larka, comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court ordering a stay on implementation of its February 13 order that had directed the States to evict tribals and other forest dwellers whose claims to their respective plots in forest areas had been rejected under the Forest Rights Act.

It may be recalled that on February 13, an apex court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee had directed 16 States to evict a total of nearly 12 lakh tribals and forest dwellers on grounds that the state governments had rejected their claims under the FRA. The order had triggered a strong political backlash. Congress president Rahul Gandhi had urged Kamal Nath, Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot – chief ministers of Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan respectively – to challenge the order. Later, the BJP-led central government too was forced to seek a review of the top court’s order.

On February 28, the bench led by Justice Mishra had stayed the implementation of its order and granted the States additional time to file reports related to eviction of forest dwellers, making it clear that the court will only order eviction of those individuals who are encroaching upon forest lands in violation of the FRA.

In the backdrop of the controversy over the court’s orders, Larka had moved a fresh petition seeking a direction to authorities concerned that while genuine forest dwellers must not be evicted, an investigation must be ordered against alleged acquisition of tribal and forest lands by those ineligible under the FRA to do so. Larka has invoked her fundamental rights under Articles 21, 238, 244 and 245 And Schedule V and VI of the Constitution of India to demand protection of rights of Adivasis (tribals) to possess and own their lands.

 — India Legal Bureau

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