Apex court asks all states to file affidavits within 15 days
(This story has been corrected to reflect that the Bombay Natural History Society has formally withdrawn from the case. Also, the original petition was filed and and hearing has been on since 2008, rather than 2015 as had been mentioned in the piece. The story was originally published on August 6, 2019)
File your affidavits within 15 days, the Supreme Court told the seven states that have to report on steps taken by them in cases of claims being rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA), on August 6, 2019.
The apex court also scheduled the next hearing of the case on September 12, 2019.
The court was hearing the petition filed by Bengaluru-based Wildlife First. Wildlife First’s is one among the nine court cases filed by retired forest officials from Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, along with conservation organisations like the Nature Conservation Society and the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust. The Bombay Natural History Society, among one of the earlier petitioners, has subequently withdrawn from the case.
Their stand is that everyone whose FRA claim had been rejected, was an ‘encroacher’ who should be evicted. In January 2015, the Supreme Court transferred all the High Court cases to itself and clubbed the cases together.
The apex court had first directed state governments to file their affidavits on February 13 this year. On February 28, after a petition by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the order was stayed.
It was to come up for hearing on July 24 but kept getting delayed.
On August 6, solicitor general of India Tushar Mehta stated in court: “Nine states have said in their affidavit that the due process under FRA wasn’t followed. Communication about claims to rejections wasn’t given.”
On hearing this, Justice Arun Mishra, who is heading the Bench, said: “Let all states file the affidavits within 15 days and the next hearing will be on September 12.” Mishra also asked the states to give data to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to complete their survey on rejected claims.
The FSI was ordered by the court in its February 28 order to conduct a satellite survey looking into forest rights titles and forest degradation.
The court also did not take a decision on the 20 Applications for Intervention and Impleadment.
Two women from Scheduled Tribe communities from conflict-ridden Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh had filed an application for intervention (IA) in the Supreme Court on July 22, 2019. About 15 IAs had been filed in this case.
Also, 10 eminent social scientists and conservationists had filed an Application for Impleadment in the Supreme Court on the ongoing constitutional validity of FRA.
The bench also asked the petitioners, Wildlife First to prepare a brief overview note for the next hearing.
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