Giving a major reprieve for more than 10 lakh forest dwellers and tribals in various states, the Supreme Court today has suspended its earlier order that could have resulted in the forcible eviction of tribals.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra put the January 10 order in abeyance following a plea by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs that had pleaded for a stay of the judicial order in the interest of the forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) across 16 states.
However, the bench remained critical of the MoTA’s plea, observing it was perhaps in a slumber when the previous order was passed and that it cannot wake up one fine day with making new arguments. But, it agreed to examine whether the due process under the Forest Rights Act was followed by the state governments in deciding the claims of the forest dwellers and the process of adjudicating appeals before final rejection.
The court gave four months to the state governments for collating data and filing their detailed affidavits with regard to the processes followed in deciding claims and grant of ‘pattas’.
At the same time, the bench also clarified that the “forest land should not remain encroached by mighty and undeserving people”. For this, it asked the state governments to apprise the court about the category of dwellers presently occupying the forest areas, along with a timeline to evict those who are not entitled to occupy such lands. The satellite survey of the forest lands will also continue, added the bench.