Spotlight Activity: Supreme Court Orders An Eviction of Indigenous Communities from Forest Areas
In February this year, India’s apex court, while deciding on a case filed by hardcore wildlife conservation groups, ordered the eviction of millions of indigenous communities, known as tribals or Adavasis from the forests they have been abiding in for centuries. However, there has never been legal recognition of their rights to the forest land where they live.
According to The Guardian, A number of Indian wildlife and conservation organisations, including Wildlife First, the Wildlife Trust of India, and the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust have accused the tribal people of destroying the forests’ biodiversity and have petitioned the court to clear them from the land. The debate about wildlife versus forest dwellers is an old one. But most Indian NGOs understood years ago that the Adivasis were not the enemy, and they have been fighting on the same side.
The 2006 Forest Rights Act gave Adivasi rights to live on and protect the land that they had been cultivating within forest boundaries. The Forest Rights Act undid historic injustices perpetrated on the communities of forest dwellers for centuries. It empowered tribal councils to reject planning applications by mineral companies, such as UK-based Vedanta, to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.
However, under the act tribal people had to file a claim with state governments to secure the title deeds to their lands. Unfortunately, thousands of these claims by Adivasis have been rejected all over India, and the country’s highest court has now decreed they are “encroachers” and should be evicted.
States have been told to begin evictions by July if tribes cannot produce documented evidence proving ownership. How can people who did not have paper, who did not know they had to have written entitlement to live on land their ancestors occupied, be expected to produce relevant title deeds?
But now, according to the order of the Supreme Court, more than one million tribal and other forest-dwelling households will be forcefully evicted from forestlands across sixteen states of India. The Court’s decision invited very critical and strong reactions from the indigenous communities, ecologists, other conservation groups and even political parties. By not recognising the local communities’ rights to the forest lands Indian federal and state governments have been adding to the historical injustice done to these indigenous communities.
Looking at the huge pressure that mounted on the government, and anticipating the negative impact of this during the forthcoming general elections of the country, the central government was forced to ask for a review of this decision of the court. Fortunately, the decision has been stayed until July. However, the eviction threat looms large over the communities.
At Climate Scorecard, we have already reported how it is important to recognize the rights of the indigenous and local communities over forests under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) for the conservation of natural biodiversity-rich forests and hence aid to India’s climate goals.
“The FRA also represents a core strategy for mitigating climate change and meeting India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, as community rights recognition under the FRA has already led to an upsurge in community-led conservation and restoration of forests,” said a statement released by the US-based Rights and Resources Initiative, which has been closely monitoring the community protected forest areas.
Status: Falling Behind
Looking at the huge negative impact this move will have on the local communities, and hence India’s Paris climate goals, it can be said that India is falling behind its international peers in climate change-oriented policy.
We want you to write to Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change asking him to strongly prepare a defense for the indigenous communities and fight the case in the Supreme Court for a permanent stay on the eviction order by the apex court.
Send Action Alert Message to:
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter handle of the Minister: @DrHVoffice
Twitter handle of the Ministry: @moefcc