New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday agreed to hear the Centre's plea seeking withholding of its February 13 order asking 21 states to evict nearly 11.8 lakh forest dwellers whose claims over the land have been rejected by the authorities.
The plea said that as the forest dwellers were extremely poor and illiterate, it was difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities.
The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, rushed to the top court for modification of the order saying the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was a "beneficial" legislation and should be construed liberally to help "extremely poor and illiterate people" who are not well informed of their rights and procedure under the law.
The apex court had on February 13 directed 21 states to apprise it about the action taken by them over the eviction of tribals and forest dwellers whose claim have been rejected.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha took note of the submissions of the solicitor general and agreed to hear the Centre's plea on Thursday.
"It is respectfully prayed that this court may consider modifying its order...and direct the state governments to file detailed affidavits regarding the procedure followed and details of the rejection of claims and till then the eviction of tribal may be withheld.
"The eviction of tribals, without such information would cause serious prejudice to such tribal who have been residing in forests for generations," the ministry said in its plea.
In the larger interest of tribals, farmers and forest dwelling communities, the Centre wishes to "take a holistic re-look" at the subject matter so that their "interests are fully protected", it said.
Mehta also pointed out that the Centre decided to move apex court as it received feedback from the affected people and from various state governments that due process of law has not been followed in various cases.
The application said that the Act was made with an object to recognize the rights in "forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes" (FDST) and "other traditional forest dwellers" (OTFDs) who have been residing in forests for generations but whose rights have not been recorded.
"The FDSTs and OTFDs are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiate their claims before the competent authorities," the Centre said.
It said that the Centre has time and again attempted to sensitize state governments while deciding the forest dwellers' claims.
"It has come to light that the claims of FDSTs and OTFDs were rejected in a summary manner where no due opportunity is provided to the claimants. The rejection orders are not communicated or the same are without reasons. It is also noted that in certain cases, eviction orders are issued even before the appeals under the Act are exhausted," the plea said.
There is no provision in the Act that provides for eviction after a claim is rejected. If a claim is rejected, then the appropriate state government would be obliged to resort to appropriate provisions to evict a person from the forest in accordance with law, the plea said.
The top court is dealing with a batch of petitions on the issue that were filed in the apex court over a period since 2006.
The states, which have come under the scanner of the top court, are -- Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Manipur.
Dealing with the issue related to Andhra Pradesh, the bench had said, "Once the orders of eviction have been passed, the eviction ought to have taken place."
In the case of Assam, the court had said, "In case the eviction orders have attained finality, we direct the concerned authority including the Chief Secretary to ensure that the eviction is made on or before the next date of hearing."
The apex court had perused the affidavits of all states and passed orders accordingly like if the task has ot been carried out, the reasons has to be given.
The court had said if there was any difficulty, the states have to come out with the details about such issues and if the orders have been complied with, the same be also disclosed.
It had asked chief secretaries of these states to file their respective affidavits by July 12 and posted the matter for hearing on July 24.