Scheduled Tribes panel requisitions FRA action reports from top court

In the middle of a face-off with the Environment Ministry over the new Forest Conservation Rules (2022) potentially diluting the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has now secured FRA implementation reports of all States and Union Territories by invoking its Constitutional powers to approach the Supreme Court directly.

After the Union government introduced the new FCR, the panel wrote to the Environment Ministry in September, asking that they be put on hold because they would violate provisions of the FRA, which ensures that ownership of forest land remained with tribespeople and other traditional forest dwellers, who live off the forest and its resources.

In response, Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav insisted that the rules were framed under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and that the panel’s apprehension was “not legally tenable”.

The commission on February 3 wrote to the Supreme Court Registrar, invoking powers under Clause 8d of Article 338A, to seek all materials filed before the court in connection with a batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the FRA. The top court on February 20 ordered that the documents be supplied to the commission.

Sources in the commission said it was looking to review the overall implementation of the FRA at the ground level, examine rejection of titles and encroachments on forest land. It will propose recommendations to further secure the rights of tribespeople, under its Constitutional mandate.

“This will be part of the report sent to the Office of the President, which will then table it in Parliament. Hence, we went to court for ‘authentic information’,” the source said.

According to data tabled in Rajya Sabha in December 2022, title rights had been issued against just 50% of the claims over forest land made under the FRA as of June 2022, with maximum pendency and rejection seen in cases of individual claims — a little over half of which had been rejected or left pending.

However, in community claims, titles were given to 60% of the claimants.

Among the documents that the panel has now requisitioned from the Supreme Court are FRA implementation reports filed by all States and Union Territories, the number of claims rejected, the process and reasons for rejection, and the action taken against claimants whose applications were rejected.

While hearing the case, the three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had in 2019 noted that in thousands of cases, eviction had not been carried out despite rejection of claims and ordered all State governments to carry out evictions as soon as possible.

But later, the top court stayed its earlier order and called for all rejection records of claims under FRA.

Title rights have been issued against just 50% of the claims over forest land made under the FRA as of June 2022