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Post-SC verdict, future looks bleak for forest dwellers

Most of the families facing eviction are from Thrissur, Palakkad, Ernakulam districts

Forest dwellers in Thrissur, Palakkad, and Ernakulam districts form the majority of the 894 families facing eviction from their properties in the next five months in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court order related to Forest Rights Act, 2006.

According to sources, the highest number of such families are in Thrissur (461), Palakkad (183), and Ernakulam (161), followed by Kottayam (63). There are some in Pathanamthitta, Idukki, and Kollam. In a case related to the rejection of their ownership claims, the apex court had on February 13 ordered the eviction of over 10 lakh families belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers categories across 21 States. The case was filed by wildlife groups who questioned the validity of the Act. Details of the order were made available on Wednesday.

However, those working for tribal rights have questioned the Union government’s stand in the case, which, they claimed, had weakened the position of the forest dwellers.

‘Termed encroachers’

Santhosh Kumar, social activist, told  that the Centre should have defended the Forest Rights Act in the court. “It is presumed that the forest dwellers have been termed encroachers as per the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. The Centre did not bother to point out the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, the latest legislation passed by Parliament dealing with the rights of tribespeople,” he said.

He said the officials had not followed the procedure to determine the rights of the tribespeople over forests. There were committees at the grama sabha, subdivisional, and district levels to recognise the rights. None of these panels were reportedly involved before declaring the forest dwellers as encroachers, he alleged.

The Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha, and Indira Banerjee had directed that the eviction be carried out by July 24, when the case would be heard next.

Officials from the Department of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, however, said that they were yet to get any communication on the issue. They claimed that the Director, Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Development, would be required to submit a report to the government on the eviction process only after examining the order.

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