Blow to Adivasi Rights, this time from the Modi Regime itself

Written by Sarim Naved | Published on: February 2, 2016
concurrent list meaning both the Parliament and the State legislatures have the power to enact laws on this subject. They had also claimed that the Forest Rights Act is bad for forest-dwellers as well as they would be better served by resettlement and rehabilitation.

The constitutional basis of the argument, challenging the competence of Parliament to enact this law has not yet been argued before the Supreme Court in the two days on which these cases have been heard until now.

There was an oral observation by the bench yesterday, February 1, 2016, that the constitutionality was not in question in the existing legal challenges; the Judges also observed that the only issues raised by the Petitioners against the Forest Rights Act so far relate to problems in its implementation and the apprehension that encroachers may utilise the Act to take over forest land. This being the argument of the Petitioners, the Supreme Court has asked all states to file an affidavit within two weeks regarding the implementation of the Act, the number of claims received, the number of claims confirmed or rejected and action, if any, taken against persons whose claims have been rejected.

This order was passed as the Supreme Court thought it best to have this information before proceeding further with the hearing. The Court also vacated the interim order passed by the Madras High Court through which the High Court had directed the Tamil Nadu government to take its (the Court’s) permission before granting final rights under the Act. To clarify, the Madras High Court had allowed the process of verification and recognition of claims to go on but had had ordered that the Court’s permission ought to be taken before this recognition of forest rights was formally awarded. The Supreme Court has observed that there was no need for such an order, especially when no other State in the country was subject to such a pre-condition.

There was some mistaken reporting in the media that the Supreme Court had, during the hearing of this constitutional challenge, ordered eviction of ‘rejected’ claimants. This is incorrect. As observed by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity in their press release on the Court’s order on February 1, 2016, “There was no order directing eviction of rejected claimants and no order regarding 'encroachment', though this was mistakenly reported in some press outlets.”All the Court has asked for is information regarding statistics.

The constitutional challenge to the Forest Rights Act is before the Supreme Court but the real battle is afoot on the ground to protect the Act from the government of India itself. The Forest Rights Act, like any other welfare legislation seeking to empower local communities has been branded as anti-development by the present regime. A radical aspect of this law is that it empowers the Gram Sabhas to decide what will be done with their land, wrested in the belief that local communities must have a say on the kind of development that is undertaken.


The constitutional challenge to the Forest Rights Act is before the Supreme Court but the real battle is afoot on the ground to protect the Act from the government of India itself. The Forest Rights Act, like any other welfare legislation seeking to empower local communities has been branded as anti-development by the present regime. A radical aspect of this law is that it empowers the Gram Sabhas to decide what will be done with their land, wrested in the belief that local communities must have a say on the kind of development that is undertaken.

This principle was also affirmed by the Supreme Court in the Niyamgiri judgment, where the provisions of the Forest Right Act and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas), Act were cited by the Court to affirm the requirement of consent from the local gram sabhas before utilising their land for the Vedanta bauxite-mining project located in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa. This was one of the most significant judgements in support of local grass-roots democracy by the Constitutional Court. It was the Gram Sabhas who had refused permission for the mining project.

Since then, the