With tribes being displaced due to industrialisation and mining, the Supreme Court has held that they have right to maintain relationship with their land which is their most important asset.
The apex court said that social, political and cultural rights of indigenous people must be protected and any industrial venture cannot be established in their areas without approval of their Gram Sabha.
"Land is their most important natural and valuable asset and imperishable endowment from which the tribal derive their sustenance, social status, economic and social equality, permanent place of abode, work and living. Consequently, tribes have great emotional attachments to their lands," a bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam said.
"STs (Scheduled Tribes) and other TFDs (Traditional Forest Dweller) residing in the Scheduled Areas have a right to maintain their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands," the bench said, adding that agriculture is the only source of livelihood for them apart from collection and sale of minor forest produce to supplement their income.
Referring to Forest Rights Act, the apex court said that the law intends to protect custom, usage, forms, practices and ceremonies which are appropriate to the traditional practices of forest dwellers.
"Of late, we have realised that forests have the best chance to survive if communities participate in their conservation and regeneration measures.
"The Legislature also has addressed the long standing and genuine felt need of granting a secure and inalienable right to those communities whose right to life depends on right to forests and thereby strengthening the entire conservation regime by giving a permanent stake to the STs dwelling in the forests for generations in symbiotic relationship with the entire ecosystem," the bench said.
The court made the observations while adjudicating a case on mining in Niyamgiri hills of Odisha.
The apex court directed the state government to place issues concerning individual, community, cultural and religious claims of STs and TFDs before the Gram Sabha which would take decision on the project.