NEW DELHI: In a reprieve to more than 11 lakh forest dwellers and tribals in 16 states, the Supreme Court on Thursday suspended its order that could have resulted in their forcible eviction from their habitations.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra put the February 13 order in abeyance after which the Ministry of Tribal Affairs pleaded for a stay of the judicial order in the interest of the forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) across states.
The court had ordered eviction of the families that have not been able to prove their rights over the land they lived on and were tagged as illegal residents by the states.
The bench rapped Solicitor General Tushar Mehta saying, “Go in a slumber, let the court pass its order and then come back for modification.” It, however, agreed to examine whether the due process under the Forest Rights Act was followed by the states in deciding claims of forest dwellers and the process of adjudicating appeals before final rejection.
The bench wondered, “Are these people all tribals or normal people living there.” Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for NGO Wildlife First, submitted that bona fide forest dwellers will not be affected and those who have been granted deeds will remain untouched.
The SC gave four months to the states to collate data and file detailed affidavits with regard to the processes followed in grant of deeds. It told the states to apprise it on the category of dwellers presently occupying forest areas, along with a timeline to evict those who are not entitled. The next hearing was slated for July 10.