KOCHI: Alleging that the Forest Department has been posing hurdles to the implementation of the Forest Rights Act right from the beginning, activist and researcher C R Binoy said the government should use the Supreme Court order as an opportunity to review the whole process of rejection of claims made by the tribals.
“The implementation of the Forest Rights Act has been flawed right from the beginning. The claims have to be verified by the Gramasabha, the sub-divisional committee and the district-level committee which has not happened. The government has to check whether this process has been followed and sent the claim to the Gramasabha for review. The petitioners are demanding eviction of the people whose claims have been rejected under an unconstitutional law. A complete review will expose the flaws in the process,” he told Express.
The Forest Rights were conferred on the tribal communities in 2006 itself. The Forest Rights Act recognises and vest the rights on the tribals. The government had to verify the rights subsequently, which did not happen.After the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act in 1980, there were a slew of cases and a Central Empowered Committee was formed to look into the matters related to application of the law.
The Forest Department used this opportunity to get outside the purview of the state and Centre and started acting as a parallel government, alleged Binoy, who is also an activist attached to Campaign for Survival and Dignity under the National Coalition of Adivasi and Forest Dwellers Organisations.
He said immediately after the Forest Rights Act was passed in 2009, retired forest officers in the states filed cases against the Act alleging it was unconstitutional. The NGOs working in forest conservation took the fight to the Supreme Court. He alleged lawyers representing the Centre did not present the case before the apex court.
“Only junior lawyers were deputed to present the case and later they stopped appearing in the case. The Government woke up only after the February 13 verdict. Except for February 28, when a petition for modification of judgement was filed, lawyers were not present during four hearings. This prompted the court to ask ‘Were you in slumber all these years,” said Bijoy.