CHENNAI: Ordering removal of obstructions blocking a pathway used by tribals, the Madras High Court has observed that such activities would attract action under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
“Admittedly, primitive tribal people are residing in the said village. Any such prevention of usage of the cart track by the tribals will attract provisions of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989,”
Justice SM Subramaniam said in a recent order, on a petition challenging blocking of the path in a village in the Nilgiris district. He added that provisions of SC/ST Act unambiguously enumerate that prevention of the customary right of passage to a place of public resort is an offence. “Thus, right to use or access to, can, at no circumstances be denied to the tribes living in the village.”
The judge directed the district authorities to take action for removing all obstructions, gates and erection of any structure in the cart track within a period of one week and provide free access and usage for all tribesmen of the village, small tea growers and the public.
The petition, filed by G Subhaiyan in 2016, prayed for orders to remove the gates put up across the cart track located between Sengutarayan Malai village and Manjacombai-Kullakamby Main Road by the Nilgiri Tea Estates Limited (NTEL). As a result, free movement of tribal people and smaller tea growers in the region was blocked. Moreover, vehicle movement too was hindered.
Rejecting the contention of NTEL’s counsel that the villagers were not totally prevented from moving but only entry and exit were regulated, the judge said the court is of the considered opinion that any such regulation or restriction affected the rights of the tribals, and can never be accepted as it may also create law and order issues.