Emphasising on validation of rights of tribals and forest-dwellers over the forest lands, the Supreme Court has said that Naxalism was a result of an oversight of constitutional provisions relating to administration of schedule areas and tribes of the country.
“Nobody looks at Schedules V and VI of the Constitution and the result is Naxalism. Urbanites are ruling the nation. Even several union of India counsel are oblivious of these provisions under the Constitution,” said a Bench led by Justice A K Patnaik.
The Bench made a reference to Schedules V and VI as they contain various provisions relating to administration and control of scheduled areas and scheduled tribes in several parts of the country. These provisions apply to states like Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan and Northeastern states such as Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Essentially these Constitutional provisions, with the help of plethora of judgments by the apex court, act as a guarantee to indigenous people on the right over the land they live in and its produce.
During a recent hearing on fresh guidelines over tiger reserves, the Bench made certain queries from Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising over the Centre’s proposal to relocate indigenous people who were still living in the core areas of tiger reserves.
The ASG had informed the Bench there were around 43,000 families still residing in core areas of tiger reserves and that the plan was to gradually move them out after proper consultation with Gram Sabhas. On being asked about the legal provisions to support the argument, she also read out from the 2006 Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act.
Asserting that all stakeholders should first ensure the legal rights of the tribals are not violated, Justice Patnaik said their rights must be settled in accordance with the provisions of the law.
“There is apparently no human-tiger conflict at least as far as these tribals are concerned. Everyone must remember that forests belong to forest-dwellers. British government considered forests of immense value and said through laws that all forests belonged to government. These people were brought down to poverty and they couldn’t earn their living. They will be arrested for consuming the forest produce; such was their law,” said Justice Patnaik.
His concerns were echoed by senior advocate Dushyanat Dave, who said forest-dwellers used to get arrested trying and collect wood or pick fruits from the forests.
The Bench, however, seemed satisfied with the promulgation of the 2006 Forest Rights Act and said this situation was sought to be reversed by the new legislation as it sought to identify their rights.
“One law can make a big difference. Zamindari abolition law is a good example how a law can reverse the situation,” said Justice Patnaik, adding it was not the state but its forest departments’ officers who did not want to give up their control over the forests.
At this, the ASG said the Centre was conscious of its duty towards protecting the rights of forest-dwellers and would relocate them after following the legal process.
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