The Narendra Modi government violated the fundamental right to life of tribals by not defending their interests before the Supreme Court during the hearings of a controversial case that will most certainly lead to the displacement of at least 10 lakh forest dwellers, senior lawyer and former legal consultant to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) Shomona Khanna said. Khanna, who was a legal consultant to the MoTA and worked on this case as well as multiple other matters from July 2013 till July 2017, told HuffPost India that the case pertains to a law that enforces the fundamental right to life of millions of forest dwellers in the country.
The state, she feels, violates such rights in two ways: through acts of commission and acts of omission. “In this case, I feel, what the Ministry Of Tribal Affairs and the Central government have done, is an act of omission. Not turning up in court, not arguing the matter is an act of omission and is equally reprehensible. It is a very old legal principle. When you are duty bound to do something and you don’t do it, that’s an act of omission,” she explained. …..
In an order passed on February 13, the Apex Court directed twenty one states to evict tribals and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims over land titles under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, better known as the Forest Rights Act, were rejected. The landmark Act, passed in 2006 to undo the “historic injustice” to the tribals and other traditional forest dwellers, recognises their rights over forest land and other resources which have been a source of their livelihood for centuries….. the February 13 order, the text of which was uploaded on the Supreme Court website only on 20th February, shows the issue has now become one of encroachment on forest land by people whose claims to the pattas (land parcels) have been denied by the forest department.
“Where has this issue come from? How is it that in a writ petition challenging the constitutionality of the act you are suddenly coming into the implementation (of the law itself)?” Khanna wondered.
She also had a strong criticism about the SC order. “This order is completely incorrect in law because it proceeds on the basis that an order of rejection of the forest rights claim is somehow an eviction order; it conflates the two.” She cited Article 300 A of the Indian Constitution according to which no person can be deprived of their property without due process established by law. “If you listen to it carefully, it reflects the language of Article 21 which is the Right To Life. Right To Life provision also uses the same language that no person shall be deprived of their right to life without due process of law,” Khanna argued.
Excerpts from Hindustan Times report n