UP forest dept cites stayed SC order for eviction
Down To Earth | Ishan Kukreti | June 17, 2019
Although activists and forest dwellers could resist this attempt, the notice that came a day after still didn’t have any mention of the stay
The Uttar Pradesh Forest Department last week tried to evict scores of forest dwellers whose forest rights claims didn’t pass muster, citing a Supreme Court order, activists claimed. The catch: the apex court itself had stayed its order.
The department’s personnel on June 14, 2019, tried to evict 99 villagers at Bhagwatpur in Saharanpur district’s behat block. Their claims (out of a total 133 in the village) under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 [FRA] were rejected in 2015.
A few days before that they convinced Behat Sub-Divisional Magistrate Yog Raj Singh that they were following the SC order on February 13, asking states to report on action against forest encroachment, according to Tarun Joshi, an FRA activist in the area. “They came with JCBs to throw people away,” he said.
The SC had stayed its order on February 28, which the forest department officials did not tell Singh. “I am not aware of the SC order. It is a matter which comes under the forest department and they are dealing with it,” he told DTE.
“It was only after we told the SDM that the SC had stayed its order and showed him a copy of it, did he stop the eviction and ask the forest department to issue notices to the people first,” Joshi said.
The activists and residents managed to stop the personnel on their tracks; but the department soon issued eviction notices, again citing the February 13 SC order but without any reference to the stay.
Many of the activists claim the grounds for rejection seemed frivolous as several claims were rejected since the spouse was already a claimant. However, under FRA there is no provision that mentions only one of the spouses can claim land.
The forest department, soon after the claims were rejected in 2015, started asking people to vacate forest lands.
In the SC hearing on FRA in the Wildlife First vs the Union of India case in October 2017, the court had asked state governments about the status of rejected claims and if evictions had taken place. This had led to renewed efforts by forest officials to evict people.
Then, the forest dwellers moved the Allahabad High Court in April 2019 against the rejection saying they have been residing on the land since 1920 and under FRA, the cut-off date to make land claims was December 13, 2005.
The HC, in its order dated May 30, asked the state administration to sort the matter in three months and noted that the order isn’t tantamount to finding rejections valid.
“The forest department is not ready to acknowledge both the SC and HC orders,” added the activist.
When DTE contacted Divisional Forest Officer B Chandra of Shivalik division, he refused to comment saying he was not aware of any such development.