Released on Monday 22 April 2019 by Friends of the Earth Finland (Maan ystävät ry)
Friends of the Earth International, World Rainforest Movement, Global Forest Coalition, GAIA Foundation and tens of other environmental organisations around the world sent on 22 April an international appeal to India, its states, Supreme Court and to the UN organs to prevent forced evictions of millions of India's forest dwellers. Such evictions would violate India's obligations on human rights and biodiversity. (1)
The Supreme Court has ordered the states of India to evict millions of forest dwellers after 10 of July 2019 if their claims on their forest rights are rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). (2) The FRA however does not enact that such rejections can be used as a ground to justify or to carry out forced eviction. No communities can be legally evicted without their free informed consent even from the "critical wildlife habitats" (3) and certainly not from other areas.
In India and also globally, where communities live by the forests with their customary tenures, biodiverse forests have survived better than in areas which state has registered to more commercial use, which displaces the communities and the biodiversity they sustain as their livelihood source. In order to save biodiverse forest and to respect human rights compliant to its obligations India has thus to protect forest communities with customary tenures from forced evictions.
The FRA process "shall ensure" that communities' rights to protect and manage forests as they have traditionally done are duly addressed and "recognized in all villages with forest dwellers and the titles are issued" to complete the claims recognition procedure. (4) However, as in most villages in India's sprawling forests, communities' rights over forests have not been recorded, "no member of a forest dwelling" tribe or other traditional community shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is completed". (5)
Because this claim verification has hardly started in many areas and forest dwellers have not been even informed how they could duly claim many of their forest rights, the eviction "would amount to penalizing them for the failure of the state machinery to inform them of their rights". (6) And as FRA entitles them to claim various forest rights, even if their claims on particular forest rights get rejected, they still remain entitled to claim many other rights - including also "any other traditional right customarily enjoyed". (7) All forest rights as yet unclaimed provide sufficient grounds to prevent eviction as the due legal procedure is not complete. The Supreme Court of India itself has ordered so in 2013. (8)
Forced eviction of millions of forest dwellers would be gross violation of human rights. Even more so as evictions are not proven being required by law in strict compliance with India's international obligations and would discriminate against tribals who are less than 9 % of India's population but about 40 % of those evicted for India 'development'.
A fortnight after ordering the state governments to evict millions of forest dwellers, the Supreme Court wondered “under which provision of law the eviction has to be made” (9) - as if ‘the eviction has to be made’ even without clarity which law would require it ! Also the Supreme Court wondered even "who is the competent authority to pass such orders" on eviction and what should be the process "for eviction after rejection orders have been passed". (10)
Under the FRA and India's constitution, however, the village council of the community is the authority to determine whether someone belongs to the community and how community forest resource is to be protected. (11) Evictions of tribals from their sustainable use of forest land transfers it to commercial and industrial control (12) much like what has happened under the colonial laws like the Indian Forest Act (13), which has given to the forest officials wide, corruptive powers to benefit from evicting communities and destroying natural forests in the interests of business.
Government's on-going efforts to amend and strengthen such colonial-type forest laws displace biodiverse forest and evict people from their sustainable livelihood in disregard of India's obligations on human rights and biodiversity. But Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that FRA's task is “granting a secure and inalienable right to those communities whose right to life depends on right to forests", thus "strengthening the entire conservation regime” by helping communities to live in forest as “integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystems”. (14) Rejection of a forest right claim in the FRA process is no ground to alienate people by forced eviction from their "not alienable" rights. (15)
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NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. To read the international appeal against evictions in India, find here the link to the cover letter http://maanystavat.fi/Appeal_to_India_and_to_the_UN_to_prevent_forced_ev... and find here a more detailed full appeal: http://maanystavat.fi/sites/default/files/attachments/appeal_to_india_an... . See the news also in webpage of World Rainforest Movement: https://wrm.org.uy/
Also another statement which over 330 environmentalists around the world have signed on this issue, observes that:
“We do not regard this order as pro-conservation. On the contrary, it is a real setback for conservation in India.Forest dwellers have for centuries used and managed these forests that we are now considering to be valuable for conservation The rights of local communities are an integral part of any sustainable and just model of conservation, as is now recognised in international law. ”
(STATEMENT FROM CONSERVATIONISTS ON SUPREME COURT ORDER https://rightsandresources.org/en/blog/conservationists-speak-out-agains... and https://forestrightsact.com/2019/02/27/conservationists-speak-out-agains...)
2. The Supreme Court of India order on 13-02-2019, Record of Proceedings, Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 109/2008 Wildlife First & ors. versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & ors.
3. Forest Rights Act, (FRA), section 4.2 e
4. FR rules; 12 B 3 and 4 (FRA implementation rules regarding the FRA section 3.1(i) And even "in case where no community forest resource rights are recognized in a village, the reasons for the same shall be recorded by the Secretary of the District Level Committee" (FR rules; 12 B 4), which often may not have happened in case of forest dwellers whose claims have been informed as rejected
5. FRA section 4.5
6. Government of India Ministry of Tribal Affairs and UNDP: Frequently asked questions on the Forest Rights Act, page 1.
7. FRA section 3.1 (l)
8. The Supreme Court of India, Judgement on Niyamgiri 18/04/2013, sections 38, 58-60 and UNDRIP article 25
9. The Supreme Court of India order on 28-02-2019, Record of Proceedings, Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 109/2008 Wildlife First & ors. versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & ors.
10. The Supreme Court of India order on 28-02-2019, Record of Proceedings, Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 109/2008
11. FRA, sections 5 a, c & d, and 6.1
12. Even if the Supreme Court assumed in its order on 28-02-2019 that some tribal forest lands may have been "occupied by mighty people, industrialists" (14 ) such industrialists have not made those over million rejected claims on small land pieces and such references to un-named industrialists do not justify millions of people to be forcibly evicted
13. Draft 2019 Amendment to Indian Forest Act, 1927, see for example sections 16, 22 A(2),26(3),29(3),30(b),34(c) and 66(2))
14. The Supreme Court of India, Judgement on Niyamgiri (Orissa Mining Corporation vs. MoEF & others), 18.4.2013, sections 41-42 and ‘Inalienable rights’ recognised for forest dwellers on forests, on which their life depends can not be rejected or alienated from them or from the forests in which they live their such forest life as “integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystems”. (FRA, preface)
15. FRA section 4.4, see also. The Supreme Court of India, Judgement on Niyamgiri 18/04/2013, section 42