Why Adversarial Court Action Won't Solve Disputes Over Forest Governance -Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon


Issues tied to forest governance require a collaborative approach rather than narrow court action on the Forest Rights Act.

The Supreme Court order related to the “eviction” of tribal and forest-dwelling communities has made big news.

The February 13 order directing state governments to initiate action against all those with “rejected” claims has reignited longstanding ideological disputes over India’s forest governance. Reactions to the recent order in a case filed by Wildlife First and Ors (WP (C) 50/2008), challenging the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA), have pit elite conservation against local forest livelihoods and protection of wildlife versus Adivasi and forest-dwellers’ rights.

This order came in an 11-year-old case where state governments were directed to initiate eviction proceedings against all rejected claims and submit action taken reports before the court.

Two weeks later, the Central and Gujarat government intervened, requesting the court to withhold the eviction, citing poor processing of claims due to lack of evidence and administrative limitations. The February 28 order now requires all state governments to submit details of how and why claims were rejected and whether evictions proceedings have been issued based on “sketchy, incomplete information and data”.

While this case is now predominantly about challenges in the implementation of the law on forest rights, it pushes a complex set of issues tied to forest governance into the highest court of law. Courts are structurally incapable of resolving a conundrum created by many factors. There are several reasons why the case and its outcomes may not be productive for either side. Three of these are highlighted below:

Firstly, the bureaucratic interpretation of the FRA has reduced its scope to the settlement of rights involving filling forms, submitting applications and receiving titles. Successive governments have supported this understanding and the court’s proceedings have also gradually limited itself to this aspect. In its design, the FRA recognises pre-existing rights and creates the possibility for decentralised community-based forest governance.

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TheWire.in, 6 March, 2019, https://thewire.in/rights/supreme-court-adivasis-forest-rights-act

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