HC orders status quo on land claimed by tribals

The Gujarat High Court has ordered status quo on land claimed by tribals under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) after three tribal rights groups filed a civil application alleging the forest department has begun pre-monsoon work on some such land, which spreads across 13 districts.

"We find that the petitioners have made out a strong prima facie case to have an interim order of status quo as regards the nature of the character of the land involved in the present case as also the nature and character of the land occupied by the scheduled tribe and other traditional forest dwellers in question as on this date, till the next date of hearing. We accordingly pass such order," said a bench of acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala in an order on May 11. The court will resume hearing the case after June 11, when it opens after summer vacation.

The Action Research in Community Health & Development (ARCH), Rajpipla Social Service Society (RSSS) and the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) said in the civil application that they found out through field visits and contacts in tribal areas that the state government had gone ahead with reviews of FRA claims and that foresters were readying for the monsoon even as the case was being heard by the court.

"In many instances, the forest department has also started digging pits for plantation of trees in the coming monsoon, in the lands occupied by these claimants, which would result in their eviction from these lands," they said.

The civil application was part of a larger case — the three groups had last year filed a PIL saying the government had "rejected as many as 113,700 (73%) of the 156,000 (FRA) claims they had decided and were also in the process of rejecting most of the remaining 24,000 claims that were still pending with them".

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