India Top Court Orders Eviction of 1.2 Million Forest Dwellers

(Bloomberg) -- India’s top court has ordered the eviction of 1.2 million forest dwellers and land users after their claims to the land were rejected, spelling potential political trouble for Prime Minister Narendra Modi before national elections due in three months.

The forest rights law of 2006 granted first right over land to people and communities living there. However, they had to prove their claim over three generations up to 2005. The Supreme Court order came after 17 states reported many claims to land were rejected.

“In case the eviction is not carried out, as aforesaid, the matter would be viewed seriously by this court,” said a three-judge panel of the apex court headed by Justice Arun Mishra.

The eviction may make it easier to free up land for commercial use in the country, which has in the recent past seen the scrapping of a bauxite mining project by Vedanta Resources Plc and a 12 million metric tons-a-year steel plant by Korea’s Posco because locals refused to give up land.

The issue has turned political with opposition parties attacking the Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for not defending the rights of forest dwellers.

Tribals who are to be evicted should have been heard or represented in court before such an order, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan said in an interview. “Rejection of claims means they don’t have a right over the forest. That does not mean they have to be evicted.”

The order last week, made public on Wednesday, came on a decade-old petition by a non-government organization Wildlife First, which sought protection of forests. Over a fifth of the country is covered in forest and its industrial use requires approvals from the government and natives.

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