Statement from All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM), 28 February, 2019.
Today the Supreme Court of India has put on hold its 13 February order, which directed various state governments to evict forest dwellers whose claims under Forest Rights Act have been rejected. This latest order follows the Government of India's appeal for a stay. The Supreme Court has reportedly asked the states to verify within four months whether due process of law has been followed while rejecting claims.
While the present order by the Court brings some modicum of relief for the forest communities of India, this in no way dissipates the threat. The events leading to the eviction order show definitively that the Indian state can not be expected to defend the FRA, and the persecuted and harassed forest dwellers of the country shouldn't expect justice from state and its organs--the governments at the centre and states, the judiciary and majority of the big political parties. It is also clear that if voted back to power, the present BJP-led government at the center would start afresh their systematic and deliberate attempts to scuttle the law. The attack on FRA and the autonomy and dignity of millions of forest communities across
the country would continue, beyond the ultimate outcomes of the case in the Supreme Court.
FRA and people's militant mobilisations around it impede and thwart the plans to hand over India's forests to the big private companies so that they could earn profits at the cost of people and their environments. State would try to ensure that the act is scuttled or suitably amended and diluted so that forest dwellers and their Gram Sabhas no longer have the power to protect their forests from mining, big dams, big tourism, commercial plantations and many such threats.
It's up to the people and their Movements to finally determine whether state and its corporate allies would be allowed to destroy FRA. In the face of widespread outrage and afraid of backlash during the election season, state has been forced to go defensive for the time being. It would try to come back and we need to be prepared for that.
AIFFM calls upon all forest dwellers of India, their Movements and Movements alliances, and the civil society at large to unite in the defense of FRA. We already called the law a site of struggle and let us all reiterate it together. Let us deepen and prolong the struggle.
We do not think that governments and courts could determine the extent of people's rights over forests. Nor do we believe that the question of rights can be settled within the four months as ordered by the top court or within any given time period. We reject such arbitrary and unjust interpretation of FRA, which call for replacing people with state, and all attempts to enclose the law.
We will fight for our sovereignty, autonomy and dignity. The fight shall continue.
On behalf of All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM)
Devjit Nandi, Pravin Mote and Lalsing Bhujel