21 March 2023 4:45 AM GMT
While refusing relief to a group of persons claiming benefit under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the Madras High Court noted that rights under the Act cannot be claimed merely on the ground that the ancestors originally resided in the forests. For claiming rights under the Act, it was necessary to establish that the...
While refusing relief to a group of persons claiming benefit under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the Madras High Court noted that rights under the Act cannot be claimed merely on the ground that the ancestors originally resided in the forests. For claiming rights under the Act, it was necessary to establish that the persons were solely dependent upon the forest for their bonafide livelihood.
This Court is of the view that merely because, the petitioners' ancestors were originally residing in the forest, thereafter, some areas have been acquired, the entire area have been declared as Reserved Forest in the year 1926 and now the petitioners who are residing somewhere else, the petitioners cannot claim any right under the said Act, without establishing the fact that they soley depend on the forest or forest land for bona fide livelihood needs.
Justice N Satish Kumar also agreed with an earlier view taken by the division bench where it was held that bonafide livelihood included ploughing, irrigation, and planting for the purpose of livelihood, but not for commercial exploitation of the land.
In the present case, the petitioners had initially challenged the eviction notices issued by claiming that the land was not a forest land. However, the challenge was dismissed by the single bench. The appeal was also dismissed by the court. The parties then filed a Special Leave Petition. The Supreme Court dismissed the SLP but gave liberty to the parties to claim rights under the Forest Rights Act.
In the present litigation, the petitioners claimed that they have been in possession of the land for more than 75 years and that the eviction orders were passed merely on the ground that no documents were filed to prove possession. It was contended that their rights cannot be denied on this ground alone. The petitioners also argued that since their ancestors were uneducated people, it was the duty of the Official to verify the records and take a decision. it was also contended that merely because they were living outside the forest area, they could not be evicted.
The authorities submitted that there was no evidence for the claims made by the petitioner. Since they could not prove their existence beyond 75 years, they could not be seen as “Other Traditional Forest Dwellers” within the meaning of the Act.
As per the Act, to claim benefit as “other traditional forest dwellers”, it must be proved that at least three generations prior to 13th December 2005, primarily resided in the forest and were dependent on the forest for their bona fide livelihood. “Generation” in the present act meant a period of 25 years. Thus, one had to necessarily prove that at least 75 years prior to the cut-off date, they were residing in the forest.
The court noted that when eviction notices were challenged previously, the petitioners never claimed benefits under the act. In fact, they had claimed that the land itself was not Forest land. However, in later rounds of litigation, they claimed benefits under the Act. However, the petitioners had failed in establishing that they were primarily depended upon the forest for their livelihood.
Thus, noting that there was no merit in their claim, the court dismissed the petition.
Case Title: AC Murugesan and others v. The District Collector and others
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 94