Forest dwellers can’t be evicted from proposed mining sites in Odisha: Govt
New Delhi: The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the forest dwellers cannot be evicted from proposed mining sites in Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha till the "community and individual" rights of residents are decided under the law.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, in an affidavit filed before a bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam, said, "No eviction of eligible forest dwellers can take place till the process of recognition and vesting of individual and community forest right under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act is complete."
The reply, filed in pursuance of an earlier order, said, "Any decision of the court on the construction of the Act will have a bearing not only on the proposed project and the mining operation in the bauxite mine at Niyamgiri Hills, but is likely to have a widespread impact on the economic and social life of the country.
On December six, the court had directed the central government to file an affidavit making clear its stand on the Act and spell out clearly how it understood provisions of the Act.
Quoting from the Act, the government said the rights of forest dwellers need to be ascertained first.
The court is hearing a plea of Orissa Mining Corporation against a decision of the Centre to withdraw environmental clearance given to Vedanta to mine bauxite in the region.
"Further the MoEF is of the view that as far as possible, diversion of forest land over which forest rights have been recognised or are likely to be recognised or vested should be avoided, and it should be the last resort after examination of all alternatives," the affidavit said.
The Act recognises the "right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self~cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers," it said.