BBC News – Why a million Indian tribal families face eviction

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 22 February 2019. India’s 100 million tribespeople are, in the words of a historian, its invisible and marginal minority. Despite affirmative action, most of them continue to eke out a miserable existence in the heavily forested, mineral-rich states.

More than four million of them, by one estimate, live in protected forest areas, which comprise about 5% of India’s total land area. Some 500 wildlife sanctuaries and 90 national parks make up these protected areas. A 2006 law gives tribespeople and other dwellers living on forest land for three generations before December 2005 the legal right to live and work on the land.

Now India’s Supreme Court has ordered that more than a million such families living on forest land will have to leave soon. The top court has acted on information provided by 17 states. The states have carried out a three-step verification of more than four million occupancy claims, each requiring 13 different kinds of evidence, of each family living on forest land.

Some 1.8 million claims have been accepted and land titles handed over to families living on 72,000sq km of forest land, an area equivalent to the north-eastern state of Assam. But more than a million claims have been rejected, so an equal number of families face eviction. Environmental journalist Nitin Sethi calls this the “largest mass scale, legally sanctioned eviction of tribals in independent India”.

Wildlife groups had petitioned the court saying India’s limited forests were being encroached upon, and endangered wildlife was being further threatened by illegal squatters on forest land. They believe allowing people to live in scattered parts of forest land is also leading to to the break-up of large forests and fragmentation of the habitat.

They say the forest law provides for the resettlement of people living in national parks and sanctuaries, but none of this has happened.

“The law is meant for pre-existing forest rights only and thus is not a land grant or land distribution law,” says Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife Trust, one of the petitioners in the case.

Tribespeople support groups say the implementation of the law has been faulty. They blame overzealous environmentalists and wildlife groups for the present state of affairs.

Advocacy group Campaign for Survival and Dignity says numerous official and independent reports have confirmed that “huge numbers of claims have been wrongly rejected and that forest officials, in particular, have a track record of illegally preventing people’s rights from being recognised”.

They blame Narendra Modi’s BJP government for “failing to defend the law”, and fear that the court order could easily become a pretext for forest officials to “attack” people who live in the forests.

There are fears that such a large-scale eviction of tribespeople, it has to be completed by 27 July, is likely to spark widespread unrest in states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa, where a large number of of them live.

Such fears are not unfounded. An earlier eviction drive, between 2002 and 2004, to rid the forests of encroachers resulted in some 300,000 forest dwellers being forced out from lands, according to C R Bijoy, an independent researcher. Villages were set on fire, houses demolished, crops damaged and people killed in police shootings.

“Tribespeople and other forest dwellers become encroachers simply because their ownership rights have not been recorded and settled by officials as stipulated by forest laws,” wrote Mr Bijoy in a paper.

India’s tribespeople, according to historian Ramachandra Guha, suffer from what he describes as a “triple resource crunch”, living as they do in India’s “densest forests, along with its fastest-flowing rivers and atop its richest veins of iron ore and bauxite”.

Over the years they lost their homes and lands to dams, mines, and factories. Now a mass court-mandated eviction from forest land, again, proves how vulnerable they remain.

DNA India – Supreme Court to look into Sikh advocate’s request to allow kirpan inside court premises

The Supreme Court Thursday assured a Mumbai-based Sikh lawyer that it would look into his complaint against security officers who denied him entry into the apex court premises with kirpan.

The lawyer said the Constitution guarantees him the freedom of practising the religion and he has been “humiliated, insulted, tortured” every time he visited the apex court as the security officers did not allow him to carry kirpan inside.

“We will certainly look into it,” a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi told lawyer Amritpal Singh Khalsa, who mentioned his complaint for redressal.

The lawyer sought directions to the security department to ensure that young Sikh lawyers like him are not “humiliated and insulted” and are allowed to wear and carry kirpan in court premises.

In his complaint, Khalsa said that the security guards denied him entry citing his kirpan’s length was more than what was permitted, though there is no restriction on its size under the law.

“Every time I enter the apex court I am humiliated, made to feel as I am an untouchable. I am denied entry to court premises just because I carry a kirpan for which the security denies entry citing its length to be more than six inches,” Khalsa said.

The Hindu – Sabarimala: In a U-turn, Kerala’s Travancore Devaswom Board supports entry of women of all ages

The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its September 2018 judgement allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine

New Delhi – India, 06 February 2019. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which runs the historic Sabarimala temple in Kerala, took a U-turn in the Supreme Court on Wednesday by supporting its verdict which had allowed women of all age groups to enter the shrine.

The Board, which also comprise the State government nominees, told a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that it is high time that a particular class not be discriminated on the ground of “biological attributes”.

In the forenoon, the Kerala government took the stand that it was in agreement with the September 28, 2018 verdict and had urged dismissal of petitions seeking review of the verdict.

“Article 25 (1) equally entitles all persons to practice religion,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for TDB, told the Bench which also comprise Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

The Board had earlier vehemently opposed the PIL by Indian Young Lawyers Association saying that the celibate character of Lord Aiyappa at Sabarimala temple was a unique religious feature which was protected under the constitution.

“Women cannot be excluded from any walk of life on biological attributes, equality is the dominant theme of the Constitution”, said Mr Dwivedi adding that people should gracefully accept the apex court verdict.

The apex court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of the verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine.

On September 28, a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, in a 4:1 verdict had paved the way for entry of women of all ages into the shrine, saying the ban amounted to gender discrimination.

The Telegraph – Sabarimala protesters force women to flee

Footage shows men donning saffron rakhis, typically worn by activists from the RSS and its affiliates, booed and heckled the women

Our Special Correspondent in Bangalore

Bangalore – Karnataka – India, 24 December 2018. A raucous group of devotees and Sangh parivar activists on Sunday thwarted the latest attempt by women of childbearing age to visit the Sabarimala temple, charging at a group of 11 from Chennai and sending them running for cover.

Ammini, a woman tribal rights activist from Wayanad in Kerala who too had set off for the shrine, turned back after hearing about the first group’s ordeal.

These were the first entry bids by young women since the main pilgrimage season opened on November 16.

Crowds of protesters had foiled similar attempts during a five-day pilgrimage window in October, sometimes by throwing stones, after the Supreme Court overturned a centuries-old rule and threw the shrine open to women of all ages on September 28.

The women from Chennai-based rights group Manithi had outwitted the first line of devotees, who are protesting the Left government’s decision to implement the court order, to reach the Pamba base camp, 5 km downhill from the temple.

Led by Selvi Mano, the 11 had driven to Pamba via Madurai, arriving around 3.30 am, while the protesters were gathered in large numbers at Kottayam railway station, where many pilgrims alight.

The women had announced their impending visit on Facebook and informed Kerala police, who escorted them from Chennai.

Television footage shows that as they began the temple trek, men donning saffron rakhis, typically worn by activists from the RSS and its affiliates, booed and heckled them.

Riot policemen accompanying the women arrested an initial batch of 12 protesters but within minutes, hundreds of others charged at the women, who turned around and fled.

They later left for Chennai under police escort after a brief meeting with G. Karthikeyan, the special police officer in charge of Pamba.

Selvi contradicted the police claim that they were returning at their own will. “The police forced us to go back, but we will return soon,” she said.

Karthikeyan told reporters it was not possible to use force on the protesters at a time more than one lakh pilgrims were visiting the temple every day.

“Resorting to force will affect the elderly and children,” he said. “The pilgrims’ security is important too.”

An official of the temple governing body, who declined to be named, said any police action on the “narrow, cemented trekking route through forests from Pamba would be dangerous for the thousands of men, women and children”.

Ammini had chosen an alternative and more difficult route. She had arrived at the Erumeli base camp, about 40 km from the temple, and had trekked about 2 km through dense forests when she learnt about the Chennai group’s experience and agreed to return. She too promised to come back soon.

Asked why the apex court order was not being successfully enforced, K. Surendran, state minister for temple governance, passed the responsibility to the three-member monitoring committee appointed by Kerala High Court.

“This is a matter related to a Supreme Court judgment. The high court has appointed a monitoring committee. I expect the committee to examine this situation,” he said.

The Telegraph – Our compulsion to blind and deafen ourselves at Diwali

Perhaps India will one day reach a civilised understanding of the enjoyment of firecrackers

The Editorial Board

Kolkata – West-Bengal – India, 26 October 2018. Indians evidently like being deafened and blinded. Nothing else can explain their love for firecrackers, on display most prominently during Diwali but also at the slightest pretext at other times.

Yet the enormous health risks from crackers posed by air and sound pollution and by the possibility of burns have been at the centre of a raging debate for a few years now. But every time the Supreme Court rules on the subject there is a sense of collective intransigence.

This year, the court has allowed the bursting of crackers for two fixed hours in the evening of Diwali, and variations of the two-hour window for different festivals. It has also ordered that in the national capital territory crackers shall be burst only in designated community spaces; other states should also try for this arrangement at some point.

This plan allows for safety, control and shared joy together. In many countries, firework shows are conducted by the local government or municipal body at a scheduled time within a designated space. With the Supreme Court’s suggestion, perhaps India too will reach this civilised understanding of enjoyment one day.

The strongest resistance comes from firecracker manufacturers, who have the most to lose, not least because many of their outfits are illegal. One of their excuses is that lakhs of unorganised labourers depend on this industry.

But they have been saying this every time there is a regulatory move, suggesting that their social conscience awakens only when their profits are threatened. This time the big issue instigating both resistance and derision is the court’s instruction about using ‘green crackers’.

Once again, this is not novel: ways of lessening pollution and noise have been worked on by scientists and demonstrated to the biggest cracker manufacturers. They seem unwilling to invest in changing the technology of manufacture, especially as the initial costs are high.

Other naysayers insist that firecrackers in Diwali are a part of religion, and thus untouchable under Article 25 of the Constitution, the freedom to practise religion. The court has reportedly said that Article 25 is subject to Article 21, the right to life and liberty, hence the health and lives of the people take precedence.

The court on its own, or even a most efficient police force, cannot actually change things wholly. It is up to the people to appreciate the importance of their own health and safety.

The Hindu – Reality different in ‘leprosy-free’ India, says Supreme Court

‘Cases underestimated, patients deprived of basic amenities’

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi – India, 15 September 14. India “underestimated” leprosy and diverted funds meant to eliminate the curable disease for 18 long years, the Supreme Court said on Friday.

In its 22-page judgment, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pointed out that though the country was declared leprosy-free on December 31, 2005, the reality is “entirely different”.

The Supreme Court referred to progress reports of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) to show that only 543 districts of the total 642 districts in the country had achieved the World Health Organisation-required prevalence rate of less than one case of leprosy for 10,000 persons.

Suffering continues

“The underestimation of cases of leprosy and the declaration of elimination of leprosy has resulted in the integration of leprosy in general health services thereby leading to diversion of funds which would have otherwise been dedicated to eliminating leprosy,” Chief Justice Misra, who authored the verdict, wrote.

Meanwhile, patients and their families continue to suffer from leprosy and its stigma. They are even denied their fundamental right to food. They are not issued BPL (Below Poverty Line) cards to claim the benefit of various welfare schemes such as the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).

They are deprived of housing, basic civic amenities, adequate sanitary facilities and rehabilitation programmes.

“At present, majority of the populace afflicted with leprosy live as a marginalised section in society, deprived of even basic human rights. This manifestly results in violation of the fundamental right to equality and right to live with dignity,” Chief Justice Misra observed for the Bench also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud.

Calls for transparency

Issuing a slew of guidelines, the court directed the government to be transparent about leprosy and conduct periodic national surveys to gauge its detection rate. It should publish reports of the National Sample Survey on Leprosy conducted in 2010-2011.

Both the Centre and States should embark on “regular and sustainable massive awareness campaigns” to educate the public about the Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) freely available at health centres to completely cure leprosy and dispel fear associated with the disease.

The activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) must be given wide publicity.

The court banned the use of “frightening” images of leprosy patients, instead it called for the use of “positive” photographs of those cured of leprosy in the campaigns.

“Awareness campaigns should inform that a person affected with leprosy can lead a normal married life, can have children, can take part in social events and go to work or school as normal. Acceptability of leprosy patients in society would go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to the disease,” Chief Justice Misra observed.

Free education

The Centre and States should ensure that leprosy patients, especially women, do not face any discrimination or isolation at both government and private hospitals. The government should also ensure that private and public schools do not discriminate against children hailing from leprosy-affected families. They should be given free education.

Leprosy-affected persons should be given BPL cards. which would enable them to secure their right to food and be brought under the aegis of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered. – Akalis launch personal attack on Justice Ranjit Singh; Seek his arrest for ‘leaking’ report

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 24 August 2018. Launching a personal attack on Justice Ranjit Singh on August 23, the Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP affiliated legislators submitted a “resolution” to the Punjab assembly speaker Rana K P Singh seeking arrest of Justice Ranjit Singh for allegedly leaking its confidential Investigation report before its presentation in the Punjab assembly.

Beside it, the SAD-BJP alliance also sought dismissal of the Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa for allegedly fabricating evidence.

They requested the Speaker to impress upon the Punjab assembly to approach the Supreme Court to get a sitting judge appointed to probe cases of sacrilege in Punjab. The duo parties alleged that Justice Ranjit Singh Commission had created false evidence while probing incidents of sacrilege.

Going further, the SAD-BJP alliance also leveled baseless accusations of questioning the existence of the supreme Sikh throne against the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission.

The alliance has accused the Commission of deliberately trying to lower their “dignity” by launching a “Congress-inspired tirade” against those in the service of these institutions.

The SAD-BJP legislators also submitted a notice for breach of privilege motion to the Speaker and urged him to take prompt action against all those who could have leaked the Commission report, including the ex-judge himself, Randhawa and AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira.

The Statesman – Is size of turban part of Sikh religion, asks Supreme Court

Counsel for Puri replied that a Sikh cannot wear a helmet because it’s mandatory for him to wear a turban as per the Sikh religion.

New Delhi – India, 03 August 2018. The Supreme Court on Friday sought to know if the topknot/half or bun turban (patka) can be worn by Sikh athletes with helmets during participation in sporting events such as cycling, if it doesn’t affect their faith”.

A bench of Justice S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao said that in India many great athletes played with bun turban (patka) and suggested that if a Sikh wants to participate in events like cycling, where wearing a helmet is a must, he can consider wearing a bun turban with helmet for safety issue.

“We are hesitant because of safety, otherwise it’s very clear that Sikhs don’t have to wear helmets,” said the bench, adding that it wanted to know if a particular size of turban is compulsory in the religion.

The bench also observed: “We have memories of some great Sikh athletes performing without a turban like Milkha Singh, Bishan Singh Bedi. It’s not like Sikhs don’t do anything without a whole turban.”

The court, which was hearing a plea of Delhi-based cyclist Jagdeep Singh Puri, who was allegedly disqualified for a cycling event after he refused to wear a helmet instead of a turban, suggested that if a half/bun turban with a helmet completes the safety requirement, it can be considered “if it doesn’t affect their faith”.

The size of the turban can’t be part of their (Sikh) religion, the court observed.

It further asked: “The legal problem is if different types of turbans are permissible then is there prohibition in wearing a helmet?”

Counsel for Puri replied that a Sikh cannot wear a helmet because it’s mandatory for him to wear a turban as per the Sikh religion.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which has also filed an intervening application in the case asking to be heard, contended that the Sikh had fought in World War II and contributed in country’s independence as well and “if Sikhs are not allowed to wear turbans, what would be our identity”?

The bench said it wants learned arguments based on Sikhism and not emotional arguments, adding: “This country is proud of Sikhs.”

The court posted the matter after two weeks, asking the organiser of the cycling event to file its reply making its stand clear in the issue.

Puri was disqualified from the Azad Hind Brevet (long distance cycling), organised by Audax India Randonneurs, after he refused to wear a helmet.

Puri has approached the apex court seeking direction for the Centre to formulate guidelines exempting turbaned Sikhs from wearing any headgear during sports events.

Appearing for Puri, senior advocate R S Suri told the bench that wearing a turban is an essential part of Sikh religion and Sikh rights have to be protected.

The lawyer contended that even the Motor Vehicles Act exempts Sikhs from wearing a helmet while driving a two-wheeler and the government should frame guidelines not to force Sikhs to wear headgear while participating in sports events.

The plea mentioned that in several countries such as Britain and the US, members of other communities, including Sikhs, have been permitted to wear turbans while playing sports in keeping with their religious beliefs.

Puri complained that the rule violated his fundamental right to practise and profess one’s own religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.

“The petitioner tried to put forward the enlightened view on the significance of the turban to a Sikh; it fell on deaf ears.

“However, despite being utterly discriminated against, the petitioner still decided to join the ride unofficially, in the spirit of sportsmanship, even if discriminated (against) by the organisers. The petitioner completed the entire event at his own risk without any support from the organisers,” the plea stated.

Seeking protection of his fundamental rights, Puri demanded a direction to the government “to enact a law regarding protection of fundamental rights of the persons belonging to the turbaned Sikh community who participate in such social or sports events”.

The Indian Express – Cow vigilantism unacceptable, onus on states to prevent lynchings: Supreme Court

“Obligation of states to ensure that such incidents do not occur,” the apex court observed.

New Delhi – India, 03 July 2018. Taking a strong exception to the alleged lynchings by cow vigilantes, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said the onus lies on states to ensure that such incidents do not occur.

“This kind of incidents cannot occur. It can’t be accepted in remotest sense. Obligation of states to ensure that such incidents do not occur,” the apex court observed.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said this was a law and order issue and each state has to be responsible.

The bench observed that the instances of vigilantism was actually mob violence, which is a crime. The top court has reserved its order on pleas seeking directions to formulate guidelines to curb such violence.

Last year, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar directed the Centre and states to take strong measures to curb cow vigilantism.

“Who will stop them? Some mechanism has to be there to prevent violence indulged in by these groups. This must stop. Some kind of planned and well-coordinated action is required by the governments so that vigilantism does not grow,“ the bench said.

The apex court had sought response from Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments on a plea seeking contempt action for not following its order to take stern steps to stop violence in the name of cow vigilantism, today led the Supreme Court to seek responses from the three states.

The contempt petition has been filed by Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, saying the three states have not complied with the top court order of September 6 last year.

In June this year, a cattle-trader was beaten to death by a mob at a sugarcane field in Hapur’s Pilakhuwa. The family of the victim claimed Qasim, 45, was attacked in connection with a “cow-related matter” while the police insisted that he was victim of a road rage incident. A 65-year-old man, Samiuddin, was also injured in the attack.

The police have arrested two men, identified as Yudhishtir Singh and Rakesh Sisodia, on the charge of murder. The FIR notes that the incident was the result of a scuffle between unidentified bike-borne men and the two victims.

Cow vigilantism unacceptable, onus on states to prevent lynchings: Supreme Court

The Indian Express – VHP indicates may restart Ram Mandir movement

Alok Kumar, VHP working president, said the construction of Ram Temple was discussed during the meeting and reiterated the organisation’s stand that it will wait for the apex court’s order on the matter.

New Delhi – India, 25 June 2018. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad on Monday indicated it may restart its movement for Ram Temple in Ayodhya, saying the organisation will consult saints on the “future course of action” if the Supreme Court does not give its verdict on the issue in next three to four months.

Addressing the media on the organisation council meeting in Delhi, VHP working president Alok Kumar said two resolutions were passed – one on the issue of cow protection and another on the influx of the Rohingya Muslims into the country.

Kumar said the construction of Ram Temple was discussed during the meeting and reiterated the organisation’s stand that it will wait for the apex court’s order on the matter. “We hope that Supreme Court would hear daily this case from July. We want temple at that site… Our muslim brothers can build mosque outside of that area,” he said.

Replying to a question, he said they want temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya “lawfully” but if the issue “hangs in the court for more than three months then we will consult saints for the future course of action.”

Asked about former VHP leader Pravin Togadia launching a new outfit, Kumar said that would not have any negative impact on his organisation as the VHP “is not based on the ambition or ego of one person.”

“The VHP operates on the basis of collective leadership,” he said but added Togadia can return to the VHP.

VHP indicates may restart Ram Mandir movement