Five reasons why claims by forest dwellers for their land are low – and rejections are high

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of more than 10 lakh families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forestlands across 16 states. The order came while the court was hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The petitioners had demanded that state governments evict those forest dwellers whose claims over traditional forestlands under the landmark law had been rejected.

…In the days since the ruling, tribal activists have denounced the order while some conservationists and bureaucrats in the forest service have welcomed it. A key part of their defence? According to the judgement, a total of 18.8 lakh titles have been granted under the Forest Rights Act, while 19 lakh claims have been rejected. In a statement released on Thursday, Wildlife First said all 19 lakh rejected claims were bogus. It said: “The Supreme Court is focusing only on recovery of forest land from bogus claimants whose claims stand rejected.”

The answer to these contrasting perspectives lies in how the forest rights act is being implemented — how are claims submitted and how are they processed? This report, a followup to what I filed shortly after the judgement was posted online, takes a closer look at those processes. The answer, in short, is that all rejected claims do not indicate bogus claimants. Do read.

Centre’s weak legal defence of forest act means ten lakh families could be evicted, say activists

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to evict over 10 lakh forest-dwellers whose claims over forestland have been rejected, a direction that will hurt some of India’s most vulnerable people.

The order came in a case on the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act, which was passed in 2006 aiming to “recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded”.

The harsh direction was possible, allege Adivasi activists and lawyers, because the lawyers of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs mounted a weak defence of the Act. The case has dragged on for over 10 years under multiple benches, with the Supreme Court yet to answer questions on constitutional validity of the law.

There is an incredible suboptimality here. Some of the claims by the petitioners are indeed valid. As are the concerns of the tribal activists. And so, right now, I am just sitting around holding my head thinking about the hideous complexity of it all and, equally, the casual ease with which both the tribal ministry and the Supreme Court are approaching this question.

The curious case of Russian oil deals that benefited Essar, hurt ONGC

When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Delhi in December 2014, his camaraderie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was widely noted. What received less attention were the curiously asymmetric deals that an oil company controlled by the Russian government went on to sign with Indian companies over the next two years.

First, between September 2015 and October 2016, Kremlin-controlled Rosneft sold 49.9% in its Vankor oilfield in the northern parts of eastern Siberia to Indian public sector oil companies. According to oil and gas experts in Russia and India, the Indian companies significantly overpaid Rosneft.

Towards the end of these transactions, in October 2016, Rosneft announced its purchase of a refinery and port owned by the Essar Group in Gujarat. The price surprised observers in both Russia and India – it was much higher than initial valuations.

Reuters reported it was the biggest-ever foreign acquisition in India and Russia’s largest outbound deal. It rescued debt-ridden Essar Oil from bankruptcy. It also gave Rosneft access to the large Indian market at a time it faced sanctions slapped by the United States in 2014 as retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

But what about India’s government-owned oil companies?

Did they gain at all?