Modi's Gandhi Jayanti gift defies SC ruling

gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's attempt to appease tribals has backfired. On Gandhi Jayanti Modi handed over the ownership of forestland to 30 tribals and also promised to regularize the 2,204 claims over forestland. This, experts say, was in clear defiance of the Supreme Court ruling which barred any diversion of forestland without its nod.

Modi claimed that his government had sent 3,355 applications of tribals for approval under the Forest Conservation Act (fca), 1980. But the Centre has not given its assent to them. During the Independence Day celebrations this year, Modi had promised that his government would go ahead with the plan to regularize the encroachments if the Union government failed to give its approval for them by October 2.

In November 2001, the court had stayed regularization of the forest encroachments prior to October 1980.It had also stayed grants of land titles to encroachments until December 1993.

The matter was brought to the attention of the court by the Central Empowered Committee, the supreme-court-appointed panel on forest issues. Responding to an interim application filed by Amicus Curiae Harish Salve, the court directed the Gujarat government to immediately cancel the pattas and file an affidavit in this regard.

The state counsel, however, clarified that only those tribals who were already in possession of forestland had been given possession letters. The application filed by Salve stated that there was a procedure for state governments to request for regularization of forestland to the Union ministry of environment and forests.

It also noted that regularization of encroachments was behind the decrease in forest cover. "The court's ruling bars any diversion of forestland for non-forest use,' says Ritwik Dutta, an environmental lawyer.