News Wrap


Athree-judge Bench of India's Supreme Court, comprising justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee on 13 February 2019, has ordered the Chief Secretaries of 21 states, to evict those whose claims have been finally rejected under the law of Forest Rights Act (2006). The Supreme Court order may lead to the eviction of lacs of persons belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) categories across 21 states. Their claim as forest dwellers have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act of 2006. The court has directed that the evictions should be carried out on or before 24 July 2019, that is, the next date of hearing. The court has ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the "encroachment positions". Section 6 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006, shows a multilayered and hierachial procedure for recognition or rejection of forest-dwellers' claims, starting at the Gram Sabha level with multiple appellate committees at the state level. The Act is intended to provide a framework to assist traditional forest dwellers, who have been residing in such forests for generations, but whose rights could not be recorded. In Andhra Pradesh, the Apex Court has recorded that not a single order of eviction has been complied though 66,351 claims across 1,14,400 acres of forest land have been rejected. In Assam 22,398 claims of STs and 5136 claims of OTFDs across 10,128 hectares and 561.4 hectares, respectively were rejected. West Bengal records the rejection of 50,288 claims of STs and 35,856 claims of OTFDs, led by the CPI(M), a number of political parties have demanded that the central government enact an ordinance to protect all adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, in the wake of the Supreme Court order. As of December 2018, out of a total of 42.19 lac claims received across the country, only 18.89 lac, or just over 40% of the claim had been accepted. The rejections were often arbitrary, against the recommendations of the gram sabha and driven by lobbies, who want to handover the forests to private parties and businesses. On 28 February 2019, the Supreme Court issued a stay on its earlier order, which had directed the eviction of an estimated 10 lac forest dwellers, who had illegally encroached on forest land.

Jammu and Kashmir
Religious discord and economic exploitation are the essential problem areas of Jammu and Kashmir. The migration of thousands of Hindu Kashmiris dates back since the 11th century AD. Every invasion and conquest by Muslim invaders led to forced convension and waves of migration. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan warrior king had captured Kashmir from the tottering Mughals in 1752. His successors lost it to Ranjit Singh, whose seizure of Kashmir Valley in 1819, ended more than four centuries of Muslim rule. Gulab Singh's father, was made ruler of Jammu, by Ranjit Singh. Gulab Singh conqured Ladakh and Baltistan, and claimed to rule all or some of the Aksai Chin plateau. In 1846, he paid the British 75 lac Sikh rupees, and an annual tribute of "twelve pashmina goats and three pairs of shawls" for "all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus, and the westward of the River Ravi", that had belonged to the defeated Sikh empire. Gulab Singh became the Maharaja of Kashmir. There are scores of tales of the repressive Dogra regime amongst Kashmir's Muslims, when Muslims had to walk with their chins resting on their chests.

Gulab Singh reportedly considered compulsory mass conversion of Kashmiri Muslims, but the pundits of Varanasi felt it would dilute Hindu purity. The original punishment for killing a cow was the death sentence, which was changed to life imprisonment, then to ten years jail sentence, and later to seven years under British pressure. The "State for State's People" agitation succeeded in getting rid of Punjabis. The Kashmiri pundits enjoyed a monopoly of jobs under Rajputs, who were the ruler's Kin. In the 19th century, there were popular movements for Muslim emancipation. The conditions of the ragged and barefoot landless Muslim labourers, who were working as serfs for absentee landlords, was appalling. Almost 90% of Muslim households were mortgaged to Hindu money lenders. Although not a single Hindu Pundit died of starvation in the famine of 1877-79, it took a cruel toll of the Muslim population. According to the British Resident, the then Kashmir's prime minister, pundit Wazir Punnu, is said to have declared there "was no real distress, and that he wished that no Mussalman might be left alive from Srinagar to Rambhan (in Jammu)". Post-independence (August 1947), there have been several armed conflicts between India and Pakistan, over J and K. Since 1989, low intensity proxy war between India and Pakistan continues unabated.

Trump's Wall
In 2018, US authorities caught about 4,00,000 people going to cross the southern border, fewer than half as many as in 2007. Families are fleeing troubled states in Central America to seek asylum in USA. US president Donald Trump wants to add 234 miles of fencing to the roughly 700, that already exists along America's border with Mexico. Historically low immigration numbers mean that no national emergency exists at the southern border. Environmental groups believe that landowners will face an imminent invasion of their privacy and quiet enjoyment of the land, during and after construction of the wall. Trump has declared that a national emergency gave him access to $3.6 billion appropriated for military-construction projects. However, the border wall is neither a military-construction project, nor essential to support the mission of the armed forces. Specifically Article I in Appropriations Clause of the US constitution states that the government can spend only money provided by the US Congress. In sparsely populated areas, cameras and remote sensors are sufficient for picking up suspicious movements. In cities people can slip across borders more easily. EL Paso's mayor would favour spending not on a wall, but on more staff to process the tens of thousands of people, cars and lorries that cross the border daily. To stop the flow of drugs coming from Mexico, money would be better spent improving scanners and other infrastructure at ports of entry, where most of them arrive hidden in vehicles. There are nearly 150,000 pending asylum cases, with many coming from Venezuela, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Vol. 51, No. 42, Apr 21 - 27, 2019