HP HC | Sub Divisional Officer does not have the authority to process claims of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers

Bail Application

Himachal Pradesh High Court: A Division Bench of Surya Kant, CJ. and Sandeep Sharma, J. addressed grievances raised by the petitioners and directed the authority to take necessary action.

The instant matter relates to an order passed by the Sub Divisional Officer (Civil) Gohar, whereby it had turned down the claim of the Petitioners for conferment of ownership rights and protection over a small piece of forest land on the grounds of the claim being barred by time limit prescribed under Rule 11(1) (a) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007 (hereinafter ‘2007 Rules’).

The learned counsel representing the petitioners, Mr Rajnish Maniktala and Mr Naresh K. Verma, stated that there is no prescribed time limit for Gram Sabha to invite claims or authorize the Forest Rights Committee to accept the claims. They contended that the Gram Sabha had invited claims and the petitioners had submitted its claim within the time limit and thus, the Sub Divisional Officer (Civil) erred in rejecting the claim of the petitioners being time-barred. The petitioners also contended that the Sub Divisional Officer (Civil) did not have the authority to decide the matter but the competent prescribed authority to process the claim was Sub Divisional Committee and the final deciding authority being District Level Committee.

The Court held that the competent authority to process the claim of petitioners was the Sub Divisional Committee, and the final deciding authority was the District Level Committee. In view thereof, it directed the said Committee to complete the process within a period of two months and submit the report to the District Level Committee within the stipulated period of time. The Court also stated that as long as the matter is not finally decided by the District Level Committee, the possession shall remain with the petitioners.[Bhama Devi v. State of H.P., 2019 SCC OnLine HP 616, decided on 14-05-2019]

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