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Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

This article is written by Sidra Khan and Upasana Sarkar. In this article, the judgement of Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997) has been discussed. This article gives a detailed understanding and an extensive analysis of this case. It deals with the facts, issues, judgement and case laws relating to this case.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction

The land with plenty of natural resources is the home of the tribal people living in the scheduled areas. In particular, the tribal areas are the victims of poverty in the land of plenty. Many provisions were laid down in the Constitution for the standard of life of the tribal population. Article 342, for example, states that the authority of the President to “notify communities as Scheduled Tribes” to accept the Scheduled Tribes (ST) groups has experienced the worst displacement. Article 320,  Article 332 and Article 334 of the Indian Constitution guarantee the STs separate types of quotas. The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), grants the powers for natural resource management and self-government to tribal communities. However, the widespread non-application of these provisions led to severe inequalities, which led to poverty and deprivation of the tribal communities of India. 

The case of Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1997) deals with the rights and interests of the tribal people living in scheduled areas. This case upheld the judgement in favour of the tribal community by protecting their lands from illegal mining by private parties. It was observed that the tribal people living in scheduled areas of the country also have the right to life and personal liberty like the other citizens of India. 

Details of Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

  • Case name: Samatha v. State Of Andhra Pradesh & Ors.
  • Equivalent Citations: AIR 1997 SUPREME COURT 3297, 1997 (8) SCC 191, 1997 AIR SCW 3361, (1997) 3 APLJ 49, 1997 (4) SCALE 746, (1997) 6 JT 449 (SC), (1997) 2 SCJ 539, (1997) 6 SUPREME 530, (1997) 4 SCALE 746
  • Act involved: The Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Act of 1967, and the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Area Land Transfer Regulation (Regulation I of 1959), amended by Regulation II of 1970, hereinafter referred to as the FC Act.
  • Important provisions: Section 3 of the Regulations, Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (FC Act).
  • Court: Supreme Court of India
  • Bench: K. Ramaswamy, S. Saghir Ahmad, & G.B. Pattanaik
  • Petitioners: Samantha
  • Respondents: State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors.
  • Judgement Date: 11/07/1997

Background

The tribal people’s greatest misfortune is that they occupy land that is highly rich in minerals, water and other resources that the government and private companies need for the development of the country. Nearly 90% of coal and about 50% of other minerals are in their regions. This “growth” has little to do with improving or ensuring their lives. Instead, they are convinced and they are uprooted from their familiar world and compelled to learn how to live with peculiar laws in an unfamiliar society.

Over decades, tribals have continuously lost their land holdings and are now alienated. As per the 2001 Census, the indigenous/tribal people, who formed 8% of India’s total population, constituted over 50% of the total displaced persons due to development projects. Until 1990, almost 85 lakh tribals were displaced by major development projects, according to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA). The policies on liberalisation, privatisation and urbanisation have become more troubling over the last two decades.

The biggest threat to Tribal survival has emerged with “Growth.” Ironically, the “new civilised culture” is now a perpetrator with its ecologically sustainable and peaceful lifestyle. Tribals, their lands and other resources have been exposed to exploitative market forces mainly by funding mining projects, stainless steel and cement plants, wildlife sanctuaries, hydropower projects, factories, tourism projects, etc. The exploitation of tribal lands by influential bodies in all tribal areas across the country has become a widespread phenomenon. It is sad to know that those who have a better understanding of the Constitution distort the right “to live in their own conventional ways” provided by the Constitution. 

The serious threat to the Adivasis in the country today is the pressure on the provisions of the Fifth Schedule, which prohibits the transportation of tribal land to non-tribal countries. Both central and several state governments are making serious efforts to amend the laws laid down in the Fifth Schedule and the laws of the states in question, so that private actors can take over tribal and forested lands. Privately-owned mining in almost all nine states, most particularly in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, MP, and Orissa, violates the Fifth Schedule.

Hundreds of tribals from Kondadora, Bagata, Parjah, Khond, Kutia, Valmiki, and other groups have resided in the agency tracts in the district in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The agencies also have rich mineral resources, including calcite, bauxite, calcite and mica. The Andhra Pradesh administration granted mining rents to small businesses and individuals on the basis of developments since the 1960s. When liberalisation started in the 1990s, the government leased massive mining pipelines to big giants like Birla Periclase. This contravened the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation, 1959, banning the sale of land in developed areas to non-tribals. In an inner tribal village named Nimalapadu, Birla Periclase was granted 120 acres of calcite to mine. 

The world-renowned Borra Caves were also threatened with destruction, as the government was planning to give bauxite mining rents over the grottoes, known for their century-old stalagmites. Because of these fancy government decisions that neglected the people’s rights and wealth, Samatha fought for the rights of the communities of Adivasis, who would be displaced and affected by private mining firms. A PIL was filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1993, since the government was itself an “individual” and, therefore, had no authority to offer leases for non-tribals in a scheduled area. After four years of continuous resistance, the Supreme Court released a judgement in association with this case, in July 1997.

Facts of Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

  • The forest area of Borra Reserve Forest, together with other 14 villages, was identified as scheduled area and had been notified. It is located in Anan-Thagiri Mandal of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
  • These areas were given to non-tribal entities for mining leases by the State Government for 20 years. After its expiry, it was to be renewed again by the State Government in accordance with the orders of the government notification.
  • The appellant filed a writ petition in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, which was rejected by the Court, stating that the provisions of the existing statutes do not in any way prevent the State from giving the tribal areas to non-tribal persons for mining purposes.
  • After that, the entire forest land was reserved, and it was identified as a scheduled tribal area.
  • To protect the interests and lives of the tribal people living in scheduled tribal areas, the appellant challenged the rights of the State Government that granted mining leases to non-tribal entities.
  • The appellant, aggrieved by the judgement of the High Court, filed a special leave petition under Article 136 of the Constitution before the Supreme Court of India.

Issues raised

  • Whether the State Government possesses the authority to pass on the tribal scheduled areas to non-tribals?
  • Whether the State Government is vested with the legal power to grant mining leases of the tribal scheduled lands? 
  • Whether this granting of lease for mining purposes is in violation of Environmental Protection Act, 1986?
  • Whether the leases granted to non-tribal entities by the State Government are in violation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980?

Arguments of the parties

Appellant

When the writ petition was dismissed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, the appellant for safeguarding the interests of the tribal people living in scheduled areas submitted an appeal petition of special leave under Article 136 of the Constitution in the Supreme Court. The contentions of the appellant are as follows-

  • The appellant stated that the scheduled tribal lands cannot be transferred to non-tribal entities as per the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (Regulations) and this prohibition is equally applicable to the State Government as well. Therefore, transfer of these lands to private, non-tribal people for mining leases is void. It was also argued that the word ‘person’ defined under Section 3 of the regulation  includes ‘governments’ as well. This Act is amended by Regulation II of 1970 and is now referred to as the FC Act.
  • The appellant also contended that, as per Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, no forest area can be used for non-forest activities by anybody without the consent of the Central Government of India.
  • It was also argued that Section 11(5) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, prohibits the grant of leases to the non-private respondent who does not belong to the tribal community and therefore, such leases must be declared void.
  • It was also mentioned that Schedule V of the Indian Constitution, conferring a special power to frame regulations for peace and good government in areas clearly indicated, which was framed during British rule, granted special power to make regulations for maintaining peace and good government in tribal areas. It states that the tribal scheduled lands must not be used or allotted to non-tribals. Along with that, the phrase ‘peace and good government’ must be given a broader interpretation.
  • The objective of the Amendment Act was to prevent the total transfer of the tribal lands to non-tribal persons, where the expression ‘person’ in Section 3(1) of the Regulation must be given the widest interpretation.
  • The word ‘forest’ must include all forests. Therefore, even if areas where mining activities were going on do not fall under the definition of ‘reserved forest’, they will come under the purview of the term ‘forest land’.
  • It was also stated that mining leases must not be allowed in the tribal areas as they will cause pollution. To protect the tribal atmosphere from being polluted by hazardous substances, the mining activities must be annulled.

Respondents

The respondents were the State and private parties in this case. They gave the following arguments- 

  • The respondents contended that the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal persons was not prohibited before the Amendment of 1970 was brought into effect. The requirement before this Amendment was to obtain the consent of the appropriate authority before transferring the tribal land to non-scheduled persons.
  • The respondents also stated that the interpretation of the expression ‘person’ given by the appellant cannot be accepted as it would lead to absurd conclusions. According to the respondents’ contention, the expression ‘person’ in Section 3(1) of the Regulation does not include State.
  • It was also argued that when the Constitution inserted the expression ‘person’, it gave the governor the power to frame regulations accordingly and there is no need to give a different interpretation to the word ‘person’.
  • The respondents did not accept the interpretation of the term ‘forest land’ as stated by the appellant, which is mentioned in the Conservation Act. The respondents also rejected the contentions that it should be interpreted in a wider sense and that mining operations over forest land cannot proceed without the central government’s prior approval.

Supreme Court’s judgement in Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

The Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and observed that all the mining areas that were transferred to non-tribal persons for mining leases by the State Government of Andhra Pradesh were void and invalid. The Apex Court held the State liable for giving tribal scheduled lands for mining leases. K. Ramaswamy, J., of the Supreme Court of India  observed the following points-

  • By virtue of Section 3 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the Central Government is only vested with the authority to manage and administer disputed areas through a statutory receiver. In contrast, the central government has the absolute authority to manage and administer adjacent areas that are not disputed areas, acquired through this Act.
  • The Apex Court observed that the meaning of a particular word in a statute will have the same meaning for other statutes as well, but in order to accomplish the intended goal, it is permissible to interpret the word in a different sense if doing so is necessary, depending on the circumstances and the intention of the Act.
  • The opinion of the Court in this case was that the term ‘person’ contained in Section 3(1) of the Regulation does not include ‘State’ and the mining leases that are granted to non-tribal persons by the State are not in contravention of the provisions of the Regulation but the mining leases must be spent for the purpose of upliftment of the tribal people and maintenance of ecological balance in the scheduled areas.
  • The Court also directed the forest department to inspect the area where the mining activities were being carried out by the private respondents and to determine whether the area comes under the purview of ‘forest land’ or not.
  • The Court rejected the contention of the appellant, where it was argued that Section 11(5) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR Act), prohibits the grant of leases to the non-private respondent. It held that leases in favour of respondents are not invalid on the ground of infraction of Section 11(5) of MMRD Act, 1957.
  • Furthermore, it is neither practicable to start investigation into the matter that says granting of leases within the tribal area is in violation of Environmental Protection Act, 1986 nor could the leases be annulled based on the allegations made by the appellant. The Court needs to look into the interests of both tribal and non-tribal communities. Therefore, this contention was also rejected by the Court.

The Supreme Court  upheld the interests and life of the tribal people living in scheduled tribal areas and the importance of the tribal lands rights of the tribal people in accordance with the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Theme of the judgement in Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

The key theme of the judgement of Samatha is the notion of sustainable development and the concept of protection. In the ruling, the Supreme Court held that tribals can extract minerals either individually or through cooperating companies with state help financially in scheduled areas without affecting their ecosystem or forest land. In addition, the court held that, in the absence of the prohibition on the transfer of lands, any licensee or lease must provide certain duties and obligations to the tribal people who are affected by the project. Nevertheless, the Court acknowledged the exception from these prohibitions for moving tribal property to state-owned entities or corporations. 

The Court also ordered that, in addition to all ecology reforestation and maintenance expenses, at least 20% of the proceeds from each project should be set aside as a permanent fund for the needs of the tribals in question. This also instructed the Prime Minister, according to the judgment on tribal land throughout the country, to establish a national scheme. Through that decision, the Supreme Court opened a new area for judicial action, ensuring that forestry societies have the freedoms and security that our Constitution guarantees, for example, fair treatment before the law that contributes to social justice. 

The honourable judges, acknowledging the condition of the tribals in India as a whole, rightly highlighted the ‘right to development’ as specified in the UN Convention on the Rights to Development. This decision put particular emphasis on Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar’s concept of ‘liberal democracy’ that acknowledges independence, equality and fraternity as values of life. The decision accepts that tribals have equal rights to social and economic equality and acknowledges the highest constitutional guarantee for ‘Right to Life’ as provided for in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The land in the scheduled areas shall be conserved for the social and economic empowerment of tribal people.

Salient features of judgement in Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

  1. Under the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992, “Gram Sabha shall have jurisdiction to safeguard, in accordance with clause (m)(ii), the power to prevent land alienation in the Scheduled Areas and to take effective action to restore any unlawful alienation of a scheduled tribe’s property.”
  2. Minerals are to be mined by tribals themselves or by cooperative groups with financial support from the state.
  3. In the absence of absolute prohibition, as part of the project expenditure, the court defined certain duties and responsibilities for the lessee: at least 20 percent of net profits as a permanent fund for development needs apart from reforestation and ecology conservation.
  4. Transfer of land in Scheduled Areas by way of lease to non-tribals, aggregate companies, etc. is prohibited in any manner to avoid their exploitation.
  5. Transfer of mining leases to non-tribal, private, aggregate companies, alliance firms, etc., is illegal, invalid and inoperative. State instruments such as APMDC are exempt from the prohibition.
  6. A lease extension is a fresh lease grant and therefore any such extension is forbidden.
  7. In states where there are no acts providing for a complete ban on mining land leases in Scheduled Areas, the Committee of Secretaries and Sub-Committees of the State Cabinet should be established and the decisions taken thereafter.
  8. A conference of all the chief ministers, the ministers holding the ministry concerned, the Prime Minister, and the central ministers concerned will take a policy decision for a clear tribal land scheme across the country.

Weapon of the weak

The Samatha decision has been the weak’s tool, all across the Fifth Schedule states. This was used for the making of policies in support of disadvantaged groups. A ruling made by the National Green Tribunal added to the historical judgement’s credibility at the 20-year mark. In its order of 20 July 2017, the NGT revoked four environmental clearances given in December 2008 for Jarilla Blocks- 1, 2, 3 and 8 for bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district’s Chintapalli Mandal. The order also specified that if any party is interested in mining, it must re-approach the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to obtain clearance for bauxite mining and also take the views of the parties concerned, including Samatha. In the case of Niyamgiri Bauxite Mining, the judgement has set a good precedent. This was in favour of the Dongria Kondhs inhabiting Niyamgiri ‘s sacred hills.

As a democratic decision-making platform on citizen, group and cultural rights for the tribals and traditional foresters, the Supreme Court has provided strong support for the position of gram sabhas. When the official figures are looked into, we find that virtually no action has been taken in cases of unlawful mining over a long period of time. As per sources, FIRs had been lodged in 5% of cases, and fewer than 15% of cases had been brought in courtrooms, of the nearly 400,000 cases of illicit mining between 2013 and 2017 in 22 states. The flaws in some states are so egregious that the negligence of the authorities cannot be overlooked. FIRs were lodged in only three cases, for example, in the years 2013 through 2017 with 36,727 instances, and court cases were lodged in four cases. The Samatha decision is very important in this sense.

Strong opposition to judgement in Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. (1997)

Needless to say, strong corporate houses and politicians with vested interests joined hands to negate the decision of the apex court. Unlike PESA, the Samatha judgement was also an obstacle in their plans for “growth.” Yet attempts to nullify the Samatha judgement by amending the Fifth Schedule persisted in various quarters of government, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had not placed a blanket ban on mining activities in the scheduled areas. Needless to say, the strong corporate lobby will continue to pressure politicians to reduce their social commitments and care for their business interests.

The market forces have become the key players in the new liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation system, not society or government. Laws and legislation no longer aim at social justice and welfare but at increasing income and optimising resource abuse. The new economic policy’s primary objective is to redefine the state’s position and reframe laws to comply with global interests. 

In countries such as India, legitime governments have become weak and corrupt, under the control of strong transnational corporate lobbies. They are attempting to play with the conventional constitutional provisions to shift ownership of natural resources from native Adivasis to the corporate lobby.

The Indian government seems determined to adopt the narrow western idea of ‘growth’ by means of market forces and the commodification of natural resources, and ordinary peoples of the world must aspire for social justice, equality and the sustainable livelihoods of the most oppressed Indian tribal group. To address the wider issues of long-term sustainability or the conservation of natural resources in their pure state, corporate consumer culture is too short-sighted.

Conclusion

Samatha’s decision is, therefore, a significant decision that has helped to save programmed areas and tribals in different states since 1997. It provided a broader interpretation to various terms for safeguarding the rights of both tribal and non-tribal which included the Scheduled tribes as well. The Supreme Court has proven itself to be a saviour, while different states and other government bodies have sought to abrogate and change the decision. The tribes in various planned countries used the decision for their own benefit, although many faced no implementation. It can be resolved by raising awareness of the various security laws envisaged in the Constitution among the tribal communities through the Samatha rule. Samatha, an NGO that operates throughout the Schedule-V states, is undertaking this mission.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is a Special Leave Petition?

The Special Leave Petition is filed in the Supreme Court of India under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution. This kind of petition is submitted to the Supreme Court to determine the admissibility of a petition in a case. The Apex Court has the discretionary power to decide whether to take up the case or not.

Which Schedule of the Constitution deals with the provisions of administration of tribal areas?

The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution deals with the provisions relating to the administration of tribal areas. It recognises the rights of the people of a tribal community as well as their interests in a scheduled area. It looks into the management and administration of the scheduled areas where a majority of the tribal people stay together. In short, it deals with the administration and control of the scheduled areas with a sizable tribal population.

Which are the States that fall under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution?

The following are the States that come under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution-

  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Telangana
  • Chattisgarh 
  • Gujarat
  • Himachal Pradesh
  • Jharkhand
  • Madhya Pradesh
  • Maharashtra
  • Odisha
  • Rajasthan

What is the significance of the Samatha case?

Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh  & Ors. (1997) is an important case where the Supreme Court of India dealt with the meaning of various expressions like ‘person’, ‘forest’, and ‘peace and good government’ to protect the interests and rights of the tribal and scheduled people living in scheduled areas. It also laid down provisions for the protection of the environment and to prevent pollution. The precedent passed in this case plays a significant role in limiting the authority of the State Government and preventing the environmental resources of the tribally scheduled areas from being used for commercial gains by private individuals. It also took into consideration the importance of agriculture in sustaining the livelihoods of the tribal people.

Reference

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