India's Supreme Court has ordered the eviction of more than 1 million indigenous people and others who live in forests, after the federal government failed to defend a law aimed at protecting their rights.
The top court's order, dated February 13 and delivered in written form on Wednesday, was in response to a petition against the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, filed by some environmental groups who said the law impeded conservation efforts.
Under the landmark Forest Rights Act, at least 150 million people could have had their rights recognised to about 40 million hectares (154,000 square miles) of forest land.
The Supreme Court has asked officials in 16 states to submit details of rights claims settled, and "in the cases where claims have been rejected ... to ensure that eviction is made on or before the next date of hearing" on July 24.
The order "is a major blow to the struggle of tribals and forest dwellers for justice", advocacy group Campaign for Survival and Dignity said in a statement.
"Another historic injustice is about to be committed against tribals and other forest dwellers," said Shankar Gopalakrishnan, president of the group.
India has more than 100 million indigenous people, who are also known as Adivasis, or original inhabitants.
The court's order could affect claims of indigenous people in the remaining states and lead to more evictions, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Campaigners say many states had rejected recognition of community forest rights on flimsy grounds as demand increased for land for mining and industry.