I have waited the longest time to upload this. I had spent all of 2009 studying the drafting of the “Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. I finished writing it. Sent the paper to a journal called Conservation And Society. Got busy with my job at the Economic Times. And when the reviewers’ comments came, I was too neck deep in journalism to be able to rework the paper. Well, a year and a half after their feedback, I finally finished reworking it.
But, sigh, I am still to send it to the journal. In the meantime, here is the abstract. This, from what I know, is one of the few accounts of the pre-legislative process in India, of how laws evolve from a “political promise” into a “legal reality”.
In 2006, India passed an Act recognising hitherto unrecognised rights of tribals and other forest-dwellers over the forests that sustain them. However, for all its merits, this Act, ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ is a puzzling document. It is ambiguous in parts. There are differences between its text and its preamble. It leaves critical questions on operationalisation unanswered. All this has marred the Act’s implementation. To explain how contradictions and ambiguities entered the text of what should have been a precise legal document, this paper reconstructs the drafting process through which the Act took shape. Briefly, it argues that every actor who participated in the drafting of the “Forest Rights Act” – the people movements, the Left, the Tribal Ministry, the Environment Ministry, the wildlifers – had a different conception of the problem the Bill had to resolve and, consequently, the provisions it needed to contain. There were few attempts to harmonise these divergent views. The final Act emerged from a law-making process where no actor influenced more than a few provisions. In the process, the meaning of the final text became an incidental outcome – a combination of parts that do not fit together very well.