Act of justice

A year after the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed unanimously by Parliament, the government has finally notified the rules to provide the procedure for its implementation. Without the notification of rules, the act cannot be implemented. For example, in the case of the Forest Rights Act, the rules are required to detail the evidence needed to get land pattas, to delineate the role of the gram sabhas and different committees set up by the act, etc.

According to parliamentary procedure, rules are normally notified within six months of adopting the act. However, recently there are at least three cases where the drafting of rules has become as contentious as the act itself in the case of the SEZ Act, the rules add to the scope of the act (including giving more powers to the commissioners than envisaged under the act); the anti Domestic Violence Act was deliberately delayed for over a year; and now the Forest Rights Act. Powerful lobbies find space to subvert the will of Parliament through either delaying the rules or framing them in such a manner that they end up rewriting the act by narrowing or expanding its scope.

In the present case, the anti-tribal lobbies among conservationists and the bureaucracy worked to convince the highest echelons of government that notification of the rules should be delayed until tribals living in critical wild life habitat could be evicted. Such a step would have virtually sabotaged the act. They continued their disinformation campaign that the act would destroy the forests when it is well known that the extent of land involved is less than two per cent of forestland. It is only because of persistent pressure that this backroom manoeuvre did not succeed, including an all-party delegation to the prime minister, a walk-out on the issue by the CPM in Parliament, a privilege motion against the secretary of the ministry of environment and forests and numerous meetings with concerned authorities and, most importantly, tribal mobilisation.

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