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Contested Terrain: Forest Cases in the Supreme Court of India Shomona Khanna and T K Naveen Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative New Delhi 2005
Is there an apt metaphor to evoke the moment of this publication? I wonder, as I go through the report Contested terrain: forest cases in the Supreme Court of India . There is no doubt this report is timely. At a time when the country's executive -- also conservationists and environmentalists -- have gone into a tizzy over missing tigers, this compendium peeks into some of the most important Supreme Court (sc) cases that have redefined forest and wildlife management, impacted millions and also (arguably) redefined boundaries between the executive and judiciary.
When this review gets published, the courts will be closed for summer vacations. But the moment they get back to work, our judges will be deluged with matters of forest governance. In the frenzy and seriousness with which courts today handle, hear and dispose off forest- and wildlife-related cases, it's difficult to remember the beginning of the era, which some critics term 'judiciary's green activism'.
The authors work on a simple premise: to breach the wall of silence and secrecy that surrounds all forest cases pending before the sc. "In cases labelled pil, affecting rights of millions of people... access to court documents is denied on the grounds that they are not party to the case", the report mentions.
The authors try to get around this predicament by digging deep into available repositories. Lawyers themselves, Shomona Khanna and T K Naveen sought help from a few colleagues. And the result of this collaboration is a brilliant document.
These facts would have remained inaccessible to most. But for those who wish to go beyond the obvious and read intent into the decisions, the report leaves many windows open. It almost invites the reader to dig beyond the written. The authors have been, typical of their profession, pithy in making comments about the going-ons but they do leave enough hints and messages for those who are nifty enough to pick them up.
The report is priced at Rs 50 and you can request a copy from the Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative, Q-1, Hauz Khas Enclave (first floor), New Delhi, 110016.