Nayanika Mathur in this seminal book writes in great detail about the life of paper and its importance in Indian bureaucracy. Locating herself in the lower rungs of the bureaucratic structure assigned with the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA),she highlights the use of letters as a method of balancing relationships with other departments and citizens. Though she states there is a difference between the study of paper and the asli or the real work on the ground it is in this gap that we can gain a deeper glimpse into the operations of the developmental Indian state. I was prompted to write this post to unpack the potential this book and its research method holds for the study of the implementation of environmental law in India. Her research method of locating herself within the bureacratic structure can offer unique insights to how decisions are made around questions of the environment. An under researched aspect of environmental law in India remains the study of the functioning of its many regulatory authorities and bureaucratic arms. The paper state as Nayanika Mathur indicates is one rife with the materiality of paper as evidence of implementation of law. As environmental laws particularly The Forest Rights Act,2006 are charged with speedy implementation it becomes pertinent to fathom the modalities of decision-making of the different bureaucratic actors.
A large part of understanding the implementation of environmental law is the study of how broad administrative discretion is exercised. It is characteristic of environmental law that administrative agencies enjoy wide discretionary power. The forest department for instance has discretionary powers ranging from the power to arrest without a warrant for a forest offence to decisions on compensatory afforestation. The paper trail of these decisions can act as a window into comprehending how discretionary power is deployed. Though this is not a novel area of research given that civil society groups on the ground access the paper trail if lucky through the right to information act and hold these agencies accountable. What can potentially provide novel insight is to undertake similar research as the author has which is to immerse in the everyday workings of the bureaucratic body and to see how different levels of the bureaucracy operate in relation to the law.
As a legal researcher reading this book it made me think of the layers within which law exists. The statutory text is merely one source of what the law is but in its implementation sources on what the law is are hidden in the paper trail of these authorities. Rules though lay down the procedure to be followed by the administrative authorities they are often morphed into forms that have contextual relevance or ease of implementation. During my research on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act,2006 in Karnataka last year what came to the fore were the varied procedural norms that were laid out in circulars and notices between departments which at times were in violation of Rules. Yet, these circulars and notices were seen as the primary source of law by the administrative authorities in shaping implementation. Thus studying law in all its layers paints an interesting narrative of the gap between the law as envisioned in the statute and the form it takes in the executive or administrative bodies.
The book showcases the multiple interpretations that statutory and procedural law as Rules are subject to in administrative bodies. The act of legal interpretation takes place in the everyday practices of the bureaucracy from holding meetings to drafting letters. Analysing this can help us gain a richer understanding of the bureaucratic life of environmental law. This book provides a unique approach to the study of law and its implementation and is a must for lawyers seeking to map the journey from the statute to the context of operation.