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Local People Amidst the Changing Conservation Ethos: Relationships between People and Protected Areas in India

Ruchi Badola
Wildlife Institute of India
Chandrabani Dehradum, U.P. India


In India, as elsewhere, there is a move towards involving local people living in and around forests in biodiversity conservation. This is a response to the legitimate demands of local people to be involved in activities that affect their lives, as also a necessary precondition for the success of conservation efforts. But successful examples where local people's development needs have been effectively reconciled with biodiversity conservation are difficult to find. Presently the network of Protected Areas (PAs) in India covers an area of 8.1 million ha encompassing about 14 percent of the country's forest area and 4.61 percent of its landmass. From six National Parks (NPs) and 59 Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLS) in 1970, the number increased to 85 and 462 in 1998 respectively1>  (WII 1998). The basic management approach of these areas has been the conventional isolationist approach, whereby management seeks to protect the park from people living in surrounding areas. The central concept has been to conserve the perceived "natural state" or "wilderness" (Pimbert and Pretty 1995). These areas were explicitly seen as "pristine environments similar to those that existed before human interference, delicately balanced ecosystems that need to be preserved for our enjoyment and use and that of future generations" (Gomez-Pompa and Kaus 1992). The philosophy behind this approach is thus of preservation or protection. The role of the government is to guard natural resources from `inappropriate' uses, in order to shield wildlife and other natural resources from exploitation (IIED 1995), and this is achieved through strict enforcement of legislation, patrols to prevent illegal activities and infrastructure maintenance.

Out of a population of 900 million in India, 64 percent of the rural population and 100 million tribals (Lynch 1992) depend on the forests for their sustenance. Ninety million cattle graze inside the forests (Dwivedi 1993). Firewood consumption in India is 173,412 Ktons (RWEDP 1997), with 62 percent derived from forests (Leach 1987). Income from non-timber forest products (NTFPs) is important for the 60 million households living below the poverty line (World Bank 1991). According to a survey carried out in the mid-1980s, over 65 percent of the PAs were characterized by human settlements and resource use (Kothari et al. 1989). In such a scenario an attempt to protect the PAs from human intervention by coercion results in hostile attitudes of local people towards wildlife management and forestry staff. This often fuels open conflicts between communities and the forest department. Between 1979 and 1984, 51 clashes were reported in connection with NPs and 66 with WLS (Guha and Gadgil 1992).

Joint Forest Management and Ecodevelopment

Recognizing the futility of, and problems associated with, protecting forests and wildlife by excluding local people and without examining their dependencies, has resulted in a shift towards participatory approaches in forest and in situ biodiversity conservation. Via the National Forest Policy (1988) the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, declared that local communities were to be involved in natural resources conservation2 . Subsequently in 1990, the Ministry issued a circular for joint forest management and resource sharing. The Joint Forest Management (JFM) approach seeks to develop partnerships between state forest departments (as owners and co-managers) and local community organizations (as co-managers) for sustainable forest management. User groups receive usufruct rights only, clearly noting that land is not to be allocated or leased (Poffenberger and Singh 1993).

The Government of India provided further impetus to this declaration, particularly in the field of PA management by committing funds for ecodevelopment since 1991, with the basic objectives of reducing pressures on the core area of PAs. Ecodevelopment or Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDP), as they are called otherwise, seek to conserve biodiversity through local economic development and by offering alternative income generating opportunities to reduce forest dependence. Ecodevelopment is a site-specific, conservation-friendly package of measures for rural development and use of natural resources by local people so as to contribute to PA conservation (Panwar 1992). Both JFM and ecodevelopment emphasize people's participation in natural resources management through empowerment. However, while in JFM villagers are able to obtain a share of forest produce, wildlife laws prohibit the extraction of forest produce for human use from NPs and WLS (Singh 1998). The scope for linking ecodevelopment with JFM is hence limited thus reducing a potentially important means of utilizing bufferzones in WLS to meet the resource requirements of the local people (Rodgers 1992)3 .

The fundamental difference between ecodevelopment and rural development is that, while the main objective of rural development is poverty alleviation and raising living standards, the sine qua non of ecodevelopment is biodiversity conservation in PAs. Ecodevelopment attempts to create a legal and social environment for people's participation in conservation and seeks to build support for biodiversity conservation through improvements in the welfare of local communities. It tries to compensate (in cash and kind as well as through alternative off-farm income generating opportunities) local communities for the lost access to resources inside the PAs and the damage by wildlife.

Due to low initial investments in capacity building and implementation, field practitioners were grappling with the intricacies inherent in the new concept. Recently, investments have increased with additional resources made available through external sources such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the World Bank (from 1995 onward). The predominantly undocumented past experiences indicate mixed results. The apparently progressive concept needs to be assessed in light of its impacts particularly on the main actors i.e. the local communities. The following sections critically examine the ecodevelopment concept as well as a range of issues that have emerged during the last decade, and discuss some emerging lessons.

Strengths of the Current Conservation Program

Ecodevelopment is based on the principle of equity. It recognizes that people living near PAs may have to bear enormous opportunity costs while deriving little tangible benefits from conservation. Conservation measures must therefore provide alternative livelihood strategies for natural resource dependent communities.

Ecodevelopment includes support to common and private property resources (Rodgers 1992). This is different from the earlier approach of bufferzone management that concentrated activities at the periphery of the PAs on government land. The new approach seeks to move beyond the dubious assumption of the bufferzone management concept with its limited benefits that were insufficient to motivate people to change resource use patterns in accordance with the conservation requirements. The new approach acknowledges instead, that the relationship of local people to forests is all-encompassing and permeates social, economic, cultural, religious and even political aspects. It therefore attempts to link conservation to the broader process of rural development considering the existing socio-cultural milieu (Badola 1995).

To ensconce development in conservation, ecodevelopment envisages the integration of its activities with other development agencies. The PA manager may link existing rural development programs to conservation projects. This is crucial to avoid the waste of funds and to ensure long-term sustainability of activities (Badola 1996). The proposition that all ecodevelopment funds should be channeled through the Panchyat (local administrative unit) institutions at the village level is an important step in this direction.

As the concept evolved, the role of the primary stakeholders shifted from supplicants hoping to become "beneficiaries" of the largesse distributed by the government (Mahajan 1991) to active partners in project design and implementation. Community participation increased efficiency - on the grounds that if people are involved, they are more likely to agree with and support any new development or service - and is a moral right. By empowering people it stimulates collective action and initiates institution building (Pimbert and Pretty 1995). By ensuring that tangible benefits flow from conservation, the conservation-development linkages are strengthened. The state government resolutions of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, pertaining to sharing of consumptive and/or tourism benefits from PAs, are apposite examples.

Weakness of the Current Conservation Program

The concept as interpreted and implemented in India suffers from some inherent weaknesses. Under the present tenurial arrangements it is difficult to involve local people in conservation as the earlier concept relies on excluding people from the PAs rather than integrating them. Most definitions of the concept refer to reducing the "negative impacts" of people on PAs and PAs on people. With few exceptions, linkages of people with PAs in the form of access to resources are merely incidental to the management practices (Kothari et al. 1997). Although the exclusionary approach may achieve a reduction in biomass extraction from PAs, it fails to develop any interest in conservation among local communities. The approach has neglected to push for changes in land tenure legislation and agrarian reforms - factors that could promote genuine local interest in conservation - and, more generally, has not adopted a political economy approach to identify the underlying causes of environmental degradation (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). Tenure insecurity reduces the incentive to invest in land improvement and conservation. Some activists can therefore be forgiven if they view the motives of the national governments for advocating ecodevelopment and JFM with suspicion. They consider both as tools by which the government attempts to gain support of the people on one hand - without being concerned about their welfare - and placates international donor agencies on the other.

Ecodevelopment by definition, under the present legislation, limits participation of people in PA management. The categories of NPs and WLS do not allow any space for managing resources by or for the local people. For ecodevelopment to achieve its basic objective of biodiversity conservation, people can only be empowered in aspects of development, including local resource management, that do not lead to exploitation of wildlife or forest resources. Participation is thus passive. Moreover the ecodevelopment approach rests on unproven assumptions that are now increasingly being challenged (see also Enters and Anderson in this volume).

Challenging assumptions

A number of assumptions on which biodiversity conservation is based remain untested. Some of these are as follows:

Assumption: All human use is detrimental to wildlife conservation interests.

Reality: Numerous ecological studies have shown this is not necessarily true (Saberwal 1995). In fact, in some cases excluding human activities from ecosystems can actually reduce biodiversity and lead to habitat deterioration. In India, in the Keoladeo National Park, a ban on buffalo grazing led to the invasion of the wetlands by Paspalum distichum. The area of open water for major waterfowls decreased and subsequently bird populations declined (Hussain 1996). Other studies have also pointed out that certain habitats have improved following human use/habitation (Arhem 1985; Western 1989; Balee 1989; Blackmore et al. 1990; Homewood and Rodgers 1991; Ramakrishnan 1992).

Conventional wisdom sees certain areas as pristine or primary. Accordingly, such areas receive high biodiversity values and top priority for conservation. Certain strands of recent thinking, however, strongly criticize such notions of originality (Fairhead and Leach 1996). In fact all over the world, present day forest quality and biodiversity patterns reflect the influence of past land-use practices (Fairhead and Leach 1993; Leach and Fairhead 1994; Gomez-Pompa and Kaus 1992; Foster 1992).

Assumption: Biodiversity conservation is generally compatible with economic development.

Reality: It is naïve to assume that people will be more inclined to conserve biodiversity if their living standards improve. Examples show that where tourist inflows and income levels increase pressures on forests resources increase too, as the scope for enhancing income through exploitation of biodiversity improves. This is the case in the Periyar Tiger Reserve and Borivilli and Mudumalai Sanctuaries, which are surrounded by economically well-off communities whose prosperity is increasing over the years due to tourism. But this prosperity has at the same time been detrimental to the surrounding PAs. Unless people are able to link tangible benefits with PA management and unless strong institutions are developed, as is the case of the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal, the above assumption may not hold. Moreover there may not always be a way to improve local incomes without depleting biodiversity.

Assumption: Resource-poor people living next to PAs will stop using forest resources due to the support and development of alternative livelihood strategies.

Reality: A complete stop of forest use by local people is generally not possible. First, none of the alternative opportunities tested so far generated sufficient interest and benefits to dissuade forest-dependent people from going to the forests. Moreover, in most cases it is difficult to develop sufficient and lucrative alternatives so as to involve most villages in and around PAs (Pandey 1998) Secondly, resource use has more than economic dimensions. From the perspective of forest utilization, dependency as often assumed, is not a function of economic status alone. Forest dependence due to a lack of purchasing power or physical lack of access to alternatives can be termed "actual" dependency. However, forest use is often also a result of its free access and part of cultural and traditional lifestyles of the people. This can be termed "habitual" or "traditional" dependency, which most development activities do not address (Badola 1997b).

Assumption: There is a direct causative relationship between environmental degradation and poverty.

Reality: In many areas of northern, eastern and northeastern India the poor have managed their environment sustainably. A direct causative relationship between poverty and environmental degradation assumes that reducing poverty through development activities will automatically reduce environmental degradation (Lewis 1988). A number of studies (Gill 1993; Fairhead and Leach 1993; Leach and Fairhead 1994) have questioned the conventional wisdom that poverty leads people to over-exploit their natural resource base and that a declining natural resource base leads through a continued "downward spiral" to more poverty (Durning 1989). Poverty is frequently defined in quantitative terms and aggregated in terms of a "physical quality of life index". Rarely is poverty defined by the poor themselves (Chambers 1983). It is important to identify different dimensions of poverty such as social inferiority, vulnerability, seasonal deprivation and powerlessness. Where poverty-environment linkages are concerned, this is crucial as different dimensions of poverty are related to environmental change in quite specific ways. Hence they require different policy measures (Leach 1994). Further, factors such as tenure security, variability of income sources and social and cultural relationships also play a major role in determining the ways in which people view, manage and use natural resources.

Achievements so Far

The ecodevelopment approach heralds a new epoch in state-people relationship in conservation. For more than a century, the strained relationship between the forest department and local communities has prevented the effective protection of forest resources but generated conflicts instead. In such a climate, an approach which treats the forest department and local communities as partners in management, or tries to integrate welfare aspects with conservation, is important and timely. Ecodevelopment has been taken up in 80 PAs through a centrally sponsored scheme. The Government of India has also launched an ecodevelopment project in seven PAs with World Bank assistance and two PAs are being supported through the Forestry Research, Education, Extension Projects of the World Bank. Under the auspices of the ecodevelopment project numerous social welfare activities have been planned for local communities living in the vicinity of PAs. These have provided relief to people living in remote areas often ignored by development agencies. Activities such as the provision of drinking water and irrigation facilities, soil and moisture conservation, fencing, village roads, health care camps and employment generation have been undertaken by the forest department and have improved relationships between local communities and PA management staff.

All the ecodevelopment activities are administered by Village Ecodevelopment Committees (VEC) or Forest Protection Committees (FPC). The poor and marginalized community members are represented in these committees which has helped to generate an awareness of their knowledge and self-help capabilities. Under the ecodevelopment project there is also ample provision for capacity building activities for forest department personnel and local people. However, planning and implementation are still hampered by various constraints.

Constraints in Planning

There is a lack of understanding in the concept not only among local people but also among the forest department officials, particularly the field staff. The villagers' perceptions - or misperceptions - include ecodevelopment being a leopard imported from the United States, and some foresters view it as an opportunity to rid the environment of domestic livestock (see Box 1). The field staff considers it as extended duties that were hitherto restricted to the forests but now expanded to other areas as well. In fact, the situation is similar to the fable of the four blind men who managed to touch only parts of the elephant's body. When asked to describe an elephant, later, they could describe it only as the part that they had touched: a snake, a ladder, or a pole. PRAs (Participatory Rural Appraisal) and RRAs (Rapid Rural Appraisal) are reduced to fads with everyone using but no one actually understanding them. Frequently the outputs of PRAs are turned into annexes - a sometimes mandatory funding requirement - thus limiting the scope of application of the local expertise.

Box 1: Perceptions about ecodevelopment

A micro plan for Bhetuli village located on the fringe of the Binsar WLS in northern India has been prepared. This is the first micro plan for this WLS under the ecodevelopment project. The officials are curious to find out whether the participatory process has made headway and the draft plan is acceptable to the villagers. The meeting begins. The villagers do not know anything about the micro plan. They were not consulted. Suddenly one of the women starts shouting. "You first took our fingers then our hands and now you have come to catch us by the throat. You want to create walls around the WLS and put barbed wires. You want to bribe us and take away our rights by getting our signatures. We will not be fooled. Give us our rights". She thunders. Her statements draw applause from fellow villagers. To lend a dramatic touch to her statements, she sways her sickle and says that she will cut the neck of the Sanctuarywallahs (PA management staff). She is assured that no walls will be created. "Give me in writing" she retorts. "And give me your address too before you proceed to transfer". She has come without slippers and she does not have another dhoti (dress traditionally worn by Indian women). "And you want to take away whatever remains", she says. She is not correct. No wall is being created around Binsar WLS and no fence is being contemplated either. The newly constituted spearhead team is merely in the process of formalizing the ecodevelopment micro plan.

Source: Bhartari (1998)

In a training workshop held at Corbett NP for the PAs of Uttar Pradesh all the teams had returned after preparing draft ecodevelopment micro plans for their respective sites. They were required to make presentations regarding the process they had adopted for preparing the plans. One team presentation went like this. "Since the villagers were totally illiterate we prepared the village maps ourselves, during the PRA exercises".

Experience has shown that by the time concepts reach the lower project levels they are translated into a time-bound, target-driven action plan with a predetermined number of micro plans, to be prepared through people's participation in a fixed number of days. In addition, certain funds have to be spent within a limited time on activities specified within a broader framework. This hardly provides enough time and leeway to build a common understanding and sharing of norms. "The political expedience of working with existing structures of dominance is easily disguised by citing the importance of respecting traditional culture. This dilemma can only be resolved by long and painstaking work by PA staff who are themselves committed to progressive ideas. But this may set the time frame of ecodevelopment awry and as the higher authorities are impatient to achieve tangible targets, the PA staff will be asked to pull up their socks", observes Bavisker (1998).

In spite of its popularity, participatory approaches generally lack attitudinal changes amongst foresters (Badola 1998). "Participation", much needed to get plans approved, exists. However, it is usually limited to informal discussions. The forest department works in a manner that is hierarchical and almost totally non-participatory in its decision-making processes. How can it then be expected to behave in a manner that it did not practice and, until the very recent past, did not even preach?

Constraints in Implementation

The ecodevelopment approach has entailed a rapid change and expansion in functions. The jurisdiction of the forest department has now extended to villages, and under the ecodevelopment program a large number of rural development activities have to be taken up. In most areas, the staff is required to perform these additional duties along with their traditional protection duties, although staff capacities have remained unchanged. A lack of trained people in the field of ecodevelopment is obvious. In most cases training programs are conducted too late, i.e. only after plan preparation and consultations with local people (Box 2).

Box 2: Training in ecodevelopment under the FREE Project (1995-1999), Great Himalayan National Park

In principle, participatory management, ecodevelopment, and various aspects of biodiversity conservation were the required training areas for all staff under the FREE Project. Local institutions or in situ training programs were more effective. In practice, training programs could not be undertaken due to lack of planning and funding. The training that took place consisted of i) a four-month overseas training course on monitoring biodiversity, attended by the Park Director, ii) one-and-a-half month overseas training courses on project planning attended by the Deputy Director and a forest ranger. None of these people received training in community-based management. The in situ training to address the needs of the project staff, wildlife watchers, and ecoworkers took place only in the fourth year of the project.

Source: Pandey (1998)

Considerable bottlenecks exist at all levels in the funding mechanism. In most cases the PA management does not have financial, managerial and administrative autonomy. Mechanisms for plan approval, procurement of funds, expenditures and controls are unclear. Weak capacity within the PA agencies to handle the huge budgets and the lack of technical skills to deal with the new roles are major problems at practically all the sites. In addition, the PA staff is now required to elicit the participation of local communities in conservation, a new and dual role for which most officials are ill prepared. The concerns often voiced by this group is "how can we expect people to come to the meetings called by us or to believe in us when only yesterday we have impounded their cattle for entering the PA and tomorrow we may be required to punish them for gathering fuelwood?" and "to what extent is participation of the people required, if we go too far, they will take us for granted?". This dilemma although being voiced largely by the field staff haunts all ranks of the forest department.

So far the focus in ecodevelopment has been on activities rather than on processes. Activities are largely selected via a basket approach through a referral list. This list can be quite comprehensive but does not amount to a strategy. As a result, there are generally weak conservation-development linkages. The forest department's choice of activities with direct conservation-development linkages might not find favor with the communities, who might prefer roads, micro-irrigation and other activities (Box 3). The field practitioners then struggle to prove that indirect linkages have been well spelt out (Rathore et al. 1998).

Box 3: Establishing linkages

One village demanded that ecodevelopment funds be used for street lighting in the main road. This proposal was not positively received because the implementing agency did not see a link between lights and reducing pressures on the PA. However, the villagers argued that many young villagers sneaked out at night to poach animals in the PA. If the streets were lighted they could be more easily spotted and prevented!

Source: Singh (1998)

Another problem with ecodevelopment is its failure to control land use on the fringes of the PAs (e.g., development activities taking place next to the Rajaji National Park, the proliferation of tourist resorts in the periphery of Periyar TR and the mushrooming of the cement factories on the fringes of the Gir Lion Sanctuary). Realizing the critical significance of including PAs in regional plans, the Staff Appraisal Report of the World Bank (1996) states, that "PAs can be successful in realizing their long-term conservation goals only to the extent that their priorities can become integrated into large-scale land-use planning initiatives and regulations at the local and regional levels". If various agencies work for the common agenda of development, which is rooted in conservation ethics, financial and technical resources could be easily pooled (Rathore et al. 1998). In view of the huge government outlay in rural development for the 9th plan, it becomes all the more sensible to integrate conservation with development. Although the ecodevelopment project envisages inter-departmental cooperation, the legal, policy and administrative frameworks to achieve this remain hazy. In most cases, the PA management staff does not even control the activities in the buffer zones. If the bufferzone does not have the status of a PA, jurisdiction is generally with the territorial divisions, in which case management objectives may be of a rather different nature.

Capacity building of local people remains weak especially in accounting and managerial skills, institution and team building, and leadership and technical skills such as processing and marketing. In the absence of capacity building there can be no meaningful partnerships and programs cannot be sustainable. Instead they may be appropriated by a few powerful individuals.

Box 4: Women and low caste people in Village Ecodevelopment Committees

The good VEC includes women and Dalits (low caste people), but if the forest guards want anything done, they know that they have to approach the traditional power center of the village - the Devta committee. This committee of upper caste men wields great power over resources and rituals.

The State Government authorities allow villagers on the periphery of Rajaji NP to collect Bhaber grasses inside the national park. As a trust-building measure, the order was issued in 1995 by invoking provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. Women and children make the ropes and their sale constitutes the main income of the people. The villagers are allowed to go inside the NP on foot and collect the grass, for two months each year. In a meeting held at village Ganeshpur on the fringes of the Park in 1998, the village women were cursing the park authorities for not allowing them to collect the grass for which they had to pay a lot of money to the forest guards. The lady motivator for the village told them of the above arrangement. Most of them admitted that they were unaware of it.

A look at the state government order on ecodevelopment shows that the provision for membership of the VECs is either for one family member (e.g. in U.P and Gujrat) or for at least one member (e.g. Maharashtra). Only the West Bengal order mentions joint membership of husband and wife but here also either of the two can represent the household in meetings. There is thus very little scope for women to even attend these meetings.

Source: Bavisker (1998)

Inadequate representation of poor and marginalized people in VECs is a factor that the PA staff finds difficult to resolve. Although good VECs have adequate numbers of women and low caste representatives, they usually lack the ability to influence the decision-making process (Box 4).

The key actors in the forest department who spend the greatest time and energy in translating the policies into activities are the field staff. In most cases, the PAs are in remote areas and the staff have to function in tough conditions alienated by the local communities. Most postings do not provide sufficient and comfortable staff facilities. In the absence of sufficient incentives, the wildlife sector does not attract talented staff. In fact, wildlife management is considered punishment by most. With the focus on participatory approaches, staff workload has increased and in the absence of any consideration of their problems it is difficult to maintain their commitment. The fragile relationship between the field staff and the local people can easily be destroyed and participation built on trust can be obstructed by staff members who fail to honor their commitments (Hobley 1995).

Ways Forward

The foregoing problems (existing and perceived) and lessons learned in the practice of ecodevelopment also point to ways forward.

The main partners in conservation, the local communities and the field staff need to be empowered through training and capacity-building programs. Flexibility in terms of time and fund allocation is needed at the planning stage itself. Conservation awareness has to become an integral part of each ecodevelopment program. Intensive communication efforts using a variety of media are necessary to create the right atmosphere in the villages, transfer technologies, build confidence in the participants and create a spirit of collaboration among PA personnel and village people (CEE 1997; Badola 1998).

In biodiversity conservation, local people need to receive tangible benefits even in the short run. The most significant benefits at the local level are the consumptive benefits such as fuelwood, fodder, and NTFPs, as well as benefits from tourism (Wells 1992). To the extent that resource sharing improves living standards without jeopardizing the resource sustainability and overall conservation goals, ecodevelopment can contribute significantly by linking development with conservation (Rathore 1996). De facto use of resources is happening in most PAs despite legal restrictions. People tend to become indiscriminate in situations where they find no legal recourse. It is a question of interpreting the law creatively and taking decisions on a case to case basis.

Moreover social scientists also question the assumption that local communities living in and around forests should follow prudent and austere lifestyles when the society at large is allowed to lead extravagant and profligate lives. Conservation in key centers of biodiversity stands a better chance of success if natural resource use is treated from a national perspective. Such a consensus will not foist conservation on to some villagers while other members of the society waste resources (Bavisker 1998).

To secure effective and active participation of the communities, programs must be able to restore the local institutions that are important for the environmental entitlements of various societal sections. According to Cernea (1987), "resource degradation in the developing countries, while incorrectly attributed to `common property systems' intrinsically actually originates in the dissolution of local level institutional arrangements whose very purpose was to give rise to resource use patterns that were sustainable". It is important to acknowledge that resource priorities and requirements differ among the various sections within a community. Successful, people-oriented conservation must address not vague societal goals but socially differentiated ones in which the diverse perspectives and priorities of individuals, families, local communities and conservationists are accommodated (Fairhead and Leach 1994). In addressing the issue of participation, successful people-oriented conservation projects establish equitable partnerships, so that all stakeholders have an equal opportunity for control, management and receiving benefits. Stakeholders are given the chance to take part in joint analysis, development of action plans and implementation.

To ensure that all development activities are rooted in conservation ethics, institutional linkages with mainstream development programs need to be formalized. The 73rd amendment to the constitution of India (1993) offers scope for greater involvement of the formal Panchayat system in ecosystem management. The subjects that are now under the jurisdiction of the Panchayats include land improvements, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation, minor irrigation, water management and watershed development, animal husbandry, fisheries and NTFPs. To be able to make informed decisions the management of PAs needs professional researchers to collect baseline information and carry out `action research'. Quantitative and qualitative monitoring and evaluation indices are required to measure progress towards the objectives, guide project management and assess progress towards sustainability once external support is withdrawn.

To achieve all this requires a firm political will. Conservation and development issues are not only technical or economic in nature but also political. Development and politics are no longer separate entities. Politics is not only a part of the solution but is itself a problem that needs to be addressed (Hyden 1998). Attention is needed not only in terms of policy but also in terms of the rules that shape actions.


I thank S.K. Mukherjee, Director of Wildlife Institute of India for encouraging me to participate in the International seminar on decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific, Nov 30-Dec 4, 1998, Davao City, Philippines. The funds for my participation were provided by RECOFTC, Bangkok. S.A. Hussain helped generating thoughts during frequent discussions and gave valuable comments on the manuscript. Discussions with B.M.S. Rathore and A.K. Bhardwaj helped in clarifying certain issues. Thomas Enters edited the manuscript. Steffan Weidner, FAO, Bangkok and Michael Victor, RECOFTC, Bangkok helped me in various ways for my participation in the seminar.


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1 The NPs and WLS correspond to categories II and IV of the IUCN classification respectively.

2 Excessive concern for revenue, a disregard for people's needs and a lack of initiative in involving people in forest protection work need to be corrected (Indian Forest Policy Statement 1988).

3 Prior to the 1991 amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, resource use in the buffer zone of PAs was regulated, while the core area was completely closed. Most PAs and Project Tiger areas in India have a core/buffer zonation; the core zone has the NP status while the buffer could either be a WLS or a reserved forest. The buffer zones were designed to reduce border conflicts by allowing regulated resource use. According to the 1991 amendment, in case of WLS, the Chief Wildlife Wardens have to certify that any manipulation does not harm wildlife, and this manipulation has to be approved by state governments.

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