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Decentralization as a generic concept is considered from time immemorial to the present as a more congenial form of human clustering. This is not only true in societal governance but also in the realm of families. As early as 200 B.C., the Greeks found city states as more democratically manageable and administratively effective. An example in the recent past is the breaking away of the states from the erstwhile USSR. In the realm of families, we are all aware of the gradual movement from the large to nuclear families.

In spite of this natural human tendency to decentralization, society has not been consistently trying to achieve it. Different countries at their different periods of history had sometimes decentralized but after a certain while reversed the process. This happens as decentralization is accompanied by establishment of a state hierarchy in which higher officials gradually usurp the power of the smaller units and thus undo the development.

Leaving aside the dawn of the history of the human civilization when small clustered units were natural, decentralization or its reverse namely centralization has been superimposed from the top and when resisted, it was forced. Or else the people coerced the state to accept decentralization. In other words, decentralization or otherwise has a turbulent history.

Decentralization has often been mixed up, albeit wrongly, with the concept of geographical division. Most people mistakenly consider division of a state into provinces and provinces into districts and so on down the ladder as decentralization because the area under each of the lower divisions is less than that of the next higher. This is one of the reasons why a number of other words have now been coined by specialists to distinguish different facets of decentralization. These include deconcentration, delegation, devolution and privatization (Hye, 1985). In this paper, we will stick to two of these: deconcentration and devolution which we believe can cover what all these words refer to. To avoid unnecessary misunderstandings about the meaning of words, we define deconcentration to include all concepts where the large has been subdivided into small units including the geographical subdivision in its domain without transferring any special authority. The devolution will refer to only cases of deconcentration where some form of authority of the centre has been passed to the decentralized units in the hierarchy. We will continue to use the word decentralization in the generic sense.

It is necessary however to distinguish between administrative and financial devolution. In the former, certain administrative authority is only delegated to the lower echelons while in financial delegation, the authority to earn, collect and spend revenue is also transferred.

One important consideration in a study of decentralization is to be clear about who administers the decentralized units. They may be government officials, both central and provincial. It may also be the legislative arms of the parliament such as the panchayats in India or District Political Authority of Sri Lanka, village leader and party chief together in China or a combination of NGO, elected representatives and government officials as Uphoff (1985) recommends. The other important consideration is how far down the hierarchy of the society is the decentralization carried out. Is it up to the region, district, block, village or hamlet level?

The devolution of authority to the deconcentrated units also have diverse manifestations. The nature and degree of authorization to the smaller units is really the major point of departure from centralization. It may be fiscal by which the deconcentrated unit may be authorized to decide sources of revenue and collect revenue from these sources. Along with it or even without it, the authority may also be given singly or in combination, of developmental planning, implementation, administration and management.

The objectives of decentralization may be many but the more laudable ones are to mobilize local resources, improve implementation, promote participation of the local people and the last but not the least to encourage equity in regard to distribution of wealth. Decentralization however is often introduced by the central government to consolidate its hold in the countryside. The obvious result is that participation is restricted to the people who accept the political philosophy of the centre while others are left out. Equity thus becomes the victim.

In this paper, we will first describe the progress of administrative decentralization over time and then follow it up with a discussion on decentralization in respect of forest management particularly the relevant policies, legal aspects, associated rules and regulations and some recently introduced new initiatives and their implementation. We will then discuss the impact of the policies, legislations and the new initiatives on the people and the forests including the lessons learnt therefrom. We will then construct a scenario in respect of some countries of the Asia Pacific the fate of the forests if the present forest policies in respect of centralization continue. Finally we will propose some changes, the problems, prospects and methods of implementation of these proposed changes.

There are thirty countries included in the Asia- Pacific region. They are diverse in many respects. In size, American Samoa island in the Pacific is 20 sq. km. while India extends over 297 319 and China 932 641 sq. km. As of 1990, the density of population is as low as 1.4 inhabitants per sq. km. in Mongolia and as high as 122 in China, 209 in Philippines, 287 in India, 888 in Bangladesh and 4445 in Singapore. The difference in GNP per capita as an indicator of economic progress is equally striking. The average GNP for the whole region is US$ 602 per capita, the least in the world sans Africa. But the Continental SE Asia has a GNP of $1195 while that of Cambodia is 170, Bhutan 190, Bangladesh 210 and India 360. The annual GNP growth is 0% in Cambodia, 3.3% in India and 6.8% in Bhutan (FAO, 1990). Politically also the countries have different structures. Some of them like India are democratic and federal, others such as Indonesia, China are more centralized. Some countries such as Bhutan continue to have monarchy.

Under these differing circumstances, each country certainly has a different past history and would have differing futures of decentralization and devolution. In respect of the forests however there are some common characteristics between countries which allow a form of grouping as indicated below:

Group 1:

Countries with high population and low or dwindling forest cover: e.g. Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Group 2:

Timber exporting countries with large forests: e.g. Indonesia, Malaysia

Group 3:

Timber exporting countries recently changed to importing countries due to severe forest loss in the recent past: e.g. Philippines, Thailand

Group 4:

Island countries with large forests and traditional pattern of forest ownership e.g. Papua New Guinea, South Pacific Islands

In the paper, we have chosen India from the Group 1 countries, Indonesia from Group 2, Thailand from Group 3 and Papua New Guinea from Group 4 countries for detailed discussion on some topics. We will however consider other countries as well, where necessary, to provide a wider perspective.

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