Joint forest management: State-community partnership in forest management
Historically, Indian forest policies have alienated people from the forests, thereby, exacerbating the rates of deforestation. Post-independence forest policies contributed to an expansion in agricultural production, met industrial demand for raw materials, and tightened control of forest lands through restricted access to forests and forest products (Haeuber, 1993). Protection policies increased the hardships of vulnerable social groups by denying them access to forests (Barraclough and Ghimire, 1995). While the state took responsibility for managing forest resources, it did not have the commensurate resources to effectively manage and police the forests from traditional users. Before state intervention, forests were managed as communal property; the crucial role of forests in the economic subsistence of individuals, families and community was the basis for managing them as communal resources (Chopra et al., 1990). A failure to recognize community control of forests led to a collapse in institutional norms that were instrumental in protecting and managing forest resources for local use. A shift in property rights to the state steadily undermined the rights of tribals to use and extract forest resources.
Beginning with the National Forest Policy of 1988 to the current JFM policy, the thrust of Indian forest policy has been to forge management partnerships with local communities. In re-discovering a legitimate role for local communities in self-governance of forests, the state has begun to devolve control over forests. The 1988 National Forestry Policy outlined four basic objectives (Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, 1 993):
meet basic needs of people; and
protect the customary rights of tribals and other people living in and around forests.
The limited success of social forestry in providing forest resources to local communities, the continued rate of deforestation and the perpetual conflicts between people and forest departments prompted the Indian government to consider a set of policy proposals that is a radical departure from existing forest policies.
Moreover, the success of joint state and community forest management experiments in Arabari, West Bengal and Sukhomajri in Haryana, provided a framework for decentralizing forest management. It was evident from these experiments that local populations have to be given a stake in the forests. By making them viable stake holders, it might be possible to regenerate, protect, and manage forest resources for the joint benefit of the people and the state. The 1988 National Forest Policy together with a circular issued by the Indian government in 1990 legitimize local communities' access to forests, encourage communities to form forest management committees, and guarantee a portion of the produce from the forests (Singh and Khare, 1993). JFM, as the new policy proposal, promotes a partnership between the state and local communities to manage forests for the benefit of the people and the state. Co-management links forest protection and the livelihood strategies of the people.
The Indian government and fifteen state governments, between 1988 and 1994, have sought to increase the participation of people in forests through the JFM Program. Essentially, JFM initiatives provide, "participating villagers free access to most NTFPs and a 25 to 50 percent share of poles and timber at final harvesting. In return, the villagers are expected to protect the forests after forming an organization conforming to the membership and structure specified by the forest department" (Sarin, 1995a). JFM, through such partnerships, attempts to change existing conditions of forest resources and the nature of community and individual activities as they relate to forest resource extraction, particularly to:
affect patterns of forest use at the local level;
improve the condition of forests at the local level;
bolster collective action around forest resources at the community level; and
improve the management of forest resources for the social and economic development of local populations and for biodiversity conservation.
According to some estimates, 15,000 forest protection committees (FPCs) are currently operating in India, stretching across southern Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and the northern tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh (Poffenberger, 1995). Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been playing an important role in facilitating this new partnership between forest departments and local communities by instrumentally articulating the needs of forest dependent people to the state.
Under JFM, households in a village or a cluster of villages have the right to become members of a forest protection group. A management committee representing this group is then constituted to implement the JFM plan. The managing committee has a two-year term. The committee is composed of 10 to 15 elected representatives of its members with 30 percent of its posts to be filled by women. The committee also consists of a forest guard, representatives from NGOs, village officials, representative of the tribal development authority in cases involving a tribal area, and a deputy range officer.
Responsibilities of the forest protection committee or the Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS) include protection against grazing, fires and thefts of forest produce; development of forests in accordance with the management plan; and assisting forest officers in the development of forests (Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, 1993). The VSS has usufruct rights to non-reserved items such as leaf and grass fodder, thatch grass, broom grass, thorny fencing materials from specified species, fallen lops, tops, and twigs used for fuel, but has no automatic right to products classified as reserved items like the tendu leaves that have been previously leased. The committee, after 3 years of its formation, is entitled to 25 percent of timber and poles harvested. Unused portion of the 25 percent will be sold by the forest department and the revenue will be given back to the committee. The VSS is also entitled to one third of the revenue from the 75 percent share of the forest department.
In essence, the stakes are high, and the need to ensure the involvement of those who are primary users of forests is imperative. In order for JFM to be successful in Andhra Pradesh, it is critical that any policy must first and foremost positively affect the lives of tribals whose livelihood strategies are closely inter-linked with the forests. Equally important, forest management strategies must be cognizant of the gender dimensions of forest use in the tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh.
A view of Vankachinta village forest. Note the white boundary line that marks the periphery of the forest that is being protected by the village protection committee.