Forest management policies over the last thirty years

Last year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments. News of the misguided proposals to relocate/evict human beings from “wildlife rich areas” was published on this website.

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In January there was a summary of Devinder Sharma’s account of his recent journey to the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats who depend on forest resources for their sustenance. As he wrote: “Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon”. He explained:

“Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them”.

80s – 90s: Joint Forest Management  

A draft forest bill for draconian controls on access was abandoned in 1982, following mass Chipko demonstrations. The 1988 National Forest Policy adopted conservation measures and focussed on meeting local needs. The success of pilot schemes in West Bengal and Gujarat in improving the quality and area under forest was shown in remote sensing satellite data (Sarin 1995). A government order of 1990, which provided for the formation of Village Forest Committees (VFCs) to protect forests said: “Access to forest land and usufruct benefits should be extended only to the beneficiaries who get organised into a village institution, specifically for forest regeneration and protection.”

Initially, 15 state governments issued resolutions assuring participating villages free access to most non-timber forest products (NFTPs) and a share in the profit from poles and timber, when harvested, in return for forest protection (as specified by the forest department). It is said that after initial successes in West Bengal and Haryana, as of 2005, 27 states of the Indian Union had various JFM schemes with over 63,000 FPCs involved in the joint management of over 140,000 km² of forested land. (The link: Resource Unit for Participatory Forestry (RUPFOR) – Joint Forest Management – About JFM unfortunately led to a website on a different subject.

In the 90s TV producer Fiona Charlton-Hill published her dissertation for the School of Oriental and African Studies on JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT IN INDIA – A KARNATAKA CASE STUDY, SEPT.15TH 1996). Some findings:

  • The increased height of trees had resulted in new leaves growing beyond easy reach and affected the production of Sal leaf plates.
  • Leaves from Tendu bushes, used in the production of bidis, had been shaded too much by the denser tree growth.
  • Quarrels between villagers and the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) over the grazing of animals on forest land –  92 cattle used for draught power –  were the major impetus behind the institution of Joint Forest Policy Management (JFPM).
  • It was decided that women were to be responsible for collecting firewood and fodder leaves.
  • Microplanning included demands for smokeless chulas, safe drinking water, a gobar gas plant, bamboo for fencing, seedlings of a plant which produces a large quantity of green leaves, for 21 other species of plants and profit sharing.
  • Previously acacia had been cut by Alga Ulga and Sathgeri villagers for firewood and fencing. The guard posted had not prevented this. KFD now pays a watchman and the committee – in groups of five – now watches the forest and the watchman.
  • The most successful JFPM was in Sathgeri.

Villagers enabled to speak directly to Whitehall by video 

w-ghats-sirsiPandurang Hegde, a local Karnataka activist and Chipko/Appiko Andolan veteran, came to CHS in Mumbai with written statements, asking for help. A letter giving an account of various corrupt practices was sent to the [British] director in New Delhi, who did not reply. Then the ODA in UK was contacted and this director sent a furious letter to CHS colleagues for ‘going over his head’.

As letters of complaint and reports were being ignored by the UK government’s Overseas Development Agency (ODA) representative in Delhi, The Ecologist contacted CHS and paid for a video with a subtitled translation. Shot on location in the Western Ghats, it presented villagers’ evidence about the problems arising from the Joint Forest Management (JFM) projects heavily funded by the UK Overseas Development Agency. The video was taken to UK by Pandurang Hegde where CHS’ Jeremy Seabrook and Nicholas Hildyard of the Ecologist arranged and chaired gatherings at which the video was shown and Pandurang. The ODA (now DFID) officials agreed to a meeting at their London office, and, after seeing the video, agreed that an enquiry should be held.

Is Community Forest Management a better answer?

odisha-forest-women

NDTV reports that in Gunduribadi, a tribal village, the women of the village took charge of guarding forests in 2000 after the male members failed to do so. “If the men objected to the illegal cutting of woods, they would get beaten up. But, we were not harmed. So, we took over forest patrolling from them,” says Ramma. This movement was successful: the ‘Sata Bhai’ or the ‘Seven Brothers’ hill which was barren until a few years ago is alive once again.

 In 2013 Ashish Kothari wrote about his visit to the Baigas of Madhya Pradesh who were campaigning to regain their traditional rights of access, to restore the diversity of their forests and to protect national wealth.

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Birju Singh Bindhia explained: “Not so long ago, we had a much greater variety of plants in this forest. Then the Forest Department came along with its working plan involving coupe felling, which included getting rid of crucial species like mahulikayafal, lianas and others that interfered with the felling. They also deliberately encouraged only sal so that over the years other species disappeared. Seeing this, our own people also indulged sometimes in felling, and we lost the traditional restraint that our elders had practised. But now we are bringing them back, and nature is responding.”

Those with a keen interest in the subject might wish to read the devastating analysis of JFM as practised at the time: Same Platform, Different Train, The Politics of Participation, Corner House Briefing 04, by Nicholas Hildyard, Pandurang Hegde, Paul Wolverkamp and Somersekhave Reddy, 3rd March 1998

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