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  • Participatory Forest     Management - The Concept
  • Of forests, forestry programmes and people
    A forest management campaign is taking shape in Karnataka
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    In brief

    The situation in Karnataka
    • JFPM has neither regenerated any significant forest area, nor even arrested current degradation. Whatever afforestation that has taken place is at a huge cost and has done little to ameliorate local scarcity of forest products.
    • No fundamental changes have been adopted for fiscal, legal and administrative measures to facilitate true participatory forest management.
    • Implementing JFM properly does not necessarily require money.
    The state forest department
    • Karnataka Forest Department is talking of a second phase of funding from a Japanese Bank (JBIC) and the World Bank.
    Civil society's response
    • A campaign for participatory forest management has been launched by several interested civil society organizations.
    What you can do
    • Endorse the campaign here
    • The concept behind this campaign.
    • Learn about plans and updates
    • Contact Dr.M.K.Bhat, Convenor, People's Forest Forum at dsiblr@bgl.vsnl.net.in for further information.
    People's Forest Forum Dr.M.K.Bhat,
    #680, 15th Main, 38th Cross,
    4th T Block, Jayanagar,
    Bangalore - 560 041, Karnataka,
    Tel: +91-80-6635622/6633538/6645542
    TeleFax: +91-80-632 0021
    E-mail: dsiblr@bgl.vsnl.net.in
    January 2002: The 20th century had been witness to unprecedented onslaught on the environment in general, and forests in particular. In India, the question of how forests should be managed has been one of the burning issues that extends to rural livelihoods as well. About ten years ago, mainly due to the sustained and concerted efforts of activists, scholars and rural communities, the government of India accepted in principle the need for the participation of village communities in forest management. Thus arose the concept of "Joint" Forest Management (JFPM in short).

    In Karnataka, the initiation of Joint Forest Planning and Management (JFPM, as it is called) happened in 1993. Karnataka took a grant of about Rs.90 crores of British funds for its Western Ghats Forestry & Environment Project (WGFP), executed between 1993 and 2000. Subsequently the state also took a loan of Rs.593 crores from the Japanese Bank (JBIC) for the Eastern Plains Project. This funding ends in 2002. The objectives of both these projects were to be achieved through JFPM.

    While JFPM programmes have engendered significant interest and general awareness in forest management from rural communities in the project areas, the past eight years of experience in Karnataka has left much to be desired. JFPM has neither made a serious dent in forest degradation or deforestation, nor has it benefited local communities significantly, whether in subsistence or income terms. What's more, a large chunk of the Japanese Bank loan is unspent.

    There are several interconnected reasons for the failure. First and foremost, reallocation of rights and responsibilities between the state and the local community has not happened. The creation of exclusive community control over patches/lands that are used by the community has not taken place. Too much emphasis has been on programmatic, project-dependent, funding-oriented nature of implementation. The skew towards funding related measures has led to concentration of attention on degraded forest department lands, which has lead to only partial coverage of the public lands used by villagers.

    It should not come as a surprise therefore, that a report by the Independent Review Committee of WGFP states clearly that the objectives met only partially and at high cost. As far as the Eastern plains project is concerned, there has not yet been an independent review, and may never be. However, it is clear from our discussions with forest officials and people in the district that much of the loan amount in the Eastern Plains project remains unspent, and moreover, the "progress" is in the form of "plantations first, JFPM afterwards", thus replicating all the faults of the earlier Social Forestry projects. The project proposal claims to have been developed through a "consultative" process, which is hardly the case.

    The question that needs to be asked, is why are forest management programmes so heavily oriented towards funding? The ostensible aim behind taking loans/grants is to enable the state to carry out forestry operations more effectively. What has actually happened is that JFM has become a politically correct buzzword with funding agencies with both the projects paying enormous lip service to the "joint" concept.

    It is a FOLLY to use loans to fund state forestry projects. It has been repeatedly pointed out that implementing JFM properly does not require money. Money may only be required in those cases where lands are so degraded that they will not regenerate without substantial investment. This can only be decided by the local community. There is a second more subtle point. Priority over all commercial use of forests, as per the National Forest Policy 1988, is given to returns from forest regeneration for meeting subsistence needs and environmental objectives. These returns are neither entirely tangible, and nor can they be captured in a manner that enables repaying of loans. In other words, forest regeneration produces public goods that cannot be captured in taxes or user fees.

    The situation is not very different in other states. Even more to point, is that the World Bank, by its own evaluation of funded projects in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, admits that "the villagers in these states would have been better off if the money spent on the projects had been simply handed to them in cash!"

    And yet, the Karnataka Forest Department is talking of a second phase of funding from JBIC and also of a proposal submitted to the World Bank for several hundred crores. The good news however is that several forest and environmental groups in Karnataka are taking action. They have responded to the challenge of saving forests and rural livelihoods by launching a new campaign for Participatory Forest Management. In the concept document that introduces the campaign, the participants re-state the basic premises of participatory forest management in the Karnataka context and lay out the broader directions of policy change. The campaign's demands are:

    • No more project-oriented, programme-oriented, funding-dependent joint forest management.
    • Revamping the structure of participatory management to ensure adequate. incentives and full day-to-day autonomy to the Village Forest Committees.
    • Recognition and incorporation of existing rights regimes into the structure.
    • Implementing all of this through a fundamental change in state forest policy, followed by corresponding changes in forest law, fiscal arrangements, and administrative procedures.
    A two-day Karnataka State Convention was held at Bangalore in Dec 2001 to review the JFPM policy in the state. The convention had representatives of Village Forest Committees (VFCs), the State Forest Department, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), environmental activists, state level networks of voluntary organisations working on developmental issues and media persons. A campaign forum called the "Karnataka Jana Aranya Vedike" (Karnataka People's Forest Forum) was launched at the convention. The Forum will mobilise support for the campaign and work to obtain a committment from the Government to implement the policy framework. To learn more about the campaign plans and participate click here.

    It is high time that a national-level campaign was launched to resist and prevent the mortgaging of our country's natural resources in the name of forestry projects that are not likely to result in any significant change on the ground but will repeat most of the past mistakes. Concerned citizens and civil society groups alike are requested to review the concept note and endorse the campaign.

    Sharachchandra Lele
    CISED, Bangalore

    [The author is with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment & Development (CISED), Bangalore. Naveen Thomas and Gowri Gopinath contributed to this article.]

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