Of forests, forestry programmes and people
A forest management campaign is taking shape in Karnataka
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,
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
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:
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.
The state forest department
- 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.
Civil society's response
- Karnataka Forest Department is talking of a
second phase of funding from a Japanese Bank (JBIC) and the
What you can do
- A campaign for participatory forest management has been
launched by several interested civil society organizations.
People's Forest Forum
#680, 15th Main, 38th Cross,
4th T Block, Jayanagar,
Bangalore - 560 041, Karnataka,
TeleFax: +91-80-632 0021
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
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.
- No more project-oriented, programme-oriented, funding-dependent joint forest
- 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
- Implementing all of this through a fundamental change in state forest
policy, followed by corresponding changes in forest law, fiscal arrangements,
and administrative procedures.
[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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