ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Need for Change in Forest Management and Silviculture

The special issue on the promise and performance of the Forest Rights Act (EPW, 24 June 2017) failed to explore the extent to which people’s livelihoods and incomes improved in the districts where the act has been implemented. Providing forest management and ownership rights to communities is not enough. The government should actively aid the livelihoods of forest dwellers through higher production of gatherable biomass, and enhanced opportunities for its collection and marketing.

The five papers (EPW, 24 June 2017) on the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (hereafter FRA) deserve appreciation for their in-depth analysis of the reasons for poor implementation of the act’s provisions on community forest resource (CFR) rights. They rightly attribute the neglect of the CFR provisions to the weak capacity of the central and state tribal welfare departments and the reluctance of the forest department to entrust village communities with the management and control of forests.

Forest officials, and for that matter many Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officials, believe that, with some exceptions,1 village communities are neither willing nor capable of sustained management of natural resources, except for those that are privately-owned. According to them, almost the entire forest area in the North East (other than Assam) is with the people, with no control of the forest department, and yet there has been no improvement in forest cover in these states. Similarly, the government transfers handpumps to the panchayats for maintenance, but panchayats are unwilling to maintain them. Despite the absence of government control over groundwater, people’s committees have not sprung up to manage the resource. Groundwater has become “open access,” mined and overexploited as a consequence, especially by large farmers. The control of gram sabhas and village panchayats over non-forest common lands is not a success story either, even when such lands are located close to where people live, unlike reserved forests that may be used by the people but are often too far from their habitations to enable them to manage the forests effectively. However, these arguments need empirical verification before they are accepted as gospel truth.

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Updated On : 24th Feb, 2018
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