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Decentralised Forest Governance in Central Himalayas: A Re-evaluation of Outcomes

A study conducted in 45 villages in the central Himalayas assesses the current status of van panchayats, an old institution of decentralised forest governance. It finds that locals are indifferent to the administrative jurisdiction of the forest in the course of their resource extraction activities. There is no quantitative evidence that they are exercising restraint while accessing and using locally governed forests. Collective rule violation appears to be common. The inhabitants are unaware about the long-term ecological implications of their actions. As a consequence, both van panchayat forests as well as the state-controlled forests have degraded badly over the years. Rising population pressure also seems to be undermining the efficacy or even the persistence of these age-old local institutions.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 3, 200855five sections. In Section 1, an attempt is made to assess the spatial spread of van panchayats in the region. The performance of van panchayats has been scrutinised by a host of research scholars from time to time. Some of these studies are reviewed in Section 2. A brief introduction to the study area is outlined in Section 3. An evaluation of these forest councilsencounteredincourseof fieldwork is given in Section 4. The last section summarises the conclusions that emerge from this study and some policy recom-mendations that could form the genesis for further research work.1 Van Panchayats: Some Preliminaries Van panchayats are considered to be one of the earliest institu-tions of “co-management” wherein the state and the local com-munity share responsibilities for managing forests.1 Co-management rests on the very notion that locals may not exercise total pru-dence when it comes to resource use. Accordingly, these forest councils are under the overall surveillance of the state revenue department while technical assistance is supposed to be provided by the state forest department. Forest councils cannot clear cut their forests or impose high levels of fines. Besides these controls, the van panchayats, consisting of democratically elected members, can devise their own rules of management, monitoring and en-forcement. As per the Van Panchayat Act of 1931, these commu-nity managed forests can be carved out of forests controlled by the state revenue department, provided at least two-thirds of the local inhabitants of a village agree to opt for it. In India, the van panchayats are specific to the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Accounting for a mere 11 per cent of the total forest area in the state, these locally managed forests are not an all-pervasive phe-nomenon and are mostly localised in certain pockets of Uttara-khand such as Almora and Pithorogarh districts.2 Seventy-eight per cent of the area under forests is controlled by the state forest department, whereas the remaining 11 per cent is under thejuris-diction of the state revenue department designated as “civilsoyam” forests. There are a little over 12,000 van panchayats today. During the mid-1990s a spate of van panchayats came up in the after-math of a compulsive state policy. It is alleged that this move was partly driven by a massive loan sanctioned by the World Bank for improving the status of forests through participatory governance [Sarin 2001]. This package included plantation programmes and other civil works related to watershed management which the newly formed van panchayats were supposed to undertake. The local response has invariably been to look upon these ventures as a temporary source of casual employment till the funding lasts while the prime objective of forest protection has been shunned to the background. In course of the present field study it was found that a number of these van panchayats are notional entities on paper. Over time, the Van Panchayat Act of 1931 has been amended to ensure greater controls on incomes generated and the manner in which this could be disbursed for local development. Critics observe that such bureaucratic controls are a threat to demo-cratic decision-making procedures at the local level [Sarin 2001; Ballabh et al 2002]. Although there is a conceptual truth in these assertions, much of these observations appear to be restricted to the arena of intellectual debate and discussion, while the ground reality seems to depict unperturbed village communities. Based on her field studies in the region, Agarwal (2006) finds that the role of these government policy changes appears to have been overemphasised. She maintains that van panchayats have always been subjected to some form of control. Therefore, this cannot explain the recent crisis being experienced by van panchayats which is more a consequence of changes in the socio-economic variables and concomitant changes related to an eroding spiritof collective action. Therefore, mere devolution of discretionary powers is unlikely to work. Evidence from the field, gathered in course of the present study reinforces her findings. Most villages were found to view these bureaucratic developments nonchalantly. There was meagre awareness about declining autonomy. There could well be other causes behind the natureofoutcomesthat one actually witnesses when confronted bygroundrealities.A brief overview of studies initiated for evaluatingtheperform-ance of van panchayats by other research scholars is presented in the second section in order to shed more light on this matter.2 Van Panchayat Resilience: Findings from Other StudiesEmpirical research work related to van panchayats has been pri-marily motivated by the need to test whether locals are indeed capable of managing natural resources effectively. Because these forest councils have had a long history of existence in the Uttara-khand Himalayas, the region has served as a perfect setting for conducting such studies. Research efforts have mainly focused on single or a few village case studies in a bid to unearth the causes behind apparent failure or success of forest council gov-ernance. Other studies have resorted to satellite imagery for seeking a wider geographical proof of outcomes.In her study based on two fairly old van panchayats located in Nainital district, Britt-Kapoor (1994), finds that changing socio-economic parameters are eroding social cohesion within the vil-lage weakening the foundation on which these forest councils rest. She observes that rule violations are common due to rising demographic pressure, and therefore, the quality of community forests is not consistently good as product requirement had started outstripping forest regenerative capacity. Singh’s (1999) in-depth study of a single village in Almora district also finds that “free-riding” is common. In order to capture regional variations in the performance of van panchayats, Ballabh et al (2002) focus their attention on two van panchayats, one in Nainital dis-trict and the other in Almora. Based on their prior knowledge of the degree of social cohesiveness, they have chosen these vil-lages as one of them was ridden with internal strife, while the other displayed a fairly high degree of collective action. Their findings clearly indicate that lack of social cohesion can cripple the functioning of van panchayats. However, even in the case of the better of the two van panchayats where cooperative spirit was higher, there was evidence of encroachment pressures as landholding seemed to be declining on account of property divisions across male siblings. In a more recent study, Agarwal S (2006) reiterates some of these findings. Her sample size encompassing 15 villages of Bageshwar district is comparatively larger, strengthening the credibility of her findings. She asserts that caution is needed in
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 3, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly56lauding the past success of van panchayats. It is her contention that over the past two decades, both formal and informal man-agement mechanisms seem to be eroding due to unprecedented pressure on the resource base. Despite market linkages and accessibility improvements, the locals continue to depend on forests to meet their needs for firewood, fodder leaf-litter and timber. Substitutes such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are considered to be too expensive and logistical hurdles create dis-tribution bottlenecks preventing an easy access to LPG cylinders. She finds that the van panchayats that are vast in area are virtu-ally impossible to monitor. On account of all these reasons, a large number of community access forests are experiencing near open access situations, she concludes.While the above studies are based on qualitative methods and small samples, Agrawal and Yadama (1997) resort to more quan-titative empirical procedures for assessing these forest councils. Their econometric analysis is based on the cross-section data that was collected through mailed questionnaires sent out to heads of 275 van panchayats in the Kumaon Himalayas. The binary de-pendent variable, in the model, depicts the condition of the forest stock based on subjective perceptions of the respondent. They were required to classify the state of their van panchayat forests into “good” or “bad” as per their judgment. No corroborative ground evidence on the crown cover was collected. The dependent variable was regressed on land asset holding, distance to paved roads as a proxy for “market integration” and a variable that captured whether the forests had commercial or subsistence value. A host of other variables such as age of the forest council, size of the forest user group and institutional effectiveness in terms of nature of monitoring and participation levels3 were also included for assessing the impact on forest condition.The effectiveness of formal monitoring mechanisms was found to have a very strong and statistically significant effect on the forest condition. Unfortunately, this analysis does not engage in com-paring the quality of forests across different property regimes for confirming whether van panchayat managed forests do indeed perform better.Somanathan et al (2005) have overcome the latter of these problems to some extent. Their main thrust is on scrutinising “outcomes” of resource governance by comparing the condition of forests across diverse property regimes. The condition of these forests is assessed by recourse to satellite imagery. The study area is restricted to Pithoragarh and Almora districts of the Kumaon Himalayas. Somanathan’s (1991) study, about a decade and a half ago, appears to be a prelude to this effort. Based on field studies of a few villages in Nainital, Almora and Pithoragarh districts and a scrutiny of archival records, he has concluded that van panchayats have maintained oak forests very well in contrast to the dismal condition of state forests in close proximity to villages, suggesting that if all forests were vested under local control except for the more inaccessible ones, forests would be better managed and sustained. In the more recent study, Somanathan et al (2005) examine the “crown cover” estimates across property regimes to confirm whether van panchayat forests are indeed in a better condition as compared to forests under the control of the state forest and revenue departments. Thesecrown cover estimates are based on commonly used indices ofvegetation activity such as the normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) and spectral band ratios.4 The study does not attempt to calibrate these crown cover estimates on the basis of ground-truthing evidence from the field. Further, the crown cover is only one of the attributes for assessing the degraded status of a forest. As remote sensing instruments are not designed primarily for ec-ological research, large-scale collection of field data is necessary for calibrating results and for verifying important attributes that cannot be sensed remotely [Roughgarden et al 1991; Zobel and Singh 1997].5 No complementing village level surveys were con-ducted to capture the complexities of a changing socio-economic context. Neither any attempt was made to delve deeper into the qualitative aspects of declining monitoring nor participation levels that other researchers have adjudged as vital reasons behind the erosion of forest councils in the region. Notwithstanding these limitations, their results indicate that broad leaf forests managed by van panchayats are in a better condition than the civil soyam forests under the control of the state revenue depart-ment. All in all they find that “...village council managed forests had crown cover no lower and possibly higher than state-managed forests both broadleaved and pine.”6 Much in keeping with Wade’s (1987) justification that local collective action needs to be taken seriously because less public money is likely to be needed, they actually demonstrate the mathematics behind this notion in their paper, to make a stronger case for all forests to be trans-ferred to forest councils for management and upkeep. The logisti-cal problems that are likely to emerge if such a move is to be actually implemented as a template policy for the region is not investigated. Monitoring an extensive resource such as forests [Balland and Platteau 1996] in the Himalayas can be a Herculean task and the ecological processes surrounding an evolving patch ofdepletingforests may be too hard for the locals to grasp or even notice.Under such circumstances, how can the reigns be entirely handed over to the local community?While most of these evaluation studies have tried to gauge the status of van panchayats by scrutinising levels of monitoring and participation and factors that affect the same adversely, none have documented direct or indirect evidence on whether the locals actually have concern for environmental issues or for that matter understand at all the complexities resource management can entail. Rawat (1999) expresses considerable doubt on this matter. He notes that peasants in the hilly areas of Uttarakhnad, who are always battling against the vagaries of weather and other problems, have no time to think about forests and the environment. Moreover, they are not conscious enough to understand that no eco-system can survive unless regeneration is ensured. Saxena’s (1995) study based on these forest councils reinforces his stand. He noted that van panchayat members are ignorant of environmental issues. Their immediate interest is in extraction rather than in protection. In Section 3, an attempt is made to re-evaluate the effectiveness of local forest management in the Kumaon and Garhwal regions of the central Himalayas. Efforts have been made to overcome the shortcomings of small sample size and a more accurate measurement of outcomes through ground and household surveys. The picture that emerges is a dismal one.7
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 3, 2008573 The Study Area: Some DetailsThe present study re-examines the outcomes of decentralised forest governance in the central Himalayas. The findings are based on the field studies initiated in 45 randomly selected vil-lages, across a fairly wide geographical expanse of the Kumaon and Garhwal Himalayas. The study area focuses on a narrow but fairly homogeneous ecological band between 1,800 and 3,000 metres, to abstract from too much of variation in the characteris-tics of the forest resource endowment. The ecological band was delineated by referring to the Survey of India topographical maps. The case study villages were randomly selected to ensure enough geographical spread across all “development blocks” in the study area within the prescribed altitudinal zone. A sample of 20 households were selected in each village, to reflect thejoint distribution of landholding and caste groups in the village forwhich a village level census had to be separately conducted in each vil-lage. By residing in these villages, participatory methods were used for recording people’s inter-temporal perception as regards the changing characteristics of their forest resources. Structured household and village questionnaires were used to capture socio-economic characteristics and a host of characteristics at the village level. In addition, ground surveys were initiated using tools of forestry science for assessing the condition of forestswhich were mapped by interacting with the local community.As Table 1 indicates, the study area is reasona-bly remote. In course of fieldwork it was con-firmed that there is nei-ther local nor distant market for firewood, fodder or leaf-litter that these forests yield. Households access these forests for private use only. The forests are essentially composed of broad leaf oak species that have a high subsistence value for the local population.Intheircompre-hensiveempirical studies related to common property resource management, Balland and Platteau (1996) find that the custom-ary rules of access and traditionalmanagementpracticesare relatively well followed for the species thatareharvestedonly or mainly for subsistence purposes. This is because livelihood is critically linked to these resources. It needs to be seen whether the same findings emerge from this study.Demographically speaking, the villages are of moderate size. On an average,around 60 householdsreside in a village each con-sisting of five members. These details are presented in Table 2. Smaller the size of the user group, greater is the chance of success-ful outcomes, as regards common property resource management [Wade 1987]. This is because a small group islikely to have more personalisedrelationshipsand the members are better informed about each other’s actions and preferences. The local inhabitants are essentially Hindus by religion. They belong to one of the three caste groups, namely, rajputs, brahmins andscheduled castes. Ethnically, the villages are fairly homoge-nous as reflected by the low value of the ethnic fragmentation index for caste and religion.8 Weak ethnic differentiation is an important pre-condition for successful collective action be-cause there is less room for internal strife that may dampen the cooperative spirit on which collective action rests [Balland and Platteau 1996].The local population in the region continues to bedependent on agriculture supplemented by the livestock-rearing. Over the years, there has been some shift towards cultivation ofcash crops and engagement in casual employment as well as petty retail trade activities. A cursory glance at Table 3 reveals thatthe mean monthly per capita consumption expenditure of Rs 706 is well over the national average for rural areas in India. As per the latest surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey, the all-Indiarural mean per capita monthly consumption expendi-ture is Rs 565.9 The population is comparatively well-off.Pov-erty is a non-issue in the region. This is revealed by the insig-nificant value of the poverty gap ratio.10 Only two households out of a total of 895 households that were surveyed were found to be marginally below the poverty line. The average landhold-ing is 0.66 hectares. There are no tenants in the region and land-lessness is non-existent. Inequality levels are negligible as indi-cated by the low values of the Gini coefficient for landholding and the Gini coefficient for consumption expenditure as well.11 It can be safely concluded that neither poverty nor inequality are the reasons for forest degradation in the region.12Other researchers have consistently maintained that the trend towards increasing male migration for employment elsewhere has been an important reason for weak participation and interest in van panchayat activities [Britt-Kapoor 1994; Singh 1997; Agar-wal 2006]. This is because women are less inclined to play an ac-tive role due to their work commitments in the fields, forests and the domestic front. However, the present study, based on more extensive field surveys, vetoes these findings. As Table 4 (p 58) indicates, 82 per cent of the households in the study sample were headed by males and 97 per cent of these males were permanent residents in the village. Out of the 18 per cent women-headed households, 70 per cent were widows and only 30 per cent had their husbands away at work outside the village. Most of the van panchayats in the study sample have been in existence for over 35 years, a period long enough for the local community to adapt to rules of access and use and for vigilance mechanisms to be effective. Table 5 (p 58) indicates that only10out of 45 in the sample, have come up after the 1990s, a period when Table 1: Village GeographyVariable VillagesMeanStdDevVillage Altitude (metres) 45 2032.69 192.38Distance to road (kilometres) 45 5.1 6.32Distance to town (kilometres) 45 34.82 18.12Source: Based on field surveys.Table 2: Demographic ProfileVariable Villages Mean Std Dev Min MaxTotal population 45 327 151.51 90 875Total households 45 62 27.06 19 153Mean household size 45 5 0.65 3 7Ethnic fragmentation index (caste) 45 0.27 0.21 0 0.62Ethnic fragmentation index (religion) 45 0 0 0 0Source: Socio-economic surveys conducted in course of fieldwork.Table 3: Consumption Expenditure, Assets, Inequality and the Extent of PovertyVariable Villages Mean Std Dev Min MaxMonthly per capita consumption expenditure (Rs) 45 705.62 147.49 453.64 1274.28Gini coefficient (consumption expenditure) 45 0.28 0.004 0.27 0.29Poverty gap ratio 45 8.55E-06 0.0000404 0 0.000214Average landholding in hectares 45 0.66 0.34 0.15 1.89Gini coefficient (landholding) 45 0.30 0.1 0.2 0.5Mean cattle strength 45 2 0.9 0 5Mean sheep and goat 45 2 2.1 0 11 Land under cash crops (%) 45 0.40 0.3 0 0.9Household members in non-farm employment (%) 45 0.15 0.1 0.1 0.4Source: Based on socio-economic surveys conducted in course of fieldwork.
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 3, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly58vanpanchayatscameup in haste on degraded patches asperthe state-driven policy targets.The above trends do indicate that necessary conditions condu-cive to successful outcomes of van panchayat governance are very much present in the study area. These are reiterated below:The forests have a high subsist-ence value and that should imply more protection.The user-groups are relatively small in size and there should be lesser chances of disruption as re-gards collective action.The user groups are relatively homogeneous both in terms of ethnic characteristics as well as in terms of income and asset endow-ments which should not generally deter cooperative spirit at the vil-lage level.Evidence of male outmigration is weak, and therefore, parti-cipation in village level activities should be high. Most of the van panchayats are fairly old signifying all advan-tages linked to institutional persistence.Poverty is not prevalent in the region, and therefore, not a cause for forest degradation.Whether these favourable conditions have led to successful outcomes is analysed in the following section.4 Outcomes of Decentralised GovernanceIn this section, we outline the condition of the forest stock, the causes of its depletion, and the consequences of the failure of decentralised forest governance.4.1 Condition of the Forest Stock An important objective of this study was to assess the outcomes of community management by capturing the inter-temporal percep-tions of the village community as regards the condition of their forest resource base.Their responses were meticulously documented using the structured questionnaires and cross-checked through participatory research methods. Descriptive statistics based on these responses that were coded are summarised in Table 6. A comparison across all three property regimes reveals that on an average, van panchayats as well as the state managed forests have reduced by half over the last 25 years. Civil soyam forests managed by the revenue department have shrunk the most as per local perception. Cumulatively speaking, 91 per cent of the van panchayat forests, that were encountered, appear to be in some stage of reduction indicating that extraction levels have outpaced the levels of regeneration resulting in this alarming scenario.Villagers were also asked to recall the time taken to collect a bundle of firewood 25 years ago. The time taken to collect a bundle in the current context was separately recorded. Their responses reinforce the fact that the forest stock has declined over this period. On an average, the time taken to collect a bundle of firewood seems to have increased by 1.3 hours. It takes longer to look for firewood Table 4: Male-Headed HouseholdsHead of Family Households % Mean AgeMale 735 82.12 51Female 160 17.88 50Total 895 Source: Based on socio-economic surveys conducted in course of fieldwork.Table 5: Van Panchayat AgeYear of Van Panchayat Van % Formation PanchayatsAfter 2000 4 91990s 6 131980s 3 71970s 7 16Before 1970 25 56Total 45100Mean age of van panchayat= 38.38 years (Std Dev=19.96) Min age=4 years Max age=73 yearsSource: Field surveys conducted to record van panchayat characteristics.due to the diminished resource base. The locals consistently at-tributed this condition to increase in population pressure over time. Overall, the main conclusion that emerged by capturing people’s perceptions about their forest resource base, is thatfor-ests have degraded over time across all three property regimes. These results reflect a dismal picture both as regards “outcomes” of local governance and “outcomes” of state governance as well.In order to confirm these trends based on local perceptions, ground surveys were also conducted in the surrounding forests. Prior to the ground surveys, a schematic map of the forests across all three property regimes was prepared by interacting with the local inhabitants. Transects were then laid in random directions in these forests for recording a host of attributes for capturing the condition of the forest stock. Measurements were recorded at three equidistant circular plots, of 5.63 metres radius, on each transect that were roughly 100 metres in length. Biophysical characteristics of the forests, recorded in course of these surveys are summarised in Table 7. The average altitude, slope and aspect13 characteristics of these forests are more or less similar across all the three prop-erty regimes. There is an even number of forest patches on good as well as bad aspects in the study sample mitigating to some extent the effect that variation in aspect might have on forest condition. All types of forests are essentially composed of broad-leaf oak species. The forests are more or less equidistantfromthesehab-itations. As per the above trends, it can be safely concluded that biophysical factors have been controlled for while evaluating the condition of forests across the three property regimes.The forest condition was assessed by measuring the canopy cover, the extent of tree height lopped and by computing the basal area. Canopy cover is defined as the amount of ground area covered by the spread of tree branches and leaves, as viewed from above. A mirror with grids of equal size was used to determine the canopy cover. The proportion of grids covered by tree can-opies was then recorded. A canopy cover estimate below 40 per cent is indicative of a degraded forest as per the conventions of forestry science and forestry experts who work in the region. In Table 6: Villager’s Inter-temporal Perception about Their Forest StockStatus as Compared Van Panchayat Forests State Forests Civil Soyam Forests to 25 Years Ago % % %Code 1 (drastic reduction) 11 9 8 13 13 33Code 2 (reduced by half) 65 56 29 45 17 44Code3 (marginal reduction) 30 26 26 41 9 23Code 4 (static condition) 7 6 1 2 0 0Code 5 (stock has increased) 3 3 0 0 0 0Total forest patches 116 100 64 100 39 100Averagecondition* 2.37 2.31 1.9 * Indicates weighted average of codes 1 to 5.Source: Based on field surveys.Table 7: Forest Characteristics of the Study Area across Property RegimesForests Van Panchayats State Civil Soyam All Forests (Forest Department) (Revenue Department) Characteristics Mean Std Dev Mean Std Dev Mean Std Dev Mean Std DevBroad-leaf species (%) 78.69 35.14 68.19 37.35 83.02 29.04 76.39 35.10Altitude 2,204.35272.002,197.81235.062,175.64280.072,197.33262.26Slope 31.13 4.4433.59 4.4530.45 4.0931.73 4.53Aspect* 0.590.490.520.500.590.500.570.50Distance from village 1.97 0.69 2.06 0.61 1.87 0.53 1.98 0.64*Aspect is a dummy variable=1 when aspect is good. Aspect is=0, when bad.Source: Ground Surveys in van panchayat, state forest department and civil soyam forests.

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SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 3, 200863collected across a wide expanse of the middle-Himalayas, Balland, Bardhan, Das, Mookherjee and Sarkar (2007) recom-mend thatLPG subsidies can be an effective policy option to relieve pressure on forests. Their analysis based on simulation exercises has revealed that a subsidy to the tune of Rs 200 per cylinder can reduce firewood demand by 44 per cent. Their findings indicate that this would also induce the proportion of households usingLPG to rise from the existing 7 per cent to 78 per cent. Even if subsidies of this magnitude was indeed made available, efforts would need to be invested for finding means to improve the distribution of LPG cylinders across the region that continues to be characterised by accessibility constraints. In this connection, the feasibility of sustainable modes of transport such as ropeways certainly needs to be explored. Generating non-farm avenues of employment that would help sever ties with forests altogether should be an important policy objective to prevent further degradation of forests in the region. While these policy moves would certainly take time to come into force, in the interim period, there is a need to conserve resource use. Given the inelastic nature of demand for fire-wood that exists in the current context, the rapid dissemina-tion of biomass-efficient cooking stoves should be given a pri-ority. In course of fieldwork, there was virtually no evidence of such stoves in use in the region. It was found that the local cooking stoves have evolved over time mainly for controlling smoke and soot but not for conserving firewood use. There-fore, research efforts need to be invested in designing such stoves. The wide usage of pressure cookers that has certainly led to a more efficient use of energy can provide some opti-mism for initiating such research endeavours.Notes 1 See R Guha (1989) for a detailed account of the circumstances that led to the creation of these forest councils. 2 Nearly 60 per cent of the area under van panchayat forests is located in Almora and Pithoragarh dis-tricts of the Kumaon region in Uttarakhand. 3 The proxy used for capturing monitoring was the number of months a guard was hired, while the extent of participation was determined by the number of meetings held over the last two years. 4 The NDVI is the most common satellite data based vegetation index employed to measure the density of vegetation. The concept is essentially based on light-reflectance properties of plants which are then picked up by the sensors. 5 In this connection, Roughgarden et al (1991) meaningfully assert that though satellite images provide data at large and synoptic scales, “…sub-stantial legwork is needed for accurate inter-pretation of remotely sensed signals” (p 1918). 6 Roughgarden et al (p 6). 7 In course of fieldwork, detailed notes and obser-vations were independently maintained to sup-plement all the quantitative information that was collected through the more structured question-naires. Local level details are often lost as not every-thing can be coded or quantified. These village level narratives are presented in Sarkar (2007). All in all, these accounts reinforce the more quan-titative trends presented in this paper. 8 The ethic fragmentation index, based on Herfind-ahl’s index, varies between ‘0’ that indicates “no fragmentation” and ‘1’ that indicates “high frag-mentation”. 9 60th round surveys conducted during January-June 2004.10 The poverty gap ratio is defined as the ratio of the average income needed to get all poor people to the poverty line divided by the mean income of the society to reflect resources needed to eradi-cate poverty. The poverty line is pegged at 1$=8.8 rupees per day as per purchasing power parity according to the World Development Indicators 2004 published by the World Bank.11 The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality of a distribution of income that varies between ‘0’ and ‘1’. ‘0’ corresponds to perfect income equality and ‘1’ corresponds to perfect income inequality. Gini coefficient values below 0.25 are considered to reflect very low levels of inequality.12 The poverty-environment degradation link cen-tres on the notion that the poor have a high reli-ance on common property resources which then is the major cause of degradation. 13 Aspect indicates the direction in which the moun-tain slopes. A good aspect is one that promotes better forest vegetation growth. As per discus-sions with forestry science experts who work in this region, east, north-east, north or the north-west aspects are all considered to be good aspects. All other aspects are less favourable for forests.14 All benchmarks used to distinguish a degraded forest from one that is not are based on discus-sions with forestry experts.15 See p 265. It is their contention that for popula-tion growth to lead users to adopt genuinely con-servationist practices, with a view to ensuring the long-term viability of the resource base, a time consuming process of awareness building is needed (p 262).16 12.5 bighas=1 hectare.17 Jodha’s (2003) studies on nature-society inter-actions across arid and semi-arid regions of India and Africa as well the mountainous regions of the Hindukush-Himalayas confirm these trends. His studies, based on prolonged residence in a number of villages, gave him the exposure to the dynamics of change that invariably led to a gradual decline of traditional resource management systems severing ecosystem-social system links.ReferencesAgarwal, Safia (2006): ‘Community Forestry in Tran-sition: 60 Years of Experience in the Indian Central Himalaya’,paper submitted to the IASCP Conference, Bali, June 19-23.Agrawal, A and G N Yadma (1997): ‘How Do Local Institutions Mediate Market and Population Pres-sures on Resources? Forest Panchayats in Kumaon, India’, Development and Change, Vol 28, pp 435-65.Ballabh, V, K Balooni and Shibani Dave (2002): ‘Why Local Resource Management Institutions Decline: A Comparative Analysis of Van Panchayats and Forest Protection Committees in India’,World Development, Vol 30, No 12, pp 2153-67.Balland, Jean-Marie and Platteau, Jean-Phillipe (1996): Halting Environmental Degradation: Is There a Role for Rural Communities? FAO, Oxford University Press.Balland, Jean-Marie, Pranab Bardhan, Sanghamitra Das, Dilip Mookherjee and Rinki Sarkar (2007): ‘Managing the Environmental Consequences of Growth: Forest Degradation in the Middle Hima-layas’ in Suman Bery, Barry Bossworth and Arvind Panagariya (eds),Indian Policy Forum, 2006-07, Volume III, Sage Publications, pp 215-77. 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