Wanted: Better governance models for India’s forests

While the Forest Rights Act empowered Gram Sabhas to manage and conserve forests, the Joint Forest Management mechanism could not succeed due to the involvement of forest officials

By Jitendra Vir Sharma
Published: Wednesday 10 July 2019
Sunrise in Madikeri, Kodagu, Karnataka. Photo: Getty Images
Sunrise in Madikeri, Kodagu, Karnataka. Photo: Getty Images Sunrise in Madikeri, Kodagu, Karnataka. Photo: Getty Images

Forests in India are considered as social and environmental resources. More than 300 million people derive their full or partial livelihood and sustenance needs from forests. However, this process is largely based on an unsustainable harvest of forest produce, which results in forest degradation.

The Indian government formulated the National Forest Policy (1988) and empowered local people to get involved in forest governance, which was implemented through the Joint Forest Management (JFM) institution. The mechanism could not succeed due to the involvement of forest officials in the governance mechanism.

The Forest Rights Act (2006) empowered Gram Sabhas with the Community Forest Resource Right (CFRR) to manage, conserve and protect forests and improve the quality of forests while ensuring livelihoods through sustainable harvest of forest produce. But there still remains a need to develop governance models for implementing CFRR.

Challenges and Solutions

There are three basic challenges of involving the local community in forest governance: Local people's lack of capacity with respect to scientific knowledge to manage forests sustainably; the lack of legal knowledge and institutional capacity to check forest offences; and the lack of mutual trust with government agencies.

The first step is to recognise the CFRRs to Gram Sabhas under the Forest Rights Act. This is to be followed by defining the responsibilities of Gram Sabhas and government agencies separately.

The implementation of activities for forest improvement with benefit-sharing based on sustainable harvest will be done by the Gram Sabha through the local community. The implementation of forest legislation to check forest offences and technical support to the Gram Sabha will be done by the state forest department.

There is need to develop detailed roles and responsibilities of state forest departments and Gram Sabhas. The capacity of the community must be built for understanding and managing complex ecosystems that conserve a range of native biodiversity rather than mega fauna species, and conserving endangered flora and fauna.

There is a need for interaction of foresters with forest dwellers, ensuring their all-round economic and social development, involving them at all stages of planning and implementation of forestry programmes run by the forest department, and supporting their own planning and implementation of community-based forestry programmes.

Another challenge is the lack of third-party monitoring of forest resource and forest development activities. This is perhaps one of the major factors to implement policies successfully.

Presently, government agencies implement, report and monitor, which go against the principles of natural justice. Quantitative and qualitative third-party independent monitoring mechanisms will provide transparency and fairness to the forest governance.

The state government agencies such as the forest departments, tribal welfare departments and revenue departments must be sensitised to facilitate the recognition of CFRRs to ensure the participation of local communities in sustainable forest management.

Efforts should be made towards building capacity of frontline staff and the local community with respect to sustainable harvest of forest produce and forest development activities for improving the quality of forests.

Third party independent monitoring of forest development activities, as well as implementation of policies, must be built into the budgetary system so that objectives of policies, plans and programs can be achieved to the satisfaction of people at large.

Jitendra Vir Sharma is director of the forest & biodiversity department at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi 

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