But NEP has little to empower communities in resource use
It's just the basic
The draft National Environment Policy (nep) released by the Union ministry of environment and forest emphasises 'polluter pays', 'cost-minimisation' and market-based incentives for pollution control. A logical follow up should be to vest stewardship of natural resources with communities that are directly dependent on them. nep, however, falls short here. This lacuna is glaring because most common resources in India degenerate into open resources -- over which local communities have very little control.
Of course, jfm does encourage community participation. But it offers communities no long-term stake in improving forests. Moreover, where is the legal mechanism that guarantees revenue sharing between the forest department and communities? jfm needs to move towards community forestry management and recognise communities as custodians or stewards of forests. The forest department should merely act as an advisor or consultant.
A way to allocate water rights would be to firm up the system of 'project allocations' used by the government today. Project authorities enter into long-term contracts with municipal corporations and other government agencies for supply of fixed quantities of water. These quantitative allocations should be converted to legally enforceable proportional allocations to water user associations. These rights should be tradable. This approach is very different from the emerging practice of privatising river waters by leasing several kilometres of them to private companies -- our method only formalises existing claims.
But what about families who cannot afford to pay? The government can either decide on 'free' allocation per person or per family -- then pay for that water from the general tax revenue. This quota is for all -- the rich as well as the poor. Water consumed above this 'free' quota will have to be paid by each family. As another recourse, the authorities can subsidise only the poor and make the rich pay for every drop of water they consume.
Economic growth necessitates direct or indirect use of environmental resources, it also brings about better instruments for monitoring and compliance. But we have been found wanting here. We need to put in place an institutional framework that creates incentives for environmentally friendly processes as well as guarantees -- and expands -- livelihood opportunities for traditional communities.
Parth J Shah is president and H B Soumya is research associate at Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi
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