Saga of two villages

Sukhomajri was a dirt-poor village in Haryana. It started pulling itself out of its hole in the late 1970s, making a dizzying ascent to prosperity built on the regeneration of its natural wealth--forests and water--in the following decades. It succeeded because it had a village institution with the autonomy and power to make decisions. All that started falling apart when the forest department intervened, robbing the village of resources and initiative. Its condition is thrown into relief by the success of Bunga, a village 30 km away, which emulated Sukhomajri but staved off state depredation. Autonomy creates spaces for development. That's the lesson supriya singh learnt in Haryana

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

Saga of two villages

Sukhomajri, a village in Haryana's Panchkula district, became a model of self-reliant development in the 1980s. Its journey from the depths of poverty to a level of prosperity that made it the first Indian village to pay income tax has been a source of inspiration the world over. What lay behind this incredible story was its success in managing its ecological wealth by creating a powerful and united village institution the Hill Resource Management Society (hrms).

Down To Earth(dte) has tracked this village's fortunes close on 15 years (see 'Partners in prosperity', February 15, 1994; 'Sukhomajri at the crossroads' December 15, 1998; and 'Foisting failure', August 31, 2002). On its last visit it found changes--not all for the better. Gurmel Singh, the president of the hrms, says the village is no idyll anymore. "I have just inherited the lustre of past laurels," he says.The debates over managing resources that used to churn the community have died--hrms has not met once in the past five years.

Not surprisingly. Sukhomajri thrived on forests and water resources--hrms managing both. But the equation has changed. The forest department has hijacked the forest the villagers created, while control of water is going into private hands. "There is hardly any reason for the society to exist," says Gurmel Singh.



Down to EarthThe journey
Sukhomajri's journey began in 1976 with the arrival of scientists from the Chandigarh-based Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute (cswcrti). They were looking for a solution to the silting of the Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh's only water source. The scientists found the problem was run-off from the denuded hills there. Their solution lay in preventing the villagers from grazing their cattle in the forest, who had no stake in listening to them. They agreed to stop the grazing only when the scientists agreed to build dams--the first in 1976--that would provide them water. Enlightened self-interest won villagers got water, protected forests and got more water and fodder; Sukhna too was saved.

"In many ways the Sukhomajri experiment was the first instance of challenging the top-down model of development," says S P Mittal, one of the scientists who started the project with the late P R Mishra, who inspired the Sukhomajri model.

In five years, the village got three more dams and in 1983 formed hrms with a member from each household. Later all adult residents became members. All residents got equal rights over water (see timeline Divergent trajectories). To inculcate efficient use, the tariff was based on period of consumption rather than the amount used. hrms's revenues from various sources were used to maintain the dams and the pipelines to distribute water, and protect the forests.

The results soon began to show. The yield of wheat and maize, the two staple crops, rose by over 50 per cent between 1977 and 1986. Production of grass, crucial as fodder, rose from 40 kg per hectare (ha) in 1976 to 3 tonnes in 1992. In the forest, the number of trees rose from 13 per ha to 1,292 per ha. With more fodder available, the number of goats fell from 246 to 10 from 1977 to 1986, while the number of buffaloes rose from 79 to 291. Milk production rose steeply as a result.

Sukhomajri is still wealthy--at Rs 15,000, villagers earned 2.5 times Haryana's rural per capita income in 2005. Almost every family owns a car. Close to 560 buffaloes and cows provide 3,000-4,000 litres of milk a day, sold at Rs 12 per litre. "The annual per capita income has doubled from the 1990s and tripled from the 1970s," says Gurmel Singh.Down to Earth Loosening grip
But the problems are growing. "The strength of hrms is fading. Our hold over forest and water is weakening," says Abhay Ram, a 60-year-old villager, who was a part of the core group that began the initiative. The first signs of decay are private tube wells, now increasingly used for irrigation instead of water from the dams. The village has 60 ha of arable land. The area irrigated by the dams came down from about 33 ha in 1985 to 10.2 ha in 2001, when around 17 ha was irrigated by tube wells and the rest not irrigated at all. Now the area irrigated by the dams has shrunk to just 5 ha, says Abhay Ram.

The increased extraction of groundwater does not augur well groundwater levels are falling. "Before the dams, water was hit at around 120 m," says Abhay Ram. "When the first tube well came up in 1981-82, the groundwater level was 40 m." The situation is now heading back to square one. Water was found at close to 90 m in 2006 down from 56 m in 1996. Kuldeep Singh, the sarpanch, believes that due to percolation from the dams, groundwater won't be depleted. But Abhay Ram's testimony offers little scope for such certitude.

Water distribution has suffered because the pipelines are in disrepair. The dams have silted up. With no funds to maintain them and the distribution network, the society is helpless. "Fearing loss of crops after the lowering of water levels in the dams, even I switched to a tube well," says Gurmel Singh. "Nowadays we irrigate only to save crops. In my father's times water was aplenty but now things are no longer good. It is just that due to the forest the moisture in the soil is good otherwise there would be a drastic drop in crop yields."

Sukhomajri's prosperity was built on the revenue it generated from fodder and bhabbar, a grass used at that time by the paper pulp industry, and water from its dams. In its best year, 1996-97, hrms earned over Rs 1.7 lakh, up from Rs 43,797 in 1986-87, the first year it earned revenues (see graph Square one). Since 2002, it has struggled to make Rs 4,000 annually.

In the early period, all went well. With water conservation and the rejuvenation of forests there was plenty of fodder and bhabbar. Since the forest belonged to the forest department, hrms had an arrangement with it to collect and sell bhabbar, to the paper industry, and fodder, to villagers. In 1990, however, the system was tweaked. In addition to the lease, hrms had to pay 25 per cent of revenues as tax. It weathered this because it had irrigation revenues and the village had become well-off.

Down to EarthRoot cause
The big blow came in 1998. Under joint forest management (jfm) guidelines, the forest department started extracting 25 per cent of the society's profits from bhabbar and fodder--with this hrms had to shell out 55 per cent of its forest proceeds. Under the new arrangement, villagers were also prevented from harvesting mungri (forage grass). Circumstances were especially perverse the bottom fell out of the bhabbar market as the paper industry shifted to wood pulp. Now, after paying taxes, there are no profits to be had from bhabbar and fodder grass and hrms does not lease in the rights. "Most of the farmers get fodder from their land or buy it. Only the poor still depend on the forest for fodder," says Ram Kishan, a villager.

Down to EarthThe intervention of the forest department has trapped Sukhomajri in a vicious cycle. With funds now falling to 5 per cent of 1997-98 levels, hrms can no longer maintain its dams and pipelines. As of now, only the big dam built in 1978 is used extensively for irrigation--hrms's finances are being further undermined. Earnings from irrigation fell from a peak of Rs 4,000 in 1994-95 to almost nothing from 2000 to 2005. With two dams repaired, this rose to Rs 3,300 in 2006-07.

The forest department has been more than predatory. Its obstructive policy has denied Sukhomajri a huge income. Under the jfm agreement the villagers' share in the timber from its khair trees, should the trees be harvested, would work out to a significant amount--an automatic bailout (see box Untapped resources). But the government is not harvesting it.

Help wanted
Villagers want help. "The dams should be repaired by the government, because we don't have money," Kishan says. Rakesh Kumar, a forester, says, however "One dam was repaired this year, another in 2005. The embankment for another dam was repaired and the height increased by 2 m. Clogged pipes were cleaned. Soon villagers can start using water." The dam repaired this year had become defunct in 1992.

The development cycle is jamming--institutional decay and shrinking resources feeding on each other. It doesn't have to, however, if policy is more sensitive. "We've dug a grave for Sukhomajri," says Swarnlata Arya, senior scientist, cswcrti.

Rolling on

Bunga took the sukhomajri story forward

Down to EarthThe first village to follow Sukhomajri's development model was Bunga, just 30 km away in Haryana's Panchkula district (see timeline: Divergent trajectories). Its success is on a surer footing for now, because it is not dependent on the forest department, but it still needs help from the government in the long term, which it isn't getting.

Bunga's surrounding hills were denuded and alternating flash floods and droughts forced villagers, who reared goats and cultivated for subsistence, to adopt a nomadic lifestyle for eight months a year. Dairy farming is the mainstay for the 160-odd families, mostly marginal landowners or the landless: agriculture contributes only 35 per cent of the village's income; the rest comes from the sale of milk. Gujjars comprise 90 per cent of the village. There are 20 dalit households, of which five have small plots of land. In 1983, when cswcrti scientists showed the villagers the dams in Sukhomajri and offered help to build their own, they jumped at it.

cswcrti provided technical expertise, while the state agriculture department implemented the project. Approved in 1983, the first dam and distribution network were completed next year for Rs 25 lakh. Two more dams were built in 1988 and 1990. hrms , set up in 1984, banned grazing and collection activities on the commons and initiated an afforestation programme to enable water harvesting. The catchment area of the first dam comprised 74.6 ha of land, owned by the forest department, and 79.9 ha of shamlat (village commons).

The first signs of change started showing soon (see graph: High equilibrium). The total cultivable land in the village is 250 ha. Within a year of irrigation starting, in 1985, around 122 ha area received water. Now 170 ha is irrigated by the dam and tube wells irrigate around 40 ha. Replacing maize and arhar (Cajanus cajan), wheat and berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum), a water-intensive fodder crop, now cover the fields. Experiments with hybrid varieties were carried out on a 40-ha plot to boost yields. The yield per hectare has jumped from 900 kg to 3,000 kg for wheat and from 800 kg to 2,200 kg for maize with irrigation and hybrid varieties. Farmers also introduced new crops: rice, sugarcane and cotton.

The livestock composition changed. The village had 800 cows, but later the number of buffaloes, requiring more feed and producing more milk, increased. The number of buffaloes, cows and bullocks has increased by 320, 47 and 33 per cent. Milk production has gone up from 1,100 litres a day to 4,000-5,000 litres. The surplus is sold at Rs 12 a litre.

Regeneration of the commons brings in more profits from bhabbar and fodder. "Our yearly per capita income has risen to Rs 10,000 from almost nothing since the construction of the dam and the development of the commons," says Bhikha Ram, a former hrms president who owns 1.6 ha.

Joint venture
hrms has appointed one person to supervise the distribution of water. His salary, Rs 4,000 a month, is more than the Sukhomajri hrms earns from selling water. Four underground pipelines have been laid: two with a roughly 13-cm (five-inch) diameter and one each of 10 cm (four inches) and 7.5 cm (three inches). The price of water hasn't changed from Rs 6 an hour from the five-inch pipeline, Rs 4 from the four-inch pipeline and Rs 3.50 from the three-inch pipeline. A progressive tariff ensures equity and efficiency, as do measures like calibrating the cropping pattern with water availability and not giving reservoir water to rice fields.

Despite these there are problems.Down to Earth The revenue from water sales has dropped from Rs 28,975 in 1998-99 to around Rs 7,300 in 2007, because the reservoir has been silting up. Then there is the groundwater issue. "Prohibitions and bans on crops are not strictly imposed, but most cultivators heed the society's advice. There are farmers who can afford to irrigate fields with tube wells," says Gurnam Singh, the hrms president. Villagers are not unduly worried. "Electricity is erratic, automatically regulating use of tube wells. In any case, groundwater is used mainly in emergencies or to irrigate rice," says Bhikha Ram.

Nine tube wells in the village supply water for irrigation. Arya found that 80 per cent was used by the owners' land. The 20 per cent that is sold covers capital costs in two years, making tube wells an easy option. The saving grace is the realization that the dam is more beneficial and the fact that the water table is still at a depth of close to 90 m.

No clone
Bunga is not a Sukhomajri rerun. Its hrms is more assertive, meeting at least once a month. Villagers usually follow its advice on cropping and water use. What has made this possible is that commons constitute more than half the catchment. hrms auctions bhabbar from its commons to contractors even after the paper industry's shift to wood pulp. Villagers buy fodder. In a year, the society earns Rs 60,000-70,000 from these, Rs 10,000 from water and Rs 12,000 from the fish in the reservoir. Over the past seven years, it has earned Rs 90,000 annually. It pays no taxes. hrms has spent Rs 12 lakh on development, welfare and maintenance. It shows: the distribution network is better managed than Sukhomajri's and the society maintains records regularly.

The state government did try to grab revenue but failed. It passed the Haryana Amendment Act no. 9 of 1992 to transfer revenues from village commons to panchayats. Since Bunga's dam was constructed on common land, this meant revenues from it and from sale of common resources would be the panchayat's. hrms sued and won (see box: Winning the war).

Down to EarthWrinkles
Bunga has managed its water well, but it can't desilt its dams. Bhikha Ram used to plant maize, gram, groundnut and mustard before the dam was constructed. With increased yields, he now earns double the income from the monsoon maize crop and the rabi wheat. Despite this, he is worried. "The dam has silted now but the villagers lack the resources to de-silt it. We have approached the collector's office and the agriculture department, but to no avail," he says. Arya, too, is unhappy with the way the village has been abandoned. "As soon as a project is handed over to a village everyone forgets about it. Experience shows external intervention is needed in the form of help with technical and logistical problems," she says.

Help has clearly not been forthcoming. Jag Pal Singh, assistant circle officer, Department of Agriculture, Haryana, says there is no separate fund for repairing or maintaining such structures. "The department might allocate funds if new schemes come to the area, otherwise we too are helpless," he says.

There have been some problematic interventions. To prevent flooding, the forest department increased the height of the first dam in 2001 and 2006. As a result, the rabi crop gets less water. An earthen dam, funded by the European Union, was built in 2006 upstream of the first to reduce silting. It collapsed that year, causing more siltation. Nothing's been done about it.

Now what?

Government must facilitate, not control

Down to EarthThe experiences of Sukhomajri and Bunga have a lesson: given the right conditions, external and internal, villages can be self-sustaining. But their inherent problems are also important lessons. Fixing these is the key to the success of the country's 2,000-odd rural development programmes. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, being implemented in around 300,000 villages in 330 districts with an annual budget of over Rs 13,000 crore, will be a test case.

The act focuses on the creation and management of resources like water and forests. It also mandates planning at the village level to achieve this. Sukhomajri and Bunga provide a template that can be adopted with corrections. Both villages show that the cyclical mode of development pioneered by P R Mishra is feasible when villages get rights over resources, their management and the profits that arise out of them. And it is only through common management at the level of the village that the crucial and fine balance between all resources of the village--forests, water, grazing lands, agriculture and domestic animals--can be reached. Sukhomajri protected its forest, which made the constant replenishment of its dams and reservoirs possible. It stopped open grazing and was paid back with fodder and grass from regenerated forests. Similarly, Bunga's village co-operative society imposed a strict water-use regime to prevent over-extraction of groundwater.

Both in Sukhomajri and Bunga, villagers organized themselves into co-operative societies because of the assured rights over local water and forest produce like fodder and grass. "Local development is a local concern. So to address the local concern it has to be a local-level development plan," says Mittal. With rights over resources assured, mobilization often happens in the form of local resource management. To begin with, Sukhomajri didn't form its hrms. It experimented for nearly four years to evolve its institutional arrangement. The village assembly played a key role in the evolution and calibration of common mechanisms. "Resources under community control always lead to innovation. That in turn results in effective management," says Madhu Sarin, the well-known forest rights activist. In the face of the falling demand for bhabbar, for instance, Bunga found a market because it had control over its resource and the accruals from it. Sukhomajri did not stand to benefit, so it just stopped taking the lease for the grass.

The two villages demonstrate by way of contrast the big difference that conferring management as opposed to legal rights can make. Sukhomajri's hrms had to depend on the forest department because the latter had legal ownership over forests and their resources. Despite the fact that the forests existed because of the efforts of the village, it had no inalienable right. In contrast, Bunga started out with legal rights to much of its catchment area. When the government tried to impinge on them, the village mounted a successful legal challenge to maintain control over its resources. Clearly, to enforce rights over resources, the government must provide local institutions with legal cover against external influences.

But local, common management should not mean local insulation. For strong and democratic village-level institutions to evolve it is not enough to have internal solidarity in the village--the interface between the government and other outside agents and the village is crucial. Thus, in Sukhomajri, when the forest department became predatory, the equilibrium of the carefully built structure collapsed. In Bunga there are already instances of violation of rights that could threaten the solidarity of its co-operative society.Down to Earth Also, however strong village institutions may be, technological and financial assistance is crucial to the survival of development projects once they transcend a certain scale. Both Sukhomajri and Bunga face crises of financial wherewithal and technical knowhow, in varying degrees. These can be overcome only through facilitation not micro-management, as the government is wont to do.

The problem, moreover, is not merely technical and financial. If the government is to make common property and its management through participatory democracy structures the way to development, it must strengthen the basis for common property management where, in contrast to Sukhomajri and Bunga, villages are rent by deep social divisions. That challenge of equitable, community-based growth cannot be met without strengthening local democracy through the gram sabha--village assembly--and making over to local institutions real powers of management.

The government must also learn from the holistic perspective Sukhomajri and Bunga present. Assessments of rural development schemes show most have failed due to lack of integrated planning. On average, every village in India has a dozen programmes, each unilinear. This fragmented app-roach has meant that desired outcomes have not materialized.

The divergent futures of Sukhomajri and Bunga could well mirror the future of rural India.

Rolling on

Bunga took the sukhomajri story forward

Down to EarthThe first village to follow Sukhomajri's development model was Bunga, just 30 km away in Haryana's Panchkula district (see timeline: Divergent trajectories). Its success is on a surer footing for now, because it is not dependent on the forest department, but it still needs help from the government in the long term, which it isn't getting.

Bunga's surrounding hills were denuded and alternating flash floods and droughts forced villagers, who reared goats and cultivated for subsistence, to adopt a nomadic lifestyle for eight months a year. Dairy farming is the mainstay for the 160-odd families, mostly marginal landowners or the landless: agriculture contributes only 35 per cent of the village's income; the rest comes from the sale of milk. Gujjars comprise 90 per cent of the village. There are 20 dalit households, of which five have small plots of land. In 1983, when cswcrti scientists showed the villagers the dams in Sukhomajri and offered help to build their own, they jumped at it.

cswcrti provided technical expertise, while the state agriculture department implemented the project. Approved in 1983, the first dam and distribution network were completed next year for Rs 25 lakh. Two more dams were built in 1988 and 1990. hrms , set up in 1984, banned grazing and collection activities on the commons and initiated an afforestation programme to enable water harvesting. The catchment area of the first dam comprised 74.6 ha of land, owned by the forest department, and 79.9 ha of shamlat (village commons).

The first signs of change started showing soon (see graph: High equilibrium). The total cultivable land in the village is 250 ha. Within a year of irrigation starting, in 1985, around 122 ha area received water. Now 170 ha is irrigated by the dam and tube wells irrigate around 40 ha. Replacing maize and arhar (Cajanus cajan), wheat and berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum), a water-intensive fodder crop, now cover the fields. Experiments with hybrid varieties were carried out on a 40-ha plot to boost yields. The yield per hectare has jumped from 900 kg to 3,000 kg for wheat and from 800 kg to 2,200 kg for maize with irrigation and hybrid varieties. Farmers also introduced new crops: rice, sugarcane and cotton.

The livestock composition changed. The village had 800 cows, but later the number of buffaloes, requiring more feed and producing more milk, increased. The number of buffaloes, cows and bullocks has increased by 320, 47 and 33 per cent. Milk production has gone up from 1,100 litres a day to 4,000-5,000 litres. The surplus is sold at Rs 12 a litre.

Regeneration of the commons brings in more profits from bhabbar and fodder. "Our yearly per capita income has risen to Rs 10,000 from almost nothing since the construction of the dam and the development of the commons," says Bhikha Ram, a former hrms president who owns 1.6 ha.

Joint venture
hrms has appointed one person to supervise the distribution of water. His salary, Rs 4,000 a month, is more than the Sukhomajri hrms earns from selling water. Four underground pipelines have been laid: two with a roughly 13-cm (five-inch) diameter and one each of 10 cm (four inches) and 7.5 cm (three inches). The price of water hasn't changed from Rs 6 an hour from the five-inch pipeline, Rs 4 from the four-inch pipeline and Rs 3.50 from the three-inch pipeline. A progressive tariff ensures equity and efficiency, as do measures like calibrating the cropping pattern with water availability and not giving reservoir water to rice fields.

Despite these there are problems.Down to Earth The revenue from water sales has dropped from Rs 28,975 in 1998-99 to around Rs 7,300 in 2007, because the reservoir has been silting up. Then there is the groundwater issue. "Prohibitions and bans on crops are not strictly imposed, but most cultivators heed the society's advice. There are farmers who can afford to irrigate fields with tube wells," says Gurnam Singh, the hrms president. Villagers are not unduly worried. "Electricity is erratic, automatically regulating use of tube wells. In any case, groundwater is used mainly in emergencies or to irrigate rice," says Bhikha Ram.

Nine tube wells in the village supply water for irrigation. Arya found that 80 per cent was used by the owners' land. The 20 per cent that is sold covers capital costs in two years, making tube wells an easy option. The saving grace is the realization that the dam is more beneficial and the fact that the water table is still at a depth of close to 90 m.

No clone
Bunga is not a Sukhomajri rerun. Its hrms is more assertive, meeting at least once a month. Villagers usually follow its advice on cropping and water use. What has made this possible is that commons constitute more than half the catchment. hrms auctions bhabbar from its commons to contractors even after the paper industry's shift to wood pulp. Villagers buy fodder. In a year, the society earns Rs 60,000-70,000 from these, Rs 10,000 from water and Rs 12,000 from the fish in the reservoir. Over the past seven years, it has earned Rs 90,000 annually. It pays no taxes. hrms has spent Rs 12 lakh on development, welfare and maintenance. It shows: the distribution network is better managed than Sukhomajri's and the society maintains records regularly.

The state government did try to grab revenue but failed. It passed the Haryana Amendment Act no. 9 of 1992 to transfer revenues from village commons to panchayats. Since Bunga's dam was constructed on common land, this meant revenues from it and from sale of common resources would be the panchayat's. hrms sued and won (see box: Winning the war).

Down to EarthWrinkles
Bunga has managed its water well, but it can't desilt its dams. Bhikha Ram used to plant maize, gram, groundnut and mustard before the dam was constructed. With increased yields, he now earns double the income from the monsoon maize crop and the rabi wheat. Despite this, he is worried. "The dam has silted now but the villagers lack the resources to de-silt it. We have approached the collector's office and the agriculture department, but to no avail," he says. Arya, too, is unhappy with the way the village has been abandoned. "As soon as a project is handed over to a village everyone forgets about it. Experience shows external intervention is needed in the form of help with technical and logistical problems," she says.

Help has clearly not been forthcoming. Jag Pal Singh, assistant circle officer, Department of Agriculture, Haryana, says there is no separate fund for repairing or maintaining such structures. "The department might allocate funds if new schemes come to the area, otherwise we too are helpless," he says.

There have been some problematic interventions. To prevent flooding, the forest department increased the height of the first dam in 2001 and 2006. As a result, the rabi crop gets less water. An earthen dam, funded by the European Union, was built in 2006 upstream of the first to reduce silting. It collapsed that year, causing more siltation. Nothing's been done about it.

Now what?

Government must facilitate, not control

Down to EarthThe experiences of Sukhomajri and Bunga have a lesson: given the right conditions, external and internal, villages can be self-sustaining. But their inherent problems are also important lessons. Fixing these is the key to the success of the country's 2,000-odd rural development programmes. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, being implemented in around 300,000 villages in 330 districts with an annual budget of over Rs 13,000 crore, will be a test case.

The act focuses on the creation and management of resources like water and forests. It also mandates planning at the village level to achieve this. Sukhomajri and Bunga provide a template that can be adopted with corrections. Both villages show that the cyclical mode of development pioneered by P R Mishra is feasible when villages get rights over resources, their management and the profits that arise out of them. And it is only through common management at the level of the village that the crucial and fine balance between all resources of the village--forests, water, grazing lands, agriculture and domestic animals--can be reached. Sukhomajri protected its forest, which made the constant replenishment of its dams and reservoirs possible. It stopped open grazing and was paid back with fodder and grass from regenerated forests. Similarly, Bunga's village co-operative society imposed a strict water-use regime to prevent over-extraction of groundwater.

Both in Sukhomajri and Bunga, villagers organized themselves into co-operative societies because of the assured rights over local water and forest produce like fodder and grass. "Local development is a local concern. So to address the local concern it has to be a local-level development plan," says Mittal. With rights over resources assured, mobilization often happens in the form of local resource management. To begin with, Sukhomajri didn't form its hrms. It experimented for nearly four years to evolve its institutional arrangement. The village assembly played a key role in the evolution and calibration of common mechanisms. "Resources under community control always lead to innovation. That in turn results in effective management," says Madhu Sarin, the well-known forest rights activist. In the face of the falling demand for bhabbar, for instance, Bunga found a market because it had control over its resource and the accruals from it. Sukhomajri did not stand to benefit, so it just stopped taking the lease for the grass.

The two villages demonstrate by way of contrast the big difference that conferring management as opposed to legal rights can make. Sukhomajri's hrms had to depend on the forest department because the latter had legal ownership over forests and their resources. Despite the fact that the forests existed because of the efforts of the village, it had no inalienable right. In contrast, Bunga started out with legal rights to much of its catchment area. When the government tried to impinge on them, the village mounted a successful legal challenge to maintain control over its resources. Clearly, to enforce rights over resources, the government must provide local institutions with legal cover against external influences.

But local, common management should not mean local insulation. For strong and democratic village-level institutions to evolve it is not enough to have internal solidarity in the village--the interface between the government and other outside agents and the village is crucial. Thus, in Sukhomajri, when the forest department became predatory, the equilibrium of the carefully built structure collapsed. In Bunga there are already instances of violation of rights that could threaten the solidarity of its co-operative society.Down to Earth Also, however strong village institutions may be, technological and financial assistance is crucial to the survival of development projects once they transcend a certain scale. Both Sukhomajri and Bunga face crises of financial wherewithal and technical knowhow, in varying degrees. These can be overcome only through facilitation not micro-management, as the government is wont to do.

The problem, moreover, is not merely technical and financial. If the government is to make common property and its management through participatory democracy structures the way to development, it must strengthen the basis for common property management where, in contrast to Sukhomajri and Bunga, villages are rent by deep social divisions. That challenge of equitable, community-based growth cannot be met without strengthening local democracy through the gram sabha--village assembly--and making over to local institutions real powers of management.

The government must also learn from the holistic perspective Sukhomajri and Bunga present. Assessments of rural development schemes show most have failed due to lack of integrated planning. On average, every village in India has a dozen programmes, each unilinear. This fragmented app-roach has meant that desired outcomes have not materialized.

The divergent futures of Sukhomajri and Bunga could well mirror the future of rural India.

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