Community Participation in Forest Management
Forest has been defined as "An area with a high density of trees. These plant communities cover large areas of the globe and function as carbon dioxide sinks, animal habitats, hydrologic flow modulators, and soil conservers, constituting one of the most important aspects of our biosphere ". Forests are the storehouse of natural resources, without which the very sustenance of human population would be under threat. Yet forests have been the first to bear the brunt of civilization. Growing human population has consistently put pressure on the forest cover.
Out of the total geographic area of 328.73 million hectare of the country, the area under forest cover is reported to be 69.02 million hectare [22.9% of the total area] . Of which, about 41% is estimated to have already been degraded. Many of the degraded forests are also the habitat of some of the poorest of the poor in the country. The proportion of this population living below poverty line is significantly higher than the national average [e.g. 69% in south Orissa and 44% in Chhattisgarh]. These forest dwellers, living in the forest fringe areas, are heavily dependent on forests for their livelihood and thus are at conflict with the interests of forests conservation.
Existing Policy Framework
Government of India has set itself an ambitious target of achieving 33% forest and tree cover by the year 2012. This goal cannot be achieved without active cooperation and participation of forest dependent communities. That community participation is important for sustainable forest development was recognized for the first time by the National Forest Policy, 1988, which called for "Creating a massive people's movement with the involvement of women
. to minimize pressure on existing forests ." This shift in policy stance towards forest dependent communities was institutionalized by the Joint Forest Management (JFM) Resolution of the Ministry of Environment & Forests in 1990. Further guidelines on JFM have been issued by the Ministry in the year 2000. This policy stance has been reiterated in the New Environment Policy of 2006.
Status of JFM & Concerns
As a consequence of this emphasis placed by the Government on community participation, over 83000 Forest Protection Committees are currently operational in different parts of the country, managing over 17 million hectare of forest area. The chart below shows state wise status of JFM. The area under JFM is normalized with respect to state forest area. Data Source : www.indiastat.com
It can be seen that states are at varying level of progress. Almost 70% of the states have less than 20% of their forest areas under JFM and almost half have under 10% coverage. The no. of Forest Protection Committees [Shown on the secondary Y Axis] also varies significantly state to state [This provides a rough measure as the number would also depend on the population density].
Apart for the uneven pace of institutionalization, JFM has not been able to fully address the livelihood and poverty issues confronting the target communities. Many of these are perilously dependent on government funding and have failed to evoke the desired level of community participation.
The legitimacy of JFMCs has also been a hindrance in many states and areas. JFMCs have lacked legal status, as they have come into being on the basis of executive orders and resolutions. There have also been instances of direct conflict with the Panchyati Raj Institutions .
The foregoing discussion brings out the importance and need for community participation in forests development and the associated concerns. The key question therefore, is "How community participation can be enhanced for sustainable forest development?"
The broad objectives that the above policy question would attempt to serve would be as under: v
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