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Elite Capture and Forest Governance in India

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Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Author: Pushpendra, Rana
Date: 2014
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/9418
Sector: Forestry
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): decentralization
natural resources
resource management
Abstract: "Elite capture is a persistent problem in forest governance. Influential and powerful elites often capture a major portion of forest-based benefits due to their well-entrenched structural domination of forest governance. The problem is chronic and many scholars have held it responsible for the continuous failure of the state efforts to manage forests equitably and sustainably. They have blamed it for inequitable outcomes. The representation of the state as an incapable entity in countering the elite domination has encouraged various actors to promote the alternative institutional arrangements. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is one of such initiatives that call for an active involvement of communities in forest governance through arrangements that do not include only government. CBNRM has been implemented in many countries through decentralization reforms mostly driven by international donors, non-governmental organizations, fiscal compulsions of central governments and the demands of the civil society and social movements. CBNRM is considered as an antidote to the persistent problem of elite capture. By empowering communities to make plans, and implement them, CBNRM aims at tackling the influence and the domination of the elites over the decision-making processes. However, the evidence does not support this contention. Many studies have shown that CBNRM is highly prone to elite capture. Overwhelming evidence from several studies have shown that CBNRM ignores issues of power relations favoring elites. The poor fail to participate effectively in the participatory programs due to structural barriers and, therefore, fail to shape the decisions on forest resources on which their own livelihoods depend. CBNRM has largely failed in breaking the tight inter-locking and multifaceted control of the elites over forest-related decisions. The continuous failure of forest governance to tackle elite capture motivates the question: 'What governance mechanisms reduce the probability of elite capture in forest management to ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes?' Drawing on the literature from political science, political ecology, policy sciences and natural resource governance literature to conclude, elite capture is reduced when (i) state or external interventions adopt a pro-poor targeted approach, and (ii) autonomous counter power has emerged in the form of individuals or groups that constantly challenge the institutionalized authority of elites. A mixed method approach - both qualitative as well as quantitative - provides a deeper understanding of the processes involved in elite capture generalizes to large set of cases. This dissertation is based on the analysis of (i) comparative case studies of elite capture in three local governments under decentralized forest management (ii) a dataset of 38 local governments over 7 years on the distribution of timber for house construction and repair from public forests, and (iii) state regulation of felling of trees on private lands."

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