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Trends in Tenure Arrangements for Forest, and their Implications for Sustainable Forest Management: The Need for a More Unified Regime: A Case Study from Meghalaya, India

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Dasgupta, Joy; Symlieh, H. J.
Conference: Survival of the Commons: Mounting Challenges and New Realities, the Eleventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Conf. Date: June 19-23, 2006
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2113
Sector: Forestry
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
land tenure and use--history
forest management--history
community forestry--history
Abstract: "India has a long and varied history of forest management dating back to the third century BC. For nearly 2000 years, forest management systems succeeded in balancing State and community needs in terms of access and management practices. This all changed with the arrival of the United Kingdom colonizers, when the State became the absolute owners and community rights were converted into 'concessions'. The scenario of conflict that emerged from this situation has been well documented for much of mainland India, but not for the northeastern region, which in many ways is the cultural and geographic bridge between South and Southeast Asia. This paper explores forest management in one of the seven states in this overlooked region, Meghalaya. "Meghalaya had a long history of community forest management throughout the pre-colonial period and, although some of its best forest lands were annexed by the colonists, a substantial part of its forest estate remained in the hands of different communities. The process of changing forest management and tenure started after Indian independence, when tribal communities' calls for independence led to the creation of autonomous district councils and the codification of customary forest laws. For all practical purposes, community-controlled forest land started to be managed by the autonomous district councils. "Meghalaya became a state in 1972, and contains three autonomous district councils for Khasi hills, Jaintia hills and Garo hills. The State Forest Department is strong, but its management strategies and priorities diverge from those of the district councils. The last 30 years have seen widespread deforestation, because district councils' main concern has been revenue generation, and in most community-controlled areas timber extraction has been a major source of revenue. However, this scenario changed in 1996, when the Indian Supreme Court banned all forms of timber extraction that did not have approved working plans. "This paper argues that the emergence of multilayered management structures does not always lead to improved forest management, particularly when the focus is on revenue generation rather than conservation. It also argues that the emerging market economy is eroding the concept of community managed forest, as resources are increasingly privatized and managed to meet short-term needs. The paper recommends that a more unified management scenario is adopted, in which management takes account of such issues as biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. The main need is for a minimal number of institutions with strong and meaningful participation from local communities and a mandate to evolve more long-term and diversified forest management scenarios."

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