The Saga of Participatory Forest Management in India

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"For over a hundred years in India forests were under government control with very little peoples' participation. It was only in the late 1980s when the policy makers realised that the strategy of bringing uncultivated lands under government management and using them to produce industrial raw material had neither checked deforestation nor improved the economic condition of millions of people whose livelihoods were dependent on these forests. This led to a fundamental change in the Indian Forest Policy in 1988. Now forests are not to be commercially exploited, but have to conserve soil and environment, and meet the subsistence requirements of the local people. The implementation of the Policy was facilitated by the Government of India issuing a resolution in 1990 making it possible for the Forest Departments to involve people in the management of forests. Almost all major states have passed enabling resolutions to implement what is now popularly called the Joint Forest Management(JFM) programme. This is likely to be the focus of future forest development projects funded by governments and donor agencies. However, the implementation of participatory programmes has so far been uneven and halting. It is also not very well known under what conditions JFM does well, and whether these conditions are internal to the group or more influenced by governmental policies. Although experience from a diverse range of ecological and social contexts from many states is now available, where Forest Departments and communities are effectively working together to restore the productivity of forest lands, there has been a dearth of literature which attempts to synthesise such experiments, and link theories of collective action with empirical evidence. There is as yet no identification of the key factors that must be evaluated in order to explain, predict or improve the outcome of Joint Forest Management in different socio-economic conditions."
deforestation, economic policy, social organization, forest management, participatory development