Democratization of Forest Governance: Myths and Realities

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"In the last 15 years decentralization has been accorded high priority in forest governance by the state. In order to move in this direction various policies and programmes have been implemented in the forestry sector. Enhancing local participation and ensuring sustainable local livelihoods constituted the core themes of these policy moves along with other broader objectives such as, conservation, environmental services etc. However, when one looks into the ground realities, it speaks a different story. Forestry policies and programmes designed for development of forest and forest dwellers by the state such as Social Forestry Project or the popular participatory forest management arrangement in the form of Joint Forest Management (JFM) or the more recently Forest Development Agency under National Afforestation Programme have failed to yield desirable results. Promoting decentralization through participatory management constituted one of the key objectives of the above-mentioned forestry policies and programmes. However, the policy framework and implementation process suffered from several flaws making the objective a distant reality. A major drawback has been the process of policy formulation itself remaining non-participatory. Secondly, forestry development being made a fund- driven activity without banking upon community forestry initiatives, which demonstrates extensive potentiality of protecting and managing forest with little external support. This is aided by increased threats to forest resource as well as forest dependent communities and forest protecting groups from mining and industries coming up in large scale in forested regions of the state in the name of 'development'. These forest resources have immense significance in the rural livelihoods. Again, this vitiates the very essence of steps taken towards strengthening grassroots governance in terms of Extension of Panchayati-raj to Scheduled Areas (PESA) that provides for greater stake and control of Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat over local natural resources. "This paper is an attempt to bring out the issues confronting forest-people interface, community rights and local livelihoods emerging as a result of the collision between state led resource management paradigm and the self-emerged and governed management systems and broadly discuss on possible strategies and approaches to ensure greater decentralization and democratization of forest governance. The paper draws upon the findings of the studies undertaken by Vasundhara on Impacts of devolution policies in forest management and Implications of National Afforestation Programme on Community Forestry Management in Orissa."
IASC, democratization, forest policy, joint management, devolution