Commons in Theory: Assumed Commons in Practice

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"Property is a three-way relationship between the holder of the property entitlements, the particular resource complex and the collective, state or social norm, which gives legitimacy to the entitlements. Generally, natural resources can be held under any one of the three property regimes: Communal Property; Private property and State Property. These, formally, should determine who the managers are, but of course what is formal and what is actual may well be different. The policy in India has assumed two options: Private or State Property: and all the natural resources are held under state property guided by various laws and guidelines. "There is a distinct trend in India where there is an attempt towards devolution: especially in protection of forests through Joint Forest Management. In this attempt to devolve there has been a considerable discussion on 'right' and the form of 'rights' on the natural resources both among the policy makers and that of the civil society. There is also a considerable divergence of opinion on this issue amongst them. While some talk about ethical and proprietor rights to use natural resources others propose management or stewardship rights over the resource. "Most policies, especially that of the forests, of the colonial era got extended to the independent India. 'Control' had been the major focus in the colonial era but it was amended to provide 'privileges' to the communities after independence. The policies were again slowly brought under the 'control' regime because of the degradation of the forests, through gradually cutting down the privileges once laid down. In such a situation of policy vacuum and inadequate implementation of the existing policies, the local communities took control of the depleting forests, to regenerate and manage the resources to their advantage. The interests of meeting the basic needs from the natural resources has resulted in the protection of forests by the communities irrespective of tenure; the protection over the years has been translated into claims forcing the government to come up with the Joint Forest Management (JFM) policy. The half-hearted alternative (JFM) led to the strengthening of the communities' claims, which are getting transformed into the demand for entitlements over the resource and recognition of Community Forest Management. "The commons, therefore, in such policy environment are 'assumed commons' and not commons in reality as the tenurial arrangements over such lands lie with the Government. The forests continue to be managed by the forest department and the revenue lands by the revenue department. Though the policy makers may differ, the policies today are nowhere close to what is required for the resources to be used and managed as commons. The paper attempts to put India's forest policies in the perspective of the larger 'understanding of commons' and tries to explain how the concept of 'assumed commons' be understood and a framework be used for devolution of natural resources to the local communities. The paper is based on the experiences of working with the self-initiated forest protection groups in India and more particularly that of the community forest management institutions in Orissa."
IASC, common pool resources, community forestry, joint management, forest policy, forest management, land tenure and use