Role of Civil Society in Forestry Sector in India

National Workshop on

Role of Civil Society in Forestry Sector in India

 

10 – 11 October, 2007 FRI, Dehra Dun

 

 

 

Mr. Chair, Mr. Co-chair, and distinguished delegates.

 

We have just heard Mr. Chandi Prasad Bhatt, a very renowned personality in the field of forestry, especially Community Forestry. As desired by the Chairman, I will be very brief and see how much I can bring the proceedings to order in the sense of time schedule.

 

By way of introduction, I am the Chief Information Commissioner here. I spent some 40 odd years serving these parts so I will be taking the points orally, I don't have a power-point presentation and in running I will just flag the points which I think are not only necessary to set the ball rolling but also be of some help in the ensuing sessions which I see listed .

 

First of all I am very happy that the theme has been selected and again very happy that the venue is Dehra Dun, the Mecca of Forestry, as far as Asia is concerned. Well, by way of introduction let me point out that if we were to point out the place where forestry and conservancy as we understand it today, was formally brought about, this is precisely the region where we are holding this conference. The word conservancy, to look up the legal forestry history of the country, dates back to much before the formation of the department of forestry. Very often I think we mix up the development of forestry with the creation of the department. I think there cannot be a bigger fallacy than this. Forestry existed from the very beginning. It is only formalizing the forest conservancy or further I think developments including the JFM from the 90s in this country can be traced back to the formation of the department.

 

Very briefly I will catch up on as why I say that the whole concept of conservancy the whole concept of involving community in the forests took birth here exactly in these parts. We all know that the modern governance in this country began with the coming of the British's and the East India Company and we can trace back the entire juridical history of forestry from that period. In fact the judicial or legal history of forestry in our country pre-dates formation of the department, as I said, and most of the activities that happened, happened in these parts. In 1850, these parts came under the East India Company rule and it was at that time that the need to conserve forests was felt very strong because this part was part of the Bengal Presidency and as the railways were expanding from Calcutta to these parts of the country, the need for sleepers, gun-carriages, need for building material as the population was increasing, economic development was taking place and suddenly we found that the very pristine forest, especially the Sal forest in these parts were being put under the axe. And then, the Britisher's then suddenly realized that if we go on felling the trees like this very soon we will see no forests. And as the document would reveal you that it was not the forest department regulars who started the conservancy but here it was the fourth commissioner of the division Henry Ramsay who was first anointed the post of Conservator of Forests. And there was not department at that time; I would like to reiterate it.

 

So let us not be mixed up that forestry and conservancy as a discipline started with Brandis and so on and so forth, that I think is the first point I may clear.  As the forests were brought under the government control, very logically there were protests from the local people because local people were not used to any conditionalities being imposed when they used the forests. So I think the whole protest of the people when it came to the regulation of the forests I think took place here and I think it is in 1911 that large scale forest unrest, even burning of forests, arson took place. And the people's protest saw something like 30,000 hectares of forest which are reserved under the 1911 settlement were burnt by the people as a protest. And consequently the then colonial government was forced to set up what is well known today as the Forest Grievances Committee where formally, I think in the history of forestry anywhere in the world, for the first time you hear of a colonial government listening to the people's grievances. I think when you talk of society and we recognize the role of the society in management of forests, commenced with that forest unrest.

 

So I have put up a paper where I have examined as to what were the issues discussed by the Forest Grievances Committee. And it is as a result of the four remedies suggested by the Forest Grievances Committees that we have what you just heard Mr. Chandi Prasad Bhatt repeatedly mentioning about the village forests. The whole concept of village forests which we see embedded in the Forest Act, 1927 under section 28 actually dates back to that. If somebody was to ask that as to how that space was created in the Forest Act for the village community to be in existence, I think one can relate back to the major grievance of the people against the government control of the forest which the people were used to enjoy without any fretters. Not to say the forests were any worst than today. That means that the concept that the people can manage their forest better than perhaps anybody else is a self proving point and when you look at section 28 the rules framed for managing the village forests, I think dates back to that.

 

So when I mention that the origin of the conservancy of the forests, origin of the role of the civil society in managing the forests dates back to that period; its all part of history. I thought it will be a very good background when we say as to how the role of the civil society has come to be discussed. Of course, rest then is history. Then we see June Resolution of the 90s, the Joint Forestry Management and so on. So I will not take-up your time as I see the brochure mentioning it and the very sessions which you are going to contemplate upon, I think they are segments of those. So I will not take much time, as the Chairman has wished me to, I will very briefly pin-point what are those things which you need to look at.

 

First of all I would say Mr. Bhatt has already pointed out, that the community forestry as it exists today I don't like the word JFM, because JFM has been much used without supporting it as it should be. So there has to be a legal sustainable clause with the JFM. Administrative or executive orders, we know how fickle we are will not help,  and therefore  the Van Panchayats as exist today in Uttarakhand constituted under section 28 with supporting rules is something which we have to create all over, all over perhaps Commonwealth, I do not know. So I think depending on what kind of legislation we have in respective member countries is very essential that the legal support given to Village Forests under section 28 in Uttarakhand where you have separate rules for village communities is the first need. We talk of sustainability. I think that the legal sustainability is no less than any other sustainability. If your village community is going to be put under axe at any time under the wham and fancy of those who manage I think that will be a sad day. So I think first and foremost I will put a legal space for village forests to be placed in the law and it must be supported and back by the laws. Secondly there is a need for, flowing from that,

 

Mr. Bhatt has also pointed out, that we talk of community participation, village forest and so on, but when it comes to devolving funds, devolving activities putting mechanism, community forestry/JFM is forgotten, which is not a unique thing because after the 73rd – 74th Constitutional amendment when we are going for decentralized governance and laying emphasis on micro-management at the sub-village level, not at the village level, there is an equal need to see that at the sub-village level forestry as a major activity is also support.

 

So I think second, flowing from the first viz. give legal sustainability to community forestry movement in this country and not merely by executive order of JFM etc. but by creating institutions like Van Panchayats where elections are held every five years automatically, where the proceedings are taken, where the village forest is given the powers of a forest officer as defined in the forest act and where everything is decided as per the rules, all this needs a careful study. When I say that, Mr. Bhatt has mentioned that the Van Panchayats are being taken care of, definitely, but I think the kind of care that should be taken in a more comprehensive manner, there is much to be done in this state as well. It is therefore very essential that after giving legal sustainability a space in the law of the land, I think it will be a very good training ground for our people also to look at the democratic functioning at the base level. Secondly, I think after the legal community and backing it up by the respective rules there must be clear determination on the executive side to do it.

 

In this state, I think after 2005,  a major decision in November 2000 we had taken a conscious decision, that having realized the importance of village community, we resolved to have a village forest in every village. It was a big ask. If you see there are something like 14000+ revenue village. Out of 13, 3 districts had no tradition of community forests.  Native state of Tehri had no particular tradition of village forest. Dehradun which was akin to the plains area had no tradition of Van Panchayat. So we resolved to make it uniform and I am happy to report to you that before 2000 when we became a new state the number of village forests was only 5800 odd. We have constituted more Van Panchayats in the state after 2000 than there ever existed after 1930. So now I think almost every revenue village in Uttarakhand has a Van Panchayat. So that was a big quantum jump and may be in a year of two we will be having a situation where every revenue village in the state will have a community forest which is called Van Panchayat. To that I think is basic demonstration of the fact in the state that there is a total back-up of the state government, executive and legal back-up for the promotion of community forestry in the state.

 

Having said that I think it is very essential, and I am happy to report that to you also, that there is a need for capacity building. We cannot expect the villagers themselves to know of the silviculture practices, what is good forest, and how to ensure that all the silviculture research practices are also going to the community forests. Having a community forest does not mean that we differentiate what is good for a normal government forest and why it is not being taken to a community forest. I think it is very essential to integrate the forest research, the best practices of forestry going automatically to the community forests. That is I think one way we can possibly help. So having covered every village, the second most important decision taken was that it is not necessary that every Van Panchayat constituted earlier had adequate area for its population. After all, a forest is there for what ? Fodder, feed, fuel, pastoral land and also equally an open space. So we resolved that in the existing Van Panchayats in addition to creating new ones where none existed, the second pronged strategy was to extend the existing area of community forests where the adequacy of forests was not there. And we resolved every family needs something like 2.5 hectares of forests to support it.

 

So I think the second strategy is that in the existing community forest ensure that adequate support area is given for the village community. Only when the villagers are satisfied and they have the adequate support area of their forest they will definitely not disturb the government forest. So it has been well understood here that the well being of the forest controlled forest is a important factor and is a very important corollary to pushing the community forestry movement forward. So I think it is the forest department which has to ensure that while the government controlled forests are managed well, it is equally important that the villagers also have their own village forests of which they are the best judge and they can nurture them best.

 

I am happy to report that the capacity building part has been taken very well care of. The Forest Training Institute of this state, which is at Haldwani, regularly trains the office-bearers of Van Panchayats, the members of Van Panchayats, the field functionaries of forest guards and foresters, who naturally have to be functioning as Secretaries to Van Panchayats. So their programs have been taken. Training of forester is very important. I think it is very important that the forest bureaucracy is made to feel sensitive about the requirements of the community forests, which is being taken care of in a regular fashion. Our training institute is very well equipped and I am very happy to see when I go there and participate and find that there is very clear arrangement to see that there is not only a very clear arrangement to see that not only the capacity building of the office bearers of the Van Panchayats is being taken care of at government cost but also the forest guards, rangers.

 

Finally, when it comes to funds, Mr. Bhatt mentioned about when it comes to giving funds not much happens. But I think that again Uttarakhand is an exception. In the ministry we already have a program of Forest Development Agency. We have something like about 37 FDAs constituted here, and it is the FDAs which are headed by the conservator of the circle take care of the Van Panchayats and their funding. Their regular microplans are prepared and I think regular funding is taking place. And I am happy to see that a substantial amount of forest department funds have been deployed, routed through the Van Panchayats through the FDAs. But having said that I think there is a need to see that the FDA mechanism and whatever is being done by the Van Panchayats is better coordinated better and some more energy is put into that. Finally, I think there is a need to look at a long time strategy to ensure that the community forestry works in tune with the forestry as we see in the departmental sector. That is where we need some kind of attention. And I think various segments which are slated for subsequent sessions are basically giving those headings which need to be done. Each of them need a kind of component in our total strategy for helping these.

 

To sum up speaking for this state as far as the awareness of the community for the part of the forest bureaucracy is quite high. That is manifested in the kind of programs that have been taken up viz. covering each village with a Van Panchayat, having rules that have been modified recently, seeing that the arrangements are there and, because the ministry officials are also here, one thing I have not been able to understand as to why when you talk of participation of a community in the forestry management, why our working plans have not embraced that concept. I have seen any number of working plans. We are digitizing working plans. Because if we are swearing by the Working Plans for the next ten years why this community participation is not taking place in them. Do we think that the forest officer who is in the charge of the working plan has all that is required to be done in terms of its knowledge. I doubt, because these are the days when every discipline has to converge the other disciplines.

 

So I would very strongly recommend that while adequate attention should be given to preparing the working plans, the concept of community forestry, the concept of people's involvement, the concept of all that we are talking of in this sector of civil society involvement, I see no involvement of the civil society when we prepare a ten year plan for a particular division. I am not saying that the working plans are as good as they used to be. General deterioration is seen everywhere. But I think it is high time that while we are discussing the civil society's role in the forest management we should not, must not overlook the role of the community and their perception in the preparation of the working plans.

 

Thank you.

R S Tolia

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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