Forest rejuvenation is occurring in the east Indian states of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar, as a consequence of community protection and the regulation of access. In a significant departure in the relationship between forests, people and the state, a new meeting point between the Forest Department, and rural communities is facilitating a co-operative management of forest land, called joint forest management. In Orissa, however, community forest management, without support from the state, and in what can be interpreted as a new, subtle form of environmental activism, is likewise showing forest regeneration, notably in areas of derelict Reserved forests.

Where forest management with people's participation has shown to be successful, contributing factors can be identified; forest degradation appears to be a strong motivating factor, particularly when adverse conditions, associated with forest degradation impacts upon local communities, such as lack of biomass, or loss of income generating opportunities, etc.., conversely, for regeneration to occur, there must be sufficient 'ecological potential', notably sal rootstock in the ground. A strong local institution is also a prerequisite for a sustained management and distribution of forest resources. However, in Orissa, where forest protection and management is generated from entirely within the community, institutional instability, lack of legitimacy and support from the state, and an informal management regime may jeopardise community forest management.

As a community initiative, however, the success of forest protection and management in Orissa is clear. The regeneration of Shorea robusta is a remarkable achievement. In Budhikhamari, the sal forest was young and dense, where once, not so long ago, it was scrub less than a metre high. Whether the forest will age, will be as much a matter of harvest rate, as the effectiveness of future management and protection, which currently appears precarious. Certainly Budhikhamari forest presently yields sufficient biomass for all the village subsistence needs, and offers an increased potential for generating income from the marketing of sal leaf plates. Similar cases of regeneration are also noted at Chaatipur, Bajrakot and Khairpally, though perhaps the motives for protection in these three villages are more market-driven, than the need for biomass. Nonetheless, all groups appeared to experience considerable challenges in their efforts to protect 'their' forests, which testify to the overall resolve of these community groups.

Should similar efforts of community protection be applied to Maninag, regeneration would be likely, given the high biological potential of the area. However the context of forest degradation is more complex than the simple figures of deforestation would suggest. What might appear as environmental degradation might also be an integral component to the agricultural economy, by the provision of grazing land.

Table 11.1: Changes in forest cover in east India, 1995-1997 (sq. km)
State 1995 assessment forest cover 1997 assessment

forest cover

change % change
West Bengal















Ministry of Environment and Forests, 1999.

Nevertheless, from the table above, recent trends in forest cover from satellite data are shown for the eastern states. While factors influencing forest cover are complex, of which community/joint forest management is just one amongst many interacting variables, it is interesting to note the recent changes in forest cover. In West Bengal, the stronghold of joint forest management, an increase in forest of 73 km2 is evident, while in the Orissa and Bihar, there is an overall decline of 166 km2 and 37 km2. All changes involve less than 1% of each state's forest. It is likely, however, that without community protection, the losses perhaps would be greater.

That people are reclaiming the forests, is evident from studies in the field presented here, and cases of joint forest management from West Bengal, and Bihar. Rural communities' involvement in forest management is benefiting the forests and people alike, and appears to herald a new, and timely era in natural resource management in the subcontinent.

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