Reclaiming the Forests?

People's Participation in Forest Management, East India

Jo Lawbuary

Members of Bajrakot Forest Protection Committee, Ranpur, Orissa,
beginning a night watch of the forest.


Submitted in partial fulfilment of BSc. (Hons.)

Human Environmental Science, King's College, London

April 16 1999


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.

Work undertaken in Orissa, east India, in January 1999, is reported here. Regeneration is providing communities with a critical increase in biomass supply, in contrast to the resource scarcities of recent years that often motivate protection. Increased biomass availability is also leading to improved income generating opportunities. Some forests notably of commercial species such as teak, Tectona grandis appear to be protected for quasi-commercial reasons. Other areas of forest not under community protection are degraded, though usefully employed as grazing grounds, as part of the agricultural economy.

Forest under community forest management may have an uncertain future, due to several factors such as institutional instability, lack of legitimacy according to the state, particularly on land designated as Reserved, which legally belongs to the Forest Department, and a management regime that is too informal. Joint forest management, where a partnership for forest management is undertaken by the forest Department and rural communities, may be more robust and sustainable.

With and without the support of the state, communities are reclaiming areas of forest, and assuming roles of stewardship.


1: Introduction
2: Indian Forests and Forestry under British Colonialism
3: Forests: Policy and Management in Independent India, 1947-1988
4: People and Forests
5: Resistance, Rebellions, Reactions
6: Peoples Participation in Forest Management: A New Beginning
7: Community Forest Management in Budhikhamari, Orissa
8: Maninag- Degraded Forest Study
9: Forest under Ranpur Forest Protection Committee
10: A New Era in Forest Management?
11: Conclusion
12: References

Tables Figures and Plates


1.1: Per capita availability of forests and status of forests in east India
2.1: India’s Forests and the Second World War
6.1: Recent government guidelines for joint forest management
6.2: Regeneration Potential of East India
6.3: Use of Different Classes of Flora from Regenerating Forests
7.1: Forest initially set aside from use, around Budhikhamari, Orissa
7.2: Data from six sites, Budhikhamari Forest, Orissa
7.3: Data on regenerating Shorea robusta, Budhikhamari, Orissa

9.1: Shannon diversity indices for three forests, Ranpur

11.1: Changes in forest cover in east India, 1995-1997


1.1: Map of India showing sites of fieldwork
7.1a-f: Frequency diagrams showing population structure of Shorea robusta, Budhikhamari Forest
7.2: Relative proportions of tree species, Budhikhamari Forest
7.3a-l: Frequency diagrams for trees other than Shorea robusta, Budhikhamari Forest
7.4: Frequency diagram for aggregated Shorea robusta data, Budhikhamari Forest
7.5: Proportions of age classes for Shorea robusta (aggregated), Budhikhamari Forest
7.6:Rank-abundance diagram for Budhikhamari Forest
8.1: Frequency of tree species in degraded forest, Maninag
8.2: Frequency of shrub species in degraded forest, Maninag
8.3: Frequency of forbs in degraded forest, Maninag
8.4: Rank-abundance diagram for Maninag
9.1: Frequency of canopy trees at three forests, Ranpur
9.2a-c: Age classes of Tectona grandis and Madhuca indica at Chaatipur, Bajrakot and Khairpally forests
9.3: Tree species <150cm forming shrub and herb layer at Chaatipur, Bajrakot and Khairpally forests


Frontispiece: Bajrakot forest protectors

7.1a-f: Six sampled sites Budhikhamari Forest
7.2: Sal leaf plate making, Budhikhamari Village
8.1: Maninag Reserved forest
8.2: Goats grazing at Maninag
9.1: Chaatipur Tectona grandis forest
9.2: Bajrakot Tectona grandis forest
9.3: Khairpally Madhuca indica forest


I would like to thank the following for their help, without whom this study would not have been possible; Tapan Padhi, Nirmal Jyotishi and Dr Vikasha Kumar Patra of RCDC (Regional Centre for Development Co-operation), Bhubaneswar, Orissa, plus kind assistance in the field by Dilip Kumar Mohanty and Gorachand Mohanty of Budhikhamari Forest Protection Committee.

Thank you also to Vasundhara, Bhubaneswar, notably to Dalku Nayak and Dr Pravat Sutar in the field at Ranpur, along with Laxmiehar Jena and Madhav Jena, and the many more members of Ranpur FPC who gave their time.

A special thanks to Dr David Cartwright, King's College, London, for his kind support and for giving me a free rein, and Purnendu Roy for sustaining me.


all photographs taken by Jo Lawbuary