Peoples Participation in Forest Management: A New Beginning


The 1988 Forest Policy, as mentioned earlier, signifies a distinct paradigm shift from the traditional ‘policing’ approach of the Forest Department (Rawat, 1998), and for the first time recognises the legitimacy of local communities’ claims on the commons. Provisions for management partnerships between the state and rural communities are being drafted, and some already exist, such as joint forest management (JFM).

The concept of joint forest management was discovered accidentally by the innovative Divisional Forest Officer of Midnapore District, West Bengal, A.K. Banerjee, in 1972. In response to the continued grazing of cattle by local villagers in an area of new plantation, thereby jeopardising the crop, Banerjee asked the locals to refrain grazing in the plot, in return for a share of the final timber harvest. The strategy was found to work, to the benefit of the Forest Department, and the local community alike. It was therefore 'discovered' possible to devolve responsibility for protection of forest land to people, providing they had a stake in it. Banerjee also launched a 'Socio-Economic Project' in the same Arabari Block, where eleven villages became engaged in protecting areas of sal coppice, in return for subsistence NTFP's, preferential employment, and a 25% share in the profits from sale of short rotation sal poles. 618 families initially participated, in protecting 1272 ha of forest. (Malhotra and Deb, 1998). The success of JFM spread quickly throughout the state, and by July 1990, 1611 Forest Protection Committees had been formed, protecting 195,000 ha of forest lands in the three southwest districts of West Bengal; Bankura, Midnapore and Purulia - 47% of the total forest land (Malhotra and Deb).

Consequently, the 'Arabari model' has been the broad template for JFM in other areas. Although each state participating in JFM might have particular differences regarding its organisation, the principles and aims of JFM are similar. Table 6.1, shown below lists the provisions made for JFM in Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar. The salient points regarding JFM are outlined below:


Joint forest management then is a partnership between people and the state; a significant departure from the former policing role of the Forest Department, and the former 'illegitimate' role of local communities. With the support of forest officers, who will aid in extension and liaison between local communities and the state, villagers will protect and manage a demarcated area of forest, on a community basis. The harvest of non-timber forest produce (NTFP) for personal use, and possibly for marketing, is backed up with a share of the profits from the sale of timber generated after a certain period of protection, such as ten years.

Joint forest management has created new challenges for rural communities and the FD alike, not least in the need for a change in traditional perceptions and new ways of working. The Forest Department, however, is widely recognised as requiring reform of its institutions and management systems, as an organisation that has been inherited entirely from its colonial predecessors (Palit, 1998). Rural communities also need to create genuinely democratic community institutions for management to be effective. Characteristics of effective and stable management groups have been identified by Sarin (1998) as including: socially viable units of organisation, where small, culturally or socio-economically homogenous groups reflecting a consensus, are thought to be more effective at resource management, over larger more disparate groups. The formulation of norms and procedures regulating resource use based on equity between all members. Mechanisms of conflict resolution within the organisation, such

Table 6.1: Recent government guidelines for joint forest management

Orissa West Bengal Bihar
Date of issue of resolution 14-12-88 12-7-89 8-11-90
Forest category Reserve Degraded Degraded


Participants Adjoining



Backward people

One person from each family
Management units One forest compartment Forest beat Village
Executive committee:

Peoples' representative

3 or less 6 or less Dependent on forest
Forest Department


Forester Beat officer Vanpal
Share of members

A. Non-timber forest products


Subsistence for free, some regulated marketing of sal Cashew, 25%, sal seed, tendu leaves on approved tariff,

rest free

Dry branches, grass, leaves free; other produce available at market price.
B. Timber 50% share. All bonafide subsistence needs of timber and fuelwood free 25% of net income except in certain areas 1/3 share of income deposited as village development fund

After Poffenberger and McGean (1998).


as council of elders. The group must also be autonomous, and not an extension of the Forest Department, and perhaps most critically, the institution must be accountable, with records of decisions and accounts, and mechanisms of redress and recall for corrupt members.

Although the challenges may be considerable, in other respects, the potential success of JFM is strong, given the tangible gains from which rural communities benefit, and its rapid spread. Other factors strongly in favour of JFM, is that it is a labour intensive, rather than a capital-intensive undertaking, with costs particularly incurred by the rural participants. Bajaj (1992) also notes that regeneration schemes are inherently cheaper than afforestation or reforestation schemes, costing approximately Rs250 and Rs5000 per ha respectively. Perhaps east India has a further advantage, in that the characteristic tree species forming the principal component in the region's forests, Shorea robusta, is a hardy coppicer. Further, the Society for the Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD) surveyed the regeneration potential of different regions of India. Taking into account a number of variables, such as mean annual rainfall, humidity, daily temperatures, and forest type, all areas surveyed in the eastern states of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar, bar Darjeeling, are found to have high regeneration potential, as can be seen in table 6.2 (serious soil erosion notwithstanding).

Table 6.2: Regeneration Potential of East India
State Surveyed


(sq. km)

Forest type Mean annual rainfall (mm) No. of rainy days Mean annual humidity


Mean daily temp. (oc) Regen-

eration potential

Bihar W. Champaran (911)

Ranchi (3368)

Santhal Pargana (2377)

Singhbhum (4464)

Moist sal/ Shivalik sal

Dry peninsular sal

Dry peninsula sal

Dry and moist peninsular sal





















Orissa Phulbani (10,654)

Kalahandi (4271)

Moist sal

Moist sal













Purulia (881)

Bankura (1402)

Midnapore (1684)

Darjeeling (1432)

Dry sal

Dry sal

Dry sal

Moist sal & sub- tropical broad-leaved





















From Bajaj (1992)

One last factor in favour of JFM, is that unlike many other natural resource management programmes that have been initiated in India, such as 'social forestry', where exotic species e.g. Eucalyptus were promoted in the formation of woodlots, JFM is an indigenous and relatively 'bottom up' initiative. Social forestry, on the other hand, was largely initiated in response to international concern about tropical deforestation, with considerable funding from the World Bank, and implemented by foreign aid agencies; communities were the passive receptors of a scheme that was not theirs. JFM appears to be more successful, and more appropriate, given its rate of spread. The formation of groups has occurred at grassroots, and has subsequently been formalised in policy making since 1988.

There is a great potential for rural communities to participate in the rehabilitation of forests through JFM, and thereby providing for subsistence needs, whilst also increasing income generating possibilities through the marketing of timber and NTFP's. It may be worth considering how forest protection by rural communities in east India impacts upon the forests and the people, by referring to a couple of studies.

In the sal forests of east Midnapore, West Bengal, JFM is well established. The area receives a mean annual precipitation of 120-150cm, and Shorea robusta is the dominant species occurring on the impoverished laterite soils. The area studied for vegetative changes as a consequence of community protection, were three plots in the Moupal-Ranja beat of east Midnapore. One plot was a degraded area of unprotected forest, for the control, another plot was an area of forest protected for five years, while the third plot had been protected for ten years. Girth of trees above 10cm in the three plots were found to be zero in the unprotected plot, 765 after five years protection and 961 after ten years. Basal area was correspondingly found to increase, from zero, to 7.4 m2 ha-1 to 16.5m2 ha-1, for no protection, five years and ten years protection respectively. Shrubs and herbs were also found to increase in the first few years of protection. Tubers from climbers, a significant source of local food, were found to almost double to 235 per hectare after five years protection (Ravindranath et al, 1998).

Other studies in West Bengal have observed the uses of NTFP's by local communities, in areas of regenerating forest. Malhotra et al (1998) studied forest regeneration of Shorea robusta in three districts in south-west Bengal; Bankura, Midnapore and Purulia, under twelve forest protection committees (FPC's). Sampling was undertaken in each forest, using three 10 x 10m quadrats and all species of flora and fauna were noted. Villagers were questioned about their use of the regenerating forest. Use of different types of flora is shown below in table 6.3

Table 6.3: Use of Different Classes of Flora from Regenerating Forests
Item Regularly used (species no.) Occasionally used (species no.)






























From Malhotra et al (1998)

Villagers were found to regularly use 70 flora species from the regenerating forest, of which 34 were tree species, while another 52 were occasionally used, either due to occurring rarely, or because they were collected for specific medicinal purposes. Trees were used for every end use in the communities studied, but were most frequently harvested for food (12 species) and fuel (26 species). Animal species were also harvested, and altogether, 155 species of flora and fauna were found to be used, which comprised 72% of the total species richness (214) found in the regenerating sal forest.

Regenerating forests are therefore relatively species rich, and can contribute significantly to household incomes. Malhotra et al (1998) discovered that across the twelve FPC's studied, non-timber forest produce contributed to 12.8% of the total family income in caste households, while the percentage was higher in tribal households, at 22%. Interesting also was the calculations from Malhotra et al, regarding the income generating potential of NTFP's over the long term, compared with income generated from harvested poles. Based on data gathered from south west Bengal, calculations showed that income generated from NTFP's was three times higher than the income derived from the harvesting of sal poles, on the basis of a 10 year rotation, at Rs20,852 (302)and Rs6974 (101) respectively.

JFM, then, appears to be a workable system not only in providing for subsistence needs, but also potentially providing income-generating opportunities, and of course aiding in the regeneration of forests. Tentative successes of JFM are being reported in other areas of east India, such as Bihar, notably in areas where local communities are aware of forest decline and are motivated to tackle it (Jewitt, 1995). Since 1990, 1242 village forest protection groups have been registered, protecting over 600,000 ha of public forests, though according to some workers, the number of groups are likely to be much higher when the informal and unregistered groups are also taken into account (Mehrotra and Kishore, 1990, cited in Poffenberger and McGean, 1998).

JFM in Orissa, however, has encountered many problems, which has led to the widespread abandonment of forest protection committees (FPC's). The government of Orissa was the first to pass a policy resolution endorsing community management of forests, in 1988, and as a populist move, the chief minister ordered the formation of 5000 new forest protection committees by the end of the year. However, it has been since criticised for attempting to impose an institutional structure on hastily created groups, rather than give support to existing forest protection systems. According to Poffenberger et al (1998), the majority of the new groups formed in response to the policy resolution failed to function, while traditional and active groups were overlooked.

Orissa is recognised as having particularly strong institutional structures at village level, for tribal and non-tribal communities, and are often incorporated into larger panchayats, or councils, sometimes encompassing upto twenty communities. However, small cohesive groups, with a history of collective decision making and resource management are usually discrete entities within such a structure, and have been retained as such, perhaps for hundreds of years in some cases. It is not surprising, therefore, that community protection and management of forests is well established in Orissa as a community initiative, rather than as a construct of policy. Notably, since the 1970's, in response to increasing biomass scarcity, though initiated in the 1940's (Singh, 1993 quoted in Agarwal, 1998) communities began to exert access controls and regulate forest use, and protect forest resources from competing claims, particularly business, industry and organised crime. Village Forest Protection Committees were duly formed, which characteristically follow the existing village council structure. In this way, rural groups have claimed areas of forest, which has often been officially designated as protected, or reserved. Singh estimates that in Orissa, 2000 villages are protecting about 150,000ha, though this figure is likely to have since increased. Frequently reserved forest taken on appears to have been abandoned by the Forest Department after intensive extraction, and such land is often left to the devices of local people. The taking on of degraded land can be viewed as a means of contesting the Forest Department, and its hegemony of power, as well as potentially offering a viable system to provide for subsistence, income generating opportunities, and regenerate forests, similar to JFM. Community forest management (CFM) though, operates semi-legitimately, and the state, as such, has minimal if any role. The rest of this project will explore the effects of community management in several parts of Orissa, and relate fieldwork undertaken in January 1999.

Page 7 Community Forest Management in Budhikhamari, Orissa Back to Introduction