Social exclusion in community forest management

Through the 1990s there have been attempts to reform India’s forest management that have been marked by a departure from colonial approaches and have tried to incorporate the concerns of the historically neglected forest dependent communities. Conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing have been the focus. A shift was made away from exclusionary notion of conservation to recognising community rights over forests. The forest rights act (2006) enacted ten years ago marked a paradigm shift and turned to be a ground-breaking legislation.

Yet, socio-cultural dimension in common property resource management continues to be a challenging area even though it has acquired wider acceptance in the developmental discourse. “The governance of common property resources such as forests, water, grasslands etc., underwent drastic change in the name of people-centric or decentralised management. But the process of social exclusion based on caste, class, gender, religion, community, age etc., had not been given due attention in the studies on community forest management,” says a recent study.

The study by V M Ravi Kumar titled ‘Social exclusion and common property resource management in south India: An analysis of community forest management’ (May 2017) attempts to capture the process of social exclusion in the operational process of community forest management in Andhra Pradesh. Three villages were selected for analysis from three districts falling under diverse natural and bio-physical regions of the state.

The social exclusion framework used in the study proposes that community forest management in India provides differential access to different communities based on their prior status in terms of economics, social and political position. Therefore, development interventions in the form of community forest management unleashed dual process. While certain communities experienced upward development trajectory, the socio-economically and politically marginalised communities underwent downward development trajectory. It is the latter category that experienced large scale social expulsion process.

Community forest management policy was introduced in Andhra Pradesh in 2002. This had envisaged active participation of forest dependent communities in conservation of forests and enhancement of the livelihood status of forest dependent communities. The outcomes were quite the opposite. Community forest management practice in Andhra Pradesh could not generate tangible results and at the same time, resulted in exclusion of existing patterns of livelihoods of forest dependent communities.

This trend took place due to the collaborative network of the rural elite, some NGOs and a section of forest department which had control over the course of the scheme and attempted to maximise their selfish interests. Consequently, majority of poor and marginalised priorities are not included in the process of the scheme.

The study shows how in Vishakapatnam the diversion of podu land to the Van Samrakshan Samiti work was done with the forceful persuasion of elite families who were also political leaders of the villages, and NGOs which mainly dealt with upper strata of tribal society.

As a result, the scheme could not operate in a congenial collective action paradigm and led to poor results. This process demonstrates multiple mechanism of social exclusion either institutional or fluid, in the process of community forest management implementation.

The full study is available here

Image courtesy: Jagannath, Wikimedia Commons (License: CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

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