LE Dialogue: Towards Democratization of Forest Governance
The dialogue “Towards Democratization of Forest Governance” was held with leaders of civil society to locate salient bottlenecks for improving democratization and identify spaces of opportunity to strengthen the forest economy. The discussants highlighted the existing relationship between forests and communities by leveraging FRA, 2006, and the PESA Act. This relationship can advance through Gram Sabha-led Forest governance in the country. They provided useful caveats against outright corporatization of forests but also indicated ways to go about it. A few key takeaways from the session are as follows:
Earlier, nature and the Adivasis coexisted without any role for governments to play. The fundamental idea of Adivasi culture is that everyone is one with nature, which is why forests are conserved wherever tribal communities continue to coexist. Colonial laws for forests were of a centralizing nature, and they created the forest department to generate revenue by selling timber. It was an anthropocentric and patriarchal approach. This value became so dominant through monoculture forest plans, habitat destruction, forced rehabilitation, and other incoherent activities. The Adivasi ethos was continually offended, as they regard forests as mothers. Assuredly, the belief that Adivasis do not control forests—they take care of them like one takes care of one’s mother—is insisted upon.
Indigenous communities are the most democratic systems globally. We have imposed a centralized version of control on them and their resources. It took our government more than 60 years to recognise that historically inequitable norms were being meted out to this community. The Forest Rights Act, 2006, was passed to undo the injustice. FRA (2006) recognises the self-governance approach of Gram Sabha. It helped many tribal regions of south India where the PESA Act was not applicable, but the communities living in and around forests were dependent on it for livelihood and sustenance.
For any form of governance, there are laws, rules, and institutions. The fundamental values behind these norms are often overlooked. To democratise forest governance, the biocentric approach of the Adivasi community must remain at the forefront of all policies and decisions relevant to forests—that all living beings have equal rights. Gram Sabha is already a beacon of a participatory governance model, and it can also be applied to forest governance. Gram Sabha in and of itself is enough for a consensus-based democracy. A separate special representative is not required. We have two great laws in the form of the PESA Act and the FRA (2006) to enable this democratization. Himachal Pradesh is an inspiration for forest governance and has a long history of community-based management, way before these two regulations were formed. There are community forests in Himachal Pradesh called Civil Forests, which are controlled and managed by the local communities through the institutional setup of Van Panchayats.
- Roy David, Coorg Organization for Rural Development, Karnataka
- Samar Basu Mallick, Jharkhand Bachao Andholan, Jharkhand
- Alok Shukla, Janabhivyakti, Chhattisgarh
- Amulya Kumar Nayak, Adivasi Chetna Sangathan, Odisha
- Tarun Joshi, Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha, Uttarakhand
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