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Forest landscapes of the southern western Ghats, India

B.R. Ramesh
Rajan Gurukkal

Part III. Towards a Paradigm Shift: Rethinking Strategies of Landscape Management

8. Imperatives of Change: Reflections on the Current Practices and Policies of Forest Management

M. Amruth, P.V. Karunakaran, M. Balasubramanian et B.R. Ramesh

Texte intégral

1The prevailing condition of the forests in the landscape is a resultant of management interventions, extractive dependency and natural process. The forest landscape is modified for drawing a variety of benefits such as irrigation water, power generation, revenue enhancement and biodiversity conservation. Here the attempt is to understand shifts in the management rationale through the period. Such an understanding is warranted prior to suggesting management strategies. The review was conducted by consulting working and management plans, annual administrative reports and interaction with the forest staff.

Review of infrastructures and activities

Administrative units and tools

2The administrative units in the landscape are categorized into Protected Areas (PAs) such as wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, and non-PAs. Administratively the unit is divided into subunits such as ranges, sections station and beats. Based on the nature of management forest space is compartmentalised as working circles (e.g., teak, bamboo, NTFP, etc) in non-PAs and as zones (core, buffer, tourism, etc) in PAs. The process of preparation and approval of working plans (for non-PAs) and management plans (for wildlife divisions) differ considerably. Both of these plans are prepared for a period spanning 10 years. In case of the PAs, the manager (Wildlife Warden) prepares plan through a consultative (with other stakeholders) process for incorporating stakeholder perceptions. The Chief Wildlife Warden finally approves this plan. In case of non-PAs, the planning wing of the KFD prepares the plan and gets it approved by the Government of India. While preparing the working plan there are hardly any consultation with local people, although participatory principle is declared mandatory since a decade back. The microplans are separately prepared for the VSS/EDC but not incorporated with the divisional plans. One of the major drawback of this 10 year planning is the absence of interim review of the plans.

Infrastructure and equipments

3A comparative study of the equipments, infrastructure and manpower among the administrative territories within the landscape suggests that PAs are better equipped than non-PAs. This difference is more visible in case of arms and ammunitions, vehicles, and communication equipments as these are more in the PAs compared to non-PAs. This highlights the priority enjoyed by PAs in forest management. However, in the case of fire lines, the length per unit is more in non-PAs especially in and around plantations. This fact suggests that the priority in non-PAs is more towards production forestry than to protect natural forests from fire. The means of surveillance, such as trek paths and roads are more, in PAs compared to non-PAs as the former receive more fund allocation and attention in terms of promoting tourism in addition to biodiversity conservation.

Human resource

4Field and ministerial staff form the crucial manpower for management of forests. Roughly 25 % of the approved positions of the field staff are vacant in all divisions through out the year. As in the case of facilities and infrastructure, the manpower also is more in PAs. In PAs there are provisions for appointing additional manpower during contingencies and demanding situations (e.g., fire season). In the case of sanctioned posts of frontline staff, the area to staff ratio is higher (5.78 km2) in the non-PAs than that of PAs (4.82 km2). Area per the posted staff also shows a similar pattern with 7.30 km2 in non-PAs and 5.71 km2in PAs. The deployment of the field staff is not related to the field conditions or management demands. In rare occasions it may be related to the extent of the subunits but not related to the nature of the terrain. The administrative units (such as wildlife divisions) require specially trained hands but such expertise is rarely made available, as the office of appointment is mostly incommen-surate with skills of the appointees. Though the magnitude of impacts due to such slipshoddiness is not known, it is evidently a drain of resources.

Management interventions or activities

5The review of annual reports, management plans, and consultation of forest officials has disclosed that irrespective of the differences in official status of administrative units (such as wildlife division and territorial division) the management practices differ only marginally. Though there are differences in the management objectives (i.e, sylviculture orientation for non-PAs and conservation orientation for PAs), excepting some specific activities in divisions the practices are mostly common. Territorial divisions also take up species oriented conservation programmes such as Malabar hornbill conservation in Vazhachal and Malayattoor divisions and medicinal plant conservation in Vazhachal division while the wildlife divisions generally avoid taking up sylvicultural and extractive practices.

6One of the major management activities in the divisions are fire protection that includes preparation of fire lines, surveillance by firewatchers and organization of awareness programs. Fire lines are prepared by clearing natural growth along the roads and fire prone areas inside the forests and they are rarely reconfigured in response to spatial or temporal pattern of fire incidence. Although it is known that the fire is a major management problem in the forests, no long-term strategies have been formulated as yet to address the issue. Likewise, no long-term strategies have been designed so far for weed management in the context of fire control, though the role of weeds as a major factor that contributes to the fuel load and aggravates the damage is obvious.

7Practices such as planting, weeding, thinning, fire protection, soil and moisture conservation are carried out in production divisions. In PAs also planting (of fodder species) is done as a part of habitat improvement. The involvement of social forestry wing and territorial wing in non-PAs in afforestation has found to be undesirable. This is because the commitment of the social forestry wing is only to planting and maintenance for few (5>) years. In many areas the natural growth is removed in the name of planting. Selection of natural forests for planting also is a debatable practice.

8Weeding is a common activity in plantations and wildlife habitats resulting in the removal of many natural species. The current practice of cutting and removal is not effective as cutting is mostly done after the fruiting of the species.

9Soil and water conservation is carried out through gully plugging, rubble packing, trenching, etc. It has been noticed that the removal of stones from the adjacent slopes for gully plugging and rubble packing aggravates soil erosion. Though it is known that soil erosion can be checked through providing adequate ground cover, no efforts in this direction are initiated. It is necessary to link up strategies and practices associated with various activities of restoration and protection such as fire control, soil and water conservation, habitat improvement and assisted regeneration.

10If the number of cases reported from different divisions is any indication of efficacy of the administration, then there is ample proof to conclude that the infrastructure and manpower is under-utilised. Even in areas such as Thattekkad WLS with an extent of merely 25 km2, the availability of infrastructure and human resources is comparatively high still there are reports of poaching and felling.

11Another conspicuous change noticed is regarding the progress of activities taken up under the KFP. The financial support of the project was available for nearly five years and many special activities were implemented. Though one of the conditions of aid had been continuation of the programmes initiated under KFP, most of them were abandoned soon after the project period.

Forest offences

12The major offences reported are tree felling and illegal collection of NWFP. In terms of the impact encroachment and ganja cultivation, sandalwood cutting and poaching are the major issues. There are issues indirectly related to forests, such as sand mining and illicit brewing, especially in the territorial divisions. The overall picture of the offences indicates that the nature and type of offences are almost similar in PAs and non-PAs although the number varies.

Human-wildlife conflict

13Though PAs such as Parambikulam have habitations inside, the human-wildlife conflict is mostly reported from non-PAs. Among the divisions Malayattoor has the highest number of such incidents (27.27 %) followed by Nemmara (25.45 %), Vazhachal (21.82) Chalakudy and Thattekkad WLS (12.73 % each). Major species involved are elephants (67 %), leopard (24 %) and sloth bear (7 %) (Figure 8.1).

14Highest proportion of the incidents is related to crop damage (54.55 %), which is mostly due to elephants (Figure 8.2). The incidents of crop damage due to wild boar is not reported as no compensation is paid in cases involving nonscheduled species as per Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Figure 8.1 Involvement (%) of animals in human-wildlife conflict

Figure 8.2 Proportion of different types of damage


15The landscape under study has good potential for tourism development. Occurrence of cascades, rapids, animal sightings, pilgrim destinations, is just a few tourist attractions in the study area. More visitors are reported from Thattekkad and Parambikulam where good wild life sightings and better boarding facilities are available. In non-PAs Kodanad Elephant Camp and Athirappally falls are the major attractions. Majority of the visitors are domestic tourists. On an average the contribution by foreign tourists is less than 4 %. The management of visitors has been organized fairly well in Parambikulam and Thattekkad WLSs and Vazhachal (Athirappally and Vazhachal) and Malayattoor (Kodanad) divisions with the help of EDCs and VSSs.

Participatory forest management

16The objective of the participatory management programme is to institutionalise use rights of the forest dependent communities while mitigating their negative impacts on the forests due to imperfect property right regime. The idea is based on the sustainable utilisation of the resources without incurring environmental externalities. There are two kinds of participatory institutions in the study area, Eco-development Committees (EDC) and Vana Samrakshana Samitis (VSS) (Figure 8.3; Annex 8.1).

  • 1 These data keep changing as more VSS are being formed in the area. The data used is of Mar (...)

17There are 41 PFM institutions in the landscape under study.1 Nine of them are EDCs in the wildlife sanctuaries such as Parambikulam (7), Chimmony (1) and Thattekkad (1). Out of these, 2 (PAP colony EDC and the Thattekkad-1 EDC) are non-adivasi EDCs. Among the 32 VSS in the study area, 19 are of NWFP based adivasi members. The remaining 13 are fringe area VSSs, constituted mostly by the fringe area population. Thus putting the VSSs and the EDCs together there is a total number of 15 fringe area PFM institutions and 26 adivasi forest committees in the landscape unit. There is a total of 9867 members representing 3765 households. Out of which approximately 32 percent (3125) of the members belong to the adivasi community, 9.25 percent (913) to the scheduled caste and the remaining 59 percent to the non adivasi population of the fringe area.

Figure 8.3 Location of settlements and presence of PFM institutions

18Among the member families, about 34 percent are adivasi families. The total area of forestland earmarked for PFM in the landscape units is about 55 km2 (this is only about three percent of the landscape unit). Out of this, 95 percentage (52061 ha) of land are allotted to the adivasi VSS and the remaining 5 percent amounting to 2669 ha are allotted to the non-adivasi fringe area VSSs. This would mean that the adivasi PFM institutions with only 31 percent of the total PFM population have nearly 95 percent of the PFM land. This would also mean that the per-capita forestland allocated to the fringe area VSS for joint management is strikingly small, compared to that of the adivasi VSSs’. While the per-capita land allotted is 17 ha in the case of the former, it is only 0.4 ha in case of the latter.

19At present PFM institutions are in the initial stages of their establishment and hence too early to assess their functioning. In many localities, especially in many adivasi settlements, VSSs are yet to be formed (Figure 8.3). In this context, following observations are made on the implementation of PFM:

  1. slow take-off and low performance of the PFM are mainly due to inadequate inputs from the KFD in terms of trained manpower;
  2. while the legal and policy provisions provide ample opportunities for PFM, negative attitude and unwillingness of the KFD officials stop them being proactive to PFM implementation;
  3. KFD officials have not yet considered PFM as their fulltime business. Thus, PFM is considered only as part-time, obligatory activity like fire-line maintenance or thinning operations.
  • 2 A detailed discussion on the historical evolution of PFM and its compatibility with depart (...)

20Consequently, the activities involving PFM are not given adequate thought and the programmes fail to deliver the incentives it promises to the local people. The PFM institutions are to be coordinated by an apex organisation called Forest Development Agency (FDA) formed at forest divisions. It is presumed that gradually the fund disbursal will be through FDA and PFM institutions. Therefore, chances of providing more incentives and income earning opportunities for the forest dwelling and forest dependent population may be possible in the years to come. Here a participatory management perspective is adopted while charting out management strategies for the management zones. At present FDA is formed only in two forest divisions in the study area- Vazhachal and Nemmara.2

Review of forest policies

21Prior to the British rule forest boundaries were more fluid and provisional. The boundaries of forests and inhabitations were more indistinct as shifting cultivation and collection of forest products often invited people from valleys and plains to deep inside the forests. The meaning of property and the status of proprietorship on the forests were more ad-hoc and were different from that of the present day. Integration of the larger public/ peasantry to the money and local market were to take place only after the land settlement during the British regime. A series of administrative reforms pertaining to land settlement, improvement of agriculture and enclosure of public lands gradually manifested along with the formulation of policy statements, legal enactments and rules for governing the forests. Some of these policies and the legal measures were continued with little or no modification by the Indian State after independence. Over the past decade, there has been a drastic and perceptible change in the forest management all over India marked by a shift from centralised planning and administration to decentralised and participatory planning and management in an attempt to balance social, environmental and economic objectives. VSS, EDC and FDA are the new participatory institutions emerged because of the policy changes. In addition to this, a number of regular forestry related activities such as fire protection, assisted natural regeneration, watershed development, NWFP management etc. became participatory under the influence of the new management strategy.

22Despite this contrasting picture there are influential elements of continuity from the previous management regime entrenched in the executive structure of the forest management. Some of these pertain to the rationalities of governance and control. In a number of areas, these stipulations contradict current management objectives. The attempt here is to trace the roots of these contradictions and locate the landmark shifts in values of forest management. Such an exercise helps us identify policy imperatives in addressing the emerging challenges in forest management.

Early attempts of state control over forests

23The declaration of state monopoly over forest space and the subsequent extermination of people’s rights over forests, in the last quarter of 19th century, marked the institutionalisation of forest management in India. Though the spices from the forests had attracted attention of the rulers as a source of revenue, the forest was yet to emerge as a resource base in the early colonial period. Forest was mostly considered as the space that should be put to productive purpose, preferably agriculture, for augmenting the state revenue. Restrictions on extraction of certain types of resources were imposed, especially, on the extraction of ‘royal timbers’ and spices of trade. The interests on forests were rising as scarcity was felt for the ship building timber in Britain and as teak was identified as a potential substitute for oak in shipbuilding. Similarly, sandal and sal wood also were identified as valuable elements of the forests. Gradually, control over forests got tightened and a number of restrictive measures taken to ensure the availability of teak timber from the Indian forests.

24In the Travancore and Cochin princely states these changes have brought in rudimentary forms of forest conservancy though, then conservancy had a very different meaning. As early as 1800 a commissioner was appointed to look into the availability of teak in the forests of Malabar and subsequently Madras government appointed a commissioner of forests to oversee procurement of teak timber from forests. Malabar was part of Madras State and the management of forests in this region was directly done by the British through the Sreerangapatanam Agreement of 1792 between Tippu and the British East India Company. The British declared all forests as state property in India, but in Malabar this was not followed. As a result, majority of the forests were in the hands of local chieftains and these tracts later came to be known as Vested Forests. Attempts to standardise techniques of monoculture planting of tropical wood yielding species were being promoted by the state for ensuring continued supply of fine timber. By 1844 the method of establishing teak nursery and plantation was standardised in Nilambur for the first time in history. J.A. Kolhoff was the first Conservator of Forests in Cochin region. Major duties of the Conservator were to collect and sell Royal Trees, issue permits for felling trees and collection of forest produces through leases. Similarly, in Travancore, Col. Monroe was the officer in charge of forests during 1813 to collect and sell forest products.

25Forests were considered strategically important during early period of the British rule because of their timber value for building sea faring mercantile and naval vessels that were crucial in domination over the maritime trade. Importance of forests was furthered by demand for railway sleepers as empire took up development of extensive railway network to facilitate troop movements in the subcontinent subsequent to the uprising of 1857. Thus, forests came to assume an added importance as a mater of internal security. Under these circumstances the topic of forest control attained primacy and two forest laws and a forest policy were formulated.

Forest acts of 1865 and 1878

  • 3 Baden Powel was the chief architect of the land revenue administration and land settlement (...)
  • 4 Procedure for legal separation of rights was a bone of contention within the colonial bure (...)

26Demand for fine timber was on increase and the standardisation of the sylvicultural techniques have triggered spread of forest plantation activities across the subcontinent at the cost of natural forests. Reports of wanton destruction of forests due to shifting agriculture, extraction of timber, commercial plantations and lamentations over the disappearance of game have made forest an issue deserving immediate attention. Consequence was constitution of a full-fledged forest department in 1864 and Dietrich Brandis, a German botanist, was appointed the inspector general of the forests. Subsequently, first Forest Act of the British India was promulgated. The forest act empowered the governor general of India and the provincial government to declare any land covered by trees, brushwood or jungle a ‘government forest’ with a notification proceeding in the Official Gazette. According to the act such a declaration of government forests ‘should not abridge or affect any existing rights of any individual or communities’. However, such rights were hardly verifiable as per the stipulations of forest settlement mainly because the rights of people and communities were not recorded as written documents. According to Baden-Powel “in the absence of recognised private rights of ownership, however originating, the British Government is, by ancient law, the general owner of all unoccupied or wasteland”.3 The act has been ambiguous about the definition of forests thus Annexd and the organising principles of the forest administration was monopoly right over the forests and exclusion of forest dependent communities though the government had no interest on the forest products other than timber. The penalty for violating the restrictions could be up to rupees 500, which was an exorbitant amount for the period. The act apparently claimed innocence of the long-standing rights of the communities associated with forests. Here state’s concern was to enclose and reserve timber resources. However, the initial contradiction of policies between the forest and revenue departments over the primary objective of the management of forestland continued, but with slight modifications. Many provinces have raised objections against vesting the exclusive and absolute use rights on the forests with the government. There were protests by the peasants regarding this. In this context, the forest department felt that the 1865 act exercised only a tenuous control over the forest estates. Ambiguities prevailed in detection and extinguishment of customary rights was tackled in a forthcoming legislation. Thus, the Indian Forest Act of 1878 was passed to provide more detailed and unambiguous prescriptions. The act enabled consolidation of restrictive powers by the forest department.4 To be precise establishment of absolute proprietary rights over forests along with the legal separation of the customary rights were the primary objectives of the 1878 Act (Hazra, 2002).

  • 5 Here the idea of protected forests was different from that of the current sense of the ter (...)

27The Indian Forest Act of 1878 had provisions for forming three kinds of forests the ‘reserved forests’, ‘protected forests’ and ‘village forests’. In case of reserved forests, the exclusive rights to forests use were vested with the government only, boundaries of which were clearly demarcated and use by other agencies and individuals were not allowed unless a privilege for the same was obtained formally from the government. Whereas the protected forests were those Government forests that were not yet been surveyed and temporarily been open to limited private use.5 Therefore, in a reserved forest “everything is an offence that is not permitted, while in protected forest nothing is an offence that is not prohibited.” Therefore, the policy directs that declaration of the protected forests be opted for if the public interests involved are of sufficient importance to justify the stricture procedure and the more comprehensive definition of forest offence.

28The section 27 of the Act provided guidelines for constitution of village forests. Village forests could be constituted only after declaring them as reserved forests and the provincial government had to formulate rules for assigning any such forestland to village-community. The Government could cancel any such previous assignment of forestland. Moreover, all provisions within the act relating to reserved forests also applied to village forests. The section 13 of the act declared exchanging or selling timber or any other forest produce from reserved forests as illegal, unless prior permission was sought. All these ambiguities contributed to the uncertainties on the legal status of the village forests. Effective control was never relinquished by the state. The state, whenever it wanted, could usurp the rights of the villagers directly or indirectly. Moreover, in all kinds of forests, the state was emphatic in its assertion of absolute property rights (Hazra, 2002). While settling the customary rights, a distinction was made between ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’. ‘Rights’ referred only to those assertions that irrefutably existed and recorded in earlier land settlements. On the other hand, ‘privileges’ were more of concessions, for example, the use of grazing, collecting firewood, etc., and which were always granted by the state as a policy for the convenience of the people. The distinction, “by one stroke of the executive pen, attempted to obliterate centuries of customary use by rural populations all over India” (Gadgil and Guha, 1992).

29Madras Government declined to implement the Indian Forest Act of 1878 as “... the rights of the villagers over the waste lands and jungles were such as to prevent the formation of exclusive State Reserves” (Pouchepadass, 1990). The Madras Forest Act of 1882 also was framed in the same general lines as the Indian Forest Act. However, the procedures relating to the constitution of reserved forest were made simpler. In 1884, a commission was constituted under Bourdillon to recommend the methods for improving the management of forests in Travancore. Based on the recommendations, a forest act (Travancore Forest Act) was passed in 1887, similar to the Madras Forest Act of 1882, and Konni was declared as the first Reserved Forests of Travancore. In Cochin, the appointment of Alwar Chetty in 1899 as forest officer brought significant changes in the management of forests of Cochin regime.

  • 6 In 1875 Founding of a journal of forestry now known as Indian Forester provided a media fo (...)

30It is notable that throughout these acts and policies, protection meant protection of forests from the appropriation by local population and conservation meant conservation of trees that have timber value. Though role of forests in controlling local climate was understood by then, it was not figured as a concern in the documents. Scientific input in the forest management was limited to taxonomical cataloguing of the native vascular flora, standardisation of the sylvicultural practices for Indian trees, development of growth tables for Indian conditions and fixing up of modalities for preparing working plans. While such abstractions enabled stock taking and planning, it facilitated exclusions of values that were perceived as irrelevant to have any management implications: for instance, the values of the non-timber forest products and the forest depended people were not figured in these discourses.6

Forest policy of 1894

  • 7 The policy of 1894 has considered itself as a document necessitated out of the ‘imperfect (...)

31The ambiguity due to various versions of provincial Forest Acts necessitated a general statement on the forests as forest policy of 1894.7 Thus, the policy resolution refers itself as ‘general principles for management of the state forests’ rather than attempting fresh definition of forests. The policy is thus a generalised statement on the rationales and contexts of provincial versions of Indian Forest Act of 1878. Though a sympathetic and encouraging stand is taken regarding the dispossession of forests to the people and establishment of the new agricultural villages at the cost of forests, the policy viewed customary rights of people as ‘militating against management of forests as revenue paying properties.’ Some of the notable features of the policy directive are:

  • timber as an overriding concern of the colonial state is reflected throughout the resolution and more evidently so in the classification of the forests. The overriding principle is management of the forests as revenue paying properties either in terms of the timber resource they harbour or for the revenue it helps generates by the contributions to the agriculture;
  • the forest dwellers were an unwelcome presence in the forest. Rules and regulations were being brought out to curtail all the human activities, other than what is endorsed by the state inside the forests.

Indian forest act of 1927

32By early decades of 20th century, tropical plantation forestry came to be recognised as a separate discipline with forestry schools in European countries. A couple of forestry schools and rangers’ training schools were established in India by provincial as well as central administration by early decades of the 20th century. One of such forestry schools in Dehra Dun was reconstituted into Forest Research Institute in 1906 and later developed as a centre of training on the tropical forestry for the colonies in the South and South East Asia.

33In order to internalise the changes in forest management and to address some of the legal issues pertaining to the institutionalisation of the forest management, a new forest act was introduced in 1927. Primary concern of the act was to prevent appropriation of timber by any agency other than the State. Title of the act describes itself as “An Act to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce”. According to the Act, no person can claim a right to private property in forestland merely because he/she is domiciled there, or his/her ancestors lived there. The Act categorically extinguishes any private rights over forest produce. Main assumptions were that, the common land, which the forest and the people cohabit, is the property of the government, and the latter is ipso facto entitled to the forest produce. According to the section 2, the definition of the forest is ‘whatever the government notifies’ as forest. The overall objective of the act was not different from that of its predecessors and in effect, the act was intended to impose stringent controls on the private use of forests. The consequence of these measures was alienation of the forests to the local population. During the two world wars, the pursuit of sustained yield forestry suffered. The unexpected huge demand for timber during the war period necessitated overworking of the forest stands thus upsetting the planned progress in the forestry sector. The world wars also changed the pattern of information flow and diffusion of technology.

34By the mid 20th century forestry practices became more standardised, some of the researches in the area of tropical forestry have precipitated itself as viable technologies. Academic discourses have become more rigorous with the publication of journals, research and development and training have become more professionalized and new institutions for this purpose have been established. Pages of journals such as Indian Forester and the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society carried debates on what should be the underlying rationales of forest management. Forestry emerged as a science of forest management and some of the abstract concepts such as sustained yield forestry began to be available in the form of practicable tools for field level practice. Emergence of working plans as the effective tools of planning and management in the forestry sector have been a major break thorough. In a multitude of dimensions, the forestry practices were reconstituted to suite the changed scenario. The underlying rationale of forest management such as the idea of absolute state ownership of forests has become more reinforced in the form of departmental structure supported by acts, rules and policy statements. The picture of depopulated forests was reproduced in the mentalities of the forest bureaucracy as the most desirable feature for the forest terrain. How effective this institutional structure in reproducing mentalities and structure through knowledge and power is demonstrated in its perpetuation through the post-colonial policies and acts.

The 1952 forest policy

  • 8 Resolution no. 13/52-F dated 12th May 1952, by the ministry of Food and Agriculture, Gover (...)

35National Forest Policy of 1952 was brought out by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture of the newly independent Indian State in 1952.8 Aspirations of the newly independent nation, which was searching for a new identity in the post colonial and post world war period, had its priorities set and keenly pursued by a team of energetic, enterprising group of leaders capturing and reproducing the western ideals of economic development and governance. Some of the immediate concerns of Indian policy makers in this context were the planned development of the national economy by adopting the twofold strategy of agricultural development and industrialisation in the joint sector with the state making large investments for the infrastructure development. The 1952 forest policy has to be identified in this backdrop of emerging nationhood and new national identities at different parts of the world. The modern developmentalist paradigm that emerged as a powerful and overarching rhetoric has also informed new categories of developed and underdeveloped nations.

36The new forest policy of Independent India was enunciated to update the general policy promulgated by the colonial administration almost half a century back. While the new policy agrees to most of the basic premises of the 1894 forest policy, it attempted to reorient the management of forests in the light of advancements in forestry science. The forest policy of 1952 was more successful in imbibing the complexity of forest scenario. The document demonstrates mature understanding of the environmental consequences of various depredatory processes on forests. Issues such as the importance of forests to the local people and agriculture, requirements of training to the staff and demands of research etc. are discussed at length in the policy document. Some of the dominant forest management concept, the sustained yield forestry, is figured prominently in it while the elements of American conservation ideals have informed the recommendations for establishment of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. However, the knowledge domain of the policy was classical forestry science; the approach was that of production forestry; the overarching paradigm in which these knowledge were practised was nationalistic and developmentalistic.

37State as the sole authority in controlling the affairs in forests is reemphasised in the new policy. This trend is explicit in the discussions of the village forest and forest-agriculture relations. The following quote from the document summarises the case well:

“The accident of a village being situated close to a forest does not prejudice the right of the country as a whole to receive the benefits of a national asset. The scientific consideration of forests inevitably involves the regulation of rights and the restriction of privileges of user, depending on the value and the importance of the forests; however, irksome such restraint may be to neighbouring areas.”

38In its scepticism and preoccupation on the local claim on the forests, the 1952 forest policy resembles that of 1894. Both these documents are apprehensive of the efficiency and capabilities of local communities in managing forests in the larger national interests and argue, rather strongly, for centralisation of forest administration. Both policies recognise the local people’s rights and agricultural rights on forests as paramount but use the same point as a justification for centralised control of forests.

The period of change

39There was a radical shift in the forest policy towards conservation of biological diversity during the first four decades of independence. This was also a shift of emphasis from the revenue/industry oriented management to the people oriented management. The period of transition is marked by clearance and conversion of forests across the subcontinent at a hitherto unprecedented scale. Clear felling of natural forests for raising plantations of hard wood and pulpwood was undertaken in large scale. Many development activities, including commissioning of irrigation and power projects, expansion of land under food and cash crops, state sponsored forest colonisation programmes, had depleted the land under natural forests. Though some of the institutions for conservation of wildlife such as central and state wildlife advisory boards were setup during this period, the predominant concern of forest management was to meet the demands of industry and cater national development. The report of the national commission of agriculture in 1976 captured this spirit while prescribing that “production of industrial wood would have to be the raison d’etre for the existence of forest" (Chundamannil, 1993).

40Kerala state was formed in 1956. Formation of a popular committee for the survey, demarcation and land assignment further facilitated the encroachment of people with the favours of government. Five management systems were introduced during the period viz. selection felling, clear felling, intermediate felling, improvement felling and coppice felling. The first step towards wildlife protection in the State was through the formation of Bird Protection Committee in 1953. The meeting of Central Wildlife Advisory Board in 1952 at Mysore directed all the State Governments to constitute Wildlife Advisory Boards and in the case of Tiru-Cochi the Bird Protection Committee became the State Wildlife Advisory Board in 1953. During 1958 two wildlife sanctuaries, viz Neyyar and Peechi-Vazhani were created. Since then (1956 onwards) the management of forests has been a part of the Five-Year Plans and the utilization of forests, towards augmenting agriculture production. Forest based corporations in Kerala, such as Plantation Corporation of Kerala Ltd., Rehabilitation Plantations Ltd., State Farming Corporation of Kerala, Oil Palm India Ltd., and Kerala Forest Development Corporation were formed to make use of the forests for productive purpose by raising commercial plantations.

Advent of conservation

41The conservation programmes in India have been influenced by the discourses in conservation biology at the global level. The management of the pristine forestlands was considered as an act of keeping the human intervention to the minimum possible if not nil. Thus, nature reserves are conceived as depopulated landscapes. The newly emerged science of conservation ecology as opposed to the natural history was mostly a legacy of US scientific community and institutions. The theory of island biogeography proved (in quantitative terms) that the survivorship and diversity of species in a single large PA is more as opposed to the several smaller ones totalling the same size. This has achieved a wide currency among scientists to the extent that it formed the rule of thump in PA design in India also. However, in countries like India where population density is high, where the dependence on the forest is mainly for meeting the subsistence needs; where the forest dependency has a longer history; and where many traditional institutions exist for sustainable use of forest resources, reserve design should have been guided by these factors. This incompatibility of policies and management to the ground realities generated perpetual conflicts between forest administration and local people.

  • 9 now known as World Conservation Union

42Late sixties and early seventies witnessed various international events that influenced policy shift at the national level. The General Assembly of the IUCN9, held at New Delhi recommended establishment of an umbrella organisation in similar to the Department of Interior of the United States for coordinating and implementing conservation programmes. Earlier there were recommendations to setup a Wildlife Wing within Department of Forests at centre and state. An Assistant Inspector General of Forests was appointed in 1968 to look into the wildlife matters. The precarious status of tiger population as revealed from the national level tiger census of 1972 lead to the formulation of the Project Tiger in 1973. The Periyar sanctuary was declared as Project Tiger area in 1978. United Nations Conference on Human Environment and Development held at Stockholm in 1972 also was instrumental in accelerating the conservation measures in India. Two international conservation initiatives are worth mentioning here: the Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme in 1973 by UNESCO and the World Conservation Strategy launched in 1980. These programmes had tremendous influence on the formulation of Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980.

  • 10 Funds from other plan schemes such as, National Rural Employment Scheme, Rural Fuel Wood S (...)
  • 11 The basic objectives of the Social forestry programme were to satisfy five ‘f’s in the rur (...)
  • 12 Under the World Bank aided Social Forestry Project 15841 ha. of Large Block Plantations, 2 (...)
  • 13 Later rights over the extraction of the most of these plantations were furnished to the pu (...)

43During internal emergency in 1976, the matters relating to forests were included in the concurrent list and central government came to assert its control over the forests more effectively. Powers of centre on the forests were reasserted through the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which took away the powers of state governments to de-reserve forests to divert forestland for non-forestry uses. Thus, all powers for sanctioning diversion of forestland for non-forestry purposes were vested with the central government. In Kerala, the popular campaign against the proposed Silent Valley hydroelectric project, from late seventies to mid eighties, facilitated fashioning of popular environmental consciousness in relation to forests. Abandoning the clear felling in 1982 and selection felling in 1987 and restrictions on the timber removal from natural forests to wind fallen logs and old trees (final felling) had been some of the drastic policy changes adopted due to these popular campaigns for conservation of forests in the state. The social forestry programme was launched with the financial aid of the World Bank in early 80s.10 Though Success with respect to the survival rate of the saplings were high, the project met with severe criticism due to its failure in addressing its primary objectives.11 Participation of the public was considered as an objective not only for reduction of costs of sylviculture and creation of labour opportunities but also for technology transfer. Social forestry project was a failure as far as these objectives were considered. Moreover, the small plantations of exotic species were raised at the cost of natural growth, either by clear felling or by clearing under growth of the forest fragments by labelling them as degraded and unproductive.12 The contributions of such fragmented forest patches to the rural economy were altogether overlooked. Though fast growing, the species selected were also object of criticism as they were mostly exotic and had little use as fuel wood, fodder and manure.13

National forest policy of 1988

44The dominant knowledge base of the forest policy of 1988 was critical ecology. The national forest policy of 1988 was informed by the rhetoric perpetuated as part of environmentalist discourses on tropical forest conservation at the global level. For instance, causative factors of forest degradation listed in the preamble of the policy echo some of the similar arguments on global deforestation. Policy disclaimed any continuity with the earlier one and redefined the objectives of forest management. The document criticised the ‘tendency to look upon the forests as revenue earning source’ and identified that such attitudes contributed to the relentless deforestation in the country.

45The preamble calls for a total restatement of the forest conservation strategy. It called for redefining conservation differently from that of the previous policies. Here the idea of conservation is the practice that ‘… includes preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilisation, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment’. A whole series of activities for maintaining the status quo of the forests, effecting their enrichment and ‘sustainable utilisation’ are provided. This is indeed a radical shift in the objective of forest management. For instance, the policy explicitly disowned the approaches of the policy of 1952. To quote:

‘Forestland or land with tree cover should not be treated merely as a resource readily available to be utilised for various projects and programmes, but as a national asset which requires to be properly safe guarded for providing sustained benefits to entire community. Diversion of forest land for any non forest purpose should be subject to the most careful examinations by specialists from stand point of social and environmental costs and benefits. Construction of dams and reservoirs, mining and industrial development and expansion of agriculture should be consistent with the needs for conservation of trees and forests. (section-4.4)

  • 14 Chundamannil (1993): quotes from the policy document while stating it as ‘a brilliant docu (...)

46The policy was considered as ‘... a radical departure from the policy of 1952’ by many scholars though it was keen on reasserting centre’s control over the forests.14 Despite the appreciation for the participatory management of forests, the policy did not suggest any change in the administrative structure. The structures of power and modalities of management remained more or less unaltered at the department level.

47The foregoing review of the development of forest management legislations and policies, at the national and state level, was intended to identify dominant patterns of changes depicted in Table 8.1.

The emergence of participation: The new institutions of forest management

48Origin of the present day joint forest management can be traced to what is called as the Arabari experiment. Arabari is in the Midnapur district of the West Bengal where a successful experimentation of the villagers’ participation in regenerating degraded forestland was carried out from 1970s through 1980s. This had a tremendous influence on the policy making for Joint/Participatory Forest Management (JFM/PFM) both at the national and state levels. The failures of the social forestry at large have also created a conducive atmosphere for trying out more liberal participatory approaches. The Ministry of Environment and Forests issued the landmark directive for involving village communities and voluntary agencies in regeneration of degraded forestlands in 1990. A supporting circular was issued on 21st February 2002 for strengthening the JFM programme in the country. The main features of the JFM thus envisaged can be summarised as below:

  • legal status is provided for JFM committees through registration;
  • representation of women in the JFM is mandatory and it is stipulated that women should constitute 50 percent of the membership and at least 33 percent of the Executive committee;
  • it was declared that JFM would cover good forest areas also;
  • legal status is provided for JFM committees through registration;

Table 8.1 Patterns of change in forest management in India

Period Policies and Acts Consequences
Prior to independence (up to 1947)  Protection from people and management for sustained yield timber.
 Forest Acts (1875 and
 Forest Policy-1894
• Emphasis on survey and demarcation
• Working planning
• Revenue earning through contractors
• Commercial plantations of rubber, coffee, tea, cashew etc.
Late 1945 up to mid 1970s  New Forest Policy (1952):
Forest as a space for nation building (industry and agriculture)
• Increase in forest area due to annexation of private forests
• Increase in state sponsored monoculture plantations
• Industry and agricultural orientation in terms of forest land diversion, raising of plantations etc.
• Less emphasis on protective and regulatory functions of forests
• Establishment of forest based corporations
Late 1970s up to early 1980s  Ascent of conservation (project tiger, Wildlife protection Act)
 Authority in matters concerning forests was shifted to Central govt.
 Forest Conservation Act (1980)
• Increase in area under clear felling and planting
• More protected areas
• Restrictions on diversion of forest land for non forestry purposes
Late 1970s up to
 National Forest Policy
 Emphasis on Social
• Assertion of role of forests as conservation of biodiversity and meeting the livelihood of people
• Dependence on foreign aid, heavy recruitments to IFS
1990 onwards  Joint Forest Management at national and state level • Joint forest management focus
• Aid for ecodevelopment, decline of social forestry
  • bridging the gap between conventional forestry and JFM by prescribing that the working plan should have a JFM overlapping working circle with flexible guidelines for preparation of JFM microplans

49The apex confederate of the Forest Protection Committees constituted under JFM/PFM is known as Forest Development Agency. The role of FDA in PFM is given below:

  • the FDA is to co-ordinate activities of all JFM committees in a forest division and to provide technical, policy and marketing support;
  • arrest and reverse the trend of forest degradation through appropriate forestry development programmes;
  • provide sustainable, assured employment opportunities to tribal and other weaker section of the society through forestry related activities;
  • create durable community assets for socio-economic development;
  • ensure direct fund flow from the Government of India forestry development schemes to the implementing agencies of micro plans i.e. JFM committees;
  • organize training for local stakeholders and forest staff for sustainable forest management, equitable sharing of benefits, conflict resolution etc.;
  • it is a major policy reform for gradually ensuring full financial and administrative empowerment of the local JFM committees for managing their own natural resources.

50The key differences between the conventional management policies and new approach envisaged are provided in the Table 8.2.

  • 15 G.O. (MS) No.84/97 F & WLD dt. 13.10.97

51Compared to most North Indian counterparts Kerala has been a late entrant in the PFM programme. Kerala government guidelines for formation of VSS were issued only in 1997.15 The participatory forest management initiatives in the state received a boost from World Bank aided ecodevelopment activities (EDCs) in the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR)

  • 16 Adapted from: (, the World Bank Partic (...)

Table 8.2 Major differences in the traditional forest management and the Participatory Management approaches16

Government Forestry and
Conservation Projects
Participatory Management
Objectives Timber production or other single-use objective (for example, catering the needs of pulp and paper Industries); protection of biodiversity paramount over other uses. Usually multiple production and biodiversity conservation objectives involving all stakeholders; developing local skills for forest and conservation management.
Scale Large management units based on natural biophysical or political boundaries. Micro-management units corresponding to self-selected or residential units.
Local use rights Usually very limited and frequently ambiguous or temporary. Extensive, clearly defined rights for local users.
Protection Policing by forest guards and fencing, often ineffective and expensive. By local community, frequently using social fencing; higher local costs but low government costs; local accountability.
Typical plan Long rotation of even-aged stands for economies of scale in management and industrial supply; centralized management of protected areas. Short rotation of uneven-aged stands designed to supply diverse products for continuous income and subsistence needs; community management.
Harvesting contracts Generally, large government contracts with administrative pricing mechanisms and subsidized supply arrangements. Generally combine multiple household marketing arrangements with small-scale contracts for high-value products.
Technical basis Based on results of scientific research and single product optimization models. Based on combination of traditional knowledge and use patterns with forest and conservation service guidance.
Planning process Centralized management planning process carried out by forest and conservation service staff. Plans drawn up by community or household participants with guidance and approval from forest and conservation service.
Plan revisions Generally, little flexibility in management prescriptions without cumbersome bureaucratic approvals. Great flexibility in management prescriptions to adapt to changing conditions and needs.

From 1996. Success stories from PTR prompted the extension of ecodevelopment activities to other protected areas also. The VSS and EDCs differ substantially in terms of their objectives though the difference in the institutional structure is minimal. The focus of EDCs is to identify and promote alternative income generation opportunities for the forest dependent communities and thus to reduce the dependency of these communities on forests. In case of VSS, the objective is to promote sustainable use of forest resources by sharing the benefits of conservation as an incentive. Though apparently these two strategies may sound similar, there is a striking difference as the current legal stipulations prohibit extraction of forest resources from protected areas.

52Though EDCs and VSSs are being set up in each settlement, they are deficient in a number of areas of strategic planning. Most of the activities identified by the committees during micro planning are not economically viable and may lead to failure of the whole exercise. Though the idea of state owned forest management have given way to the people oriented or participatory forest management, the underlying rationales have not changed substantially. For instance, none of the working plans provides any proper treatments for NWFP and people oriented management even today. The forest dependent or forest influenced people find only a scanty mention and they do not have any meaningful role in participating with the forest management. The gaze on the forest dependent people is only as a subject that needs sympathetic treatment, a subject of forest management but not as an agent, that has potential for actions and aspirations.

53Though a suitable legal and policy environment for successful implementations of the PFM has evolved by now, these changes have not informed a shift in the institutional structure and the governmental reasoning of the forest department. Such structural and attitudinal contradictions have been instrumental in the slow takeoff of the PFM institutions.

54Some of the stipulations in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 inflict severe restriction on certain kinds of activities that are required for generating minimum incentives necessary for local communities for participating in the PFM. Even if overriding rulings have been arrived at the state level, the hierarchical and rigid bureaucratic structure of the department discourages officers from interpreting these rules in favour of the user groups. For instance, the collection and removal of the NWFP from the wildlife areas are restricted by provisions in the Wildlife Protection Act; this has proved a biggest set back in case of the ecodevelopment initiatives in Parambikulam and Chimmony Sanctuaries. Since NWFP assume a significant role in PFM it is necessary to arrive at a comprehensive policy reform pertaining to NWFP management. Some of the urgent changes necessary from the governmental and departmental side in implementing forest management, based on the review, are listed below:

  • Review all the existing legal and policy documents effective in practice for any incongruities of stipulations and provisions in them in implementation of PFM. For instance the relevant sections in the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 prohibit planting inside the forest. This is a hindrance in restocking the forests with NWFPs in the PFM context.
  • Publicise the rights of local communities in forest management by various means
  • Periodically review the policy and legal sufficiency in the implementation of PFM
  • Commission in depth organisational studies on the functioning of VSS and FDAs as sociological features of the communities, imagined in the other states, may not be suitable for Kerala situations
  • The conventional working planning is least modified to suit/integrate the PFM activities. Continuing with such contradictory activities provide the impression that the PFM is only secondary affair in the everyday management of forests
  • At present the statutory status of PFM institutions do not make them a legally approved channel for fund disbursal by the three tier panchayti raj institutions. Because of this, PFM institutions are considered as affairs of forest department alone and these institutions come to be subservient to the interests of local forest official in financial matters.
  • A comprehensive policy for NWFP management is warranted, this should ideally provide priority for VSS and PFM agencies for the appropriation while providing provisions for integrating the ST Service Cooperatives. ST Service Cooperatives may ideally be excluded from organising the collection of NWFP instead they may be entrusted with marketing of raw and processed produce.
  • Presently, the monopolistic market of NWFP and the inefficiency of the cooperatives prevent producers from actively participating in the NWFP market. This issue may be addressed by involving the private vendors who are already operating in the market under the supervision of joint committees. Such possibilities may be explored with professional help.
  • The biggest advantage in NWFPs related subsistence in Kerala is the potential of forests for multiple products. Local processing up to the final product for selected NWFPs and partial processing such as cleaning, grading, pulverising and drying for most of the items may be attempted by VSS. However, what is still important is marketing. The FDAs may take charge of brand development and distribution.

55Apart from these institutional level preparations, it is necessary to take up detailed social preparation with the fringe area and tribal communities.


56The analysis of physical, biological and human ecological components of the landscape units reveals the geographical complexities, biological riches and scale of human dependence on this ecosystem. The potential of the area for meeting the basic needs of human kind for the present and posterity is explicit in the previous chapters. The ecological significance in terms of richness of landscape elements such as flora, fauna, and the habitat contiguity enhances the importance of the area from local to global level. Nevertheless the consumption and alterations of these resources, both legally or illegally, deteriorated the resource base and warranted interventions to safeguard the local, national and global interest. Although the State has a legal framework to manage these resources, the hierarchical managerial structure, its inherent incompatibility with democratization measures through participatory schemes, and its unwillingness for attitudinal changes, necessitates an alternative management strategy with institutional support.

57The overall goal of the management is to conserve the area through landscape approach for the ecological values and sustainable development integrating local people’s needs. The constraints imposed by the ecological, human subsistence/survival, developmentalist values etc. pose impediment for achieving the above-mentioned goals. Different stakes ranging from subsistence needs to industrial demands contests the veritable pool of resources in the ecosystems. These human ecological processes, inevitably competitive and asymmetrical, constrain managerial planning to address itself the issues of socio-ecological praxis.

58Accordingly, two sets of themes such as values and constraints, and pertinent zones for areas of ecological integrity are identified as basic units of the landscape, presupposing a systems-theoretical perspective of each eco-type. This zonation as a management strategy is based on a synthesis of knowledge from various realms like ecology, biodiversity, forestry, anthropology, and social theory. Strategies and actions are drawn for each zone as described in the subsequent chapters with justification, criteria and constraints.


1 These data keep changing as more VSS are being formed in the area. The data used is of March 2005

2 A detailed discussion on the historical evolution of PFM and its compatibility with departmental structure are included in the forthcoming sections

3 Baden Powel was the chief architect of the land revenue administration and land settlement in the British India. He also played a major role in the formulation of forest acts and policy in the second half of 19th century.

4 Procedure for legal separation of rights was a bone of contention within the colonial bureaucracy and this issue was debated vehemently between the ‘annexationists’ who were unwilling to accommodate any customary rights of the villagers and the group who supported the peasants rights over forests, see Guha (1990)

5 Here the idea of protected forests was different from that of the current sense of the term used in ecology

6 In 1875 Founding of a journal of forestry now known as Indian Forester provided a media for sharing the advancements in forestry science. And the pages of Indian forester carried article that have bearing on the forest control, measurement and management especially for timber. The exchange of knowledge was confined to the area of forestry and policy whereas articles pertaining to natural history appeared rarely in Indian forester. In that sense the Indian forester was catering only to the needs of practicing forester. So the journal effectively represented the favoured knowledge permeated by the state.

7 The policy of 1894 has considered itself as a document necessitated out of the ‘imperfect apprehension of the’ existing principles of forest management.

8 Resolution no. 13/52-F dated 12th May 1952, by the ministry of Food and Agriculture, Government of India.

9 now known as World Conservation Union

10 Funds from other plan schemes such as, National Rural Employment Scheme, Rural Fuel Wood Scheme, Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme, and Drought Relief Scheme were also diverted for Social Forestry works.

11 The basic objectives of the Social forestry programme were to satisfy five ‘f’s in the rural sector they are: Fuel, fodder, fibre, fertilizer and food.

12 Under the World Bank aided Social Forestry Project 15841 ha. of Large Block Plantations, 2087 ha. of Small Block Plantations, 776 ha. of Stripe and Coastal Plantations, 1592 ha. of Tribal Fuel Wood Plantations and 113 ha. of Tribal Mixed Plantations were raised.

13 Later rights over the extraction of the most of these plantations were furnished to the pulp based industries

14 Chundamannil (1993): quotes from the policy document while stating it as ‘a brilliant document displaying a mature understanding of the current status of forests and its potential’ “The principal aim of the forest policy must be to ensure environment stability and maintenance of ecological balance including atmospheric equilibrium which are vital for sustenance of all life forms, human animal and plant. The derivation of direct economic benefit must be subordinated to this principle aim”. (Page 81)

15 G.O. (MS) No.84/97 F & WLD dt. 13.10.97

16 Adapted from: (, the World Bank Participation source book at sbhome.htm)

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 8.1 Involvement (%) of animals in human-wildlife conflict
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Légende Figure 8.2 Proportion of different types of damage
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Légende Figure 8.3 Location of settlements and presence of PFM institutions
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