Participatory Management of Forests: Part-2

M.J. Arul

Continued from Part-1:

Site selection
The next morning, the Programme Organiser, along with two of his junior colleagues and the MEV of the area, meets the people again in the village and all of them go out to take a transect walk of the forest site. (Mostly, only the males of the village participate in this activity; in some villages, women join in, too.) The participants are then divided into two groups. One group demarcates the forest plots to be included for JFM and measures the area of the plots; the other group helps assess the root-stock density on the plots, by counting every single root stock visible on selected (stratified random sampling is followed) patches of 10m x 10m each. The method of marking the area merits some elaboration here:

With the help of a concatenated rope of ten metres, the group moves along the periphery of the plot, measuring it by the rope and marking the contours by implanting a stone at every turn. The stones are then brushed with a dash of slaked lime (chuna) for easy sighting later on. Quite a bit of discussion (at times, even heated exchange of words) takes place among the men during this activity. The discussion and decision on how wide an area must be left out for bullock-cart roads and for purposes of human and livestock movement, is fairly smooth and relatively quick. Discussions regarding the contour line of the inner area are often more involved and take up time. Here's a live example from the village of Kalijaman:

In the morning of October 19, 1994, the second day of the meeting, the people (only males) of Kalijaman were doing their "transect" of the potential JFM land. When the rope-holding boundary markers approached a particular patch of forest land that had been cultivated (illegally) by one of the villagers, the farmer asked them to have the patch skirted out of JFM; the whole group quickly closed in at the spot and almost every one spoke up in varying pitches and volume, some in support of the farmer and others opposing his demand. After about twenty minutes or so, the group resumed its boundary-marking task, having "granted" about half the portion of the land the farmer had cultivated. None of the outsiders, who were present (the NGO staff and the author), intervened.

Selection of functionaries
After the completion of the transect and other activities on the plot, the men go home for lunch. In the afternoon, the villagers, both men and women, meet again to continue their discussion of JFM. The Programme Organiser then broaches the subject of a Gram Vikas Mandal (GVM) for the village, but leaves it off there without much elaboration, saying that it could be formed later on when "you have had time to think through it; but you must now select four extension volunteers (EVs), two men and two women. You must also select two hard-working women who are poor or widowed to be nursery raisers. The nursery raisers are to be trained for the job sufficiently in advance so that the nursery can be started in December. So, select them right away".

Choice of tree species
The two tree matrices that were produced on the first day (one by the male group and the other by the female group) are now presented to the combined group in the meeting for evolving one common preference list. If the common list turns out to be too long, the people are told, they will be asked to continue the discussion to shorten it to a dozen trees or so -- for reasons of practicality in raising the required nursery. The groups do compromise at this stage and the final short-list is arrived at rather quickly:

In Kalijaman, for instance, there were five species of trees found common in the two lists, produced independently by the men and the women. When both the groups got together to draw up a single list of preference, the women quite readily went along with the men's choices, saying, "Achha, kari nahko" (okay, chop it off), when the men suggested dropping of a tree. The result was that, of the 11 finally chosen species, four were common, six were exclusively from the men's list and only one (namely, Neem) from the women's list. Tree species such as Khakra, Pipal, Mango, Tanach and Banyan from the women's list were given short shrift in the discussion and the women acquiesced. (The NGO staff did not intervene.)

When the common preference list was ready, the Programme Organiser (PO) acknowledged the "good work" of the groups and took leave of the village. While leaving, the PO reminded the people to think about formation of a GVM and told them that he would return in a fortnight.

Membership, committee, and other activities
About two weeks or so after the PRA meeting, the NGO staff visits the village again to initiate activities for forming a GVM there. One adult male and one adult female from a family are eligible for membership on payment of Rs.11/- each. A committee of 7 to 13 members is formed by open proposals, which are hardly ever contested. (In Koylimandvi, for example, an ex-army man in his forties was thus "elected" as chairman and he constituted the committee of nine by selecting one person from each phalia of the village.) A bank account is, then, opened for the GVM in a bank nearest to the village. These activities are done in October-November. The nursery training is conducted in December at one place for all the nursery raisers of the newly formed GVMs. The general calendar of JFM activities is as follows:

January-FebruaryRaising of nursery
March - MayTrenches, gradonies, pits
and gully plugs
AugustFirst soil works
SeptemberSecond soil works
Oct.-NovemberPRA and GVM
DecemberFire lines; nursery training.

To have its JFM officially recognised by the Forest Department (FD), the GVM applies, through the NGO, to the FD for an adhikar patra (a certificate of rights). Many of the GVMs also get themselves registered (as societies), in response to the FD's expressed preference for dealing with a legally recognised entity.

Pits for plantation are dug in April-May, under the supervision of EVs. Plantation begins immediately after the first rains, when seedlings are transferred from the nursery to the plantation site. Protection of the JFM plot is the responsibility of the GVM. Many of the GVMs arrange for a voluntary protection by members in turns. Some of the GVMs appoint and pay a watchman for the task. About six weeks after the plantation, soil-moisture conservation work around the trees is taken up. Since the survival rate of the planted trees is hardly ever one hundred per cent, replacements or gap-filling in the second and third years is considered beneficial. Currently, however, such gap-filling is not taken up in all cases.

Emergent Issues

Having taken a cursory look at the various on-site activities that were observed in a joint forest management project of an NGO, we now turn our attention to certain incidents and issues that emerged in the process:


Illegal cultivation continues with the expectation that it will subsequently be regularised. An earlier instance of such regularisation by the government (of illegal cultivations prior to 1982) is cited by people in support of their confidence and faith. Following are two examples:

1.1 Some people in Jhank, for example, insist on paying a fine on their own for their encroachment and preserve the receipts as proof of having cultivated the land for so long and as basis for their demand of ownership.

1.2 Eight persons of Almavadi village had illegally cultivated selected plots of Pomlapada's forest land. When questioned by Pomlapada's GVM, the encroachers claimed that they had paid the required fine and the RFO had allowed them and that the Department's Head Office at Gandhinagar also knew it. The GVM wrote a petition on August 17, 1994 to the nearby police station, with copies to the Forest Department and the NGO. When the chairman was drafting the petition, in which he included the names of the cultivators, members advised him not to mention that these people had been cultivating the land, for that would strengthen the encroachers' claim for eventual ownership of the land. It was, therefore, written that these people had illegally cut many trees and plowed the land. When the petition was being sent, the GVM members and the chairman spoke out that if the petition turned out ineffective, they would themselves start cultivating the land, too. They said, "The forest is ours. If outsiders are permitted to cultivate it, why not we?"

At the end of the meeting the chairman told the researcher, "Look at how foolish the government can be! When people do illegal cultivation, it (the government) collects a penalty from eac offender and issues an official receipt. Then it makes the culprits owners of the land -- on the basis of the receipts!"


While one action, such as in point 1.0 above, by the powers-that-be seems to have raised people's false and/or dysfunctional hope, another action seems to have razed to the ground their faith in the Forest Department. Here is a case of Kabripathar:

"We were protecting the forest from 1991. The degraded forest grew well under our protection and the bamboos were excellent. When we approached the FD for an adhikar patra, we were told that only degraded forests could be given for JFM; since our forest was not degraded, it would not be given! We felt foolish having protected the forest and gave up protecting it, in 1993. Now protection is done by the forest guards, who are susceptible to bribes: one bottle of wine easily relaxes the guard's protection".


JFM activities follow a calendar, but the necessary approvals take a long time. This gives rise to uncertainties and anxieties.


Some GVMs of villages that have no forests on record have been protecting the forest plots in their neighbourhood. But, adhikar patras were denied to them, resulting in loss of people's morale, increased pilferage and willful damage to the forests. Examples of such GVMs are: Ambakhadi and Motajambuda, near Pingot; Kakadkui and Nanajambuda, near uninhabited Badakui.


Dealing with forest offenses of various kinds is a cause for concern. Some intervention by way of bylaws or other means would be necessary to streamline penalty procedures, in the absence of which adhoc procedures and counter-productive measures abound. At times, uncivilised impulses are indulged, creating avoidable conflicts that disturb the harmony between villages. Examples:

5.1 On April 20, 1994, the people of Pingot rounded up three forest offenders from Koylimandvi. Two of the offenders escaped; one was apprehended and brought to Pingot's GVM office. There in the office, the culprit was beaten up, before a meeting was arranged between the people of the two villages. The people of Koylimandvi cried revenge and would not allow anyone from Pingot to enter Koylimandvi, where the Pingoters have to go to pour their milk. Some of the Koylimandvians were also heard admonishing the Pingoters: "The NGO will go away in a few years, but we, you and us, are here to stay; so don't be so arrogant. ...". Pingot filed a case against the offenders and the case is pending with the police.

5.2 On July 1, 1994, three members of Kakadkui's GVM were on their protection round. On the adjoining forest land of Motiya, plantation work was in progress. Certain Abhesingh of Motiya (who was said to be enjoying the reputation of having murdered his wife and, consequently, spent six months in jail) drove his cattle into Kakadkui's protected forest area for grazing. The three protection volunteers of Kakadkui (all in their early twenties) drove the cattle back to Motiya's plot. After a few successive back-and-forth cattle drives across the two adjoining plots, Abhesingh called out to his villagers, who were at plantation. The people left their work and rushed to the spot, with spades and other implements in hand. Buttressed by this rushing show of strength, Abhesingh dislodged a stick from the nearest eucalyptus tree/bush and beat up the three youngsters, injuring them on their legs and shoulders.

In an attempt to resolve the above issue, the chairman of Kakadkui's GVM sent for Abhesingh, who refused to comply. The GVM members are now hesitant to volunteer for protection. Kakadkui has filed a police case against Abhesingh of Motiya; the case is pending.

5.3 At about 6:00 in the morning of September 9, 1994, Motiya caught five Kakadkuiwallas, cutting grass on Motiya's protected forest land. The chairman of Motiya told the researcher, "Had it been at night, we would have neatly finished off (killed) these fellows; because it is day, they are saved". Such a reaction, when read with 5.2 above, reflects the intensity of the inter-village animosity that obtains there.

5.4 As part of 5.3 above, one member of Motiya contacted the NGO by telephone, asking them to send one of their officers to the village to help resolve the problem. It was raining and the NGO officer responded, saying that it wouldn't be necessary for him to be there and suggested that they handle the case themselves by levying a suitable fine on the offenders. Dissatisfied with the response, the chairman contacted the RFO by phone and asked him to intervene. The RFO agreed and soon left for the village and the NGO officer joined him en route. In the meantime, some of the people waiting in the village for the RFO's arrival were heard saying, "If these people (the NGO) do not support us in times like this, we will open out the forest for all; why do protection at all?"

5.5 In continuation of 5.3 & 5.4 above: The RFO arrived and was in chair, along with the NGO representative. After a long haggling on the amount of fine to be levied on the five offenders, the RFO finally proposed a total fine of Rs.400/- and most people agreed. The problem was thus "settled" by Kakadkui's payment of the fine. The next day, an exodus of about 70 Kakadkuiwallas landed in Motiya, demanding a fine of Rs.1551/- from them for the wrong they had committed earlier. Motiya refused to pay them any fine. Now, although the public road from Motiya passes through Kakadkui, the Motiyans are scared of taking the road.


In Pomlapada, it was said that the fines that were collected from offenders were hardly ever deposited in the GVM's account, but were pocketed by the chairman and the secretary. The watchman, employed by the GVM, belongs to another village and has been noted absenting himself from duty often. His absence from duty is only occasionally detected by Pomlapada, but always known to the village he hails from, making it easy for his villagers to commit offenses on the "protected" forest.

In Garda, people say that their chairman controls them by virtue of his being three-in-one (Deputy Sarpanch, Watchman and Chairman), but is a bad man. "He stops us", they say, "from cutting any tree, but he himself cuts many. Further, when there is a lot of work on the forest land, he employs us; other times he employs only his family members. At the time of payment, his family members invariably have a record of more mandays than other people of the village. Even the material recovered by the Beat-guard from the offenders is taken away by the chairman". The researcher himself caught sight of more than 70 poles of bamboos and logs of other species, lying at the chairman's house.

Similar complaints were heard from people of many other villages, too. Here is a summary of the complaints:

The committee confiscates the material from the encroachers and also collects money as fines. The material is then put to personal use by the committee members and so is the money; no proper accounts are maintained. Though we know of these misdeeds, we normally do not speak up for fear of the chairman and the secretary. The GVM does not meet regularly. The NGO knows all this and so does the FD, but they do not say anything, either.


There seems to be a lurking distrust of the tribals in the minds of a few forest officials. An RFO was heard saying: "Tribals! and they protecting the forest? No way! All they want is money; expecting them to protect the forest is utopian". He referred to the case of illegal cultivation by the people of Almavadi and said, "That is because the people of Pomlapada did not care to protect their forest. Now that they fear loss of land, they are making a noise".

Questions and Concerns

A process documentation research is not supposed to be evaluative. And yet the recorded processes must help the implementors to reflect critically on whatever has happened. It is in order to facilitate such reflection that I venture to identify certain pertinent questions and concerns, which, in my opinion, deserve attention. The questions and concerns raised below are with reference to the points presented in the section on emerging issues, above.

Issue set 1.0:

Is the government mixed up about the goal of JFM, general development and and vested interests? This "benevolence" of the government engenders dysfunctional psycho-social dynamics in the people. Would it not be proper for the government to take a clear-cut stand on the issue of illegal cultivation and have it communicated to the people unequivocally, so that people stop cherishing the hope of: "It happened and so it will happen again"?

Issue 2:

The Forest Department (FD) cannot be taken for granted. The NGO/GVM must keep the FD posted well in time of the activities undertaken by the villagers under JFM.

Issue 3:

Would it not be possible to have a stipulated time period, within which to respond to JFM proposals? Wouldn't it be appropriate to make the FD accountable in this regard?

Issue 4:

The Forest Department could realign forest boundaries to villages whose neighbourhood is endowed with forest lands, but the villagers as yet lack legal access to them under the antiquated demarcations. Such a move by the Department would obviate compulsive encroachments by people.

Issue set 5.0:

Several questions arise here: JFM for what? Is harmony (social as well as ecological) an integral part of development or is it antithetical to it? Are people being made more and more dependent on outsiders? Who do they think they are protecting the forests for? Could there be something in the NGO's operational style that inadvertently fosters such thoughts and attitudes in the people? It may be well in order for developmental agencies to undertake an examination of conscience on this.

Issue set 6.0:

Irrespective of their veracity, it is a fact that these complaints are aired, frequently and intensely, by the people who are members of JFM. The process by which the committee members are chosen, therefore, seems to merit attention. Even the decision to employ a watchman calls for serious thought.

Issue 7.0:

JFM is a strategy which is based on a philosophy of empowerment. The efficacy of the strategy, therefore, cannot survive indifference to, or divorce from, the philosophy. Education, indoctrination or conversion of every one may be utopian in the obtaining ambience, but care must needs be taken to avoid posting in JFM ranges officers whose views, assumptions, beliefs and attitudes are diametric to the philosophy of empowerment. Alternatively, the officers could be reoriented.

Concluding Remarks

People who have been deprived for long are prone to fatalistic attitudes and dependency syndromes. Attempts to help these people develop must necessarily, therefore, employ empowering strategies.

Participatory development approaches can indeed empower people, if the approaches arise from a clear vision and perspective of a well-knit community, capable of taking charge of their own lives in the future.

Given the necessity of (temporary) external support for development of deprived people, the role of NGOs becomes crucial. As agents of human development, the NGOs ought to have an appropriate vision and work towards it with a moral imperative of accountability to the communities they choose to help. They owe it to the people whose lives they touch, to educate them -- over and above the material assistance and technical skills they normally provide. It well behoves the NGOs to examine their development strategy and processes periodically to check for discrepancies in their intention and outcome so as to be back on track, before any psycho-social damages could occur. They would do well to ask themselves this question, off and on: Are we empowering the people?


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