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A Book Review

Published in the Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics,
LV-2, April-June 2000.

Title : A New Moral Economy for India's Forests? -- Discourses of Community and Participation.

Editors : Roger Jeffery and Nandini Sundar.
Publisher: Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1999. Pages: 308; price: Rs.265/- .

Joint Forest Management (JFM) in India has had a mixed bag of success and failure stories. What is the picture like, when viewed in the light of political economy? Jeffery and Sundar address this question in their edited book, named above.

The book is characteristically analytical, throughout. After a comprehensive Introduction in Chapter 1, the book presents, in its next five chapters, insightful reflections on the historical evolution of forest management practices in India. In doing so, terms such as community and participation are discussed by critically examining the various meanings they have embodied over time and across contexts. Do communities exist or are they created? Is participation a form of co-optation? Thought provoking, indeed!

The book then proceeds to focus on JFM as a specific programme that purportedly involves communities and participation. The focus begins with the chapter on How Many Committees Do I Belong To?, which, with the help of a case study from Madhya Pradesh and examples from Orissa, examines the dynamics, perspectives and outcome of the multiple committees, both official and non official, that are formed in villages to foster participation. Drawing on a field based review of the Western Ghats Forestry and Environmental Project (WGFEP) in Uttara Kannada, the next chapter examines, inter alia, how democratic and equitable the Village Forest Committees (VFC) in fact are. Are the poorest and most forest dependent members of the community enabled to become members of these VFCs? How much of attention is paid to the specific livelihood needs of these people? How sustainable are the VFCs under the present structure? Does the Forest Department have the capacity to introduce the changes necessary for making the JF(P)M efficacious? The reader gets a very good idea here of what seems to be happening in Karnataka and feels urged to reflect on what should happen to make participation effective.

Amidst discussion of questions, such as cited above, the chapter on WGFEP also argues that the practice of excluding non degraded forests from any form of participatory management not only falls out of line with the new Forest Policy of 1988, but also emaciates the JFM efforts.

Using words like joint, participatory and community to refer to the form of JFM that prevails in the country will, say the editors, only make one too complacent to pay attention to the issues of inequity and injustice, created by caste, class and gender. Low participation by women and marginalized sections, a common phenomenon in many a public project, has been noted in JFM, too. Two chapters address this issue: one of them (Chapter 9) elucidates the various ways in which women are marginalized and goes on to critique the role of project funded research; it argues for The Need for Emancipatory Research -- studies which do not have to move within the parameters of interest to the project funders and implementers. Chapter 10 takes the issue further by delving into the nature of gender policy and planning required in JFM.

The book, on the face of it, is just a compilation of ten independently written papers by several authors. The choice and sequence of the papers, however, along with the editors' own synthetic Introduction, have accomplished a cogent whole. Besides giving the reader a comprehensive picture of what has been happening to the Indian forests, this dexterously edited work has enabled the book to bring out a critical understanding of not only the various concepts in JFM (including issues of ecology, academic research and women's representation and role), but also of the intricacies involved in the interface between the people and the state. A conceptual framework is discussed in the final chapter of the book to help understand the diversity of research findings available on JFM. One important element missing in this volume, the editors admit, is the ecological impact of JFM: how has the programme affected the forest floor?

As part of the framework for understanding the varied outcomes of JFM, the author evolves a typology of conditions under which JFM will work. He identifies twenty possible conditions by combining five community types with four categories of bureaucratic responses. The five community types are: homogeneous and cooperative (HC), homogeneous and non-cooperative (HNC), mixed and non-cooperative (MNC), mixed and cooperative with egalitarian access rules (MCE) and mixed & cooperative with inegalitarian access arrangements (MCI). The four bureaucratic responses are: antiparticipatory (A), manipulative (M), incremental (I) and participatory (P). Nine of the combinations (namely: HC-M, MCE-M, MCI-M, HC-I, MCE-I, MCI-I, HC-P, MCE-P and MCI-P) are, according to the author, capable of making JFM move toward varying degrees of participation, while the remaining 11 would not facilitate any progress. The chapter discusses these combinations in detail.

In sum, anyone looking for terminological clarity in JFM, an analytical understanding of the programme and a conceptual framework for its implementation will find the book immensely useful. Without this book, many of those interested in Indian forests and JFM will not see the wood for the trees.
Reviewed by: M.J. Arul, PhD.


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