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Towards Responsive Forest Administration

Now over 205 years old, the modern, anglicised avatar of forest administration in India once again finds itself at crossroads, post The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers ( Recognition of Forest Rights ) Act, 2006. That sustainable, participatory and livelihoods centric forest management is fast becoming order of the day universally, due to the global warming concerns expressed in REDD+, needs to be understood, recognized and conceded by Policy makers, planners and managers working in the forestry sector. Indias population continues to scale fresh summits; despite her desire to be one amongst the developed world getting intensive by the day, her poverty levels refusing to abate; gross mismanagement of land and water resources leading to increasing recurrence of droughts over larger and larger landscapes with every passing year! The fact is, as Indians, both human and their livestock, who account for about 17% of the worlds population, are destined for confinement in a landmass which is a mere two percent of the global, with the resultant biotic pressures being often too intense to bear, the country is fast degrading into an ecological Frankenstein! Forest ecosystems, which occupy over 20% of the countrys area, have the potential to arrest and may be, even reverse this trend. Managers of forest ecosystems have an unenviable task to perform, viz., transforming themselves into ecosystems managers. The nation awaits a responsive forest administration to rise from the once green and bountiful ruins of the yore. Despite invasion of urbanization, India continues to breathe and survive due to the life sustaining support existing in the countryside! Its about time that Foresters woke up to this reality and embraced the idea of sustainable, participatory development of forest resources with the whole hearted involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions, rather than be restricted to the blinkered vision resulting in hasty blunders of the Lekhamenda kind. It is also about time to reverse the trend and, once and for all, put the cart AFETR the horse!

Early Days
The British East India Company initiated, a rudimentary forest administration was initiated in India , during 1806, to help augment ship building timber supply for the British Naval Industry. The sole purpose, initially, was to tap Indias supposedly vast forest resources to salvage the crisis ridden ship building industry in Great Britain. Captain Watson
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of Madras Police, who was appointed the first Conservator of Forests of Malabar, worked for 23 years, to mark large sized trees in the forests, fell the same and have them brought over to the depots for export to Britain. In essence, the initial rudimentary forest establishment was neither well organised nor scientifically oriented. The administrative control of forests initially vested in the Revenue Board with the District Collectors providing the vital administrative as well as managerial inputs. Later, nominal control over forest organisation was passed on to the Public Works Department.

The Forest Charter and Thereafter

In order to check the rampant indiscriminate felling of teak trees, the Government of India made a distinct claim to the full ownership of teak forests. Seeds of scientific forest administration were sown, soon after, with the adoption of A Charter of Indian Forests by the then Governor General, Lord Dalhousie in 1855. Forest Conservancy Rules soon began to emerge from detailed inspections of forests in Burma, and, a little later in Punjab, Western Himalayas and Sindh. However, the 1857 mutiny marked the end of British East India Company, with the Royal Proclamation of 1st November, 1858 declaring the sovereignty of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. A despatch dated the 1st November, 1862, from the Governor General in Council to the Secretary of State, effectively set in motion the process which culminated in the birth of Forest Administration in India. The despatch contained details of the state of forest administration in various parts of India under the Public Works Department and emphasised the need for putting the forest business on a definite footing by arranging for all matters connected with it to be dealt with in one department. The despatch went on to note the general principles for laying the foundation of forest administration for India. The first principle was based on the premise that in view of the very long gestation period required for maturity, personal interest cannot be made compatible with public interests in the working of forests, since moral or social restraints existed to ensure the same. Therefore, in order to prevent premature destruction, proprietary right in forest was proposed to be vested in public. The despatch further proposed that all Government forests should be strictly set apart, and made un alienable. It, however, proposed that the existing privately owned forests or private rights over forests, be respected though it might be good policy to extinguish such rights on equitable terms, whenever it be found possible to do so. The despatch noted that looking to the importance of disposal of waste land for revenue generation, it was specially important to mark out and fix the boundaries of the forests so that it might be definitely determined what was forest and what was wasteland available for sale. It also alluded to careful assessment of potential of forested waste lands for cultivation before selling the same. A paragraph from the despatch, which is so relevant to the present scenario existing, as regards forests, in the country, merits quotation.
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Of course, it can not be said that any forest which is now thought to be necessary, or worth preserving, will be held to be so for all time; but the facilities for destruction forest are so great, the difficulty of reproducing it so insurmountable, and the general tendency in this country to accept as truth the fallacy that the clearance of forest is of itself necessarily an improvement so common, that it will be important to record forest boundaries and to set forest apart in a very strict and forma manner, and it seems even possible that the object might be best attained by an Act of the Legislature. But the exact way of doing this must be a matter for further consideration. Having thus secured, as far as possible, that the boundaries of those forests shall be respected, which it is intended to preserve, and having obtained maps and surveys of the whole of them, a solid basis would be got on which to establish an efficient forest administration, the great end of which should be to obtain the largest possible quantity of produce from the forests consistent with their permanent usefulness. The conditions under which this would be possible would probably be various in various places, and the success could only be looked for as the result of experience, and careful and continued experiment brought to perfection under local management, but under some central control, or system of inspection. The despatch further noted that, once removed out of the category of waste land, it would go a long way in obtaining a more defined position for the forest administration and helping the department assume a distinct plan of their own. The despatch went on to suggest appointment of a special officer to be placed in charge of the business.

Forest Organisation - The Beginning

It was during the reign of Lord John Lawrence, in 1864, that Dr. D. Brandis was appointed as the first Inspector General of Forests of British India. He along with Cleghorn, who was the Conservator of Madras Presidency, set about laying foundations of Forest organisation in India. These officers were convinced that little systematic progress could be made in the absence of some recognised law which afforded protection to the forests as a whole and gave officers of the new department sufficient authority to carry out the prescriptions laid down for their management. The Forest organisation consisted of an Inspector General of Forests at the Centre and Superintendents in the Provinces administered by the Central Government. However, Presidencies, administered under the control of Lt. Governors, were at liberty of adopt their own organisation with the IGF acting as their advisor.

Legal Control Over Forests

Realising that Indias forests were not productive and, therefore, required scientific management inputs, the British framed Rules for the Disposal & Administration of

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Wastelands ( 1861 ). Soon, process of reservation of forested tracts of wastelands for the purpose of scientific management began. Seized with the need to preserve and manage Government forests, the Governor General of India in Council passed The Indian Forest Act ( Act VII of 1865 ) on 24 th February, 1865. The Act provided for notification of Forests while making it clear that such notification shall not abridge or affect any existing rights of individual or communities. The Act also empowered the Government to make rules for preservation and management of forests. The Act of 1965 was quite simple and had been enacted to enable the forest officers to practise forest management in the notified areas for generating maximum revenue in perpetuity besides ensuring forest preservation through regulative and simple punitive measures. It may also be borne in mind the forest estates were carved out of Government waste lands. Rules framed under the Act dealt with the details of Forest Conservancy such as the staff to be employed, the procedure to be followed in creating Reserved Forests and Unreserved Forests, their demarcation, the acts prohibited in such forests and the privileges of the local villagers or ryots with either class of forests. Practices such as grazing, setting fire to vegetation, unauthorised felling and shifting cultivation were prohibited in Reserved Forests. Thus wasteful and extravagant utilisation of forests was prevented thereby paving the way for scientific management. However, the progress of organisation was hampered by the realisation that district officials, in general, displayed considerable difficulty in grasping the true aims of forest policy and forest organisation and in recognising that the interests of the people were involved. The progress was also retarded in some provinces by the misdirected zeal of Forest Officers themselves, who endeavoured to put the Rules in force with uncompromising rigour amongst a population and under conditions where compulsion was an impossibility; the inevitable consequence being a set back to the very cause which they had set out to espouse! A major resistance to the 1865 Act came from the Board of Revenue of the Madras Presidency, who opposed it on several counts including land tenure system, peoples rights and privileges over forest produce, reluctance of the judiciary to accept Forest Rules and legal, powers of petty forest officers. Similarly, resistance also came from the Bombay Presidency, where Government forests were frequently so interlaced with private forest lands that protection was impossible without a system of strict control over all forest produce in transit, which the 1865 Act did not provide for. The progress of forest conservancy was hampered in the Bombay and Madras Presidencies by the inability of the responsible senior Revenue officials to recognise the

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great importance of the new administrative work in the interest of the people thereby creating difficulties in the introduction of forest conservancy. In the absence of government control over forests coming within the boundaries of villages, management of village forests remained a problem for many years in the Bombay Presidency. The various difficulties encountered included cultivation on slopes by Thakurs ( in Matheran ), setting apart tracts for gowlees, dealings with Wurlies, Katkaries and other hill tribes, drawing water from forest springs, prohibitive expenses involved in administration etc. The Indian Forest Act, 1878 brought about comprehensive changes in the legal control over forests. It led to the constitution of Reserved, Protected and Village Forests. It also provided for settlement of private / customary rights to forest produce in Reserved Forests and prescribed regulation of usage in respect of Protected Forests. However, a major feature was the introduction of Village Forests, to be managed by the village Panchayat / Cooperative. The Indian Forest Act of 1927 replaced the earlier 1878 Act. This Act embodied all the major provisions of the earlier one, extending it to include those relating to the duty on timber. The Act is still in force although there have been several amendments made by State Governments. The preamble of the Act states that it seeks to consolidate the law relating to the transit of forest produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.

The Policy Issues Pre-independence

In his detailed Note entitled Post War Forest Policy for India, the then Inspector General of Forests, Sir H. Howard ( 1944 ) laid out a detailed set of suggestions for forest administration in India. His major suggestions included ( A ) proper land management to control floods, erosion and afforestation in the western dry belt for correcting the askewed distribution of forest cover in the country and ( B ) provision of small timber and fuel for the general agricultural village consumer in India, both, to provide for his direct wants and, at the same time, release cow dung for manure. In this manner, he suggested increasing the merchantable forest area under the control of Forest Department from 9.3% of the geographical area of British India to 20-25%. For achieving the increase in forest, Sir Howard suggested reclassifying the uncultivable land in to two sub-categories, viz., wastes other than fallows on which minor forests could be grown and land not available for forest cultivation. He also suggested bringing the category uncultivable land under control of the Forest Department as Pastures in order to solve the problem of pressure on forests due to over-grazing. He alluded to the existence of over 2000 sq. miles forests with the Revenue Department in Bombay State and suggested bringing another 4000 sq. miles of unclassed uncultivated land in villages under some form of forest management to help solve the pressing problem of supplying the timber and fuel demands of agricultural villagers. He further suggested creation of Forest Development Divisions to carry out propaganda, arrange the areas to be afforested, give technical advice and supply seed and plants free, the work
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itself being done by villagers and zamindars. He also suggested bringing legislation for taking over private areas / private forests for increasing village forests. Sir Howard, therefore, could foresee the need for participatory forest management for meeting the livelihood / forestry needs of villagers. He, however, rued the fact that Chapter II and V of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 largely remained unimplemented. Unfortunately, post independence, his invaluable suggestions about increasing the forest cover, need for scientific management of land for climate amelioration and participatory management of forest resources received scant attention for a long time.

Forest Policy and Administration Post Independence

The Forest Policy framed by Dr. Voelcker ( 1894 ) clearly enunciated that wherever, an effective demand for cultural lands exists and can only be supplied from forest, the land should ordinarily be relinquished without hesitation. Consequentially, period between then and 1980 saw great upheavals in forest landscapes. Huge forest tracts were cleared for agriculture during 20 Century. Of the 41.533 million ha of forests in the country in 1947, only 27.11 million ha was controlled by the State Forest Departments. After, 1948, many States promulgated legislations to taking over ex-proprietary / private forests. Maharashtra followed suit, much later, i.e., in 1975, process which does not appear to end even today. Since independence, over 55 mill. Ha. Forest area, mostly ex proprietary degraded forest, has been brought under Government control. The National Forest Policy (1952) stated that the notion widely entertained that forestry, as such, has no intrinsic right to land but may be permitted on sufferance on residual land, not required for any other purpose, has to be combated. The policy, recommended putting one-third area under forest. Wildlife protection in the country got a comprehensive institutional framework with the promulgation of Wildlife ( Protection ) Act, 1972. The said legislation has since been fine tuned many times to strengthen wildlife administration, management and conservation in the country. The National Board for Wildlife is headed by no less than the Honble Prime Minister of India. The Wildlife ( Protection ) Act also incorporates provisions for the involvement of local people in conservation and management of Protected Areas. Diversion of forest land to agriculture continued unabated with another 24 million ha area given up between 1947 and 1979 and could be arrested only after promulgation of the Forest ( Conservation ) Act, 1980. However, diversions of forests for non forestry purposes abated, but encroachments didnt. The NFP, 1988 was another watershed in forestry, which gave precedence to preservation and conservation besides marking a paradigm shift from policing to meeting the pressing needs of forest dwellers. The policy recognized the need for forest based industries not to depend on forests but also recommended against diversion of productive land under agriculture to Agro / Farm Forestry. In the whole process of recognition of forestry as a land use spanning about 150 years, forested tracts of India have suffered great upheavals and managed forests have been badly honeycombed, rendering scientific forest management well neigh impossible!
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In the whole process of recognition of forestry as a land use spanning about 150 years, forested tracts of India have suffered great upheavals and managed forests have been badly honeycombed, rendering scientific forest management well neigh impossible! The FRA (2006) is another watershed in Indian Forestry with recognition of the Forest dwellers rights, including cultivation, over forest lands. However, the impact of this legislation on forest laws, administration and management is still to be analyzed , understood and pave way for course correction. The Joint Forest Management, in its present avatar, only serves to further complicate the issues related the above impact, therefore, needs to be reworked and institutionalized in accordance with Constitutional provisions.

JFM The Participatory Approach

No wheel was invented anew in 1990 when the concept of Joint Forest Management was allegedly borne. It was, indeed, the same old wine being served after much dilution and repackaging! The resultant attenuation of and compromise with principles of scientific management, has only served to convert managed forests into jungles! At this point, it would be appropriate to recapitulate provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, which has since been amended by the States applying the same, to suit its needs. Chapter III of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 covers Village Forests. The following provisions are made in Section 28 of the Act, as applicable to the Maharashtra State . 28. Formation of village forests :(1) The State Government may assign to any village community village panchayat established under the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958 or co-operative society registered or deemed to be registered under the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act, 1960, the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest or called a protected forest, and may cancel such assignment. All forests so assigned shall be called village-forests. (2) The State Government may make rules for regulating the management of village forests, prescribing the conditions under which the community Panchayat or society to which any such assignment is made may be provided with timber or other forest produce or pasture, and their duties for the protection and improvement of such forest. (3) All the provisions of this Act relating to reserved or protected forests shall so far as they are not inconsistent with the rules so made apply to village forests according as the forests assigned are reserved or protected forests. As evident from above, the concept of Village Forest, which is restricted to the Reserved Forest, has been enlarged to incorporate Protected Forests in the amendment made in the Act applicable to the State of Maharashtra. Further, Section 28 has been amended to incorporate Panchayat and Cooperative Society in the assignment of rights of Government to or over village forest. That the Elected Representatives of Bombay State were far sighted is evident from the fact that The Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958, which ushered in the government at the village level, was enacted over 34 years prior to the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution of India. Soon after, in 1961, i.e., immediately after formation of Maharashtra State, the concept
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of Local Self Government was expanded to introduce three tier system of Panchayati Raj Institutions, with the enactment of The Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961. The Village Panchayats Act provided, since the beginning, for management of village forests assigned to the Panchayat under Section 28 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Yet, these legal provisions were not invoked while ushering in the JFM.

The Seventy-third Amendment

Much later, i.e., in 1992, the concept of Panchayati Raj Institutions was introduced in the country by the 73rd Amendment, by which, Part IX The Panchayats, was inserted in the Constitution. The chapter contains articles 243A to 243N, which provide for all aspects of Panchayati Raj Institution at the village level. Article 243G defines powers, authority and responsibilities of Panchayats and authorises the State legislature to may, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority to function as institutions of self-government with respect to the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice and the implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to the matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule ( the Village List ). As many as 10 of the 29 subjects listed in the Village List, pertain to natural resources. These include agriculture including agricultural extension, Land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation & soil conservation, minor irrigation, water management and watershed development, animal husbandry, dairying and poultry, fisheries, social forestry & farm forestry, minor forest produce, drinking water, fuel & fodder and maintenance of community assets. Article 243H authorises the State Government to empower Panchayats, by law, to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees and assign the same to them besides making grant in aid to Panchayats and for constitution of Funds for crediting / debiting such moneys. Article 243I deals with constitution of a Finance Commission to review the financial position of Panchayats. Article 243J authorizes the State Government to make provisions with respect to the maintenance of accounts by the Panchayats and the auditing of such accounts. The Provisions of the Panchayats ( Extension to the Scheduled Areas ) Act, 1996 extends provisions of the 73rd Amendment to the Scheduled Areas, prescribes exceptions and modifications to Part IX and reiterates continuance of existing laws on Panchayats. It vests ownership of MFP in Panchayats & Gram Sabhas and empowers them to exercise control over institutions and functionaries in all social sectors.

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Other Related Legislations
Another central Act, viz., The Biodiversity Act, 2003 provides, under Section 41, for every local body, village as well as municipal, to constitute a biodiversity Management Committee ( BMC ) for the purpose of promoting conservation, sustainable use and documentation of biological diversity including preservation of habitats, conservation of land races, folk varieties and cultivars, domesticated stocks and breeds of animals and microorganisms and chronicling of knowledge relating to biological diversity. The Act provides for the BMC to be consulted by the National Biodiversity Authority & the State Biodiversity Board while taking any decision relating to the use of biological resources and knowledge associated with such resources occurring within its jurisdiction. The BMC may levy charges from any person for accessing or collecting any biological resource for commercial purpose. Sections 42, 43 & 44 of the Act provide for constitution and application of Local Biodiversity fund for conserving & promoting biodiversity. Finally, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers ( Recognition of Forest Rights ) Act, 2006, which seeks to recognize and vest the forest rights in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers, extends the scope of community ownership of Minor Forest Produce within & outside village boundaries including access to collect, use, transport & sell the same, to all villages. The Act also confers, on the village community, the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource, which has been traditionally protected & conserved for sustainable use. It also confers, on the village community, the right pertaining to access to biodiversity & community right to intellectual property & traditional knowledge related to biodiversity & cultural diversity. However, the Act falls short of prescribing institutional arrangement for enjoying these community rights.

Forests & Panchayati Raj Institutions

The Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 and The Bombay Village Panchayat Act, 1958 were amended in 1994, in conformity with provisions of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. A three tier system of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) comprising Zilla Parishads (ZP) at the district level, Panchayat Samitis (PS) at the block level and Village Panchayats (VP) at the village level was, therefore, established in the State. These Acts have been amended from time to time to bring about further consolidation of PRIs in the State. The Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958, which has been amended in 1960, 1962, 1965, 1975, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011, makes specific provisions for management of forests by the Village Panchayats. Section 45 of The Act prescribes administrative powers and duties of Panchayats as under Subject to the general control of the Zilla Parishad and the Panchayat Samiti, it shall be the duty of a Panchayat so far as the village fund at its disposal will allow to make reasonable provision within the village with respect to all or any of the subjects enumerated in Schedule I, as amended from time to time, under sub section (2) ( in this section referred to as the Village List ). The Village List incorporates a total of 79 subjects, of which, Forests, figure at No. 13, as under

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Raising, preservation, improvement and regulation of the use of village forests and grazing lands, including lands assigned under Section 28 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The details of village forests, as given above, therefore, provide not only for the Reserved and Protected forests but also for lands set aside for grazing and forestry purposes under the Land Revenue Code. But for private forests, therefore, the above details incorporate a majority of suggestions made by Sir Howard for increasing the extent of forest. The 2003 amendment to the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, which is largely attributed to Shri Anna Hazare, resulted in incorporation of provisions for effective empowerment of Gram Sabhas. Section 49 and 49-Aof the Act concern constitution of Village Development and Beneficiary-level Committees of the Gram Sabha respectively. Clauses (1) to (9) of Section 49 deal with various issues pertaining to the Village Development Committees including their constitution, term, powers, duties and functions, membership, authority, annual accounts, proceedings of the committees, limitation on the powers, duties and functions of Panchayats with regard to these committees, appointment & removal of members of the committees and reconstitution of committees. Section 49-A of the Act provides for constitution etc. of Beneficiary Level Subcommittees. Such a committee may be constituted, in consultation with Panchayat, and with prior approval of the Gram Sabha, having regard to the geographical, geo-hydrological, technological, economic, social and demographic situation of the habitation within the area of the Panchayat, from amongst the voter beneficiaries of the existing or proposed activity, scheme or utility, exclusively serving a habitation. Section 51 of the Act authorises the State Government to vest, in a Panchayat, or resume, open sites, waste, vacant or grazing lands, ditches, dikes, river beds, tanks, streams, lakes, nallas, canals, water courses, trees etc. Chapter IV of the Act deals with Panchayat Property and Fund. Section 55 empowers a Panchayat to lease, sell and transfer movable or immovable property vested in it. Section 57 of the Act provides for setting up of Village Fund and lists the various sources of fund, which may be paid into or forming part of the said fund. These include, apart from others, the sale proceeds or royalty of the minor forest produce collected in the Scheduled Areas within the jurisdiction of a Panchayat and vested in that Panchayat, as well as sums contributed to the village fund by the State Government. Chapter V of the Act deals with Establishment, Budget and Accounts of Panchayats. Section 60 of the Act provides for appointment of one or more Secretaries of Panchayat. Sub-section (1) of Section 61 empowers a panchayat to appoint servants for proper discharge of duties under the Act. Sub-section (2) authorises the State Government to make rules to regulate recruitment and the terms and conditions of servants appointed under sub-section (1). Section 62 of the Act prescribes detailed procedure for operation of Budget and Accounts of Panchayats. A Village Water Supply Fund has been created, under Section 132-B of the Act. A similar action may be perceived for the forestry sector. A rational interpretation of the above provisions of the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958 read with Section 28 of The Indian Forest Act, 1927, therefore, provides clues for a comprehensive institutional mechanism, albeit after minor amendments, if need be, not
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only for management of village forests but also of all the natural resources occurring within the geographical limits of a village. It is really disheartening to note that such foresightedness shown by the Elected Representatives of our State has not been able to spur forest administration in the State to lead the way for pioneering the cause of such an advanced and legally sanctioned concept of Joint Forest Management in the country. Joint Forest Management continues to be rooted largely in the Arabari origins dating back to 1990 and driven by rather disjointed and often unrealistic set of miscellaneous executive instructions. Recently, attempt has been made to link Joint Forest Management to Panchayats, but it falls far short of providing a sustainable and complimentary institution for managing the vital and fast dwindling forest and biological resources at the village level.

Maharashtra Today A Brief Profile

Maharashtra, with a geographical area of 307713 sq. km., is the third largest State of Indian Union. Forests occupy an area of 61939 sq. km. which comes to 20.12% of geographical area of the State. The State is administratively divided into six Revenue Divisions, thirty three Districts, 358 Tehsils, 40 Cities / Towns having population of 100,000 or more and 43711 inhabited villages. The local self Government in the State is organised into 33 Zilla Parishads, 355 Panchayat Samitis, 27933 Gram Panchayats, 222 Municipal Councils, 23 Municipal Corporations, 7 Cantonment Boards and 4 Nagar Panchayats. As per provisional estimates ( Census of India, 2011 ), the State has a population of 112.373 million, of which, Rural population accounts for 61.55 million ( 54.76% ) and urban, for 50.82 million ( 45.24% ). The States population resides in 2,38,30,580 households. As per the provisional household survey published by the Census of India ( 2011 ), LPG / CNG and Firewood emerge as the two major sources of fuel energy in the State, with the former accounting for 43.37% households and, the latter, for 42.56% households.

State of Forest / Other Landscapes

As per the SOFR ( 2009 ), the recorded forest area of the State is 61,939 sq km. Reserved Forests constitute 79.47%, Protected Forests 13.23% and Unclassed Forests 7.30% of the total forest area. Recorded forests account for 20.39% of the State's geographical area. In terms of composition, Teak forests exist over about 10,050 sq km area, Miscellaneous forests 20,540 sq km and Kurans & Pastures 4,470 sq. km. Bamboo forms the understory in approximately 9,970 sq. km. forest area. Four of the sixteen major forest types are encountered in the state. Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests account for 62% forest area followed by Southern Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests ( 17% ), Southern Tropical Thorn Forests ( 16% ) and Southern Tropical Semi Evergreen Forests ( 5% ). The forest composition reflects the agro-ecological conditions prevalent in the State. There is need for analyzing the extent of forests under various Working Circles in the Working Plans.

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As per the SOFR ( 2009 ), which is based on the assessment of satellite data of October, 2006, the State has a the forest cover of 50650 sq. km. , which is 16.46% of the States geographical area. Increasingly subject to pressures of rising population and depleting funds, forest cover exists over 81.77% forest area. In terms of forest canopy density classes, very dense forest cover exist over 8739 sq. km. ( 14.11% of forest area ), moderately dense forest cover over 20834 sq. km. ( 33.63% ), open forest cover , including scrub, over 21077 sq km ( 34.03% ). As much as 18.23% of the recorded forest area is bereft of any tree cover and appears to be increasing with each assessment, notwithstanding the improved satellite resources / assessment techniques. We rank fourth, behind M.P., Arunachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, in terms of forest cover. As per the SOFR ( 2009 ), the seven hill districts in the State have a geographical area of 69905 sq km, which is the third largest after J&K and Arunachal Pradesh. The Report puts the forest cover in the hill districts of the State at 15,508 sq. km. or 22.18% of the geographical area of these districts. In terms of percentage forest cover in the hilly areas, Maharashtra ranks second from the bottom, higher only than J&K. It is indeed a matter of grave concern that only 10.8% of the hill area of the State supports adequate forest cover. The forest cover in the hills of the State being far lower than the National Forest Policy mandate of 60%, warrants immediate and resolute action, since hills form catchments of all the major rivers flowing in the State. Forest Department has divided the State into 15 ( including 4 Wildlife ) Circles, 65 ( including 8 Sub-divisions & 14 Wildlife Divisions ), 440 ( including 63 Wildlife ) Ranges, 1670 ( including 195 Wildlife ) Rounds and 6283 ( including 669 Wildlife ) Beats. This administrative division of forest landscapes is, by and large, at variance with the administrative entities created for State Administration. Natural resources, which prosper and perish in natural landscapes, need to be managed as per the felt needs of such landscapes. As per the All India Soil & Land Use Survey classification, Maharashtra States landscape is divisible into two Water Resource Regions viz., Easterly flowing River System and Westerly flowing River System. These regions have been further divided into six Basins viz., Godavari, Krishna, Tapi, Narmada, westerly flowing rivers and a small part of Gadchiroli district falling in the Mahanadi Basin. Each basin is divided, in turn, into Catchments, Sub-catchments and Watersheds. Accordingly, there are 16 Catchments, 74 Sub-catchments and 396 Watersheds in the State. The 1505 GSDA watersheds merge with the AISLUS system at the sub-watershed stage. However, for further classifying the watersheds down to the micro-watershed stage, the GSDA watersheds are further divided, by the Maharashtra Remore Sensing Applications Centre, into sub, mini and micro- watersheds. There are an estimated 60000 micro watersheds in the State. Management of natural, specially forest, resources suffers in such a complex web of often conflicting administrative / natural landscapes. With as much as 94% of the States geographical area subject to water induced soil erosion, the Stat loses about 773 million tonnes of top soil to water induced soil erosion annually, a bulk of which can be attributed to forest degradation in the upper slopes. Forests conservation is, therefore, crucial for the recovery of agricultural economy in the State which appears to be on the decline of late. The physiographic unit wise assessment of soil erosion in the State is as follows.
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S. No. Physiographic Unit Konkan Coast Geo. Area. covered 2,240,460 Severe Erosion *(%) 6,11,720 (27.3) 1,015,910 (53.1) 1,064,000 (18.7) 1,886,750 (11.5) 2,15,690 (6.4) 47,94,070 (16.2) Over 40 MT / ha /Yr. Strong Erosion *(%) 10,80,460 (48.2) 6,39,800 (33.4) 9,55,790 (16.8) 34,41,550 (20.9) 11,29,230 (33.5) 72,46,830 (24.4) 21-40 MT / ha / Yr. Moderate Erosion *(%) 3,48,060 (15.5) 2,57,420 (13.5) 35,38,820 (62.2) 10,610,570 (64.5) 18,47,340 (54.8) 16,602,210 (56.0) 11-20 MT / ha / Yr. Slight Erosion *(%) 2,00,200 (9.0) NIL

Western Ghats


Upper Maharashtra (Deccan Plateau) Lower Maharashtra (Deccan Plateau) Lower Maharashtra (Deccan Plateau) Metamorphic Maharashtra


1,27,430 (2.3) 5,04,650 (3.1) 1,76,240 (5.2) 10,08,54 0 (3.4) 5-10 MT / ha / Yr.





The land use statistics puts the extent of wastelands in the State at 70.6 lakh ha. Of this, community lands account for 28.73 lakh ha, private lands 24 lakh ha, and degraded forests for 17.8 lakh ha. The satellite based survey of non forest wastelands done by the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Applications Centre, on 1:250,000 scale in 1995, put the same at 51.15 lakh ha. There is thus an area of about 53 lakh ha under various categories of non forest wastelands in the State. The Forest Survey of India estimated, in 1999, that only 23.6 lakh ha of the State's forest area of 64 lakh ha contained adequate forest cover thereby indicating that over 40 lakh ha forest area in the State, supporting inadequate tree cover, was degraded. The total extent of wastelands in the State may, therefore, be as high as 93 lakh ha! The satellite based assessment of wasteland categories in the State published by the Ministry of Rural Development reveals that a majority, i.e. 53.13 percent of wastelands in the State are classified as uplands with or without scrub. This is further corroborated by the revelation in the State of Forest Report ( 2009 ) that the seven hill districts in the State contain only 22.18% tree cover as against sixty percent recommended by the National Forest Policy ( 1988 ). Together with degraded notified forest land, degraded pasture / grazing land, mining / industrial wastelands, barren / rocky / stony waste / sheet rock area, steep slopes, the bulk accounts for over sixty nine percent of the total geographic area of the State. The districts of Pune, Ratnagiri and Thane possess wastelands in excess of twenty five percent. Districts with twenty to twenty five percent wastelands include Yavatmal, Dhule, Ahmednagar, Nasik and Buldhana. The Satellite surveys also indicate that 63.6 percent
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private wastelands exist in the Pune and Konkan Revenue Divisions. Community wastelands are more evenly spread with the exception of Amravati Division. Degraded Forests are mostly encountered in Nasik and Nagpur Divisions, followed by Pune Division. Forest areas in the State, specially those located in the hills, play a crucial role in soil conservation and water management. The above table, read with the forest cover assessment ( SOFR 2009 ) is a revelation of how deforestation in the upper catchments affects natural landscape productivity. A somewhat similar situation is obtained when the ground water resource scenario in the State, is superimposed on the forest cover assessment. Increasing frequency of flash floods in Western Maharashtra and adjoining Karnataka can be attributed to the increasing loss of forest cover in the North Western Ghats. Loss of forest cover followed by erosion / compaction of surface in the catchments increases surface flows while reducing the recharge. Water has thus, become the major eroding force in State. It may be noted that the per capita water availability in the State is as low as 595 cubic meter / yr. The percentage of rural / urban households using firewood has been estimated at 68.94% and 10.81% respectively. At an average 1.5 kg firewood / person / day, Maharashtras household may be burning about 76100 Metric Tonnes of firewood / day, which means over 45600 trees being consigned to hearth / day! Providing energy for the kitchen, therefore, continues to be the main eco-destructive service, to which the States forests are being put to. No wonder, that, the consequences of this unrestricted onslaught on the natural greens are being felt with increasing regularity! In the summer of 2012, 15 of the 33 districts in the State are reeling under as acute shortage of water! Howards observations about role of forests in erosion control and amelioration of environment were so true and timely! The Nature is throwing enough hints for State to pull its socks pronto or else!

Scientific Forest Management

The Forest Department exercises control over 55367 sq. km. (89.39% ) of forest area in the State. An area of 560 sq. km. has been brought under the control of Forest Department. The Revenue Department controls an area of 2449 sq. km .and, the remaining area amounting to 3563 sq. km. has been leased out to the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd. However, the areas assigned to FDCM have been put under 14 Forest management Plans, which cover an area of 456898.184 ha. At present, FDCM exercises control over 371790.888 ha area ( after accounting for the return of forest areas notified as Protected Areas). The discrepancy as to the actual area under lease needs to be sorted out. The 42 Protected Areas in the State, including 36 Sanctuaries and 6 National Parks cover a total area of 15539 sq. km., of which, the notified forest area accounts for 6328 ( excluding the Protected Areas notified after 2009 ). These areas are largely covered under duly approved Wildlife Management Plans. In 2010, a forest area of 51189 sq. km. was covered under Working Plans, which accounts for 92.45% of the area controlled by the Forest Department. There are 15700 forested villages in Maharashtra, which, together cover notified / other forest areas to the tune of 30,000 sq. km. Although exact figures are not available,

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Vide judgement dated 12th December, 1996, in Writ Petition ( Civil ) No. 202 of 1995, the Honble Supreme Court has made it mandatory to cover all forest areas under Working Plans duly approved by the Government of India. The said order was later expanded to ensure regeneration of worked areas and timely provision of funds for the same. The Honble Apex Court also ordered that any deviation to a Working Plan would require approval of the Regional Chief Conservator of Forests ( MOEF ) concerned. Accordingly, the Government of India prepared a detailed National Working Plan Code for preparation, approval, implementation and revision of Working Plans in the country. The Central Government exercises control over Working Plans through the Reginal CCF, specially to monitor the following points. Preparation of Working plan is in accordance with prescribed procedure, i.e., Consultations, Field Visits, First PWPR, Writing of Working Plan, Preparation / updating of maps, Writing / Editing of Compartment Histories and prescribing of Control Forms. The working plan prescriptions are being followed and the system of annual updating of Compartment Histories and Control Forms is in place. Harvesting does not exceed the natural regeneration. This can be monitored through field visits, reports, and money provided in the budget for plantations and silvicultural operations.

As regards Joint Forest Management, the Code makes the following provisions. Joint Forest Management is sharing of responsibilities, authority, and usufructs between the Village Community or the Forest User Group and the Forest Department on the basis of an agreement between the two. The management of the jointly managed forest is done through the provision of a micro-plan prepared by the community on PRA basis and with the technical help of the officials of Forest Department. Since the micro-plan is prepared with the technical guidance of Foresters, there are little chances of any conflict between the working plan and micro-plan prescriptions. Since Joint Forest Management is new and at evolving stage, it will not be wise to make any comment at this stage. Only thing which has to be ensured is that the micro-plan prescriptions do not violate the silvicultural prescriptions of the working plan specially those related to sustainable forest management and regulation of yield of major forest products. Approval of JFM micro-plan from Ministry of Environment and Forests is not necessary as they are covered by the macro level prescriptions of working plan of the Forest Division. Any deviation from the macro level prescriptions will require prior approval of the Regional CCF. As per official records, there are 14239 Joint Forest management Committees in the State, of which 12957 have been registered. The total membership of these JFMCs stands at 2658298. These Committees have been allotted 4140276.6 Ha, including 2942659.1 Ha of forests and 1197637.5 Ha of non forest area. These committees, therefore, have been allotted 53.15% of the forest area controlled by the Forest Department! The moot question is whether the technical prescriptions, being applied to the forest areas brought under JFM micro-plans, are in sync with provisions of approved working plans. Since the various miscellaneous executive instructions, issued for implementing the JFM in the State, do not provide detailed guidelines for technical management of these areas, there is need to sit up and immediately review the system being practised under the JFM set up.
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There is need to realise that the countrys forests have, for ages, been managed as per German forestry principles. Scientific management alternatives need to be discussed by expert panels in depth, put to field trials over sufficiently long periods and evaluated before being applied. The German system provides for conversions of forests from one management system to another. There has been a tendency, in the country, to simply withdraw existing silvicultural prescriptions without providing alternatives. Forests, put under Protected Areas, are a case in point. Even a cursory look at Wildlife management plans would reveal that silvicultural management has simply been withdrawn from such areas. The resultant reversal from a managed forest back to the Jungle may be causing unforeseen problems even for wildlife! How do the forests put under JFM micro-plans fit into the concept of maintaining the integrity of wildlife corridors? A majority of these posers can be better addressed under a legally mandated system of participatory management.

Sustainable Joint Forest Management The Rational Way

Principles of sustainable forest management are yet to find their way in to Silviculture the Art and Science of Forest Management. Even the principles of sustained yield owe their origin, in the forest management, to the National Forest Policy ( 1952 ). In modern parlance, these principles are intimately connected with deforestation & forest degradation on one hand and peoples participation & livelihoods on the other. It is therefore, evident that the present manner, in which, forest management plans are prepared, does not consider these vital aspects. Be it JFM, community management of forests for MFP, or biodiversity conservation, any or all of these issues having important bearing on the core issue of scientific forest management, are essentially required to be practised under an institutional framework, which can continue to focus on the core issue while existing under a set up of Local Self Government prescribed by the Constitution of India, and legislated by the State Government. The institutional necessary frame work for setting up legally empowered JFM administration at the village level already exists, both in the Indian Forest Act, 1927, as applicable to the Maharashtra State, as well as The Bombay Village Village Panchayats Act, 1958. All the necessary clues to the same have adequately been enumerated above. It is in this context that the existing system of JFM in the State needs to be reviewed. The review may incorporate the following issues: Issues Relating to Land How many villages have notified forests existing within their boundary, as defined under the Land Revenue Code? What is the extent of such forests, village wise? Do the villagers rights extend to forests located outside the village limits? If yes, what is the extent of such forests, village wise? What is the extent of lands assigned for grazing and forestry purposes, village wise? What is the extent of identified and acquired private forests, village wise?

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Are any other categories of non forest commons available within the village boundary? If yes, what is the extent of the same, village wise? Legal issues in assignment of any or all the above areas to the Panchayat as village forests.

Issues Relating to Village Administration Review of Panchayats, including Block Panchayats, in the State and grouping of the 43,711 Villages into the same. Constitution of a Development Committee of the Gram Sabha for Village Forest Management. Membership of the Village Forest Management Committee ( VFMC ). Legal issues involved in the appointment of Forester / Forest Guard as Secretary of VFMC. Creation of Beneficiary level committees for Forest Rights, Biodiversity Management, Appointment of servants of the VFMC. Budget, accounts and audit procedure for VFMC. Funding of VFMC. The various sources may include, Outlay ( non plan ) for Working Plans, Grants under Finance Commission, Plan funds for Joint Forest Management including CSS, Plan funds for watershed development, Grants from Forest Revenue to the Zilla Parishads, Forest Development Tax, Plan funds for Social forestry / Agro-forestry, EGS / MREGS, CAMPA and any other existing / new programmes / schemes. Other VFMC Fund receipts from sale of community forest resources, levies, taxes, fines, fees, contributions from Government / Non Government Organisations etc. Creation of institutional mechanism for and legal issues involved in the disposal of MFP ( including bamboo and tendu ) etc. ( may be, on the lines of M.P, Chhatisgarh ) and usufruct sharing with regard to other forest produce. Alternate mechanism to replace the FLCS by creation of a suitable institution under the Panchayat.

Forest Development Agency

Creation of District Forest Development Agency on the lines of DRDA. Establishment of DFDA and formulation of State / Centrally Sponsored Scheme Strengthening of DFDA Adminstration. Budget, accounts and audit of DFDA. Relationship of DFDA with Zilla Parishad, Panchayat Samitis and Panchayats. Relationship of DFDA and PRIs with Forest Department.

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Forest Management by Panchayats Formulation of rules for regulating the management of village forests, prescribing the
conditions under which the VFMCs may be provided with timber or other forest produce or pasture, and their duties for the protection and improvement of such forest. Formulation of guidelines for preparation of micro-plans for scientific management of village forests as per prescriptions of approved working plan. Drafting Notification to the effect that the provisions of The Indian Forest Act / Land Revenue Code relating to reserved or protected forests / lands assigned for grazing, forest etc. shall, so far as they are not inconsistent with the rules so made, apply to village forests accordingly as the forests assigned are reserved or protected forests / revenue lands assigned as above. Formulation of guidelines for preparation and maintenance of biodiversity registers and other issues relating to biodiversity management at the village level. Formulation of guidelines and procedure for creation of Self Help Groups. Formulation of guidelines for management of micro-watersheds in village forests.

Linkage with Forest Department

A major concern lurking in the minds of Forest Administrators is the possibility of losing control over precious natural public resources, viz. forests. Forest Management, specially under the REDD+ dispensation, requires continued technical inputs, monitoring & control. It must be understood that the proposed participatory management envisages sharing of responsibility for managing village forests. Legal control over forests, however, remains vested in the authorities empowered by Government. Post Seventy-third Amendment to The Constitution, Social and Agro-forestry disciplines have been put under the Eleventh Schedule. The Directorate General of Social Forestry can, therefore, be brought back under the fold of Forest Department and suitably redesignated to take over the responsibility of Village Forest Administration. For disposal of forest produce, Forest Produce Cooperatives created at village level, can be federated into State Forest Produce Federation on the lines of MFP Federation of M.P. Suitable financial linkages for connecting these organisations with village panchayats through DFDAs can be worked out. The Forest Department can also create a Centre of Excellence for Training in Village Forest Management.

New Vistas Urban Forests

Maharashtra is perhaps the most urbanised State in the country. Apart from considerable forest areas existing within urban areas, urban forestry, which is an important constituent of the concept of sustainable urban development, is still unorganised in the State, being treated more an administrative liability. Urban centres in the State, as a result, are fast turning into heat islands. Specialised forestry practices can potentially complement efforts conserving energy besides making cities more habitable. Urban forestry needs to be organised on the basis of principles of urban watershed management. With the petroleum based fuels becoming costlier by the day, trees in and around urban centres are going to become more vulnerable to illegal felling. The existing Parks and Garden Wing in the
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Municipal Corporation is ill-equipped to live up to the new challenges. An Urban Forestry Wing for Creation and maintenance of urban forests under Local Self Government needs to be conceived. Arrangements suggested for village forests may be replicated in urban areas after bringing about necessary legal changes.

To Sum UP
Although, is hard to change with times, but the wise always find ways and means to do so. The writing on the wall was never so apparent! To perform NOW is the necessary imperative or else, the only other option is to perish! Forest Conservation is a cause fit enough to work for without being overawed by the enormity of paradigm shift in the working milieu! Participatory management of scarce natural resources such as forests is the way forward for Foresters to become agents of positive change. That forests play a vital role in climate control, is understood better than ever before. There is, therefore need to take the message to the rural commons and make forest conservation a common cause with people at large.

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