Forest management in Maharashtra, India

Research on common property has pointed to the crucial role of ‘monitoring’ for its effective management. Institutions governing a common property resource such as forests need to safeguard themselves against situations where individuals extract more than their share. Monitoring is essential to guard forest areas against excessive forest use by community members and also against outsider entry. In addition, it is crucial to deal strictly with infractions to ensure compliance with rules.

Concentrating on ‘rule compliance’ as an indicator of monitoring by community members, we assessed the relationship between institutional structure, monitoring, and forest condition. Three frequently encountered institutional structures engaged in forest protection are those that are community-initiated, those that are promoted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and those that are state-sponsored (e.g., Joint Forest Management- JFM). Do communities follow rules stringently if they evolve the rules themselves? How do NGOs approach the question of dealing with infractions of rules? Does the rules in communities that join JFM? We conducted a detailed comparison of rule compliance among forests in similar bioclimatic conditions and social environments but under different institutional regimes through a comparison of 3 case studies in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra in central India. We used detailed interviews with communities to assess monitoring, and a combination of forest plot data and evidence of illicit cutting, grazing, and fire, to evaluate forest condition.

Local enforcement was most effective where the community-initiated forest management. The forest showed better regeneration and there was negligible evidence of grazing and fire, even though this community started its protection work in a degraded forest that had been under heavy pressure from surrounding communities. In the State-initiated JFM village it was evident that there was uncontrolled grazing and fire leading to heavy damage to the forest, despite their having had the initial advantage of a good forest subject to lower population pressure. There was insufficient monitoring of rule infractions due to the apathy of forest officials entrusted with the task of protecting the forest. In the third case, with NGO-promoted forest management, greater importance was given to protecting the resource from outsiders. Infractions by community members, however, went unpunished by the NGO, since it had other activities in the community and did not want to antagonise some community members.

Our findings indicate the crucial impact of monitoring on the cohesiveness of institutions as well as on the success of forestmanagement initiatives. Clearly, it is necessary to ensure rule compliance by community members as well as by outsiders. When sanctions are strictly enforced, they prevent the spread of free-riding behaviour, thereby instilling a sense of trust in the community. It is essential, however, to provide conditions that facilitate a sense of justice and fair play by ensuring that all individuals who break rules are penalised, irrespective of their position in the community. When the users themselves are genuinely engaged in making decisions about rules affecting forest use, the likelihood of their following the rules and monitoring others is much greater than when an external authority (whether the government or an NGO) imposes rules on the community.

Originally published as :
Ghate, R. and H. Nagendra. 2005. Role of monitoring in institutional performance: Forest management in Maharashtra, India. Conservation and Society 3(2):509–532.

Rucha Ghate is the Director, IFRICollaborative Research Centre, and SHODH: The Institute for Research and Development, Nagpur (ruchaghate@gmail.com).

Harini Nagendra is the Asia Research Coordinator at the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change (CIPEC), Indiana University and an Adjunct Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore (nagendra@indiana.edu).

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