ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Decolonising Decentralised Governance

Insights from the Forests of Maharashtra

Three decades since the initiation of decentralised governance, and more than a decade since the first community forest resource right was recognised in Maharashtra, forest-dwelling communities still have limited space in decision-making about their forest resources. This article describes three cases from Maharashtra where bureaucratic overreach has impeded emerging forest management by forest dwellers holding community forest resource rights. It reflects on the need for changing the prevalent colonial mindset in the bureaucracy to facilitate genuine decentralised democratic governance.

The authors thank Purnima Upadhyay (KHOJ, Melghat), Shrikant Lodam (GSMT, Yavatmal), Satish Gogulwar (AAA, Gadchiroli), Keshav Gurnule (Srishti, Gadchiroli), Ravindra Chunarkar (TISS, Mumbai), Shruti Mokashi (ATREE, Bengaluru), and Geetanjoy Sahu (TISS, Mumbai) for their work and contributions to this article.

In India, the 1990s saw states attem­pting to increase people’s participation in and decentralise the management of natural resources. Most eff­orts either enabled some consultation in plan­ning, such as participatory watershed development, or decentralised resource management through committees that remained upwardly accountable, such as joint forest management, and had limited impact in terms of genuine community empowerment (Baviskar 2004; Lele 2014; Jeffery and Sundar 1999).

In parallel, some attempts were made towards what Ribot (2002) calls political devolution or democratic decentralisation, where decision-making is downwardly accountable through statutorily elected bodies, namely the panchayati raj legislation in India. The limited gains from even the latter were inter alia due to the lack of jurisdiction over natural resources, making the gram panchayats simply implementation agencies for state-funded development programmes. A stronger form of democratic decentralisation was sought to be provided in the Provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996, and even more so in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (or FRA), whose provisions for community forest resource (CFR) rights have the potential for direct democracy in managing clearly demarcated forest resources (Kumar et al 2015).

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Updated On : 20th Sep, 2022
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