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

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Village Communities and Their Common Property Forests

This is a study of three villages in the Aravalli Hills of south Haryana, which have full title over the common lands and forests and have taken three radically different alternatives. One community, Mangar, is on the verge of losing the battle to the allure of real estate. The second village, Zir, is still confi dently preserving the forest as its common property, and the third, Bhondsi, appears to be divided in interests and has decided to let the forest department do the protection for the immediate future. What do these three different trajectories tell us about conserving our forests?

This article was prepared courtesy of an adjunct professorship awarded by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore in 2013. The visits to the field were made possible by the kind courtesy of colleagues in the forest department. I am personally responsible for any errors in fact or judgment that may remain.

Over the past couple of decades, social activists have built up the view that forests cannot be protected unless the community has title over them and think of them as their own (e g, Gadgil and Guha 1992). The theory goes that the collective will of the community will prevail over private interests, and the forests will be preserved. Under state control, they hold that the forests are nobody’s property, and that this is the main reason for the fact that around half of India’s forests are in various stages of degradation. The answer, according to them, lies in handing over forests to the community, a view also espoused in many international forums such as the Rio Declaration on forests that many countries have accepted as a non-binding agreement. In India, this is sought to be done through empowering legislation like the Forest Rights Act (FRA) passed in 2006 in order to set right the historic wrong done to poor village communities (especially tribal) when the reserved forests were notified under the Forest Act and the rights of the people restricted.

Forest Conservation

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