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Joint forest management in India--an assessment.

Gestion forestiere jointe en Inde: une evaluation


La gestion forestiere jointe (JFM) en Inde a ete un instrument de changement dans l'aspect socio-economique de la vie des communautes dependant de la foret (FDCs), les conduisant d'une vie centree sur la foret a une existence basee sur une economie monetaire. La JFM a resulte en une captation d'elite des ressources forestieres, permettant une regeneration des forets degradees, bien que la qualite de cette regeneration ne semble avoir eu que des resultats mixtes. Les archives gouvernementales suggerent que les FDCs deviennent moins interesses et que les comites JFM ont cesse d'exister dans de nombreux etats, du fait d'une diminution des fonds donnes au programme de JFM. En conclusion, le travail lie a la JFM engage le personnel officiel des forets a depenser davantage de ressources sur une surface forestiere disproportionnellement petite, ce qui pourrait bien avoir des implications pour la conservation de la biodiversite a longue echeance. L'etude conseille la privatisation des forets comme une option alternative possible pour faire face a ces menaces, et pour permettre une transition de notre economie lineaire traditionnelle vers une economie circulaire.

Manejo forestal conjunto en la India: una evaluacion


El manejo forestal conjunto (MFC) en la India ha sido fundamental para transformar la realidad socioeconomica de las comunidades dependientes de los bosques (CDB), de una centrada en el bosque a una basada en una economia monetaria. El MFC ha dado lugar a la captura de recursos forestales por parte de las elites, y ha permitido la regeneracion de bosques degradados, aunque la evidencia sobre la calidad de dicha regeneracion no es concluyente. Los datos del gobierno sugieren que, una vez que se han agotado los fondos de los donantes para el programa de MFC, las CDB estan perdiendo interes y muchos comites de MFC han desaparecido en muchos estados. Finalmente, las labores relacionadas con el MFC obligan a los funcionarios forestales a emplear mas recursos en una extension desproporcionadamente pequena de terrenos forestales, lo que podria tener implicaciones para la conservacion de la biodiversidad a largo plazo. El estudio aboga por la privatizacion de los bosques como una posible opcion alternativa para abordar estas cuestiones, y permitir una transicion de la economia lineal tradicional de la India hacia una economia circular.


Forest dependent communities (FDCs) in India are among the more disadvantaged sections of society with relatively poor access to economic opportunities, health care, nutrition and education (Kumar 2002). Isolated from the mainstream society socially, culturally and geographically, the FDCs dwell in and around forest fringes in small hamlets and depend on forest produce for their livelihood. Given the harsh environment they live in, they share vessels, meat, fruits, honey and tuber with unrelated clans during social occasions and expecting reciprocal behavior (Davies and Bennett 1996).

Policy changes at the national level and connected financial aid during the past twenty years have enabled forest dwellers to participate more actively in forest management and undertake community projects through the government-sponsored joint forest management (JFM) program. FDCs are required to assess, as a community, the relative costs and benefits of undertaking forestry investments in the short, medium and long run.

The literature does consist of studies on the socio economic contributions of JFM and some of its negative impacts. Several of these studies are case-based, some are anecdotal, and focusing on specific geographical clusters. Murali, Rao, and Jagannath (2002) attempt a review of JFM processes in the Indian states, but the focus is more on the monitoring and evaluation aspects and concludes that there are no national level evaluation studies of the JFM program.

This study makes a more general assessment of the JFM program in India using existing studies from the socioeconomic, silvicultural, and human capital perspectives. The plan of the paper is as follows. Section 2 provides an overview of the FDCs in India. Section 3 describes the JFM program while section 4 provides its assessment. Section 5 concludes.


It may be of interest to know how the FDCs are distinct from contemporary societies and similarly placed marginalized sections of the society.

Distinctive characteristics of FDCs

The first striking difference which marks the FDCs is their total dependence on forests for their living. Their social, cultural, religious, and economic lives are centered on forests. As mentioned earlier, the FDCs reside in and around the fringes of the forests which are usually inaccessible due to hostile terrain and remoteness. This geographical isolation of FDCs has an impact on their educational attainment and their general understanding of the socioeconomic life of contemporary society (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012).

Similarly deprived communities like the rural households, fishermen, and marginal farmers do depend on forests and natural resources to some extent (mostly fuel wood and small game) but not to the degree displayed by the FDCs. Media accounts and common knowledge show that rural households, small and marginal farmers, and fishermen have exposure to market economy. The FDCs, on the other hand, have much lesser exposure to the external community and economy. Till a few years ago, highlanders from Papua New Guinea could barely count numbers (Diamond 2012) and the Andamanese tribal society members from the Andaman and Nicobar islands in India cannot count beyond the number ten (Keane et al. 2011). Though governments of several developing countries have attempted to integrate the FDCs into the mainstream society through poverty alleviation schemes and projects, the geographical isolation of many of the FDCs still continues in various parts of the World (Diamond 2012).

Yet another difference is that the FDCs resist exposure to external society which is born out of their geographic isolation. Diamond (2012) describes how the highlanders of Papua New Guinea regard the outside society with suspicion and wariness, which in many ways apply to Indian FDCs too. As late as 1973, McGirk (1993) describes that Indian anthropologists were greeted with a shower of poisoned arrows by the Sentinelese tribal society in the Andamans and it took 24 years to earn the goodwill of these tribal societies. This resistance and wariness to outside exposure impacts the social and economic lives of the FDCs. The FDCs are wary of outsiders and regard the neighboring forest groups with suspicion. Poaching of women by a member of one forest group from another can potentially lead to endless cycles of wars and violence involving the whole forest group (Diamond 2012).

On the other hand, rural communities, fishermen, and wage laborers in towns and cities tend to integrate with mainstream society through travel, trade and commerce. Some of the children and even adults from these communities attend school and literacy programs sponsored by the Government. Diamond (2012) notes that the highlander from Papua New Guinea would have hardly travelled beyond five square kilometers from her hamlet in her entire life and the same may be true of many other forest societies around the world including the Indian FDCs.

Each FDC has a unique socio-cultural life and linguistic trait. For example, the Santhal tribal society of central India is divided into more than a 100 clans, and each clan bears a "mystical relationship" with a certain natural object which could be an animal, bird or even a rock and revere them. Eating or injuring this special animal or bird is taboo. This phenomenon, called "totemism", is observed in many tribes of central and south India including the Todas of Nilgiris, and the Ho and Mundas of central India (Frazer 2009). Such unique socio-cultural life is not usually seen in rural communities, wage laborers in towns, and contemporary society in general.

Certain FDCs treat the elderly people in their group more cruelly than rural communities and contemporary society in general. Diamond (2012) describes how the forest communities in Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, and Siberia kill the elder persons (who have outlived their utility, are too sick to travel, and are an economic burden to that group) by starvation, neglect, pushing them off cliffs, strangulation, and stabbing. Such practices, in varying degrees, may also be a feature amongst Indian FDCs. Contemporary societies, including rural communities and wage laborers, treat the elderly with more compassion and care.

FDCs cultivate crops using pre-agriculture technology using inefficient implements made of wood and iron while rural communities, in general, use relatively more efficient implements and technology for cultivation. Diamond (2012) also describes how the forest communities in Papua New Guinea shared food, vessels, sweet potatoes, and meat from the animals they hunt. This distinctive sharing behavior stems from the risks associated with the availability of food. Animals like the boar, wild buffalo, and lion cannot be hunted on an everyday basis. Hence, when a successful hunt is made, the meat is evenly distributed amongst all the members with the expectation that such sharing will be reciprocated when another member of the tribe kills an animal sometime in the future. This collectivist culture and sharing behavior has also been reported amongst the Afar pastoral societies in Ethiopia (Davies and Bennett 1996) and the south Indian forest societies (Morris 1982). Such communal sharing of food on an everyday basis is near absent in contemporary societies, rural communities, and wage laborers except on social occasions.

A final distinction concerns the dietary habits and health of FDCs in general. As Diamond (2012) observes, FDCs eat less salt and minimal sugar, but abundant fiber in the foods they source from the forests. Due to these reasons, diabetes and blood pressure, which has reached alarming proportions in contemporary societies and one of the primary reasons for mortality, is a rare disease among the forest communities. The forest dwellers are more likely to die from animal attacks, lightning, falling off trees, festering sores, and communicable diseases like malaria and pneumonia. Diamond observes that the rapid spread of fast food centers in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and other cities exposes even the wage laborers and slum dwellers in these cities to the risk of diabetes.

Having highlighted the important differences between FDCs and other under privileged demographic groups in the contemporary society, the study now presents some evidence on the Indian FDCs.

Overview of the Indian FDCs


A forest dweller is a person who resides in, and depends on the forests for her livelihood. In 2006, the Government of India enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 which defines forest dwellers and draws a distinction between "forest dwelling scheduled tribes" and "other forest dwellers" for purposes of assigning ownership rights over forest lands to FDCs.

According to this Act, "forest dwelling scheduled tribes" are people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes category who reside in and depend on forests for their livelihood activities. The "other forest dwellers" are people who have resided in forests for at least three generations (a generation comprises 25 years) prior to 13th December, 2005 and who depend on forests for their livelihood activities (Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India 2007). FDCs studied here include both these categories and number approximately 200 million. Fifty four million of these forest dwellers belong to the tribal communities who have ethnic origins (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2011). The 2011 census estimated the Indian population at 1 210.193 million growing at a rate of 1.41 percent (%) per annum.

Since FDCs reside in, and earn their livelihood from forests that are government controlled, their welfare is vested with the state forest departments. The demographic evolution of FDCs is thus entwined with the historical development of forest administration by the government. Beginning with an attitude of hostility and indifference towards FDCs in the nineteenth century, the state governments gradually viewed them as partners in the management of forests and enlisted their active participation through JFM since 1990. Going further, the government has also accorded individual and community titles over forest lands to FDCs since 2006. An overview of these developments and linkages is presented in this section.

History of forest administration (1)

The British instituted the scientific administration of forests during their rule by creating the Forest Department in 1868. The forest administration was based on commercial extraction of forest produce for export and domestic consumption. The British declared forests as State property through the Indian Forest Act, 1865 and the Indian Forest Law Act VII, 1878. Grazing activities and collection of forest produce by FDCs were regulated by the British through subsequent legislations.

The Indian Forest Act, 1927 consolidated the then existing forest laws, regulated the transit of forest products and introduced taxes for the extraction of timber and other forest produce. This Act created the "Reserved Forests" (a notified area with full degree of protection where all activities are prohibited) and "Protected Forests" (a notified area with limited degree of protection where activities are permitted unless prohibited).

The National Forest Policy, 1952 declared forests as national assets and asserted that the priorities of the FDCs be made subservient to the commercial interests of the State. The National Commission on Agriculture, 1976 strengthened the above trend by stipulating that industrial needs would get priority over the needs of forest people in the usage of forest timber.

Through the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution (1976), forests were transferred from the State list to the Concurrent list, which gave the central government a higher degree of control in forest management. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 created national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to improve the habitat conditions and protection of wildlife which further constrained the activities of FDCs. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 restricted the use of forest land for non-forestry purposes and required the approval of the central government for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes. (2)

One can thus discern a progressive tightening of the state control over forest management and simultaneous restriction of the rights and privileges of FDCs over the access and usage of forest land and its produce in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Even in contemporary times, the Indian FDCs are one of the most underprivileged sections of the society and depend on forests for a wide variety of goods and services that impact their livelihood (Kumar 2002, Shah and Guru 2003). In view of their total dependence on forests, it may be useful to know some details about the forest cover in India.

Table 1 shows the details of forest cover, state wise in India. The total forest cover in the country is 69.20 million ha comprising 21% of its geographic area which is 328.72 million ha (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2011). It may be useful to know the socioeconomic characteristics of FDCs in thickly forested states and those with sparse forest cover.

Characteristics of FDCs in thickly forested states

As Table 1 shows, the north eastern states have, on average, more than 75% of their geographic areas covered with forests, with Mizoram being the highest with 90.6% of its geographic area covered with forests. States like Uttarakhand, Kerala, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka are also endowed with good forest cover having 45.8%, 44.5%, 41.2%, 31.4%, 25.21%, 23.20%, and 18.9% of their respective geographic areas covered with forests. Among the union territories, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands have 84.6% and 81.5% of their geographic area covered with forests. In terms of absolute forest cover, Madhya Pradesh is the highest with close to 7.7 million ha of forest area.

The Scheduled tribes comprise the majority of the forest population in these states followed by Scheduled castes and other backward classes (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2011). Out of the total Scheduled tribe population of 104.28 million in India, 93.82 million reside in rural areas (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012).

The Scheduled tribes are not uniformly distributed across all the states but are concentrated in certain pockets. More than 66% of the Scheduled tribe population of India is concentrated in the eight states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, and Uttarakhand. In states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland in north eastern India, Scheduled tribes constitute more than 50% of the population (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012).

Although the Scheduled tribes denote a single population group, there are thousands of subgroups within the Scheduled tribes category with each subgroup having distinctive linguistic, religious, and socio-cultural characteristics (Dubey 2009). The Scheduled tribes are referred to as Adivasi, meaning that they are the indigenous inhabitants of that particular region or territory (Waite 2006).

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (2012) classifies a community as a Scheduled tribe based on the following characteristics: display of primitive characteristics, unique culture, reluctance to contact with the external community, geographical isolation, and being backward. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs identified 75 "particularly vulnerable tribal groups", numbering about 2.76 million on the basis of the following characteristics: primitive agricultural practices, declining or stagnation of their population number, abysmal literacy levels and subsistence economy. Typical examples of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups are the Greater Andamanese, Onge, and Sentinelese living in Andaman and Nicobar islands, Irulas and Todas of Tamil Nadu, the Kadar and Kurumbas of Kerala, and the Chenchus, Kolam, and Thoti of Andhra Pradesh.

The oldest and perhaps, the most isolated Scheduled tribe group (Adivasi), are the Andamanese hunter-gatherers who are believed to belong to the Negrito race and inhabit the forests of Andaman islands thousands of years ago (Kashyap et al. 2003). Records indicate that around 5000 Great Andamanese inhabited the islands in 1858 during the British colonization. However, their population declined due to diseases like pneumonia, measles, and influenza. Presently, the Great Andamanese population in the Andaman islands is about 43 and most surviving have forgotten their language and now speak Hindi (Malekar 2011). The Onge, another group of tribes inhabiting the Andaman islands, number about 96 and are restricted to a few pockets in the island. The Sentinelese, numbering about 36, live in the forested areas of North Sentinel island and are known to resist contact with outsiders (Sarkar 1990).

The Andaman islanders, in general, are hunter-gatherers who fish, hunt swine and live off roots and tubers. Even in the nineteenth century they did not cultivate crops and had poor knowledge of making fire. Accounts show that they carefully preserved embers of fire in tree hollows which were stuck by lightning (McGirk 1993, Sarkar 1990).

The Irulas, another ancient and underprivileged Scheduled tribe group, inhabiting the forests of Tamil Nadu and other parts of south India number about 1000, speak the Irula language and are also believed to belong to the Negrito race. Till a few decades ago, the Irulas lived by hunting snakes, rats, and working for paltry cash wages and rice in the local rice mills (Zvelebil and Meissner 1982).

The Bhil, Gonds, Mundas, Santhals and Oraons are Scheduled tribes living in the eastern and central regions of India and are believed to belong to the Australoid race. The Korku tribes of Western India too belong to the Australoid race. The Mundas, presently numbering about half a million, are one of the numerically stronger tribes inhabiting the forests of central India. Evidence shows that despite exposure to modern economic forces, the Mundas maintain their religion, norms, and culture (Srivatsava 2007).

The FDCs described above, entirely depend on forests and its products for their food, medicine, firewood, agricultural implements, housing and fodder needs (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012). For instance, it has been estimated that the FDCs in north eastern India use more than 340 non timber forest products for diverse purposes which includes food, medicine, firewood, and housing (Saha and Sundriyal 2012).

In addition, the FDCs collect non timber forest products (like edible flowers, roots, honey, lac, and gum) for selling in the local markets which fetch them some income. FDCs received 70% of their household income from such sales in Orissa (Bahuguna 2000). Similarly, FDCs in Karnataka receive ~50% of their household income from sales of non timber forest products (Sadashivappa et al. 2006).

Ethnographic accounts of the Indian FDCs show that they are hunter-gatherers, and engage in shifting cultivation, trade, and wage labor with neighboring rural communities. For example, studies of the Malapantaram forest societies in Kerala show that they collect honey, meat, and medicinal herbs from forests and use them for trade with the neighboring agricultural communities through forest contractors. In addition, these societies also practice a primitive form of subsistence agriculture (Morris 1982).

Similarly, accounts of the Mudunga and the Kurumba tribal communities of Kerala show that they live in small hamlets in individual huts made of bamboo and grass, gather edible roots, yam, kale, mushrooms, and spinach-like greens for their food needs, collect medicinal herbs, honey, bee wax, and resin for selling in local markets and, hunt deer, rabbit, mongoose and wild boar for their meat. Women collect forest produce while men hunt and gather honey. These societies also cultivate small patches of land by slashing and burning for raising millets, pea, beans, maize, tapioca, and rice (Tharakan 2003).

In the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there are about 35 communities officially recognized as Scheduled tribes by the Government out of which two communities (Nakkala and Dhulia) have been recently de-notified by the Government. Twelve Scheduled tribe groups (namely the Bodo Gadaba, Gutob Gadaba, Bondo Poraja, Ghond Poraja, Parangiperja, Chenchu, Dongaria Khonds, Kuttia Khonds, Kolam, Konda Reddis, Konda Savaras, and Thoti) are identified by the Government as particularly vulnerable tribal groups (Reddy and Kumar 2010).

The Scheduled tribes population is mostly spread in the districts of Khammam, Adilabad, Warrangal, and Nalgonda of Telangana state, and Vishakapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh state. The Sugalis, being the numerically largest tribe in these regions (41.4% of the total Scheduled tribes population), are followed by the Koya (11.3%), Yanadi (9.2%), Yerukalas (8.7%), and Gond (5%). These five Scheduled tribes group constitute 76% of the Scheduled tribes population. The FDCs in this region (comprising of the Scheduled tribes, Scheduled castes and other backward classes), in general, depend on subsistence agriculture, shifting cultivation, livestock, and forest produce for their livelihood (Bandi 2013c; Reddy and Kumar 2010).

The Yerukalas, Yanadis, and Lambadas Scheduled tribe groups inhabit the plains near the forests and seldom venture to the hilly regions of the forests. The Yerukalas eke out a living by weaving traditional baskets which they sell to the nearby rural communities. They also rear pigs, have a history of crime and violence, and are spread throughout Andhra Pradesh. The Yanadis, on the other hand, are concentrated in the Nellore and other districts of coastal Andhra. They prefer settlements near water bodies in the forests, are traditional fishermen, and are known to consume rats. The Lambadas, a nomadic group, camp in temporary hamlets called tandas, usually near forest pastures to feed their cattle. However, most of this group has taken to cultivation in recent times. The Lambadas are concentrated in the Telangana state with a sprinkling in Andhra Pradesh.

Chenchus, Kolam, and Savara Scheduled tribe communities inhabit the hilly regions of the Nallamalai forests. The Chenchus are recognized as a particularly vulnerable Scheduled tribe group and are hunter-gatherers. Sometimes, they engage in shifting cultivation along the hill slopes growing cereals and pulses.

As with other Scheduled tribe communities in the country, the livelihoods and economy of the Scheduled tribes in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states are intricately linked to forest land which they use to reside and cultivate. In addition, the Koyas, Gonds, and Thotis, among other tribal groups, claim a mystical connection to some animal or object and go to extraordinary lengths in revering them. These socioeconomic aspects hint at the symbiotic relationship between the forest dwelling Scheduled tribes and the forests.

It may also be noted that there have been several violent uprisings by the Scheduled tribes in Andhra Pradesh, the then Bihar, Orissa, and other parts of central India to protest against alleged injustices and discrimination by the Government and vested business interests. The Rampa rebellion in Godavari district in 1922-1924, the Gond rebellion in 1940 in Adilabad, and the tribal rebellion against exploitation of the Sahukars (the richer class) in Srikakulam are examples in this regard (Bandi 2013c).

Studies show that the agriculture system of the FDCs is mainly based on subsistence and the produce is vulnerable to adverse weather changes and animal attacks. Indian FDCs also receive some income from rearing sheep, goat, pigs, bovines, and fowls and obtain fodder for their livestock from the forests (Nayak et al. 2012).

Characteristics of FDCs in sparsely forested states.

As Table 1 shows, states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat have sparse forests with 3.5%, 3.64%, 4.70%, and 7.46% of their geographic area covered with forests. Punjab and Haryana states have no tribal population (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2011, Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012).

Baheranwala (2011) identifies the muslim gujjars, rajputs, harijans, banjaras, and bhanjdas as some of the important forest communities in Haryana. Kanetkar and Varalakshmi (1994) report that the gujjars and rajputs engage in subsistence agriculture while the bhanjdas and banjaras earn their livelihoods from basket making and rope making (as cited in Baheranwala 2011, p. 22).

Due to the poor resource base of the forests and consequent lack of economic potential compared to the thickly forested states in the country, the forest communities in Haryana had instilled traditional conservation methods to protect the natural resources, chiefly water. For example, the local communities in Sukhomajri agreed to protect the watershed forming the catchment of Lake Sukhna from grazing and pilferage in 1976 and consequently obtained benefits from harvesting bhabbar grass which led to their prosperity (Baheranwala 2011). Yet, external funding was required to help the local communities to derive sustenance from the forests and control problems like soil erosion. Baheranwala finds that infighting and quarrels between the upper castes like jats and gujjars over sharing of forest usufructs and the limited scope of external funding have dampened the enthusiasm of forest communities in forest conservation. Baheranwala also finds that women are active in these forest communities.

The Van Gujjars, with a population of around 4.1 million are another major pastoral community dependent on forests for their livelihood. They inhabit the Shiwalik hills of North India and are spread in the Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat states. They are known to practice animal sacrifices and adorn their bodies with tattoos. Many Van Gujjars are followers of Islam and worship the Sun. They rear cattle for a livelihood and practice subsistence agriculture with pre-agriculture technology. During summers, the Van Gujjars move up the Shiwalik hills where pasture and water is plenty but migrate to the foot hills during the winter (Gooch 2010, Rahi 2008). The Van Gujjars are notified as Scheduled tribes in Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir but not in Gujarat and Rajasthan (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012).

The Siddis, one of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups, are found in Gujarat, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh and originated from Africa (Shah et al. 2011). In Gujarat, they number about 8600 and inhabit the forests near the Gir National Park (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2012). The Siddis depend on forests for their livelihood and sustenance and practice subsistence agriculture. However, anecdotal evidence shows that the economic condition of the Siddis in Gujarat have deteriorated over the past three decades. Despite grants doled by the Government and creation of public works, it appears that the Siddis have not benefited as it has been alleged that the middle men have benefited from public schemes. The Siddis, on the other hand, also seem to indulge in vices like gambling and drinking which may have contributed to their plight (Kaushik 2004).

The author of this study, in his professional experience as a forest officer, has also noted similar lack of interest amongst some FDCs in Andhra Pradesh. Often, the FDCs lose interest in JFM activities when external funding dries up. This indicates that these FDCs view JFM as a wage employment public program and do not perceive the underlying long term benefits of forest management which is also echoed in Bandi (2013c). In certain other instances, the members of FDCs, as a whole, evince little interest in JFM activities. This happens in FDCs with membership less than 30 members. For example, after earning some wages for 10-12 days through JFM activities, the FDCs populated by the Sugali tribes in Chittoor tend to spend these incomes in nearby towns. They return to their hamlets several days later when their incomes are exhausted and this cycle repeats.

Thus, one may broadly surmise that FDCs, both in the thickly and sparsely forested states face similar characteristics like being disadvantaged, being dependent on forest resources for their livelihood, practicing subsistence agriculture, living in collectivist cultures and being subject to intraand inter-group conflicts. On the other hand, forest communities inhabiting the sparsely forested states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat may face the additional problem of water conservation and soil erosion which may impact their agricultural systems.

The study now looks at some evidence on the evolution of the participation of FDCs in forest management.


The roots of people's participation in forest management, can be traced to Hardin (1968) who argues that people, acting out of self-interest to achieve maximum gains from a common resource (grasslands, fish and so forth), often deplete the common resource which is detrimental to the whole group in the long run. In a similar manner, Olson (1965) suggests that people, who are deriving private benefits in a collective group, tend to adhere to these benefits and find it burdensome to act in cooperation with other people collectively for the welfare of the group. To address this problem, Hardin suggests two approaches: government regulation and introduction of rights (Bandi, 2013c p. 203).

It has been argued that local communities who live in the forests, being the primary users of the forest produce must also be involved in all aspects of forest management (Arnold 1992, Ostrom 1990). This policy prescription appeared to influence the governments of several countries, including India, to involve local forest communities in the management of forests during the eighties and nineties.

Simultaneously, research studies showed that regulation and policing of natural resources by the government was a failure as they were more oriented towards commercial forestry and ignored traditional systems of conservation. Involvement of local communities in forest management was in vogue even before the advent of JFM program in India. Also, communities whose social, religious, cultural and religious lives were heavily dependent on forests practiced traditional conservation systems which enabled them to use forest resources without over exploitation (Rajpraveen 2000).

Forests were revered by local people as Dandakaranya and Nandanavanam which instilled a religious and cultural orientation in peoples' view of forests and contributed to its conservation. The forests in Kumaon, Uttaranchal were handed over to vana panchayats for management in 1931 (Sharma 1997). Similarly, collection rights of forest produce was extended to local communities in Tamil Nadu in 1956 (Bandi 2013c) and vast swathes of forests were managed through people's participation in Bihar in 1958-59 (Gupta 1997).

In this backdrop, the Government of India formulated the National Forest Policy, 1988 which focused on the involvement of local communities in the conservation of forests thereby reversing the earlier policies of 1952 and 1976 of using forests and its products for commercial applications. This policy was made operational through the JFM program which sought to provide some community rights over forest resources and decrease the role of the state forest departments in managing the forests (Saxena 1997).

Though the JFM program was conceived to afforest and reforest degraded forest areas, evidence suggests that forests with better quality encourages people to participate more actively in forest protection and its management (Lise 2000). Despite this quirk, JFM was increasingly seen as a solution to the problems of deforestation and conservation in India and all the states in India implemented the JFM program (Mishra 2003, Bandi 2013c).

Joint Forest Management

JFM envisaged involvement of FDCs, with emphasis on the participation of women, customary title holders and forest dwellers with ethnic origin in rehabilitating degraded forest areas. Essentially, JFM sought to establish a cooperative partnership between the FDCs and the state forest departments and nongovernmental organizations, where available, for rehabilitating degraded forest areas. The partnership takes the form of an agreement where the FDCs agree to protect the forests they inhabit from fire, grazing and illicit timber removals. In return, the FDCs receives some rights over forest produce (like fuel, fodder, timber, and other forest products) and a share of penalty levied for forest offences.

Structure and financial management in JFM

FDCs residing in a village or hamlet are constituted into JFM committees by the state forest department. A typical JFM committee comprises adult members from households belonging to the FDC with a minimum compulsory representation for women (in some states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is formed of two adult members from each household one of whom must be a woman). The JFM committee in turn, selects a smaller managing committee of which some membership is reserved for women. The managing committee is headed by a chairperson and vice-chairperson, one of whom may be a woman. The managing committee is empowered to make and implement decisions relating to forest management on behalf of the JFM committee.

Typically, the JFM committee holds a joint account in the local public sector bank with the chairperson, vice-chairperson and the District Forest Officer (DFO) or her nominee as joint signatories through which financial aid from donor and the government is channeled.

The forestry projects envisioned by the government and donor agencies are executed by the JFM Committee with technical assistance from the DFO. The DFO draws a seasonal schedule of forestry works and their financial requirements in consultation with the JFM committee. This micro plan is implemented utilizing the donor funds. The chairperson and the vice-chairperson record the details of the forestry works in standard measurement books with assistance from the DFO.

The DFO also monitors the forestry works implemented by the JFM committee. The chairperson and vice-chairperson, with assistance from the DFO, render accounts for the funds utilized to the government. A DFO typically would exercise such monitoring over an average of 150-350 JFM committees. (3)

As of 2007, about 106 479 JFM committees involving 21.99 million people dependent on forests are actively functioning and managing 22.02 million ha of forests (Ministry of Environment and Forests 2011). Aid agencies, notably the World Bank Group, provided significant financial aid to India for the strengthening of JFM institution, forest rejuvenation and building local capacities. As of 2010, the World Bank has funded approximately $546 million or Rs. 20 202 million (valued at US$ 1 = Rs. 37) for the protection and development of forests through JFM. More details on the status of JFM and the World Bank support to FDCs in India are available on the websites of the World Bank (

Assignment of forest lands

The State further enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (TFA) with a view to accord ownership rights over lands to FDCs subject to certain conditions. The Act assigns the FDCs the right to reside in forest lands under individual or common occupation, rights over community lands and rights to collect, use and dispose forest produce (Ministry of Law and Justice 2007).

As a result of this legislation, 1.27 million titles (both individual and community) over 1.878 million ha of forest land have been assigned to FDCs as on 31/12/2012 (Ministry of Tribal Affairs, 2012). The assignment has enabled the FDCs to raise poultry, agricultural and horticultural crops on forest lands which, prior to the enactment of the Act, would not have been possible as raising agricultural and horticultural crops constituted a violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

Bandi (2013a) argues that the TFA can improve the livelihood opportunities of the FDCs through security assured through land rights. However, in a review of the implementation of the TFA since 2007-08, Bandi (2013b) points out several issues like lack of availability of information to the concerned stakeholders at the gram sabha, miniscule participation of women in gram sabha meetings, ambiguity due to overlapping statutes on conservation (especially the Forest Conservation Act 1980), and the reluctance of government departments (forest, revenue, and tribal affairs) to cede ownership over forest lands which needs to be addressed.

Bandi (2013b) suggests some institutional changes which include the adoption of a more humanitarian approach by the government departments in considering the claims of FDCs over forest lands to achieve the spirit behind TFA and highlights the example of Madhya Pradesh state which appears to be implementing the TFA rigorously and reaching out to the FDCs.


In this section, we make an assessment of the JFM program in India from the socioeconomic, silvicultural, and the human capital perspectives.

Positive socioeconomic contributions of JFM

Chakrabarti et al. (2005) trace the evolution of JFM and develop a general equilibrium model to capture its key aspects. The model implies that dominant caste groups and elites in the local communities may capture a larger share of benefits like wages and forest resources while non-elites may be compelled to resort to illegal extraction of forest biomass for their sustenance. Despite the elite capture of benefits, Chakrabarti et al. report empirical evidence suggesting that forests and environmental resources have been more efficiently managed through JFM than by the Government using indicators like resource extraction levels.

Haque (2003), based on studies in Andhra Pradesh, notes that JFM activities, through financial assistance from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, have resulted in increase in ground water tables and forest cover, increase in wage employment and reduction of labor migration. Further, wage employment through JFM has improved incomes of FDCs (Baheranwala 2011, Cooper 2009, Klooster 2000 and Singh 2004). These benefits may have improved the welfare of FDCs.

Analyzing the impact of JFM on the attitudes of key stakeholders in Madhya Pradesh, Rishi (2007) finds a significant and positive improvement in relationship between the forest communities and the forest department. Rishi notes that the local communities, especially women, lacked clarity on their roles while the forest officials complained about interference from outside agents like local politicians and consequent lack of freedom in their work and activities under JFM. Bandi (2013c) too reports of a harmonious relationship between the local communities of the forest department in Andhra Pradesh post-JFM.

Bhattacharya and Basnyat (2003), based on studies in Madhya Pradesh, find that the FDCs have attained more personal and social empowerment after their involvement in the JFM program. This could be due to the assured wage income from JFM activities. In terms of household participation, available evidence suggests that the JFM program has succeeded in achieving representation of the poor and the landless households in the JFM management committee and the general body meetings though the actual decision making continues to be controlled by the elite, dominant caste groups within the FDCs and the forest officials (Behera and Engel 2006).

FDCs formed by the people voluntarily by themselves use forest resources more sparingly and economically, have more biomass stock in their forests, and have evolved sustainable harvesting strategies as compared to those FDCs formed by the state under the JFM program in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Orissa, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and the north-eastern state of Tripura. This could be so as the FDCs formed by the people themselves without state intervention have more stakes in the forests being protected over time which resonate well with improved forest regeneration and higher biodiversity (Murali et al. 2006).

The available evidence thus suggests that the JFM program, in general, has enabled the FDCs to involve themselves in forest conservation and its development in varying degrees across the states in India.

Negative impacts of JFM

Sarin (2003) criticizes JFM as it does not address important problems of FDCs linked with their livelihoods like ownership of forest lands and residence (as cited in Bandi 2013c, p. 51). It may be noted that the Government has addressed this issue to a certain extent by enacting the TFA in 2007 as mentioned earlier in this study.

Drawing on the model developed by Chakrabarti et al. (2005) and using data from the forest communities in Nepal, Cooper (2009) finds that the benefits of JFM activities like wage employment and forest usufructs are captured by the elites and the dominant classes within the community which has widened the chasm between the dominant class and the poorer sections.

Reddy et al. (2004), Behera and Engel (2006), and Bandi (2013c) too report a similar domination by the other backward class members of local forest communities in Andhra Pradesh where they have occupied the posts of chairperson and vice chairperson by virtue of their social and economic status and gained maximum advantage from JFM. Sarin (1995) reports similar inequities in Bihar, Gujarat, and West Bengal. These studies show that eventually, local communities lose interest in long-term sustainable use of forests and tend to regard JFM as yet another wage-driven, anti-poverty government program and stop involving themselves in JFM activities once the external funding dries up.

Chakrabarti and Datta (2009) report that JFM has been failing since 2000 and there has been no perceptible increase in afforestation rates when compared to the forest cover in the 1990s when the JFM program was initiated. This could be due to the decreased funding support from the donors.

In FDCs formed by the state under JFM which supplanted voluntary forest protection groups in a specific forest region, a marked decrease in people's participation in forest protection, a closer association with the forest department at the cost of cooperative relationships with other villages and external institutions, and a more dominant voice of the elitist caste groups has been observed (Nayak and Berkes 2008). Gradual severance of social and cooperative networks with other villages and emergence of dominant groups within FDCs may not be conducive to institutional innovation and learning.

Collusion between the forest officials at the lower levels and the chairpersons of the JFM committees has diluted the participation of communities, especially women, in forest management. Similarly, studies show that the forest departments are maintaining their dominance over FDCs and implementing the JFM program without involving the FDCs in the demarcation of forest lands, and preparation of microplans and working plans (Ballabh, Balooni, and Dave 2002, Bandi 2013c). These disturbing trends negate the spirit of JFM.

In West Bengal, FDCs that were weaned away from reliance on forest resources and provided with alternative sources of livelihood by the forest department were more oriented towards resource conservation than those FDCs which were not provided with alternative livelihoods (Husain and Bhattacharya 2004). This suggests that policy makers should provide suitable economic incentives to evoke conservation initiatives from FDCs.

Some case studies laud JFM as a harbinger of welfare and development to the FDCs as in D'Silva and Nagnath (2002) which describes the success factors that contributed to the phenomenal success of some FDCs in Telangana state. These FDCs prospered through enhanced income from working the assigned forests. Strongly underlining the contribution of the concerned forest officials in this success, the authors conclude by observing that these officials must be redeployed to other poor FDCs in the region.

It may be noted that this conclusion ignores an important facet of forest administration. The average forest area assigned to a JFM committee varies amongst states, with Bihar allotting the highest average of 626 ha per JFM committee, while Tamil Nadu, and Jammu and Kashmir allotted the lowest average areas of 22 ha and 8 ha per JFM committee. In Andhra Pradesh, an average of 197 ha of forests is allotted to each JFM committee.

The forest beat officer (FBO) is responsible for the protection of the beat, the basic administrative unit in the forest department. Evidence shows that the forest beat varies in size from 500 to 10,000 ha and spread over difficult and inhospitable terrain (Pisharody 2015). Thus, the forests assigned to JFM committees, often in the fringes of human habitations, is a small portion of a forest beat.

Besides JFM related activities, the FBO is required to attend to her statutory duties of habitat protection in the high forest systems in her beat (which is 10 to 30 times greater than the forest areas assigned to JFM committees), forestry disputes with commercial interests related to mining and bio-prospecting, court cases, territorial protocol, forest plantations, and nursery management. JFM related work compels the FBO to focus her official time, resources, and effort on a disproportionately small swathe of forest land mired in a complex maze of local politics and struggle with line departments waiting to usurp forest land for non forestry development activities.

Impact of JFM on Forest Silviculture

By involving local forest communities in forest management, JFM has evolved as a social system without giving importance to forest inventory and assessment of growing stock which are important parameters in forest silviculture (FAO 2009). This lack of a scientific orientation in JFM is a distinct drawback.

Figure 1 provides some details of the implementation and status of the JFM program in India as of 2010-11. Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh states each have more than 1million ha of forest under the JFM program while states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Rajasthan have 0.5-1 million ha of their forest areas under JFM. One noticeable aspect is the lack of correlation between the forest cover in the states and the area brought under the JFM program. For example, Kerala with a forest cover of nearly 45% has less than 0.5 million ha under the JFM program. Similarly, the north eastern states of India have an average forest cover of more than 75%, yet their areas under the JFM program is less than 0.5 million ha. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh with the highest forest cover in the country in absolute terms also has the maximum participation of FDCs in the JFM program and has more than 1 million ha under the JFM.

A possible explanation is that the JFM program was originally conceived, and implemented, to develop and regenerate the degraded forest areas. A higher JFM activity in a particular state generally implies a higher presence of people near the forests, especially the fringe areas. Such human pressures on the forests (collection of fuel wood, timber, and unchecked grazing activities) render them degraded which are brought under JFM for regeneration.

The author of this study, in his professional experience as a forest officer, has observed that FDCs, in general, evince more interest if forests are allotted to them near their habitations (less than 2 kilometers) which are usually degraded due to anthropogenic interference. The high forest systems occur in the interior (more than 5-10 kilometers from the habitation of FDCs) and along the slopes of hilly terrain which have excellent and natural regeneration that requires little working. In addition, the FDCs do not evince interest to work in interior, thickly forested areas as it is physically difficult for the FDCs to walk in the interior forests and along the hilly slopes on a daily basis to reach the work sites.

Chakrabarti and Datta (2009) articulate a necessity for a management information system (MIS) that must capture the detailed dynamics of growth and mortality of forest plantations (raised by the forest department) and natural forests. Presently, the details of growth and mortality of trees in departmentally raised plantations are recorded in the plantation journal which is maintained by the officials of the forest department. Chakrabarti and Datta suggest that ideally, both the FDCs and the officials of the forest department must provide inputs for the MIS. The study thus indirectly articulates a need for well-informed FDCs but given their present level of economic and social backwardness, this appears to be a distant goal.

Conroy et al. (2002) find that community management of forests in Orissa has contributed to forest regeneration and so, make out a case for higher community participation in forest management with concomitant reduction of the forest department's role in forest management.

In Karnataka, 10% of wasteland was afforested under JFM while in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and West Bengal, 17% of wasteland had been afforested. However, the JFM forests in these five states were planted with exotic species like eucalyptus which reduced biodiversity though biomass growth rates were higher as compared to the Indian average (Murali et al. 2002). The authors of this study suggest that FDCs may evolve thumb rules for extraction of fuel wood as there are no rules prescribed for such extraction. This is an unworkable suggestion as extraction rules are usually evolved by the forest department based on carefully measured metrics like diameter of trees at breast height, and volume of growing stock. FDCs, due to their lack of functional literacy and numeracy, are incapable of collecting and understanding the metrics and develop an approach toward extraction rules.

Overall, the evidence on the beneficial impact of JFM on forest management appears to be mixed.

JFM and human capital

Lack of participation by women in JFM has been identified by several studies. For instance, Jattan (2003) shows that women's participation in forest management in Haryana state is minimal, as does Sarin (1995) with reference to Gujarat, Bihar, and West Bengal states.

Perhaps to address this issue, states like West Bengal have taken the initiative of creating separate JFM units comprising fully of women to meet their aspirations, preferences, and special needs. There is evidence that women participation in forestry is significantly higher in all-women JFM committees as compared to their participation in JFM committees which had both men and women and has resulted in higher household incomes for these women (Das 2011).

In Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, patrolling of forests by women resulted in better control of illicit grazing and illicit felling. Participation of women in meetings and other decision making forums resulted in better forest regeneration and more effective control of illicit grazing (Agrawal et al. 2006, Agrawal and Chhatre 2006). These studies suggest that women are more affected due to forest degradation as fuel wood becomes scarcer with implications on food security within the household. Hence, women are more incentivized to impose community sanctions, in letter and spirit, in cases of illicit grazing and theft of forest produce.

Promoting JFM in severely degraded forest areas and larger community sizes have not contributed to sustained and successful participation of FDCs in forest management as did forest department-initiated JFM committees. Severely degraded forest areas offer insignificant economic benefits to its dependent communities and smaller community sizes facilitate collective action and minimize the free riders issue (Behera 2009). Hence, stakeholders see benefits in promoting JFM in moderately degraded forests with smaller community sizes. Besides these biophysical and institutional factors, FDCs which have evolved local rules and enforce them locally, in contrast to government-imposed rules, are more successful in forest management and generation of livelihoods, as with some FDCs in Rajasthan (Singh et al. 2011).

In Andhra Pradesh, JFM was renamed as community forest management (CFM) in 2002 to give more thrust to community participation. While JFM evolved in Andhra Pradesh as a partnership between the forest department and the FDCs since 1990, CFM was envisaged to be even more democratic where planning and decision making on all aspects of forest management was delegated to the FDCs while simultaneously reducing the role of forest department to a facilitator.

Under CFM, the FDCs were empowered to collect penalties of up to Rs. 100 from offenders. The funds for CFM activities were directly deposited into the VSS bank accounts rather than route it through the forest range office as in JFM. Efforts were made to integrate the VSS micro plans with the working plan of the forest department. Relaxation under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was granted to VSS to cultivate medicinal plants in forests (Bandi 2013c). These distinctive features differentiated CFM from JFM. Yet, using data pertaining to the year 2006, Bandi claims that even under CFM, the forest department wielded authority and dominated the forest management activities despite the thrust of CFM on decentralization.

Speaking about decentralization through JFM from a different perspective, Rangan and Lane (2001) compare forest management regimes in India and Australia on its core dimensions (access to forest resources, control over these resources, and enabling democratic processes) and observe that the JFM program in India has enabled democratization at the grassroots levels and is more successful in resolving competing claims over the use of forest resources as compared to the forest regime in Australia. This could be due to the strong role of the forest department and the involvement of some committed nongovernmental institutions in the forest management processes.

The JFM program has provided fillip to the formation of women thrift groups within the FDCs in states like Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Women members availed loans at low rates of interest which contributed to their empowerment and financial independence (Murali et al. 2006).

Speaking of risk attitudes and individual time preferences, FDCs in Andhra Pradesh have low levels of risk aversion bordering on risk neutrality and higher impatience which are consistent with available evidence (Sundar 2014). The Khasi ethnic women in northeastern India have been found to be more risk seeking than the Khasi men (Gneezy et al. 2008). This may be due to their matrilineal social structure which accords a higher importance to women than men in lineage and inheritance.

Turning to individual human capabilities amongst members of FDCs, studies show that there was some account of lack of ability of Warli forest tribes of Maharashtra to count and calculate (Desphande 1981). Sundar (2014) builds on this line of study in Andhra Pradesh and reports that exposure of FDCs to JFM related activities seemed to have improved their mathematical and financial literacy. The FDCs showed some competency in solving problems related to probability, simple interest, and the time value of money. Sundar further reports that educational attainment of members of FDCs had a positive effect on their mathematical and financial literacy. Also, members of FDCs whose habitations are closer to urban centers and towns were more numerate and financially literate. These results seem intuitive. Finally, numerate FDC members were also found to be financially literate.

The Reserve Bank of India has focused on improving financial literacy of the poor households to achieve financial inclusion (Joshi 2013). This thrust by the central bank may help microfinance evolve as a tool to provide savings, credit, and insurance to the marginalized communities, including the FDCs.


The qualitative assessment presented in this study, based on available literature, show that the JFM activities provided some exposure to the FDCs in project implementation, financial management, banking and interpreting land records that may help them to handle the challenges of money based economy. JFM has been instrumental in changing the socioeconomic lives of Indian FDCs from being forest-centered to one based on money economy where wage-based jobs and agriculture has become their main stay.

However, evidence also indicates that the FDCs, especially the Scheduled tribes, who have low educational attainment, are being exploited by government officials, traders, and money lenders. This shows that the FDCs are losing out on benefits from the natural resources and forests which they once enjoyed. At the same time, the FDCs are not equipped fully to handle the complexities of their exposure to a money based economy (Reddy and Kumar 2010).

Further, JFM has resulted in the elite capture of forest resources and wage employment benefits. JFM enabled regeneration of degraded forests though the evidence on the quality of regeneration is mixed. The government records suggest that with the drying up of donor funds for the JFM program, FDCs are losing interest and many JFM committees are now defunct in many states. Finally, JFM related work compels forest officials to spend more resources on a disproportionately small swathe of forest land which may have implications for biodiversity conservation in the long run.

An explicit conclusion is that even after two decades of the JFM program, most FDCs require funding from Government and donor agencies for wage employment benefits and to support institutional structures of JFM, and hence are not sustainable. This shows a clear failure of the JFM concept, and its tenuous implementation in the Indian context seems to exert a burden on the state forest departments. The JFM program has transformed the state forest departments from policing to the role of a community hand holder, a role for which the regulatory forest personnel in the middle- and the lower-levels are particularly ill-suited for. The role change may adversely impact forest protection in the long run. What then could be the way forward? Should the JFM model be pursued further? What organizational and management changes are required to ensure sustainability of the JFM program?

The root cause of the problems discussed in the study seems to rest with the ownership patterns of the forests in India. Barring a few states in rife-torn north-eastern India, most forests in the country are state-owned. The state forest departments operate under severe financial constraints, and there seems to be little incentive for the regulator to innovate and foster best practices for conservation and propagation of biodiversity. Vesting community rights over limited swathes of degraded forest lands, as piloted in the JFM program and the FRA, spewed out contentious litigation, elite capture of employment benefits and resources, and a near emasculation of the state forest departments. The educational and the general economic backwardness of the FDCs, with little hope for redemption in the short and medium run, adds yet another layer of complexity. Taking all these issues into consideration, here is a good case for the private sector to participate in forest development, biodiversity conservation, and development of the human capital. This study suggests privatization of forests, with full rights of private ownership of forests, as a possible solution with potential to reign in the best practices in biodiversity conservation, generation of jobs for the FDCs, and foster a business ecosystem with space for firms from the information technology, financial technology, insurers, bankers, alternative medicine, and tourism to operate under the state regulator.

Private ownership of forests as an alternative policy option may make more economic sense when one approaches the general problem of biodiversity conservation from the resource usage perspective. Our economy is inherently linear, and it is generally assumed that societal welfare can be increased through the mass production of more and more goods from materials derived from our planet's resources. The goods are used, discarded, and this cycle is repeated which is leading to exponential decrease of earth's resources. An attractive alternative paradigm is to transition into a Circular Economy (CE), where products and materials are not destroyed at the end of their useful life, but are utilized to make new and different products over and over again. To arrest depletion of our natural resources from excessive usage, CE must gradually replace the traditional, linear economic model. While the philosophical and moral aptness underlying the principles of the CE has global acceptance, its implementation does seem to spew fresh challenges to policy makers, especially in resource constrained economies like India.

It would be instructive to look at economies which have charted their development path through the CE route, and this study considers Finland as a possible, and an apt model. Finland is in the forefront of redesigning its traditional, linear economy into a CE through innovative business models in its forestry, food production, and transportation sectors. In the CE paradigm, the ownership and management of the forestry and environment sector is important as they are vital sources of tangible, and exhaustible resources like timber, fossil fuels, minerals and metals, and watersheds. Healthy forests also resonate with lesser pollution and imply a better quality of life.

The study identifies some strengths in the Finnish forestry sector which is facilitating the quick transition to the CE through innovative business models. One, 75 percent of the state's forests are private owned, with the average size of holding at around 30 hectares. This ownership pattern ensures quick adoption of best practices and commercial competencies of the private sector in sustainable forest management. Affirmative Government actions, subsidies support, and tax structure, encourage forest owners to use efficient silvicultural practices in forest management which align with the commercial incentives of timber procurement organizations, transportation companies, and forest machinery entrepreneurs towards forest conservation. Two, gaming licenses, especially with reference to elk, and sale of forest recreation services are substantial revenue sources to forest owners, both public and private. Three, Finland emphasizes recycling, efficient use of natural resources, and renewable energy solutions in agro-forestry businesses (for example, the paper industry) which increases product life cycles, reduce depletion of resources, and encourages sharing to reduce costs.

Can Finland's business processes, models, and approach to transition to the CE model be applicable to the forestry and agro-forestry business ecosystems in India? In seeking some answers to this question, this study outlines some constraints in the Indian context.

As pointed out earlier, most forests are state-owned in India, which somewhat inhibits the participation of private industry in the forestry sector. By virtue of its ownership, the State has not actively promoted the growth of forest-based industries. The existing wood-based industry, saw mills, and forest-based medicine industry is subject to innumerable controls by the State.

Second, Indian FDCs which comprise a sizeable section of the population at the Bottom of the Pyramid, rely on forests for habitation, food, and fodder.

Third, the study finds a general lack of awareness of the CE concept in policy making circles in the Government which is a nontrivial dampener in attaining the CE objective. To address this major block, it is imperative that Government officials at all levels of hierarchy, the private sector, the not-for-profit sector, and the student population be exposed to the potential benefits of CE, as several CE practices, especially with reference to decisions to buy or discard electronic appliances, lighting, and waste management, have roots in domestic lifestyles. A Government determined to transition toward the CE would craft policies, and promote process and business models to achieve the CE goal, and require an enlightened citizenry's cooperation in reaching this goal.

Four, the study notes with concern that the general levels of resource usage in India is not accounted for in the state budget documents. Cost savings from using products longer and through recycling is substantial, while the reduced potential to create more jobs due to dip in demand for manufactured goods in a CE, relative to the linear economy may not be politically attractive. This may somewhat be counter balanced as a CE based on recycling, reuse, and extended product cycle is more labor intensive as compared to the traditional, linear economy where most processes are automated.

Finally, taxation can be an effective instrument to achieve a CE. Goods made from secondary materials, and goods that are being reused must be exempt from the goods and sales tax (GST) as this tax has been paid during the initial manufacturing process. Ideally, it must be more expensive to use virgin materials to manufacture goods as compared to using recycled materials. The Indian tax legislation needs to be revisited to accommodate these concerns.

As pointed out earlier, private ownership of forests may enable the rapid development of a business ecosystem by suitably aligning incentives between the stakeholders. Given the vibrant presence of private firms in the Indian education and training space, one can expect a strong contribution from the private sector towards capacity building of the Indian FDCs. There is a counterbalancing need to preserve traditional cultural artifacts, social mores, and home-grown culinary of the Indian FDCs which may be swamped by the homogenous commercial interests of the private industry. The state forest department, in its regulatory role, is expected to exercise its professional knowledge and skills in maintaining this balance, in addition to preventing vested private interests from profiteering through the illicit trade of animals, birds, and other germplasm.

For the short- and the medium-run, the study thus highlights privatization of forests as a possible alternative solution to the issues precipitated through two decades of the implementation of the JFM program. For the long run too, private industry may be required to transition to the CE, with a more sharper role for the forest regulator in the Indian state.


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(a) Indian Forest Service, Director of Electronics Services Delivery and Chief Executive Officer, Andhra Pradesh Information Technology Academy, Department of Information Technology, Electronics and Communication, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada, India


(1) Retrieved from and Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India website

(2) Retrieved from

(3) Records from Office of Divisional Forest Office, Chittoor (East) Division, Government of Andhra Pradesh accessed on January 19, 2013.
TABLE 1 Details of forest cover, state-wise in India (Area in square

                                          2011 Assessment
State/UT           Geographical  Very Dense  Mod. Dense
                       Area        Forest      Forest    Open Forest

Andhra Pradesh       275069           850     26242        19297
Arunachal Pradesh     83743         20868     31519        15023
Assam                 78438          1444     11404        14825
Bihar                 94163           231      3280         3334
Chhattisgarh         135191          4163     34911        16600
Delhi                  1483             7        49          120
Goa                    3702           543       585         1091
Gujarat              196022           376      5231         9012
Haryana               44212            27       457         1124
Himachal Pradesh      55673          3224      6381         5074
Jammu &Kashmir       222236          4140      8760         9639
Jharkhand             79714          2590      9917        10470
Karnataka            191791          1777     20179        14238
Kerala                38863          1442      9394         6464
Madhya Pradesh       308245          6640     34986        36074
Maharashtra          307713          8736     20815        21095
Manipur               22327           730      6151        10209
Meghalaya             22429           433      9775         7067
Mizoram               21081           134      6086        12897
Nagaland              16579          1293      4931         7094
Orissa               155707          7060     21366        20477
Punjab                50362             0       736         1028
Rajasthan            342239            72      4448        11567
Sikkim                 7096           500      2161          698
Tamil Nadu           130058          2948     10321        10356
Tripura               10486           109      4686         3182
Uttar Pradesh        240928          1626      4559         8153
Uttarakhand           53483          4762     14167         5567
West Bengal           88752          2984      4646         5365
A&NIslands             8249          3761      2416          547
Chandigarh              114             1        10            6
Dadra & Haveli          491             0       114           97
Daman & Diu             112             0         0.62         5.53
Lakshadweep              32             0        17.18         9.88
Puducherry              480             0        35.37        14.69
Total               3287263         83471    320736       287820

                       2011 Assessment
State/UT                      Forest cover as
                    Total      percentage of
                           geographical area (%)

Andhra Pradesh      46389        16.86
Arunachal Pradesh   67410        80.50
Assam               27673        35.28
Bihar                6845         7.27
Chhattisgarh        55674        41.18
Delhi                 176        11.88
Goa                  2219        59.94
Gujarat             14619         7.46
Haryana              1608         3.64
Himachal Pradesh    14679        26.37
Jammu &Kashmir      22539        10.14
Jharkhand           22977        28.82
Karnataka           36194        18.87
Kerala              17300        44.52
Madhya Pradesh      77700        25.21
Maharashtra         50646        16.46
Manipur             17090        76.54
Meghalaya           17275        77.02
Mizoram             19117        90.68
Nagaland            13318        80.33
Orissa              48903        31.41
Punjab               1764         3.50
Rajasthan           16087         4.70
Sikkim               3359        47.34
Tamil Nadu          23625        18.16
Tripura              7977        76.04
Uttar Pradesh       14338         5.95
Uttarakhand         24496        45.80
West Bengal         12995        14.64
A&NIslands           6724        81.51
Chandigarh             17        14.72
Dadra & Haveli        211        42.97
Daman & Diu             6         5.49
Lakshadweep            27        84.56
Puducherry             50        10.43
Total              692027        21.05

Source: India State of Forest Report 2011. Retrieved January 4, 2014,
from Press Information Bureau, Government of India website
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Author:Sundar, B.
Publication:International Forestry Review
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Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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