- Since 2007, the Central government has gained joint control of nearly 1,300 sq km of community-owned forests that were exclusively held by forest and tribal communities of India.
Classification of Forests
- India State of Forest Report, 2021 classifies forests into three categories: Reserved, Protected and Unclassed.
- Reserved forests have the maximum protection, with all activities prohibited unless permitted by the forest department.
- Protected forests have a limited degree of protection, where all activities are permitted unless prohibited by the forest department.
- Unclassed forests are all areas recorded as forest but not included in reserved or protected forest categories. They can be owned by the government, communities, clans or individuals. In recent times unclassed forests are primarily being converted to community reserve.
- Under the Wild Life (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972, protected areas include, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Community reserves, Conservation reserves and Tiger reserves.
- Community and Conservation reserves, act as buffer zones between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, reserved and protected forests. While community reserves can be privately owned, either by an individual or the entire community, conservation reserves include reserve and restricted land occupied by the government to protect wild animals.
Joint Forest Management
- The concept of “community reserve” was added to the WLPA through an amendment in 2002 for conserving community-owned flora and fauna using traditional ways and means.
- A community reserve is usually formed by the local village council and the forest department signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU), paving the way for Joint forest management (JFM).
- Once the Centre notifies an area as a community reserve, as per Section 33 of the WLPA Act, the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state becomes the governing authority of the forest, whose consent is required for all decisions pertaining to the area.
- Under JFM, a bank account is opened with the forest department and village council members as co-signatories.
- The money in the account is allocated by the Centre in periodic installments on the basis of the conservation and livelihood projects that have already been approved by the Environment Ministry to be undertaken in the community reserve. These can be ecotourism activities, such as bird watching or hiking, to generate income for the community.
- The money is used to help conservation efforts and to aid those who have suffered due to the creation of the community reserve, for instance, families that have lost cultivable land due to the forest being declared a community reserve.
- A Joint Forest Management Committee, consisting four members nominated by the village council and one member nominated by the forest department, is responsible for identifying the beneficiaries to distribute the money. The government, therefore, becomes a co-manager of the forest, along with the community.
- After a forest has been made into a community reserve, people are not allowed to hunt there, or collect non-timber forest produce, or use it for agricultural practices such as jhum cultivation.
- The benefits to communities, after the designation of community reserves, vary from place to place. In many places, people are not happy with the meager monetary benefits.
- Several communities are demanding denotification of community reserves as they do not get their promised benefits and there is conflict between the forest department and local communities.
- Community Reserves illustrate a community-based co-management model, a first of its kind within the protected area (PA) network of India. Such reserves mark a shift towards an inclusive and decentralised approach within PAs in the country.
- For Community based conservation to be a reality in India the need of the hour is to create legal instruments and guidelines that support efforts made by communities for biodiversity conservation rather than impose new institutions or laws.