Tag Archives: Governance

Why Forest Policy Matters

Every dimension of forest-related decision-making, including rights of local communities, conversion of forests to non-forest uses and setting aside forests for wildlife conservation, has become the subject of intense scrutiny, debate and change.   Most notably, the involvement of multiple actors, from local communities to the Supreme Court, has shifted the discourse from forest management to forest governance.

Forest Management

The reality is that India’s forests are witnessing a battle between the competing paradigms of the Indian Forest Act of 1927 and the 2006 Forest Rights Act.  British-era regulations sought to gain control over forests via the forest department, to enable the colonial state to meet its needs for timber and revenue in the project of empire-building. The 2006 law looked to rectify the ‘historical injustice’ of treating India’s forest-dwelling communities as encroachers in landscapes they have lived in for generations, and to recognize their traditional usage rights through forest right titles (Choudhury, 2015)

Essar Energy, a fully integrated oil and gas company, is positioned to capitalize on India’s rapidly growing energy demand.   The company has strong presence across the hydrocarbon value chain from exploration, and assets worth US$12 billion across the power and oil and gas industries (Essar, 2015).

According to Sushil Maroo, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, “One has to balance ecological concerns with India’s need for commodities and economic development.”  Essar Energy serves retail customers in India through a modern, country-wide network of 2,000 operational and under-construction retail fuel outlets.  “One way is for the government to look at the country as a whole, and say where mining can or cannot take place. Another way would be reforestation,” he continued (see Choudhury, 2015).

Forest Governance

There is no simple or broadly accepted definition of “governance,” even though the term is widely used across many disciplines.  Good governance is often associated with principles such as transparency, participation, and accountability.  In the context of international development, the notion of good governance is commonly seen as a critical foundation for achieving positive social, environmental, and economic outcomes.  Conversely, weak governance is often blamed for poor development outcomes, such as poverty and unsustainable levels of natural resource depletion.  In the context of forests, a lack of transparency and accountability is often associated with problems such as illegal logging and corruption.  Similarly, a lack of open and inclusive decision-making often contributes to the marginalization and impoverishment of forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples.

Taken together, since decisions about forests are shaped by a wide range of public and private actors, forest governance necessarily has to do with the process of how decisions are made about forests, as opposed to focusing exclusively on what decisions are made or the outcomes of those decisions (WRI, 2013).

Why Forest Policy Matters

The forest sector in India is currently going through never before seen change.  For example, India needs coal but coal mining and subsequent usages of coal has adverse impact on climate which may risk various forest types.  Therefore forests are highly sensitive to climate change, and this has been shown by observations from the past, experimental studies and simulation models.

“Clear and secure rights to forest land are a critical enabling condition for promoting resource management decisions that value social and environmental dimensions of forests alongside economic interests.”               – Wold Resource Institute, 2013

Perhaps now, more than ever, forest policy matters.  Central to the discourse are substantive questions on forest rights, responsibilities, regulatory structures, transparency and accountability, in other words practical questions about policy and governance.

For more discussions on Environment, Forest and Rural India, follow Chitrangada Choudhury @ https://ruralindiaonline.org/authors/chitrangada-choudhury/

States, Not Markets, are Responsible for Economic Security

Kashmiri demonstrators clashed with Indian police during a protest in the northern city of Srinagar Jammu and Kashmir Feb. 28. Tauseef MustafaAgence France-PresseGetty ImagesThere is good reason to think that the internal and external security problems across India have much to do with the social effects of market-oriented reforms.  The beneficiaries of reforms, the argument continues, should bear the cost of negative externalities.  However reforms, when properly governed, is in fact a powerful force for social good (Bhagwati, 2007).  States, not markets, are usually held responsible for security (Leander, 2008).

The economic security of the state is significantly weakened with abuses by the police and security forces.  The most significant human rights problems in India include extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, as well as corruption at all levels of government (India 2013 Human Rights Report).  According to the report commissioned by the U.S. Congress and published by the State Department separatist violence, life-threatening prison conditions, sex trafficking of children and an atmosphere of impunity resulting from the overburdened judicial system is endemic.

Smaller acts of human agency thus matter.  On the basis of available evidence, such acts can be divided into three categories: movement politics aimed at electoral politics, nonelectoral civic interventions, and initiatives led by local administrations (Varshney, 2002).  How lasting the effect of this political shift depends on what kinds of civic institutions are put in place.

Trust, Confidence and Making Local Government Work

It is of course only an illusion to think that any government will strike a perfect policy balance between government and governance. Power in the Indian political system, for example, has historically emerged from coalition formation at the lower levels, everyone engaged in it has had a vested interest in keeping the “democratic” game going, though, once again, the stakes are not the same for everyone. (Mitra, 2001). The true challenge lies in devising a scheme where local democracy, elites, and experts can play complementary roles.

“I believe government has no business to do business. The focus should be on Minimum Government but Maximum Governance.”
– Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi propose the judicious use of local government. “Simplifying and streamlining the administrative rules and procedures to make them people-friendly” is certainly a good start. Local government is at its most effective when local institutions enjoy the trust and confidence of local elites and are simultaneously accountable to the local electorate (Mitra, 2001).

Drawing on survey data relating to popular attitudes towards local government and the analysis of case-study and interview Mitra (2001) finds that the experimentation in local democracy has been the least successful in those regions where no autonomous empowerment of subaltern social groups has taken place. Accordingly, the judicious use of local government will infuse new political resources into the political system and enhance the resiliency and legitimacy of the state.