Community forestry in the green economy: reforming the van panchayats in the Indian Himalaya
Community forestry is increasingly seen as an important component in environmental governance. In the Indian state of Uttarakhand a process of reform has made forest councils compulsory in every village and introduced new rules within which they are to function. In this doctoral project I explore the many views of this contested reform process, taking into consideration current local livelihoods as well as future potential markets for ‘ecological services’ such as carbon.
In India forests lie at the core of debates concerning the tension between environment and development. The state of Uttarakhand in the Himalayan region is tackling this tension by embracing the concept of a ‘green economy’. Through reforming their unique community forestry institutions – the van panchayats- by instituting them in every rural village and by issuing new rules for their operation, they aim to create a state-wide institutional architecture that can bring the ‘benefits of a green economy to the level of the village’. It is hoped that this system can not only help to sustainably manage local forest resources on which the local economy largely depends, but can also provide a mechanism for linking the village to potential markets/cash transfers in payment for ecological services in the future.
This doctoral project takes this reform process as its point of departure in order to explore efforts to govern forest landscapes and populations. Forest governance is seen as the result of multiple processes that occur at many scales, from international discussions about climate change down to the level of the individual and how they use resources. As such, governance is not something that comes from a discrete state agency, but is an assemblage achieved through the meeting of many actors, institutions and organizations and their discourses, narratives, techniques and practices. The aim of this thesis is to explore the tensions and ruptures in this community forestry assemblage and reflect upon the political space available to differently positioned actors in the governance process.
This thesis is organized through a series of articles taking into consideration the following issues:
- Visions of community forestry: An exploration of the conflicting visions different actors have for the future of the van panchayats, their networks and practices, and how this relates to local grassroots perceptions.
- Community forest boundaries: How the reform process has initiated a new program of internal territorialization by the state over forest land and resources, and how these processes are justified and contested.
- Federating forest councils: Explores attempts by different actors to create a federation of forest councils and how this relates to issues of cross-scale governance.