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Village-level plan to conserve forests in UP hills

By R.P. NAILWAL, The Times of India, September 8, 1998

DEHRA DUN: Village-level plans are to be implemented for the first time in the 12 hill districts of western Uttar Pradesh under the joint forest management (JFM) project launched by the Uttar Pradesh government with the financial support of the World Bank.

Senior forest officials of the Uttarakhand region met at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA) recently for two days and discussed ways and means to ensure the success of the new project. The officials were also addressed by the principal forest secretary to the state government besides the principal chief conservator of the hill region.

“The main aim is to ensure people’s participation in the management of forests through village forest committees or the existing van panchayats,” M .M. Harbola, chief conservator of Garhwal division told the Times Of India News Service.

The plans will spell out the rights and obligations of both the rural hill folk and the forest department.

According to salient features of the the project, the local community would receive 50 per cent of the benefits by managing the forest area and 50 per cent of this revenue would be reinvested by them in forest management.

The local community would also contribute 20 per cent of development costs to ensure sustainability of ownership.

Further, people opting for contributing in terms of labour for developmental purposes would receive cash payment which would be deposited in the village development fund under the village forest committee.

This latest effort by the state government to ensure forest protection with the help of people is being viewed with various degrees of skepticism. In fact, at one time S.L. Dabral, former deputy-director general of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) criticised the JFM concept as being not feasible under the given circumstances.

“Our van panchayat experiment has not yielded the desired results,” said one forest official.

Van panchayats have been in operation in the UP hills since 1931. Today, 4,600 van panchayats control about 2.36 lakh hectares of forests which, according to many environmentalists, are in a sorry state.

In fact, as per a Himalayan Action Research Centre report, the forest cover in the Uttrakhand region is only 4.4 per cent of the total area.

Many environmentalists, including Magasaysay award winner Chandi Prasad Bhatt, point to the ever-degrading ecosystem of the central Himalayas where the frequency of landslips is increasing due to huge loss of green cover.