Keywords: Joint Forest Management, evaluation, criteria and indicators, decentralisation, India
Evaluation studies of Joint Forest Management in India: social and institutional implications
A decade after initiating Joint Forest Management (JFM) in India, many states have conducted evaluations of the JFM program to address weaknesses, if any, during the process of implementation and to adopt strategies to implement the program effectively. The analysis indicates that evaluation was mostly donor driven and therefore only the donor concerns were highlighted in most reports. In this paper, we highlight the major issues raised by the reports reviewed. Tremendous progress has been made in terms of the number of Forest Protection Committees formed (nearly 62,900) since its inception. They cover an area of over 14 million ha. Apart from 53% open forests that can be brought under JFM, there is a lot of cultivable wasteland that could be potentially included under JFM. Though JFM has been implemented and FPC formed, their functioning is a cause for concern. Various reports indicate that the number of FPCs functioning is very low and if FPCs are to be effective, a lot of effort is needed. Lack of community participation, ineffective leadership, lack of statutory institutional support, and tenurial security are the major concerns that need to be addressed to make JFM effective. Awareness among the community about their roles and responsibilities, and capacity building is another issue that needs strengthening. A lack of proper planning, management of village resources and community involvement in the process of planning are other gaps in of the JFM program. Inadequate participation of forest dependent communities in JFM, such as landless artisans and women, is a drawback in the JFM. Adequate measures to improve their participation and the means to improve their livelihood would give them a reason to help in the cause. However, the implementation of JFM has not achieved these goals to a sufficient degree. On the other hand, the women's credit cooperatives started as a part of JFM, to emancipate women from financial constraints have succeeded, indicating that, given the right environment, JFM still could succeed. The evaluation reports have shown a huge potential for generating employment in the JFM programme, which in turn will reduce seasonal migration of landless labour. However, the income generating activity in JFM has not improved to the expected level, perhaps due to the poor links between produce availability and market channels. Ultimately, JFM has a presence in the country and has spread throughout states at least in some pockets of India. To spread the concept effectively, the Government may want to adopt a strategy that is more efficient and involves less investment, as the external support is declining. Therefore, there is a need to undertake intensive analysis involving all stakeholders, NGOs and academics to develop an implementation strategy and create a proper environment for JFM to be implemented in a meaningful manner.