Based on the conversations related to forest use and protection with local people, forest officials, NGOs and others, the following issues appear as limitations of the community conservation initiatives in the sanctuary area. Intra-community conflicts The social dynamics of any community has a direct bearing on any such endeavours. There have been several instances where intra-community conflicts have marred efforts at organising KBPs. In Rahar, for instance, the initial attempts at forming a KBP had been disrupted by internal dissension between the three predominant communities in the villages. Even at Kailadevi, the Baragaon Ki Panchayat had not been able to stop the rampant illegal felling and lopping of fuelwood. Pre-eminent among the various reasons put forward were the disagreements based on caste differences and the feelings of being discriminated against. The jatavs of Kailadevi, who admit to selling fuelwood from the sanctuary, feel discriminated against by the FD. They complain that there are Meenas who also indulge in the same activities; however, because they have stronger political representation both at the state level and in the forest department, they tend to be harassed much less by the authorities. As told by Ganpath Meena of Lakhruki, the Baragaon Panchayat has not met for the last one and half years, as one of the member villages has refused to pay up the fine that was levied on it. In almost all villages there is definitely dissent between communities and this. These implications are critical and have to be taken account of in proposing any institutional arrangement for people’s participation, as has been evident in the case of EDCs. Another dimension of such conflicts is the allegations of favouritism and nepotism on the part of the patels. Apparently such acts of favouritism are carried out very subtly. In Maramda the villagers claimed that in many cases the patels would carry out the full exercise for punishing an offender, but would ultimately excuse him from the fine.
The issue of intra-community conflict is an important issue to be addressed. However it is worthwhile to understand that because of the intra-community conflicts, the politics of the FD– community interface leads to favouring of one community against the other. Also much of the democratic and participatory policies are put to naught at the implementation level because of a lack of understanding of the intra-community dynamics. The lack of legal recognition of KBPs In 1996-97 the greatest lack that the KBPs felt was some sort of legal sanction by the FD. The need for legal empowerment was felt on several counts. First, it was important because sometimes threats of social sanction were not strong enough for those offenders who were outwardly mobile and were aware that these threats had no legal implications. Besides, with a gradual loosening of the community’s religious and social ties, communities feel constrained without any officially sanctioned powers. Second, it was necessary to enable them to check external threats against which they could only use the threat of physical force. Third, they felt that legal empowerment was also necessary to enable a wider functioning of the KBPs. For instance, they had suggested that in cases of losses suffered by the villagers due to wild animals, the report of the affected person, if endorsed by the FPC, should be considered valid and should be accepted by the FD (thereby avoiding the delays and harassment of having to get official inspections conducted). A team from IIPA had many discussions on this issue with the FD in 1996-97. Legal empowerment of the KBPs would mean the devolvement of powers to them. The FD felt that the people, being illiterate, were not adequately equipped to handle legal powers. Besides, denying the indifference that the people accuse them of, the FD felt that the legal aspect of the issue could always be forwarded to the FD. So far as the communities are concerned, they are asking for a joint arbitration of cases. The people feel that in the event that a case could not be resolved by the KBP alone, it should be jointly arbitrated by them and the FD, and 50 per cent of the fine levied should go to the KBP. Even in EDCs the issue of legal empowerment is elusive. The EDCs have been vested with no legal powers. The FD continues to be the final arbitrating authority on all issues. In terms of support of the FD, some villagers did acknowledge that it is better for them to refer cases of offences, especially where the offender is adamant, through the EDC, as it has the authorisation of the FD and the offender becomes a direct defaulter of the FD. It must be noted however that the FD does not try the offenders through the EDC but deals with them directly. This either suggests an undermining of the authority of the EDC or that the FD has empowered them only on paper. The concern for wildlife in the communities’ agenda for forest protection It is important to clarify that the initiatives of the KBP were not motivated by the need to protect wild animals but to protect forests, a source from which The KBPs were constituted for forest protection but a conservation mandate in PAs also critically includes wildlife conservation. What really needs to be assessed is the significance that communities attach to wildlife conservation in their agendas for forest protection. What remains to be probed is whether people would be equally enthusiastic about wildlife conservation and under what circumstances. In the interaction with the villagers in 1996, they neither displayed any overt hostility towards wildlife, nor did they seem to attribute much significance to it in their day-to-day existence. This is most unlike their attitudes to trees, which they are making a very deliberate effort to protect. Wildlife conservation is indirectly effected through forest protection; however none of the KBPs have any specific rules pertaining to wildlife management or conservation. Their value for wildlife is derived more from their religious realm and their basic reverence for nature. Their attitude towards wildlife is varying. While some people take pride in the fact that their area is rich in wildlife, some others (like in Kased) consider it to be a menace; inevitably, 3-4 times a year either their cattle are lifted or their crops raided by the wild animals. It is true that even today the people narrate in very glowing terms how the wildlife gives character to their life and their forests (as they did in Chauriakhata). However their concern for wildlife needs to assessed in the current context of the restrictions that they face on account of the sanctuary and the increasing incidence of crop raiding and cattle-lifting because of degrading forests and greater proximity to the wildlife. There is evidence that in the past the people took specific measures to protect their crops against wildlife. They patronised members of the hunter tribe of Moghiyas to protect their crops, cattle and humans from wild animals. According to the descendant of the erstwhile king, some villages located in close proximity to the sanctuary still continue to patronise Moghiyas. Besides, in the 1920s the people had revolted against the state and had in defiance of the law shot wild animals to protect themselves, their cattle and their crops. It must also be made clear that even now, just as before, the people bitterly complain against the FD and say that they are more bothered about wild animals than about human beings. Changing livelihood aspirations A great disincentive for the KBPs is the increasing hardships that the people face in meeting their livelihood requirements from their present circumstances, and their changing aspirations. There have been consecutive years of poor rainfall. There already exists an acute shortage of water and fodder in the region. Adding to their misery are the restrictions imposed on account of the sanctuary. The villagers are aware that they cannot expand their agricultural activities. Because of poor breed of cattle and lack of roads, their dairy activities have not been very successful. Since the FD will not allow electricity in the sanctuary, there can be no industrial employment generated, which they feel would be the ideal source of employment. In the Nibhera Panchayat, their belief that there are no alternative livelihood means to be had in the village has been reinforced by the recent happenings. The SSD motivated the panchayat to introduce fish into their village pond and then lease out the fishing rights to a contractor. The FD has strongly opposed this move. According to the DFO, this violates the sanctuary laws and thus the process has been put on hold. As compared to earlier, a larger number of younger boys have left their villages for wage labour in bigger cities. Many people have in conversation actually expressed their willingness to move out of the sanctuary if they get a decent rehabilitation package. Arun Jindal however contends that if the productivity of the area is enhanced through effective natural resource management, people are willing to continue their current livelihood means. In Beherda, he has been able to work intensively on improving the agricultural systems of the villagers on an experimental basis. According to him, after such improvement the villagers are unwilling to consider moving out of the area in search of any other means of employment. Constraints faced A comparison of the field studies conducted in 1996 and 2000 reveals that earlier the villagers were extremely proud and happy about their KBPs. With the attention that they received because of the IIPA team and SSD, they were enthusiastic and hopeful that their efforts would bear fruit and that their immediate livelihood concerns would be resolved. Of course, earlier too the people spoke of disappointments and disillusionment vis-a-vis the FD and the restrictions imposed on them on account of the sanctuary. In 2000 the KBPs continue to operate in the area but the spark and the zeal that they displayed seems to have faded. Today the people do acknowledge that the communities’ hold and the strictness with which they implemented forest-use regulations are on the decline; in Ganpath’s words, ‘Woh pehli wali baat nahi rahi’ (things are not the same as before). In many places the meetings are no longer summoned as frequently as they used to be. In some places like Nibhera they have not had an exclusive meeting of the KBP in a long while because matters are usually discussed in the SHG or VDC meetings. In a long time no one within the village has been fined. They have been dealt with very lightly. The apex bodies are less and less referred to. Most importantly, there are those within the village who, if given a choice, would be willing to abandon the KBP. However to assess this as a decline in success of the community-initiative would be unfair. It is not the lack of efforts on the part of the community but the nature of intervention by the FD, the drought conditions and the demands of the changing social climate that are responsible for the despondency displayed by the KBPs. We give below some of the critical issues that have affected the status of conservation initiatives in the area. Lack of empowerment As explained earlier, despite the presence of KBPs in this area for so long, none of the villagers’ aspirations for the FD’s support have been realised in practice. Whatever limited support has been extended through the Eco-development Project has been enjoyed by the EDCs and not the KBPs. However, since most people have not really been able to grasp the exact nature and purpose of EDCs, they rarely use the forum to appeal to the FD. Besides, on many occasions when they have tried to reach the FD they have mostly met with disappointment. Thus the KBPs continue to feel the lack of empowerment to check violations and to act against offenders. They are more in need of such empowerment than before as the people, given the drought conditions, become more desperate and audacious. Desperate drought conditions This area being a drought prone-area, droughts are a frequent phenomenon. During such periods there is an acute shortage of water and fodder and thus economic conditions are badly hit. Under such circumstances the people feel compelled to extract more fodder resources through the cutting of trees. After a three-year-long drought between 1997 and 2000, in many villages people explained that since everyone was cutting the trees no one had the moral authority to check the others (as mentioned earlier, Lakhruki was an exception in this case). Beside they said it would have been futile trying to check anyone because it was a matter of life and death so far as their cattle population was concerned. They however ceased cutting soon after the monsoons commenced. Loss of sense of ownership and responsibility The intervention of the EDCs has in some sense resulted in the ‘tragedy of the commons’, insofar as the function and responsibilities of the KBPs are concerned. In most places villagers explained that the presence of the EDC has had both a negative and a positive impact. On one hand, people are more cautious about breaking the rules because the FD is involved. On the other, people feel that it is now the responsibility of the FD to protect the forests and thus no longer consider it their sole responsibility. The loss of responsibility is also connected to the loss of sense of ownership. The FD has been constantly asserting that it is their responsibility to ensure that the forests are not cut. In the few meetings of the FD with the EDC, the incentives are literally auctioned against the people’s assurance that they will not take axes into the forests. Besides, the FD is extremely strict about letting people use the resources. By these means, the FD has very subtly been asserting a sense of proprietorship. All this has generated an extreme feeling of loss of ownership and belongingness. As a result people’s urge to protect the forests has been receding. It should be noted that the people adopt a very different attitude when protecting their own resources and when protecting resources that belong to the FD. In Lakhruki the people have been voluntarily protecting the enclosure that the people had made without any external monetary help. However they are unwilling to protect the enclosure made by the FD under the Ecodevelopment Project without any incentive. They feel that the enclosure is the property of the FD and without any incentive they are unwilling to expend their time and energy on the same. Destabilising through EDC intervention According to the Director of SSD, Arun Jindal, the FD, to serve its own purposes, appropriated and took advantage of a system (the existing KBPs) that was already in place. In the process of implementing the project, by generating a sense of loss of ownership and fuelling party politics it destabilised the fundamentals of the existing system. This seems to have contributed to the current demoralisation of KBPs in some places. In this context he cites the example of Raher. He says that at the start the FD took great trouble to reorganise their unsteady KBP into a VSS, which was soon after referred to as an EDC. Despite several charges of corruption, people continued to work with the FD for three years through the period of the Ecodevelopment Project. Apparently, after the termination of the timeframe of the project, the FD has been indifferent to complaints by the people that there is indiscriminate felling in that area. They have also been equally indifferent to the complaints about malpractice by the lower-rank FD officials (it should be noted that this is the same place where at the initial stage the FD had transferred two forest guards on allegations by the people). From the visit to the village it was clear that the operation of the EDC had definitely managed to sow seeds of dissension within the community. There were those who were vehemently opposed to the adhyaksh and accused him of corruption and being an accomplice of the forester, and there were those who favoured the adhyaksh. Currently, there are some groups indulging in indiscriminate felling, but with the failing attention of the FD the rest of the community is unable to stop them from doing it. The threat of relocation The threat of relocation has been enhanced by the operations of the EDC. In almost all villages there are doubts abounding about the sudden flurry of activities that the FD has undertaken in the past several years. Bhanta of Nibhera clarifies that the people are not sure why the FD has all of a sudden started making tanks and fodder enclosures, and the suspicion is furthered because of the increasing strictness about imposing the rules. People feel that these are all endeavours towards relocation. In Maramda too, similar questions regarding relocation and EDCs were posed. The general belief is that through the works of the EDC, the FD is actually improving the habitat for wildlife conservation and once the project is over they will start to remove the people from the sanctuary. The fact that the FD is vehement about not allowing the laying of electricity lines and roads convinces them further that they are to be relocated. These threats have affected their zest for protecting the forests. They believe that their efforts may be futile in the event of being relocated from the sanctuary. The issue of ‘benefit sharing’ The issue of whether or not they are allowed to use the resources of the area they protect is a critical matter affecting the people’s initiative. In Lakhruki there is evidently a loss of morale because the FD has become increasingly strict about letting them harvest fuelwood, fodder and timber from the forests that their KBPs have so far been protecting. It has also lately stopped them from getting stone slabs for building purposes into the sanctuary. The people in Lakhruki state that this is one of the reasons why the people are less inclined to adhere to the community norms of KBP. Apparently, while they earlier had considerable influence over the KBPs of the neighbouring villages and in some ways were responsible for their effective functioning, today their endeavours are confined to their own village. The primary reasons for this is that the other villages are demoralised and less willing to be governed by social sanctions because they feel that their efforts will reap no benefits.