Kailadevi Sanctuary

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 Location  Ecosystem Type    Conservation Type    Area(hectare)  Legal status 
Karauli, Rajasthan  Forest  Ecosystem Conservation  67400 Protected Forest

Case Study (2009)


The Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) is the northern extension of the Ranthamboree National Park and falls within the buffer zone of the Ranthamboree Tiger Reserve. The sanctuary is located in the Karauli district of Rajasthan and falls within the Karauli and Sapotra blocks. It is spread over a total area of 674 sq km, falling within the longitudes 76°37’ E to 77°13’ E and latitude 26°2’ N and 26°21’ N. The sanctuary is bounded on the west by the river Banas and on the south by the river Chambal.

Even prior to the declaration of the sanctuary in 1983, the forest area that now comprises the sanctuary has been home to several pastoral and agricultural communities who are dependent substantially on its resources for their livelihood.

Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary, otherwise a little-known PA, has become a popular reference among environmentalists and conservationists for the community-initiated forest protection committees (referred to as kulhadi bandh panchayats) that are operational in the area. These forest protection committees prevent the carrying of axes into the forests, a symbol of protecting the forests. Following these initiatives there have been several measures by the FD to collaborate with the people.

This case study reflects on these organised efforts that the communities in and around the sanctuary have made towards protecting their forests and those of the sanctuary. The research on which this case study is based was conducted in two phases: one in which the area had a number of self-initiated community conservation efforts and the second in which the forest department intervened for promoting community-based conservation. This case study is thus a comparative one, analysing the functional dynamics of the community-based conservation efforts over a period of time. In the span of three years between the first phase (1996) and the second phase, several changes and developments took place. These include changes in the management, more active NGOs, consistently poor rainfall and the people in the villages becoming outwardly mobile. The changes have had a significant bearing on the existence and operation of the community initiatives in this area.

The reserved forests of Kailadevi were declared a sanctuary vide initial notification No.P. (27) Raj group 8/83 dated 09/07/83, covering an area of 674 sq km. These forests were earlier protected forests, so declared in 1955. A final notification of the declaration of the sanctuary has not been issued to date. This is partly because the process of settlement of rights (a requirement under the Wild Life (Protection) Act before issuing the final notification) is a complicated process. The Settlement Officer is believed to have submitted a report to the FD; this report accepts all existing rights and concessions to people living inside the sanctuary area. The FD has not yet accepted this report and hence the final notification is pending. The area under the sanctuary falls within the biogeographic zone 4 (semi-arid zone) and biotic province 5 B (the Gujarat Rajwara Province).1 The vegetation is of the dry deciduous type with a predominance of Anogiesus pendula, locally known as dhok. The vegetation is spread across the three altitudinal levels of the sanctuary; the vegetation is also of three distinct kinds. In the uppermost tabletop area there is an abundance of dhok. In the lower tabletop there is a predominance of Euphorbia sp. and ber scrub. The lowermost level comprises mostly ravines with flat land near the banks of the river Chambal. The terrain is characterised by some valleys and river gorges, locally referred to as khos. On account of higher moisture retention and cooler temperatures, these khos are the most suitable habitats for wildlife and nurture a wide variety of flora and fauna. These khos are considered (both by the FD and the local people) to be richest reserves of biodiversity in the area. Common in this region now are sloth bears, nilgai, sambar, cheetals or spotted deer, striped hyena, and Indian porcupine, among a host of other species. The most significant conservation value of the sanctuary is that it is buffer to Ranthambore National Park. In the past, large parts of the sanctuary, especially the khos regions, were maintained as hunting reserves known as shikargahs.2 Today the possibility of existence of tigers in this area is doubtful, though the FD claims otherwise.3 In 1991 the sanctuary was included in the Ranthambhor Tiger Reserve (RTR) and is under the jurisdiction of the DFO (KWS) based in Karauli. RTR is one of the seven sites where the International Development Agency (IDA) and Global Environmental Facility (GEF)-sponsored India Ecodevelopment Project was implemented. 31 villages in the sanctuary were covered under this programme. In each of these villages an Ecodevelopment Committee (referred to as EDC) was constituted. Under the scheme a micro-plan was made for the individual villages by the FD in consultation with the local villagers. As per the figures of the FD there are about 36 villages and hamlets inside the sanctuary. According to the local NGO, Society for Sustainable Development (SSD), there are about 41 villages inside the sanctuary. The difficulty in assessment arises primarily from the fact that most revenue villages have several hamlets that are far-flung. According to the FD, in 1996 there were about 1000 families living inside the sanctuary. Most of the villages are multi-caste in their composition. Predominant amongst them are meenas (considered as scheduled tribes) and the gujjar (considered as other backward classes). Otherwise most villages have a varying population of caste groups like kumhars, malis, jatavs/bairvas, korins, khatiks, brahmans, dhobins, banias, fakirs, nais, telis, doms and bhangis. In any given village, the majority of the population is comprised either of meenas or gujjars: very rarely are the two communities found living together in the same village. Most communities, irrespective of their caste affiliations, subsist on pastoralism and subsistence, single-crop agriculture. On an average, the number of cattle heads per family varies between four and 15. The cattle are of the local variety. Goats are few, mainly owned by the Bairva community. They rarely keep sheep. Wage labour is increasingly an important source of livelihood, as the rainfall for the past several years has been highly erratic. People work on the construction of roads and in the legally and illegally operating mines (outside the sanctuary area).4 When the ecodevelopment scheme was being implemented, some people managed to get wage labour. Sometimes labour is also created through village development activities (such as water-harvesting structures, etc) carried out by some NGOs, including SSD and Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), an NGO located in Alwar, Rajasthan. These NGOs have been working on improving the water-harvesting structures in this area. A number of men and boys have migrated to cities like Chennai, Ahemdabad and Bangalore, in pursuit of wage labour in construction and masonry work. The civic amenities in this area are poor. Karauli and Sapotra blocks, within which the sanctuary is located, are reported to have very poor infrastructural facilities. Most villages are not connected by roads and thus not serviced by buses. The Primary Health Centres (PHCs) located outside the sanctuary are not easily accessible. This area faces an acute scarcity of water. Because of the acute shortage of water, especially from March onwards, every year the pastoralists undertake a seasonal cyclic movement between geographical spaces of differing circumferences, primarily in search of pasture and water. Most people living in and around the sanctuary are heavily dependent on the resources of the sanctuary, such as fodder, fuelwood, nontimber forest produce and timber for agriculture and house construction. Even though timber extraction for personal use (house construction and agricultural implements) is officially not permitted, this is a concession that the communityinitiated Forest Protection Committees (FPCs) make in the forest areas under their jurisdiction. The quantity to be extracted is decided upon by common consensus and is strictly in accordance with individual requirements. All the local communities as well as the migratory graziers (and the villagers) who set up khirkarees (cattle camps) are dependent on fodder resources from the sanctuary. This is partly obtained by allowing livestock to graze openly in the sanctuary area and by lopping, with dhok being a particularly preferred species.

Migratory graziers & livestock: For the last 20 years, the forest ranges of Kailadevi and Sapotra have been on the route for the Rabaris, migratory graziers of the Mewar region of Western Rajasthan. In the initial years the Rabaris were given a stipulated number of permits to graze in the region from July to September. With the declaration of the sanctuary, the Rabaris have been banned from the area. According to official opinion they exert the highest biotic pressure in the area besides causing irrevocable harm to the ground vegetation. From time to time there has also been considerable unrest among the local people against the entry of migratory graziers into this area. Consequent to the people’s as well as the official endeavours to try and divert their routes, the entry of the migratory herds into the sanctuary has been completely banned since 1990.5

Mining: The region is rich in shale and sandstone, which is extensively mined in this part of Rajasthan. Most mining activity inside the sanctuary was abandoned after its declaration. However there are a number of mines operating around and very close to the sanctuary in areas like Albat ki Gwari and Kajsingpura. Illegal mining activities are rampant in the protected forests (PFs) adjoining the sanctuary. There are some suggestions that mining may even be taking place inside the sanctuary due to the unclear status of boundaries.

Poaching: The Moghiyas (or Bargis as they are also known) are a hunter community that used to reside in this part of Rajasthan. In the past they used to accompany local rulers on hunting expeditions, besides providing crop protection to local villages. Apparently since the declaration of the area as a PF and subsequently as a sanctuary, all their activities were branded as illegal, although there are reports of their activities continuing till 1993. However, after an incident in which two forest officials were killed in an encounter, the FD systematically cleared the area of Bargis. There have been occasional instances of poisoning of animals. Recently the forest officials nabbed a few people who posed as itinerants but were apparently poachers. The people of Nibhera village (one of the villages involved in conservation activities) have reported that there have been occasions when they have heard gunshots at night and have spotted persons believed to be poachers. The FD however does not believe that there are any significant threats to wildlife from poachers in the area.

Brief history

Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary was declared in 1983, but local people were not aware of the legal status of the sanctuary till about early 1990. However, irrespective of the legal status of the area, a people’s movement towards forest conservation started in this area in the late 1980s. According to the local people, the immediate reason for the origin of this movement was to take action against the migratory graziers—the rabaris.

Towards the end of the 1980s the forests in these areas had become severely depleted. Local people attribute a number of reasons for the denudation of the forest cover and the depletion of wildlife. The origins of these reasons lie in the period before the declaration of the sanctuary. According to them, first the British and later the independent Indian government’s forest policies extensively exploited this area for revenue (e.g., timber extraction and charcoal making). The British as well as the Indian royalty also used the area for game hunting. The Annual Administrative Report of Karauli State for 1912-13 states that the local ruler had hunted down about 213 tigers between 1886 and 1912. The maximum extent of degradation in this area took place in the 1970s and 80s, when this area was subject to excessive exploitation of various kinds: coupe-wise felling of trees by the forest department for revenue generation, poaching and illegal felling. Thus, within a span of 20-25 years the area saw drastic levels of depletion of forest resources.

Compounding the problem of the fast-depleting resources for the survival of the local communities was the pressure exerted on the resources by the rabaris. From time to time there has been a lot of unrest among the local people following the entry of these migratory graziers. According to Ganpat, a vocal member of the movement, in 1986 the aggression of the rabaris became intolerable. Hence, the 12 villages of Lohra Panchayat, unable to rely on the intervention of the FD, which had apparently not been very forthcoming, organised themselves under the leadership of Ramesh Rajouria, the ex-sarpanch of village Rajour and an activist of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Thus the brewing tension took on the contours of an open conflict. The struggle with the rabaris continued over a period of time, going on till 1994.6

Constitution of kulhadi bandh panchayats (KBPs)

The organisation of the 12 villages became famous as Baragaon Ki Panchayat. The villagers realised that their resource base was threatened not only by the Rabaris but by the poachers, the timber mafia and the local people themselves. Thus was born the idea of kulhadi bandh panchayat. It was decided that the panchayat of the 12 villages would ensure that no one carried axes into the village forests. They also decided to protect the forests within their village boundaries against outside threats. Following the example of the Lohra Panchayat, various other panchayats (like the Nibhera Panchayat that has about 8 villages under it) also adopted the practice.

In some villages like Chauriakhata, located in the more interior parts of the sanctuary, the practice of KBP evolved at later dates because of local circumstances. According to the local narrative their panchayat started only around 1990 after they witnessed a rapid depletion of the forests in their immediate forests and simultaneously felt the growing shortage of fuelwood and fodder.

Constitution and functioning of KBPs

The structures at the initial stages operated at two levels: (i) Village level, and (ii) Apex level.

i) Village-level: Every village has a political and administrative panchayat (village executive). The KBP is adapted from and in some cases constituted of the same body. The difference however was that the KBPs were/ are convened to discuss the specific issues of forest protection alone and also adopt a set of regulations and rules pertaining to the same. Besides they take on the additional responsibility of keeping vigil over the village forests. Further the KBP met at more regular intervals as compared to the village panchayat. Structurally, in most villages it is ensured that almost all families in the village are represented as constituent members of the KBPs. Panch patels, the handful of village elders who are the chief spokespersons and key decision-makers on all issues pertaining to the village were also responsible for enforcing the various norms and regulations of this committee. ii Apex-level: A number of villages officially falling under the administration of a single formal political panchayat as designated under the Panchayati Raj system.7 Generally some of the panch patels represent their respective villages at this level. The apex body may, subject to circumstances, also include villages outside this panchayat. This body is generally convened to settle inter-village disputes among the member villages over resource use or refusal by any member village to adhere to the prescribed norms of the KBPs. The first apex body was that of the Lohra Panchayat (Baragaon ki Panchayat). There are however villages like Chauriakhata and Kased that have no such apex bodies. The apex bodies seemed useful in ensuring that unsteady village-level KBPs do not break too easily. The KBPs were most unsteady in villages like Raher and Kased, which did not have such apex-level affiliations. Issues of equality and representation In their constitution the KBPs tend to be remarkably representative. KBPs, both at the village level and the apex level, comprise members from almost all castes/communities residing in the village. While the various castes continue to practice their customary social discriminatory practices, every caste has an equal say in these panchayats. In their informal administrative village panchayats, 8 almost every caste, with the exception of chamars (they are taken to be complete outcastes and have a relatively small population in the village) has a representation among the patels. The chamars may not have a representative but most certainly have an equal right to be heard. The practice is also carried over to KBPs, which are, as mentioned earlier, adapted from the village panchayats. The number of representatives is in proportion to their strength in the village. Besides, villagers reinforce that though the decision-making rights are vested in the hands of the patels, they cannot function in an autocratic manner. Further, by making every family a member it is ensured that most of the village is represented and in turn equally shares the responsibilities of the KBP. The sense of equality is also reflected in the fact that in Maramda village the KBP had made concessions for a chamar to lop more of the tender branches than permitted. The chamar, who had no land or livestock, eked out a livelihood by selling baskets (dhokoli) made of these branches. Involvement of women in KBPs is a complex issue. Gender discrimination is an integral part of Rajasthani culture. In keeping with tradition, women are prohibited from speaking or even being present in public forums. Thus on the face of it they do not take part in the KBPs. However, closer examination of the society reveals that the women are as keenly aware of the functioning and regulations of the KBPs as they are of any other village matter. They are the ones who do most of the fuelwood collection in the village and it is not possible that their reservations about the rules of the KBPs are not accommodated by the decision making body. Thus while the villagers of Nibhera claim that their KBP is still functional, at least in principle, one can witness women taking axes into the forests to collect fuelwood. The concession is made, not to allow them to chop green wood but to enable them to cut the dry and dead wood into manageable sizes so that it is easier for them to carry it back to the village. The active involvement of women could be crucial to issues of KBPs. As per law, a third of the seats in the formal political panchayat are reserved for women. The active participation of these women in the KBPs can enable them to effectively represent issues of the KBPs in a larger political forum.


The underlying principle of all regulations and rules formulated by the KBPs are that no one harvests the forest resources in excess of their needs as well as safeguards the same from external threats so far as possible. All the villagers have equal responsibility in keeping a vigil on the forests and promptly reporting to the patels about any untoward incident involving either people from their own village member or people from other villages. Meetings are then convened to address such issue. No action is taken against anyone unless witnesses as well as evidence are produced in the panchayat meetings. However not many get away by lying. The surest check against this is using religious sanctions against such acts. Irrespective of whether there is a witness or not, a man refrains from lying after having taken the oath of honesty in the name of the Goddess Ganga. This is known in local parlance as ganga utthana. They have instituted varying amounts of fines depending on the nature of the offence. The KBPs may charge anywhere between Rs 11 and Rs 501. In general they levy a sum of Rs 21 for minor offences and Rs 251 for major offences involving a substantial amount of illegal felling. This money is then used as a welfare fund for the village. Sometimes they also levy fines on those who, after being summoned, failed to attend the KBP meetings. In some villages the minutes of these meetings were maintained in a register. In other villages like in Nibhera no records were ever maintained. The KBPs have no legal standing. They enforce the rules and regulations by imposing their social and religious sanctions.

Unlike the FD’s interpretation, the idea of ‘ banning the axe’ is not the same as not permitting people to carry axes into the forests at all. Banning the axe is more a symbolic use of the phrase to signify the resolve to protect the forests and give up indiscriminate felling. It must be appreciated that the highest incentive for conserving the forests is to enable the sustained availability of resources for their survival. Thus, unlike the rules framed by the FD that at times put a total ban on the use and extraction of some key forest resources, the KBPs have formulated flexible regulations that enable them to meet their genuine needs. For example, the forest department clearly bans the extraction of timber wood. The KBPs on the other hand permit the extraction of the same, albeit in a monitored fashion. An individual has to state his requirement at the KBP meeting and has to seek approval of the panchayat on whether the amount to be extracted is justified by his needs. The approval is given only for basic necessity, depending on the occasion. Similarly people are occasionally allowed to carry an axe into the forests only to chop the dry wood into collectable sizes. While they do not object to carrying in an axe, they would certainly take the person to task if the person came back with green wood. Thus, so long as their basic principles are not compromised, the KBPS allow for some flexibility in the rules, only to facilitate their day-to-day existence. The year 2000 was a drought year in the region. In the months of May and June, by the people’s own admission there was excessive felling and cutting in violations of all rules made by KBP. This violation was explained within the same framework of ‘meeting their requirements’. The villagers explained that there was an acute shortage of fodder in the area. Thus it was absolutely impossible that they could deny anyone the right to extract the resources in excess. They justify this, saying that if they cannot use the trees in their hour of need then what is the point of protecting their forest at other times. After the drought conditions were over, the villagers are believed to have again gone back to adhering to the laws of the KBPs. The FD helped in the process of going back to the protection measures by helping in local employment through the ecodevelopment project.

The inter-village conflicts over natural resources are a constant feature, which are also effectively handled by the KBPs. Conflicts over common property resources are generally settled by the exchange of letters between the patels of the concerned villages. This letter has a great social bearing. The inter-village relationships are subject to the manner in which these letters are written and responded to. They also influence the manner in which the conflicts are resolved. Often the villages that refuse to comply can be socially boycotted, as the Baragaon ki Panchayat has done with Pitupura village. Most KBPs, like in Chauriakhata village, have carefully preserved letters that they write to the offending village. These letters often have either the signature or the thumbprints of the patels and all those people who are present at the time of drafting of the letter.

Such conflict-resolution mechanisms are far less successful between villages where multi-village panchayats do not exist. Chandelipura village, for instance, did not have a KBP and the dispute with its neighbouring village had resulted in a physical fight between the two villages. Neither of the villages felt bound to pursue the process of mutual exchange of letters. Besides, they had no apex body to refer the case to. Sometimes the FD has also been requested by the villages to intervene on their behalf to prevent neighbouring villages from violating the norms of the KBPs inside the boundaries of their village forests.

The KBPs and the informal village panchayat The KBPs have been adapted from the village panchayat. In some cases like Lakhruki, the KBP remained distinct from the administrative village panchayat. The decision-making powers in both cases were vested with the patels. A distinction is made between the two institutions because they are not only structurally (with a defined membership of sorts) but also functionally different. However in some cases the KBP may be different functionally but not structurally. Within the same structure, when the informal panchayats adopt a special emphasis on forest protection and meet to take decisions on forest-related issues, they are referred to as KBP meetings. In any case it appears that the ties between the two are very close and the differences very slight. KBPs and the formal political panchayats The KBPs are mostly village-level panchayats and have very little to do operationally with the formal political panchayat. However the sarpanchs from the formal panchayats have had a significant role to play in the KBPs in their respective villages. It may not be entirely untrue to state that their involvement has been partially related to the idea of political mileage. Most people who have been in the forefront of this movement have either been ex-sarpanchs or aspiring sarpanchs. It could also be that they have a greater power in the village to be able to mobilise the local people. While these sarpanchs have been active and encouraging in certain cases, their involvement has also had negative impacts in other areas, particularly where the FD got involved. For example, the FD had vested some powers in the sarpanch to be able to take offenders to task. However, according to the people such powers hardly ever helped the KBPs because they were mostly abused to serve the vested interest of the largely corrupt sarpanchs. The Eco-development Committees (EDCs) of the FD often have the sarpanch as a member. KBPs and the forest department The KBPs have had a variety of relations with the FD. These relationships have largely depended upon two major factors: first, the expectations of the people from the government-initiated programmes towards participatory management, in particular the Joint Management Programme; and, second, the FD’s appropriation of the KBPs to enable its initiatives in community-based conservation. Of the latter there have been two: the van suraksha samitis (VSS) and the EDCs. Joint Forest Management Because of the fact that the FD is the authoritative body in the area, the villagers saw ample scope for the FD’s intervention in KBPs, even though the villagers were not well disposed towards the FD. Apart from their requirement for legal recognition, the villagers, in their own understanding of joint management, feel the need for the FD’s intervention at two levels: first, to handle external pressures, like migratory sheep, mining, illegal felling, etc.; and, second, to handle situations within and between villages that they are unable to address effectively at their own level.

Van suraksha samitis (VSSs)

The VSSs constituted in the area in 1985 under the Joint Forest Management (JFM) Scheme of the forest department are no longer in existence today. According to the officials, they have all been converted into EDCs, as JFM cannot legally be extended to PAs. Although the scheme was in operation from 1985 till 1996, there were only five VSSs in the sanctuary area. These were also the villages where KBPs existed earlier, and they had subsumed the VSSs. Most of these VSSs were not successful and were seen by local people as a nexus between some powerful members in the village and the FD. There are numerous stories of financial and other kinds of malpractices by the members of the VSS. One successful VSS was that of Rahar village, constituted in 1996 by the FD. The VSS in this village could be constituted after much cajoling and coaxing by the FD. Initially the people refused to be part of JFM, mainly because in the past whenever the villagers had either informed the FD of indiscriminate cutting or sought their intervention on any other issue, the FD had been indifferent. Finally when the VSS was constituted, the villagers chose the president and the members, and the FD merely endorsed the same. The VSS functioned effectively for several meetings. They managed to get forest guards who had failed to help them in checking some malpractice vis-à-vis use of forest resources transferred. They even extracted a fine of Rs 11 from the members who had abstained without explanation in the second meeting. However, soon the VSS scheme was abandoned and the Ecodevelopment Project was initiated. Eco-development committees (EDCs) With the advent of the India Eco-development Project, FD officials (and to an extent the villagers) claim that KBPs and VSSs in project villages have been converted to EDCs. These EDCs are apparently established through a democratic electoral process. On paper and as per procedure, the general body (GB) of the EDC comprises of a male and a female member from every household in the village. A group of six members and a president (adhyaksh) elected from the GB constitute a working/executive committee. Representing the FD, a forester is designated as the member-secretary of the committee. His duty is to extend technical support and to document the proceedings of meetings and other related issues. Sarpanchs are also taken to be members of the working committees. The micro-plans are prepared in meetings of the EDC with the FD and are thus considered to be drafted ‘in consultation with the villagers’. The money for work to be done by the EDC is allotted on the basis of the number of families in a village. The village is granted a sum of Rs 12500 per family. The people are meant to contribute about 25 per cent of the total cost of the work undertaken and this is saved as a village welfare fund to be spent on the maintenance of these structures once the project funding ceases. The allotted money is maintained in a joint account of the member secretary and the adhyaksh of the EDC and the cheques released for payment have to be co-signed by both. Most villagers consider the EDCs as highly corrupt institutions. The adhyaksh is said to be a product of favouritism on the part of the FD. Often it is alleged that instead of employing wage labour as required by policy, the FD and the adhyaksh get the work done through contractors. There is no transparency whatsoever in the accounts. In Raher the forester had been accused of getting blank cheques signed. In almost every village the people are not happy with their adhyaksh. They accuse him (the adhyaksh is always a man) of being hand-in-glove with the FD and making money, and hence not presenting their grievances against the FD accurately. Most villagers are also unhappy about the conversion of KBPs into EDCs. Lakhruki has been one of the most exemplary KBPs in this area. The FD claims that the KBP today functions as an EDC and is equally successful. However conversation with the villagers reveals another reality. It appears that the informal KBP functions even today as it used to in the past and is even today the main body in the village for forest conservation. The EDC exists but most villagers are unaware of what it is all about, who its members are and how it functions. (The same was also found to be the case in other villages where EDCs have been functioning). Villagers understand that some of the schemes for village development have been brought in by the EDCs (e.g., the construction of waterworks and a fodder enclosure), providing an opportunity for earning wage labour, and appreciate this. However, they expressed their unhappiness about the lack of transparency in the functioning of the EDC. Villagers also feel that the FD has failed to involve the people in the EDCs. The nature of participation in EDCs, even though slightly better than the VSSs, remains a little questionable. Most adhyakshs are themselves unaware what an EDC means except that it is a scheme of the FD to enable it to carry out development work at the village level. An EDC is better understood in the villages as ‘rangewaren ki samiti’ (a committee of the forest department). Very few members are aware of their membership status. It is mandatory to have women members in the working committee. The women who have been registered as members are not even aware of their membership and do not have any idea about the EDCs. Practically in every village, people complained that at the beginning of the project, the adhyaksh, rather than being elected by the GB of the EDC, was selected by the FD officials. They complained that the negotiations of the FD are largely with the adhyakshs. The meetings for micro-plans however do involve all villagers who want to be present. But because of the internal social dynamics, very rarely are people able to speak out if they do not agree with the adhyaksh. As seen in the case of Nibhera, sometimes the adhyaksh can bypass the decisions taken at the EDC meetings if he does not agree with them. As for the issue of forest protection, villagers in Nibhera Maramda and Ashaki villages claim that even though technically KBPs have been subsumed under EDCs, they continue to function independent of and outside their formal structure. In Nibhera, despite an acute shortage of fodder due to drought in 2000, they still did not allow anyone to extract fodder resources indiscriminately. In fact they had been disappointed with the FD because it had not helped them in their effort to stop the neighbouring villages from pilfering in their area. Although the village KBPs are still the informal bodies for forest protection, the EDCs are seen as a must for each village by the villagers because of the incentives that come with them. To an extent the ambiguity about the relations between the KBP and the EDC also prevail because issues pertaining to forest protection are discussed both in the periodic meetings of the EDC (where the higher officials are also present) and in the villages’ own KBPs. However it must be noted that EDCs are convened periodically at the behest of the FD and largely to discuss the agenda of the FD. The KBPs, on the other hand, are convened by the villagers as and when the need arises. The FD would like people to believe that the people are refraining from taking axes into the forests in return for the incentives that they have been able to provide to the people through the Ecodevelopment Project. The people claim that this is not the case. Their argument is simple. They protect the forests in their own interest and thus they would continue to protect it with or without the FD. However in a public forum with the FD, the villagers would never challenge the FD’s claim because it is in their interest to maintain the goodwill of the FD, especially in order to avail the incentives of the Ecodevelopment Project. This trend is seen in all villages: for example, in Chauriakhata villagers display very little faith in the FD’s capability to protect the forests but are still keen on the FD’s intervention because of the incentives. In several interviews with villagers, the main advantage they saw in the EDC was that it gave them an opportunity for earning wage labour. KBPs and NGOs The KBPs originated without the aid and assistance of any NGOs. In fact in 1996-97 the people of this area were not at all aware of the NGO culture. They were wary of any NGO that came to work in the area: for example, the Society for Sustainable Development (SSD) and a team from Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA, an independent institution). However, after interacting with these two groups for about a year, during which these NGOs organised workshops for the interaction of the people with the FD, the villagers did see some role for NGOs in facilitating the better working of KBPs with the FD. They especially felt the need for NGOs to be involved as third parties in negotiations with the government-initiated activities. They felt that NGOs could act both as conduits of accessibility and help to bridge the communication gap that exists between the two parties. Today SSD has soundly established itself and is working on several projects on natural resource management in the sanctuary. Over the years the villagers have always relied on and consulted Arun Jindal, Director, SSD, on all issues pertaining to the FD and to the Ecodevelopment Project. In some villages, SSD has established village-level institutions, referred to as Village Development Councils (VDCs). SSD has also started several self-help groups (SHGs) for promoting saving and thrift among villagers. It appears that the meetings of the VDCs and SHGs also serve as forums to discuss issues that were otherwise dealt with by the KBPs. In Nibhera, villagers explained that people otherwise have very little time to gather for meetings, and since they make time for the meetings of the SHG and the VDC, it serves as an effective forum to discuss these issues. So long as the purpose is met, it really does not matter what forum is used for discussions and decisions about forest protection. SSD itself claims that KBPs have been converted into VDCs.

Owing to the involvement of practically every family in the KBPs, everyone keeps a vigil on the others. Even if a single individual creates a problem, the whole village may end up paying for it. For instance, as is also done in their informal administrative panchayats, when the patels of the concerned villages are summoned for decision-making to the offender’s village, the whole village usually has to bear the cost of their hospitality. By the villagers’ own admission, this has to a large extent checked the indiscriminate felling by local people. The FD also acknowledges that there is some regeneration of forest cover in areas monitored by KBPs. However, no detailed scientific studies have been carried out so far to confirm this observation.

The Forest Protection Committees (FPCs) have not only been effective in checking the villagers but have in the past also accosted some FD officials, tried them in the FPC meetings, and levied appropriate punishment. The KBPs also assist the FD in keeping a check on illegal activities. In the past, there have been cases where they have taken culprits, mostly outsiders, to task first at their own level and then handed them over to the FD. This has happened mainly in cases where villagers have hauled trucks carrying illegal consignments of timber or other such big-scale offences. The people however complain that most of the times the FD does not pay heed or does not take any action against the offenders. The people place much more confidence in their own capabilities than on the FD to check the irregularities.

Another achievement has been that being involved in KBPs has helped a number of people to understand (at least to an extent) broader issues of ‘wildlife conservation’ as used in the FD’ s parlance. Some display awareness regarding their position as stakeholders and their ‘right’ to have a ‘say’ is decisions pertaining to the resources of the sanctuary. Such people however constitute a small percentage and include mostly people who are politically very keen or are employed in government service. 

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.

The picture is not entirely dismal. What really needs to be appreciated in this context is that despite all odds the community efforts at protecting their forests continue. While some older institutions seem less solid, there are those that are functioning with great enthusiasm. There is information that in a village called Meldhankri, the KBPs have been functioning effectively and have been convening their meetings very regularly. There are a couple of lessons that one may take from this case. First, community-initiated conservation efforts are dynamic processes. Thus the success or failures of such attempts cannot be analysed as one that is fixed in time and thus unchanging. More realistically they need to be analysed and appreciated in the context of the broad changes in the policies, practices and social climate that have a direct bearing on them.

Second, community-initiatives at conservation of forests may have very different implications in PAs than in non-PAs. The two issues that make a critical difference are those of benefit-sharing and wildlife conservation. This difference needs to be appreciated.

Third, the changing livelihood aspirations of communities inside a PA are a reality that can hardly be denied. Their initiatives towards conservation are closely connected to the issue of livelihood. This is a reality that needs to be taken into account when promoting the case of community-based conservation in a PA. It is quite possible that their aspirations may no longer be compatible with conservation imperatives.

Fourth—an extension of the first point—efforts made by either the state or other organisations, apparently to strengthen communities’ efforts, may instead dilute and weaken them. Such interventions may lead communities to lose the sense of ownership, self-reliance and authority with which they administer their self -initiated efforts at conservation. Thus, instead of reinforcing the protective measures, it may lead to a point where the resources that are being protected become no one’s responsibility and thus vulnerable to exploitation by all.

The fifth and final point is that community-based conservation can be sustained if allowed to be run on principles of utilitarian conservation and not protectionist conservation.

  This case study has been contributed by Priya Das. It is based on primary fieldwork conducted in 1996-97 for the Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi, and again between September 2000 and January 2001 for a doctoral thesis. Priya is currently an independent researcher based in Shimla.

Arun Jindal
Society for Sustainable Development
Shah Inayat Khirkiya
Karauli 322 241
Ph: 07464-250288 (O); 221065 (R); 09414689689 (M)
E-mail: [email protected]

1 W.A. Rodgers and H.S. Panwar, Planning a Wildlife Protected Area Network in India. Volume2. (Dehra Dun, Wildlife Institute of India, 1988).

2 Hunting reserves maintained by the local rulers for their own hunting pleasure. Local people were not allowed any use from these reserves.

3 R.K. Tyagi and L. Singh, Kailadevi Vanya Jeev Abhyaran Mai Jaiv Vividhita hetu Kulhadi Bandh Panchayatain: Sanrakshit Shetra Prabandhan ki Ek Nai Disha, Paper presented at the Symposium on Habitat Conservation - Fresh Vision in 2000 and Beyond, held at the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur on 1 and 2 October, 2000.

4 The terrain is rich in shale, sandstone and limestone.

5 R.K. Tyagi and L. Singh, Kailadevi Vanya Jeev Abhyaran. (As above).

6 (As above).

7 Under which a panchayat (consisting of representatives from one or more villages) is the smallest unit of local administration.

8 In addition to the formal panchayat, most villages in India have an informal traditional panchayat at the hamlet or individual village level. In reality these are the first decision-making bodies in the village.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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