Relevance of the research

Forest peoples are one of the major groups of chronically poor in India. Experts agree that the prevailing governance regime in forested landscapes, mostly unchanged since colonial times, is a principle cause of poverty in this group. Independence and democratization have not lead to reforms, and issues of tenure and governance reform were, and remain, intensely contested in forested areas.

There is no consensus on whether and how forest governance regimes should be reformed. One logic favours state control of forests and limits to local rights as per ‘expert’ direction. This is strongly challenged by a ‘rights-based’ logic; which argues that a democracy should acknowledge and support aspirations of the people to improve their livelihoods through forest use. The ecosystem services framework, championed by biologists and conservationists, takes a techno-economic approach. Political ecologists and institutional analysts focus on governance regimes and the challenges of nesting different levels of governance.

The only meeting point seems to be the gradual acceptance that forests have multiple stakeholders at different scales, and that distribution of benefits across stakeholders and trade-offs therein are as central as questions of long-term sustainability of forests and the services they provide.