Management of Non-Forest Commons

RIE – Regional Institute of Education, Unit-IX

Commons, in the context of rural India, refer to a community’s shared natural resources, such as pastures, forests, wastelands, common threshing and dumping grounds, watershed drainage, ponds, and rivers as well as their banks and beds, where every member has access and usage facility with specified obligations. Over 25 % of the country’s total area can be classified as common pool resources. However, community held natural resources in India’s villages have been declining, at an alarming 2% every year, according to a 1999 estimate by National Sample Survey Organization. The resulting loss of a third of the area constituting commons, over past fifty years, has adversely impacted the rural economy and ecology, given the dependence of people in the countryside on these resources for their growth and very survival.

Commons are critical to sustaining livelihoods and economy of rural India, with this contribution ranging between 20-40 % of annual income of households in these areas, which translates into around US$ 5 billion annually. These shared resources are by their very nature indivisible and hence best managed undivided, a fact implicit in Supreme Court of India’s January 2011 judgment, which directs all state and union territory governments to evict encroachments on commons and restore recovered resources to Gram Panchayats and Gram Sabhas.

In Odisha, extreme poverty and significantly high proportion of rural people in the population (over 83%) makes common lands, especially non-forest common lands, indispensable for vast majority of its rural folk, who are non-forest dwelling. That is why there is an imperative need for Government of Odisha (GoO) to consider bringing non-forest commons into its livelihoods framework and start conceptualising a State Commons Policy to create process for Commons Action Plan for the state. An integrated and holistic policy and programmatic intervention in non-forest commons promises to provide a new and less traversed road to rural prosperity.

Discussion Points:

  • Does Odisha have a specific plan and vision for managing commons?
  • After Supreme Court’s January 2011 order, what has GoO done to vest relevant powers in Panchayats for making commons encroachment free? What more needs to be done?
  • Which institutional mechanisms can most effectively help demarcate, restore, and manage Odisha’s commons?
  • What best practices and models can Odisha adapt to for effective community access and control of commons?
  • How can the growth and spread of urban areas in Odisha be made sustainable, by effectively using revenue commons, in a way that simultaneously generates rural livelihood options?
  • How should Odisha balance the competing demands on commons related to subsistence, to conservation, and to commerce?
  • How can gender equity be ensured in policy on managing non-forest commons for Odisha?