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Study terms World Bank-funded forest programme a failure

Sunday 14 May 2006, by VENKATESHWARLU*K.

Project fails to address major inequities, injustices listed in Forest Conservation Act of 1980

`Exploitative State monopoly’ on the purchase of forest produce not removed Land tenure problems remain unsolved No financial transparency in the management of the VSS joint account Forest-dependent communities opting out of Community Forest Management

HYDERABAD: In a critique of the World Bank-assisted Community Forest Management (CFM) project now underway in Andhra Pradesh, an independent study contends that the project has "failed to address the major inequities and injustices" listed in the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.

The preliminary evaluative study conducted by the Forest Peoples Programme and Samata, have pointed out that the project has so far "not facilitated removal of the exploitative State monopoly on the purchase of forest produce" and described it as "old wine in new bottle and a replica of the earlier Joint Forest Management".

It says that it has not cared for the concerns expressed by the social movements for legal recognition of the community and customary rights over the forestland and resources.

In fact, in violation of the loan agreement, families adversely impacted by the previous JFM project have still not been identified for payment of compensation. Land tenure problems remain unsolved as boundaries of not many Vana Samarakshana Samithi (VSS) have been properly demarcated.

The VSS jurisdictions rules continue to generate resource and land disputes within and between villages.

The study pointed out that the micro-plans for forest management and village development were being prepared by the forest department without any direct involvement or prior agreement of the community. Funding and the department’s "influence" have weakened customary resource management systems, undermined traditional authorities and marginalised the Gram Sabhas.

There was no financial transparency in the management of the VSS joint account and it continues to be in the control of forest department.

Temporary wages

In cases where the VSS took autonomous decisions, the department routinely ignored or rejected them outright. On the other hand, the department was putting pressure on VSS to go in for eucalyptus much against the wish of the communities.

When it comes to benefits, it was confined to temporary wage labour especially for tribals. Even on this wage, a key grievance was partial or late payment.

The study goes on to say that many adivasi and other forest-dependent communities have opted not to take part in the CFM as they see it as "a foreign-aided project to lure them to give up forest".

See online : The Hindu

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