Forest issues, forest dwellers and emerging situations

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Paper presented at the National Seminar on Human Origins, Genome and People of India, New Delhi: Anthropological Survey of India, March 22-24, 2004

Walter Fernandes*
Most forest research has been from the point of view of revenue or environmental degradation but during the last two decades many have tried to understand the forest as the livelihood of the forest dwellers, especially tribals, who have been deprived of it and impoverished in the name of national development. As a result they have lost their culture and identity and have resorted to the vicious circle of a transition from a constructive to destructive dependence on forests. It begins with deforestation, displacement and other forms of alienation followed by indebtedness, land alienation and finally dependence on timber and firewood cutting etc. These emerging situations and coping mechanisms are destructive also of their community and economy and of the environment. In the Northeast it has taken the form of class formation in their community based equitable societies, strengthening of patriarchy and also of hardened ethnic identities, exclusive claims and conflicts around the depleted resources.

In this paper we shall study some of their coping mechanisms. To better understand them we shall take a look at the type of sustainable use that protected their cultures and societies. The transition to an economy of shortages is marked both by the destruction of the resources and a changeover without adequate preparation to a new society and culture. It makes it difficult for them to cope with the changes. It makes the coping mechanisms more destructive than they would have been otherwise. So we shall focus on the process of their alienation and adaptation before discussing some solutions.

From Sustenance to Alienation

The process of alienating the forest dwellers from their sustenance began in the colonial age and continued after independence. Underdeveloped by the colonialist to turn it into a supplier of capital and raw material for the Industrial Revolution in Britain and a captive market for its finished products, after independence national development became India’s major task. Planned development launched in 1951 concentrated on the building of an industrial base without questioning the colonial pattern of development. When India needed a development model that could create jobs and alleviate poverty of every segment of society, the model chosen was heavy industry, high investment and sophisticated technology based, requiring extensive exploita­tion of the natural and mineral resources. It thus became an attack on the livelihood of the communities that had sustained themselves till then on the common property resources (CPRs). Their alienation from the CPRs that the colonial forest and land laws had started got intensified in the name of planned development with no alternative provided to them. Thus, far from solving the problems of poverty and unemployment it increased inequalities and caused environmental degradation. Indications are that liberalisation intensifies these processes and will cause greater poverty and destroy more natural resources (Kurien 1996: 36-38).

The forest dwellers, especially tribals, have paid a high price of this development paradigm. Its negative impact can be seen, among others, in the fact that around 70% of India's popu­lation continues to live in the informal sector but the legal, administrative and economic structures belong to the formal. So in order to better understand it we shall take a look at the informal society they lived in and the formal one they have been pushed into. These societies ema­nate from often contradictory foundations. The formal system is based on the written word and individual ownership (patta). It gives to the owner the right to use property according to his/her will, with no obligation towards anyone else unless it goes against another individual’s right. Profit is the moving force of its economy. Access to the formal system requires literacy and knowledge of the formal legal and administrative structures. Its basis is the eminent domain of the State, called terra nullius (nobody's land) in Australia. This principle that anyone can occupy terra nullius was the basis of the white colonisation of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa (Brennan 1995: 16-17). Indian land laws depend on its American version of eminent domain. Its first facet is that the biodiversity and land with no individual title belong to the State. The second is that the State alone has the right to define a public purpose and deprive even individuals of livelihood in its name (Ramanathan 1999: 18-20). Development-induced displacement and deprivation are among its consequences.
The informal, especially tribal, system is based on the resource, word of mouth and community. Sharing and equity are intrinsic to it. Its basis is the resource i.e. livelihood that the community controls to be used according to its present needs and preserved for posterity (Sharma 1978: 8-12). An example of this worldview is the tribal natural resource management system. Their dependence on the CPRs was high. For example, forests met 50% of the food, fodder, medicinal and other needs even in Jharkhand that had some form of settled agriculture and individual ownership (Hoffmann 1950: 179-187). It was higher among the shifting cultivation and foraging tribes. Because of it they developed a culture, economy, social systems and beliefs around forest, water and other resources which they treated as renewable i.e. as a livelihood that had come down from the ancestors to be used for present needs and preserved for pos­terity according to ecological imperatives. The community on which the judicious use was based included the pre­sent, past and future generations (Fernandes 1995: 25-26).
The nature of the culture they developed changed according to the type of society. The Middle India tribes accorded total protection to ecosystems symbolising their ancestors (e.g. the sasan or burial ground in the middle of a forest), the present (e.g. the sarna where young men were trained to become protectors of the village) and the future (e.g. the akhra, the dancing ground where young men and women met and chose their life partners). They granted special protection to species like sal that were crucial to their economy and partial protection to economi­cally less important but useful ones like mango and jackfruit. The use of species not thus protected was regulated through social con­trol mechanisms, to ensure equity and sustainability. Myths of origin around some of the species that required protection ensured compliance (Fernandes, Menon and Viegas 1988: 159-170).
Most North Eastern tribes migrated to the region during the last 1,000 to 1,500 years. So they lack myths of clan origin since they originated in East Asia. Sing after reaching the region, their priority was to protect their village, land, water and CPRs, most of their beliefs are centred round the spirit of these resources. Only a few have sacred groves since this permanent system does not fit with their migratory status. Like the Middle India tribes they too have social control mechanisms especially of resources like water that are crucial for the sustenance of terrace cultivation tribes like the Angami of Nagaland. Most customs of distribution are around such resources (D’Souza 2001: 12-13).
Common to most tribes is their community based equitable culture. It has to be maintained but going back to the the community as it existed in the past to solve present problems is not the solution. In order to overcome the negative impact of modernisation, one has to understand and modernise both their communities and their value system of inter and intra-generational equity basic to the sustainable resource use. For example, though sustainable from the point of view of nature, their systems need more gender equity than they have. Most of their customary laws confer a higher status but not equality on women than their caste counterparts do. This system has to be taken towards gender equality.
Transition to the Formal Economy
Instead of modernising the equity component, the colonial laws and planned development have monopolised their livelihood and have taken their communities in the opposite direction. With the exception of the Sixth Schedule areas of the Northeast, the laws governing the CPRs such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 are based on the individual and a written document and uphold the State’s right to transfer them to the corporate sector in the name of national development with no alternative provided to them. For example, forests are a source of profit to the industrialist and a raw material to the middle class. Neither has a vested interest in their renewal since the State gives them to industry at a subsidised rate, making it cheaper to destroy than to replant them.
It leads to sequential exhaustion. The industrialist begins by cutting the forests near the village that used to meet the villagers’ food and other needs. He then moves to the next village, next block, next district and the next State. After spatial exhaustion, he resorts to the sequential exhaustion of the species. From bamboos and soft wood for paper, he changes over to mango and other soft wood of trees that gave the people much food (Gadgil 1989: 367-368). Another step is people’s displacement for dams, industries, mines and other projects. Because of the absence of a database, one does not know the exact number of persons displaced (DP) or deprived of livelihood without being displaced (PAP). A secondary data based study pointed to 213 lakh DP/PAP 1951-1990, fewer than a third of them resettled (Fernandes 1998: 231). Later studies point to 50 millions 1951-2000 (Fernandes 2004).
Equally important is the high proportion of tribal and other rural poor CPR dependants among the DP/PAP. The tribals who are 8.08% of India’s population are some 40% of its DPs/PAP. In Orissa, they are 22% of the population but 42% of its 20 lakh DPs/PAPs 1951-1995 (Fernandes and Asif 1997: 135). In AP they are 6.6% of the population but 28% of the DP/PAP (Fernandes et al. 2001: 85). Even in Kerala and Karnataka with 1% tribal population, they are a majority in big dams like Idukky (Muricken et al. 2003: 168) and Kabini. At least another 20% are Dalits (Mahapatra 1994) who are 17% of the population. An unknown but big number is from the most powerless among the OBC like fish and quarry workers. The scanty data available from Sriharikota, Simhadri and other projects indicate that they are at least 20% of the DP/PAP (Fernandes et al. 2001). Besides, their number is underestimated since the Land Acquisition Act (LAQ) recognises and counts only patta owners as DP/PAP and often excludes the CPR dependent tribals and Dalit landless labourers. For example, officially the Hirakud dam in Orissa had 1.1 lakh DP but it excluded the CPR dependants, so researchers put their number at 180,000 (Pattanaik, Das and Misra 1987) 66% of the 70,000 acres Nagarjunasagar in AP submerged AP were CPRs. No wonder, it claims to have displaced only 30,000 (Fernandes et al. 2001: 61-63).
This trend is much clearer in the Northeast where most tribes are CPR dependants but the law is individual based. For example, by the late 1960s the CPR dependent indigenous tribes of Tripura had lost over 60% of their CPRs to Hindu Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh but could not assert their right over them since the law did not recognise their community rights. Amid the conflict with the settlers in the 1970s, the State announced the Gumti dam that submerged 46.34 sq. km and forced them out of their land. By official count it displaced 2,558 families but ignored 5,500 to 6,500 CPR dependent families. Their only alternative is jhum in its catchment area and they are called enemies of nature because it affects the environment. Some attribute the insurgency that began around this time to the disillusionment that their displacement caused. Gumti has become non-viable so some suggest its decommissioning and returning the land to them but the State claims its eminent domain to deny them justice (Bhaumik 2003: 84-85) and is proposing a wildlife sanctuary after decommissioning it. According to the project authorities the Pagladia dam in the Nalbari district of Assam will displace 3,271 families but this number excludes more than 16,000 CPR dependent families (Bharali 2003).
The State’s eminent domain is basic to it. The management of forests that are tribal sustenance is State centred. With planned development, it made a transition from its conservation and revenue orientation to raw material for industry. Marketing of the produce and profit attained priority with the formation of Forest Development Corporations in the 1970s (Anderson and Huber 1988: 51-61). As a result, the State takes over tribal CPRs with not even compensation. For example, in Orissa, 30.2% of 23.62 lakh acres acquired 1951-1995 was forest land that was tribal habitat. 28% was commons, much of it tribal. Besides parks and sanctuaries occupied 17 lakh acres that did not displace many but deprived over a lakh tribals of access to NTFP. Two thirds of tribal land acquired was CPRs that was not compensated (Fernandes and Asif 1997: 84). Also other land laws such as prevention of tribal land aliena­tion are individual based. The tribals who get pattas in the fifth schedule areas lose much of it because they lack the knowledge and power required to deal with the formal system and prevent powerful outsiders from manipulating the land records in their own favour. As a result, nearly 50% of the tribal land in Orissa (CPSW and WIDA 1999), 48% in the tribal districts of Andhra Pradesh (Laya 1999) and similar proportions in MP (Mander 1998: 4) are in non-tribal hands.
Despite their marginalisation the Union Government reasserted its eminent domain by amending the LAQ in 1984 to make acquisitions possible for the private sector thus expanding the meaning of the public purpose without defining it (Upadhyay and Raman 1998) and prepared the way for liberalisation that is now the hallmark of the economy. Thus the State takes displacement for granted in favour of the private sector, as the 1994 draft rehabilitation policy stated (MRD 1994: 1.1). The Government is proposing to amend the law again and reduce the few rights of the DPs/PAPs under the LAQ but it took two decades to finalise a rehabilitation policy. The Ministries and the civil society have dialogued over it for a decade but the policy finalised in 2003 ignores this process and does not respond to Article 21 of the Constitution on every citizen’s right to a life with dignity. It gives nominal benefits to the DPs of projects that displace 500 families in the plains and 250 in the hills or Scheduled areas thus ignoring most DPs/PAPs. For example, many dams being proposed for the Northeast are in Arunachal Pradesh where the tribes are CPR dependants but do not come under the Sixth Schedule. Population density is low. So very few projects will displace more than 500 families but will deprive thousands of their CPRs. Their impoverishment will result from it (Fernandes 2004).
Transition to Destructive Dependence
The above analysis shows the contradiction that their sudden insertion away from an informal into a new society without any preparation causes in the lives of the forest dwellers. It has some positive points but its negative results seem to outnumber them and are visible in areas like their high malnutrition and low literacy especially of women (Singh 1995: 295). The State ignores their community culture, treats their CPRs as State property and imposes on them the individual based formal system in the name of modernisation. This unequal encounter with a new system forces the forest dwellers to change their lifestyle without adequate preparation to deal with the new one. Many of them who are inserted from the first or second generation of a monetary economy into a fully market economy, lose also their individual land because they do not understand the formal system. “In this framework, the process of development has come to be equated with the channelling of an ever more intense volume of resources, through the intervention of the state apparatus and at the cost of the state exchequer, to subserve the interests of the urban and rural elite” (Gadgil and Guha 1995: 15).
Their response to this trauma is destructive coping mechanisms. Once deprived of their livelihood, they fall in the hands of the moneylenders, lose their land, even become bonded labourers and make a transition from constructive to destructive dependence on forests by cutting trees as wage labourers under timber contractors or smug­glers or for sale as firewood. They too resort to sequential exhaustion. They begin from the closest village and proceed further but the industrialist does it for profit and they do it for survival but both destroy their livelihood (Gadgil 1989).
Their communities suffer more than the others do because the State does not even compensate the CPRs and gives very low compensation for their patta land. Being administratively neglected, most tribal areas are considered backward so the market value of land is low. For example, the DP/PAP of NALCO at Damanjodi in the tribal majority Koraput district of Orissa, were paid an average of Rs 2,700 per acre in the mid-1980s while the high caste PAPs of the "advanced" Angul dis­trict whose land NALCO acquired for another unit in the same year, were paid an average of Rs 25,000 (Fernandes and Raj 1992: 92). Secondly, land records are outdated at times a century old. Since most land is in the name of a dead ancestor conflicts arise around compensation. These factors weaken their sustainable and equitable culture. The community gets weak and each family thinks of itself alone. The State treats forests and land, their sustenance, as a commodity. Compensation does not respond to their needs but that is the only criterion the State uses. Basic to this contradiction is the eminent domain that confers on the State power to control the livelihood of the CPR dependants without providing alter­natives.

New Land and Social Relations

Three aspects of the emerging situation are seen in these coping mechanisms. The first is environmental degradation, the second is change in their culture of sustainable development and the third is new social relations that are more visible in the Northeast than elsewhere. We have already discussed the first two, so we shall now restrict ourselves to new social relations. Its first form is class formation in their egalitarian society and the second is greater re-assertion of patriarchy than in the past. It starts with the transition from community to individual ownership of community land, with State encourageent. For example, some leaders of the CPR dependent Dimasa of Assam own over 200 acres of what should be CPRs (Barbora 2002). 55% of the CPR dependent Boro families we studied in the Sonitpur district of Assam were landless and 29.32% marginal or small farmers (Fernandes and Barbora 2002: 116-117). 77.27% of the 110 Rongmei respondents of Manipur are small or marginal farmers or landless. They have been victims of ethnic conflicts, encroachment and acquisition for a hydel project. Since they lack the legal protection of the Sixth Schedule they are unable to protect their land. Also the strength of a tribe matters. The Chiru and Chotei of Manipur do not come under the Schedule but very few of them are landless (Fernandes and Bharali 2002: 23-24).

The Garo experience in Meghalaya shows that even where the schedule is operative the State imposes an individual culture on the community through the commercialisation of land and forests. For example, in this matrilineal CPR tribe the Rubber Board gave subsidies and loans for growing rubber only to individual landowning heads of families understood as men. It has changed the class and gender based power relations. Their tradition gave much decision-making power to women in the family though their tribe was patriarchal. Today most of it has been transferred to men because of the individual orientation of commercial crops with no safeguards against this hazard. Men who had shared power with women in the task of producing riches, are slowly taking over all decision-making. An indication of class formation is the fact that as many as 103 of the 339 (30.38%). non-school going members above 10 in the 120 families we studied are landless daily wage earners and 33 women from these families of their matrilineal society declared themselves only housewives not involved in any economic activity outside their home (Fernandes and Pereira 2004: 41-46). One may add that the proportion of small and marginal farmers is high among them and many are unemployed.

A major issue in this situation is the administration encouraging individual-oriented inputs resulting in the transition to a patta that is alien to their CPR culture. The administration recognises the CPRs only in the Sixth Schedule areas and does not accept their right outside it, even when their customary law is community based. In the Sixth Schedule areas systems such as subsidies to patta owners alone encourage this transition. With land and forests that are their livelihood and the basis of their culture and identity becoming commercial commodities alone, they lose the sacredness attached to them in their tradition and a new worldview emerges that they are not familiar with, as seen among others, in the fact that much of the mortgaging and sale is within the community. Apart from class formation, environmental degradation is one more of its consequences. Basic to it is the shortage of resources resulting from the alienation of their livelihood and the consequent destructive dependence that leads to further shortages. Competition that arises for the scarce resources intensifies class formation since a few monopolise land and render others landless. It pushes the poor among them further into the destructive mechanisms. For example, till the 1996 Supreme Court judgement on logging in the Northeast it was the sustenance of a large number of the Garo landless families.

Linked to it are changing gender relations. As stated above, as long as their livelihood was community controlled, as the one in charge of the family economy, the woman had some control over the shifting cultivation land. In most tribal societies, the village council made up of men alone decided on the plot the village was to cultivate that year, the man chose the plot and the woman took charge of it at that stage (Menon 1995: 101-102). Also the terrace cultivation of the Angami of Nagaland that is settled agriculture retains some features of jhum. Angami women are not barred from ploughs but are expected to work on them thus showing a relatively high status (D’Souza 2001). With individual ownership and class formation, control over the division of work shifts to men. New property ownership patterns are established since a male elite interprets the customary law to suit its own rights over the resource. The individual-oriented administration is supportive of them though it is supposed to ensure the implementation of the community-based Sixth Schedule and customary laws. With the State encouraging individual orientation in the commercial crops, whether women inherit land or not, men begin to wield more political and social power than in the past (Marak 1997: 60-69).
The Emerging Situations and Ethnic Conflicts
Also most conflicts in the Northeast that render ethnic relations antagonistic can be situated within the context of changing land relations especially through land loss to migrants and to development projects. Be it the Naga-Kuki conflict in Manipur (Fernandes and Bharali 2002: 52-55), the Bodo-Santhal (Roy 1995) and Dimasa-Hmar tension in Assam (The Telegraph, 23rd April 2003) or the Tripura tribal demand for a homeland (Bhaumik 2003) all have their origin in competition for land caused by the shortage of resources because of loss of land. Some conflicts originated in the colonial age and have today taken the new of ethnic conflicts. For example people in the Northeast especially Assam and Tripura have lost much land to the East Bengal immigrants whom the British Government encouraged in the 1920s, to the Partition refugees in 1947 and later to the Gangetic Valley, Bangladeshi and Nepali immigrants (Gurung 2002). In Tripura the tribals lost their land by displacement for the Gumti dam (Bhaumik 2003: 84). The Chakma and Hajong who migrated to Arunachal Pradesh after being displaced by the Kaptai dam in the erstwhile East Pakistan have deprived the locals of their sustenance (Chakravorty 2003). The link between immigration and the Assam movement is well known (Behal 2002: 144-145).

A new indigenous concept has developed in the region in reaction to this situation. On one side there is a division between those who declare themselves indigenous to the region and those whom they consider outsiders. In the context of shortages and the attack on their culture, they use the indigenous issue to support the demand for their own control over their livelihood that they perceive as being under attack. Some like the Angami who have found an alternative to land in jobs in the administration find a threat in the growing number of educated persons within the region and the failure of the decision-makers to create more productive jobs. That results in a competition for the few jobs that are available, so they do not tolerate competition from outsiders. When they are faced with shortage and competition, many North Eastern communities react to it by re-asserting their indigenous status and laying claims over land and the few jobs in the administration (Barbora 2002). One saw this situation in November 2003 when thousands of Bihari aspirants descended on Guwahati for the exam for 2000 jobs in the railways (Fernandes 2003). Because of the close link between their livelihood, culture and identity, the economic, social and cultural causes interact in the indigenous demand and “the three steps of defending their livelihood, protecting their identity and propounding a sub-nationalism specific to a cultural and ethnic group merge into one” (Fernandes 1999: 3579).

On the other side are the internal divisions. The competition is not merely with the outsiders but also with the remaining ethnic communities within the region. In an effort to gain monoply over the limited resources, each ethnic group creates a new history linking itself to a given territory, declares itself indigenous to that area and lays exclusive claims over the resources of that region. For example the parties to the Boro-Santhal conflict in the Kokrajhar district of Assam justify it in the name of their right to the resources as indigenous to the area (Kar 1999). While protecting their indigenous status, they are not ready to share their resources with others who are not their exploiters but may be victims of the same system that marginalises them. In this exclusive definition they include as non-indigenous all those whom they perceive as being in competition for the resources. One cannot speak of a single cause of this change but one can state that a major issue is what the dominant classes perceive as modernisation breaks up the community. Amid the impoverishment, unemployment and attack on their identity and livelihood that result from it, each tribe claims exclusive rights over the depleted resources and excludes all others.
Search for Solutions
While the above scenario looks depressing, it is also functions as a challenge to search for solutions and some communities have done it. Some features of possible solutions have emerged from these efforts. The first is that one cannot idealise the past. While taking change for granted one has to assert that their communities have a right to change on their terms and not on what powerful outsiders impose on them. While not eulogising the community or the past, the change has to be based on its value system of class and gender equity but the value system too has to be modernised. For example, as stated above, tribal women had a higher status than in caste societies but they have to evolve towards gender equality. Thirdly, in the context of massive unemployment, a solution has to be found by going back to their land but not in the old form of a single subsistence crop. One has to combine multiple cropping with processing of the produce and marketing of the product.
In practice we have seen that, instead of going towards equity their communities are moving towards class formation. When gender equality should be the norm many of them have been showing signs of strengthening patriarchy. Steps have to be taken to remedy the situation not by returning to the past but by supporting change that goes beyond class formation. That involves encouragement to the community ethos even with individual ownership. Such an approach also requires investment in their training for production and marketing as a community. Some groups in the tribal areas all over India have done it and we shall give only two examples from the Northeast.
We have referred above to class formation among the Dimasa of Assam as a result of the individual based approach of the Coffee Board that gave loans and subsidies only to patta holders. Some members of their elite have accepted this culture and are trying to monopolise the CPRs, for example by and individual owning more than 200 acres. On the other side, a voluntary agency has been assisting two of their villages to grow oranges and other fruit crops without changing their land ownership pattern. They can deal with this crop better than coffee whose market and price are not under their control. Besides, it does not require any changeover to individual ownership. So the risk of class formation is reduced. An indication that it has not changed power relations substantially is seen in the fact that no Dimasa woman in our recent study gave her profession as housewife (Fernandes and Pereira 2004: 40). This experiment is being tried out in only two villages and is not big enough to become a model for the whole tribe. If a few more villages accept it, it can become a model for other tribes that follow their customary law to accept changes without abandoning equity.
The Garo are making another effort. The Rubber Board had encouraged individual ownership among them through loans and subsidies only to patta holders. Its impact is seen in class formation and stronger patriarchy. An effort to deal with it is the Mendipathar Multipurpose Cooperative Society that was a response to the low price the middlemen were offering for rubber. So it began as a rubber marketing cooperative and slowly spread to other commodities. Much of its control is in the hands of women but men are not excluded. It is built on the individual land ownership pattern that became the norm among them but keeps a community based democratic decision-making and profit-sharing pattern in marketing. It has taken to a competitive pricing pattern by keeping the sale price of goods lower than what the other merchants offer but offers a higher price for purchases than the middlemen do. So it has kept a community ethos in competitive marketing. It certainly faces some problems. The Garo have not got fully into the rubber sale culture. So they have to depend on someone from Kerala to keep training them. Besides, they phone to the market controllers in Kerala everyday to know the day’s price and that gives them the possibility of getting a high price for rubber. They also realise that they need to grow deeper into the community culture so they have started self-help groups. Much investment is made on training them for a co-operative ethos and in marketing.
These are only two of the many experiments and are only a beginning, not the final answer. They show that to succeed an alternative has to combine tradition with modernity. One cannot accept the romantic view of the past being perfect nor can one abandon it completely on the belief that only what is modern is good. When their community, culture and identity are under attack, the challenge of the State and the civil society is to strengthen their community. The first step in achieving it is a high investment in technical education to help the communities to take control of production. Literacy is high in the region but priority in higher education has been on the humanities and social sciences. They are needed but to build a secondary sector and create productive jobs, they also need technically trained persons. Secondly, today education takes the student away from land. A viable alternative has to take the communities back to land. They need to take the risk of planting more than one crop, producing new varieties and processing them. Education has to help them to acquire the self-confidence required for it and to take control of their economy and deal as equals with the outsiders who control it now. Such self-confidence cannot be limited to a few individuals. The whole community has to internalise it and the risk element. Education has to help them in this task of modernising themselves without destroying their equity based value system.
Also the official inputs need to change beginning with the Integrated Tribal Development Programme which is directed at a few individuals who are given loans and subsidies for production. Many fail because they lack the support of forward and backward linkages since middlemen continue to control the market. Some opine (Roy Burman 1992: 30-32) that the ITDA should subsidise the community as a whole or give a project to a clan or a village and thus build internal accountability and mutual support and strengthen the community. This effort can be doubly successful if in addition to these projects also their community based customary law is recognised in practice.
We have discussed in this paper, the transition of many forest dweller communities from constructive to destructive dependence as a coping mechanism. We studied their traditional community based systems and the social and environmental impact of the individual based approach. The latter is geared to the needs of a minority and re­sults in the impoverishment of the CPR dependent majority, belonging to the informal society. By making profit its only criterion of evaluation, it hides the social and environmental consequences but impoverishes the CPR dependants by destroying their livelihood.
In this context, one has to search for alternatives to these destructive mechanisms. While most acknowledge this need, there is a lack of consensus on what it means in practice. Community resource management is a possibility though not a panacea for all ills. Some romanticise the past and want the traditional management systems to be reproduced in their entirety. A few want modern systems to be imposed on them while another group feels that the past should be updated to suit the present. It cannot be reproduced in its totality but has to be modified and turned into a mode of the traditional communities regaining control over their live­lihood and avoiding the risk of impoverishment that is intrinsic to the present form of development. They believe that community management is based on a worldview that is different from that of the eminent domain based formal capitalist system. That is why as a part of the search we analysed tribal CPR management systems and studied their equity paradigm.
That too is our belief. One cannot return to the past in its entirety. It needs to be changed in favour of gender equality and has to be modified to suit the present state of the resources. Besides, the experience of the Northeast shows that their communities too have absorbed commercial values and view trees as a source of revenue. On the other side, one cannot make an absolute of modern inputs because they are essentially based on unequal relations. So the past has to be modified to establish checks and balances. One has to begin from the past but update it by combining the tradition­al systems with modern inputs. Their value system are the starting point but it has to be adapted to the changing situation.
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* Dr Walter Fernandes, former Director of Indian Social Institute, New Delhi and editor of Social Action, is at present Director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, 110 Kharghuli Road (1st floor), Guwahati 781004, Assam. Tel (0361) 2602819. email:

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