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Economic GeographyVolume 1: Land, Water, and Agriculture$

L. S. Bhat, H. S. Sharma, and M. H. Qureshi

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199458417

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199458417.001.0001

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Common Property Resources

Common Property Resources

(p.170) 5 Common Property Resources
Economic Geography

S. Chattopadhyay

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Common property resource is an important research topic in social science research. Geographers study common property resources as part of land use and natural resource, although focused study on common property natural resources are limited. This review paper has been developed considering a larger frame cutting across disciplinary boundaries. Starting with definition, this chapter dwells on various facets of common property resources, their role in sustainable development and emerging problems. Distribution of common property resources vary according to agro-climatic conditions and the ‘tragedy of commons’ knows no boundary. There are over exploitation, increasing dependence of marginal people on common property resource and competition. Future research in geography may cover all these issues at the micro-level using traditional and modern tools.

Keywords:   Common property resources, access, livelihood, data base, management, data base and policy

Studies on common property resources (CPRs) began in India during the late l980s, although Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of Commons’ appeared in 1968. The research literature on problems of CPR management and position of rural poor falls under both social sciences and ecological sciences. There have been several studies in India and abroad (Dasgupta 2005). Geographers study common property as part of land use and natural resource, though there are not many focused studies on common property natural resources in the realm of geographical research. This review chapter also includes articles that have discussed tools like remote sensing in studying CPRs, particularly forest, wetlands, water resources, etc.

The current review discusses articles published during the period 2003–9, along with those published prior to it. Scanning the available journals and books, it was found that these articles cover various sectors like forest, water, land, wetland, and pastures, as well as general topics, including conceptual/theoretical issues. Forest as a common property natural resource has drawn the maximum attention of researchers. It is also noted that some articles deliberate the issue of CPR at different hierarchic levels, from micro, that is, panchayat to district levels, to macro, covering national and sub-national perspectives. The theoretical issues have larger ramifications.

Definition of CPRs

The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) has considered all resources as CPR. The CPR is defined ‘as a resource (p.171) that is accessible to and collectively owned/held/managed by an identifiable community and on which no individual has exclusive property rights’ (National Sample Survey Office [NSSO] 1999 : 4). The CPRs include community pastures, community forests, wastelands, common dumping and threshing grounds, watershed drainage and village ponds, rivers, rivulets, as well as riverbanks and beds (Jodha 1986). A CPR has the following three characteristics: (i) it is subjected to individual use but not to individual possession; (ii) it has a number of users who have independent right of use; and (iii) users constitute a collective and together have the right to exclude others who are not members of the collectivity (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).

Another way to look into the CPRs is based on the relation between the resources and resource users. In this context, environmental resources have been categorized into four types: (i) private property resources; (ii) state property resources; (iii) open access resources; and (iv) CPRs (Gowda and Savadatti 2004). Gundimeda (2005), in her article, ‘Can Common Property Resources Generate Carbon Credits without Hurting the Poor?’, referred to a definition which emphasizes on co-equal user’s rights, specifically rights that exclude the use of those resources by other people.

Importance of CPRs in Sustainable Development

Growth and prosperity of a nation largely depends on the endowment of natural resources of the country and the extent of its utilization. It is important for every nation to embark upon a proper assessment of the environmental resources, including present state of development and future scope of use, which could meet the projected demands for the present and near future (Shikha and Sharma 2008). Today, all over the world, there is wide concern about the problems associated with indiscriminate use of natural resources, its consequences, and varied implications for development. The depletion of natural resources, also referred as ecological resources, started with the Industrial Revolution and consequent overdrawing. It now poses a major threat to the desired possibility of sustainable development. As the acceptance of sustainable development as a process rather than as a target is growing, the term development is being replaced by management. The emphasis has shifted to keeping sustainability of the resources (p.172) use in focus and managing development in a sustainable manner. The current approach to sustainable development emphasizes on increasing links between ecological concepts, resource management, and economic growth, which are being analysed under interdisciplinary banners, complimentarity of approaches of social sciences, and a range of non-economic perspectives stressing issues such as poverty, rights, institutions, livelihood, cultural diversity, equity, participation, and empowerment of local users.

Resource use and interventions at the local level are important in planning sustainable development. Common property resources, which are under stress due to overuse, play an important role in livelihood security of the local people, particularly those who are at the marginal level. Distribution of CPRs and their use vary across agro-climatic zones. A critical analysis of the implications of these variations helps to understand the dependence on commons (Menon and Vadivelu 2006). This is necessary to devise long-term planning for CPR management. One of the basic principles of sustainable development is to ‘live life locally’. The local-level processes are, in aggregate, important in both regional and global sustainability. The interactions and synergies of ecological, economic, and social processes are scale dependent and therefore, change from local to the regional, national, and global levels (Chattopadhyay and Franke 2006).

Management of CPRs

Common property resource management is a very complex and wide topic that cuts across the boundaries of several disciplines. It intersects disciplines such as economics, public policy, anthropology, law, political science, public administration, geography, and general management. Indiscriminate use of CPRs causes irreversible damage to the resource base and over time, renders it completely unproductive. Appropriate management practices are essential to conserve CPRs by adopting suitable measures as required for each category. People-centred approach and internalization of socio-economic conditions is important for better understanding of sustainable management and utilization of CPRs (Joshi 2006).

One of the important approaches for management of natural resources is the community-based natural resource management (p.173) (CBNRM), which is primarily joint management of natural resources by a community based on a common strategy through a participatory mechanism involving all legitimate stakeholders. Under this approach, the communities managing the resources have the legal rights to develop local institutions, to receive economic incentives, and to take substantial responsibility for sustained use of these resources. This implies that the community plays an active role in the management of natural resources, not because it asserts sole ownership over them, but because it can claim participation in their management and benefits for practical and technical reasons. This approach emerged as the dominant conservation concept in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a result of disillusionment with the ongoing development practices. Governments across South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America have adopted and implemented CBNRM in various ways, namely, through sectoral programmes such as forestry, irrigation, or wildlife management, and multi-sectoral programmes such as watershed development and efforts towards political devolution.

CPR Management—Sectoral Issues

Land Management

Proper management of land resources is a prerequisite for sustainable development planning. Apart from biophysical parameters, there is a need to consider the requirements of actual users of land and involve other stakeholders, including scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government officials. Sustainable land management needs to be tested in view of economic performance, for which a set of indicators can be used, as brought out in a study in Sur catchment. It is also indicated that individual management is a dominant control factor (Singh and Gajbhiye 2003).

Land degradation or desertification is a problem associated with the management of land resources. The Shekhawati region of Rajasthan suffers from wind erosion, deposition, water erosion, salinity, alkalinity, waterlogging, and deforestation. These processes have been accelerated by increasing anthropogenic, technologenic, and zoogenic activities. Overgrazing and indiscriminate felling of trees has resulted in the degradation of vegetative cover and decreasing biomass production. (p.174) In case these problems continue unchecked, a large acreage of agricultural land will be affected in the future. Based on this integrated information, suitable action may be formulated for combating land degradation and desertification (Chauhan 2003).

Diversion of prime agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes is a problem widely reported from different parts of the country. These lands, mostly under paddy, are multifunctional. Apart from providing food security, they also serve as water harvesting structures and seasonal grazing lands in many parts of the country. Many marginal farmers, who hardly own any agricultural land, depend on these lands for catching small fishes at the time of waterlogging and collect seasonal eatable green leaves during post-harvest season. Conversion of paddy field to irreversible use has cascading negative effect on development. One case study from Kerala deals with this issue. One of the main problems of land management in Kerala is the diversion of rice fields for non-agricultural purposes, particularly real estates, by depriving the marginal section of the society who use these fields as their main livelihood. The growth of real estate business has led to the destruction of wetland ecosystem. The ‘rice culture’ of Kerala is fast vanishing. The prime agricultural lands are increasingly being diverted to built-up lands. It poses a serious challenge to the ecology and economy of Kerala (Raj and Azeez 2009).

Jhum (slash and burn cultivation) is an age-old system of agriculture among the indigenous people in the humid tropics. The jhum practitioners make use of the local ecological and environmental conditions and the entire gamut of their sociocultural life is thus woven around jhum (Gupta 2005). However, of late, it has been reported that the traditional hill land use practices, like jhum cultivation, lead to environmental degradation and finally, affect the local community. Jhum cultivation has been criticized on ecological and socio-economic grounds. Studies have revealed that large-scale burning of forests, destruction of natural habitats and the consequent reduction of species of flora and fauna, land degradation, siltation of reservoirs, leaching, etc., are some of the results of jhuming. The traditional cycle of jhuming (years of interval between two jhums) has also been reduced due to anthropogenic pressure on land. Planning for sustainable development of hill areas needs to consider the issues related to jhuming (Singh and Shah 2004a, 2004b; Singh, Singh, and Roy 2003).

(p.175) Alternate use of paddy fields for growing rice and fish is an important land use practice marked in various parts of India. Apatanis, a tribal community of north-east India, are successfully using paddy-cum-fish farming. This is found to be economic, energy efficient, and provides surplus production. The main advantage from the practice is that the land gives sustained yield year after year, unlike the jhum system that is under cropping only once in a few years of fallow interval, depending upon the jhum cycle. The economic and energy efficiency of this agro-ecosystem is exceptionally high and rice is exported after meeting local needs. Rain-fed cultivation of millet and mixed cropping contributes towards meeting the diverse needs of the people. Mithun, Swine, and poultry husbandry are important links with agro-ecosystems. Therefore, an understanding of this agro-ecosystem function becomes significant and it offers opportunities for redevelopment with additional scientific inputs (Rai 2005).

Forest Management

As the largest visible CPR, forest has multiple ecological roles in controlling human life directly or indirectly. A large part of literature on CPR dependence is centred on forest dependence. Forest has been an important source of subsistence, employment, revenue earnings, and raw materials to various industries. Its role in ecological balance, environmental stability, biodiversity conservation, food security, and sustainable development has also been widely recognized.

During the pre-colonial period, the forests were controlled and managed by village communities, resulting in a common property regime with no private claims by individuals, and the forests were accessible to all community members according to their needs. The Forest Act, 1828, followed by the Forest Act, 1928, helped to bring the best forest lands throughout the country under the state control as ‘reserve forests’ and these areas were made inaccessible to local people. A National Forest Policy was formulated in 1894 to guide technical management of forests rather than ecosystem-based approaches in the management. When the National Forest Policy came into existence in 1952, use of forests by adjoining village communities was relatively restricted at the cost of national interests. Managing the forests by giving importance only to larger national interests and overlooking (p.176) the people’s needs resulted in forest degradation, which further led to ineffective protection of forests by the forest department.

The twin processes of decline in customary resource management regimes and the acquisitive tendencies of the state have resulted in higher rates of deforestation and unregulated use of forest produce. This necessitated active participation of local communities in forest conservation, resulting in paradigm shift in natural resources management in the late 1980s. This conservation approach also focused on decentralized level of governance with participation of the local communities through the joint forest management (JFS) system by linking socio-economic incentives and forest development, which was further a harbinger of effective and meaningful involvement of local communities. Thus, India has been at the forefront in the global arena of devolving natural resources management to the local community level, particularly in the forestry sector, for more than a decade (Bhatnagar 2008).

The sustainable forest management (SFM) for safeguarding ecological functions and providing livelihood opportunities to the people depending on forest calls for community participation at all levels of intervention following a bottom-up approach. In response to this quest, the concept of JFM evolved as a vehicle to achieve sustainability of forest resources. The local communities residing in and around forest areas have their own understanding of forest management. The indigenous knowledge of these traditional societies can be utilized to sharpen the capacities of real actors of SFM by providing technical need-based training (Kotwal et al. 2008). There are critical views about the present approach of the government to implement JFM. It has been argued that the structure of JFM is skewed towards the forest department and needs to be balanced with equal opportunities and rights to the participating communities (Sarker 2009).

The Government of India invited voluntary agencies to work at the interface between state forest department and local communities for revival, restoration, and development of degraded forests to help JFM efforts. The work of two NGOs, namely, Indian Institute of Bio-Social Research and Development (IBRAD) and Rama Krishna Mission (RKM), working for forestry and rural development in West Bengal and Jharkhand, is highly noticeable (Tiwary 2003). Community-based forest protection committees have been mooted for protection (p.177) of forests. Functioning of this new institution within the ambit of panchayat system has been studied in the context of Jharkhand and West Bengal and it has been argued that making forest committees subservient to the panchayats and the dominant village polity would not help achieving effective forest management (Tiwary 2005).

The West Bengal forest department, as part of its JFM programme, has offered 25 per cent share of returns from the rotational harvesting of poles or timbers, as well as from intermediate biomass yields, as an incentive for protecting its open access to forests. This monetary incentive is based on the premise that it would make a major difference in preventing illegal extraction of timber (Dutta et al. 2004).

Deforestation reported from various parts of the country is an important management challenge. The north-eastern region of India is experiencing deforestation due to jhuming. The tropical vegetation of the region, including the evergreen, semi-evergreen, and moist deciduous forests, has been extensively fragmented. Human pressure on land, encroachments on forest land, illicit felling, and other similar activities have led to deforestation. Extent of forest is reducing and the quality is degrading day by day, with increasing population pressure. As a consequence, socio-economic problems are cropping up in this area, particularly for the people depending upon forest resources (Sarkar 2005).

Quite different from those of the outside world, the livelihood settings of forest dwellers are influenced by a variety of factors, which are part of their own traditional, social, economic, and cultural structures. Tribes of Attapadi are backward even among the vulnerable groups of Kerala. Their economy is traditional in nature, depending mainly on land and forest. They collect firewood, building materials, and other forest products, namely, honey, Kunthirukkam, etc., during the appropriate seasons of the year. At least for some tribal households, income from forest products is partly a source of their livelihood too (Velluva 2004). Communities living in and around the forest depend on the forests for subsistence and income generation as reported from the Delampady panchayat in Kasaragod district of Kerala. In general, tropical forests are the source of fuelwood, building materials, and a number of marketable non-wood forest products (Amruth 2004).

Traditional knowledge plays an important role in framing management plan for forest conservation because this knowledge, to a (p.178) great extent, ensures sustainable development. The Soliga tribe in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple hills of Chamarajanagar Nagar district of Karnataka has maintained a continuous and intimate interaction with the forest, deriving most of its basic requirements from the forest in an indigenous and sustainable method. The Soligas have a rich and deep traditional and indigenous knowledge of ecology which is passed on from one generation to the next. The Soligas share their knowledge about different aspects of forest conservation and resource management with researchers, tourists, and all the forest departments. Modern conservationists, researchers, and the forest departments should involve local tribal communities and in consultation with them, utilize their ecological, traditional, indigenous knowledge and resource management methods and techniques for ensuring forest and resource management (MadeGowda 2009).

Forest management aims at practical application of the scientific, technical, and economic principles to forestry. Working plan is the key document to accomplish the said task. In forest management, continuous flow and updating of information are essential components of management functions. Conventional methods have limitations and hence new technologies should be adopted to achieve accurate, cost-effective, and real time information for SFM. During the last five decades, remote sensing techniques have become an integral part in the assessment, development, management, and utilization of forest resources in a sustainable manner. The satellite-derived maps can best be used for better management and land use planning (Singh, Das, and Pant, Thee 2004; Singh, Jugran, Thanruma and Reddy 2005; Singh and Moharir 2003).

In India, the criteria and indicator based approach for SFM has been implemented on a pilot basis since 2000. Over the years, the initiative, known as the Bhopal India Process, has endeavoured to formulate a working framework for the achievement of the goals of sustainability specific to the national forestry conditions. The criteria and indicators based approach presents a tool for assessing the magnitude and direction of change in given forestry situations, and this provides critical information to the forest managers and other actors for forest related decision-making. It is an important framework to assist countries to collect, store, and disseminate reliable, science-based forest information needed to monitor and assess forest conditions. The criteria and (p.179) indicator based approach gives an opportunity to monitor and assess the state of SFM. The approach provides a powerful yet user-friendly tool to forest managers (Rawat et al. 2008).

Just like forests, conservation of wildlife is also an important issue. In Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan village, relocation appeared as a management tool for wildlife conservation. Attempts to evict local villagers without evidence of effective rehabilitation measures were a natural corollary of this management policy. For managing wildlife conservation, the steps are: (i) documenting forest dependency and livelihood conflicts faced by local residents who will be displaced; (ii) identifying the aspirations of the proposed oustees in relation to the proposed displacement; and (iii) studying the process of relocation planning and the rehabilitation package. This also suggests more participatory and rational ways to deal with the issue (Shahabuddin et al. 2007).

Water Management

Water, a CPR, is an essential commodity for the survival of life on earth, and particularly of human civilization. Centres of ancient civilization had developed in the floodplains of large rivers having freshwater and fertile soil. Freshwater supply in an area depends mainly on two sources: surface water and groundwater. In the early period of civilization, humans depended only on surface water for survival. With the rise in population and advance of civilization, the need for water increased and people started to explore the underground sources. At present, the demand for water has grown so high that serious interference with the surface flows as well as underground reserves has become a necessity (Bandhopadhyay 2004). Till the middle of the twentieth century, the importance of water for life had not been particularly felt because of its moderate demand. But relentless increase in the demand for freshwater in recent years has led to the scarcity of this basic resource in many countries in the world (Banerjee 2004).

Due to the limited nature of water resources and increase in demand, there are conflicts reported at different levels, starting from panchayats to nations. There is also a conflict between agriculture and industry, and between fishermen and farmers. When it comes to reservoirs, flood control and irrigation are in conflict. Different regions (p.180) have different kinds of conflict, which need to be addressed differently. Conflicts arise when disagreements occur between people with varied interests. They can be categorized as belonging to two broad types: inter-state, transboundary conflicts; and intra-state, inter-sectoral conflicts. Inter-sectoral issues have to be seen at multiple levels of stakeholders. Sharing of water is the root cause of conflict. Ownership is another issue related to it. Efficient management is called for to avoid conflict and ensure sustainable management.

Framing of appropriate water management practices requires a proper estimation of water resources and their status of utilization. Dynamic groundwater resources in India have been estimated using ‘Ground Water Resource Estimation Methodology 1997’. The annual replenishable groundwater resources of India is 433 billion cubic metre (bcm) and net groundwater availability is 399 bcm. The annual groundwater draft for 2004 was 231 bcm. Thus, the overall stage of groundwater development is 58 per cent. Out of 5,723 assessment units in the country, 4,078 are safe and 839 are over-exploited. The rest fall under semi-critical and critical category. Over-exploitation is more prevalent in north-western, western, and peninsular India. Eastern India has good potential for future groundwater development. Considering the change in groundwater scenario, the reassessment of groundwater resource needs to be carried out on a regular basis (Chatterjee and Purohit 2009).

Another study has indicated over-exploitation of groundwater beyond the recharging limits in several parts of the country. Progressive depletion of groundwater levels is reported in selected pockets of 370 (61 per cent), out of 603, districts in the country. Reduction in groundwater supply, saline water encroachment, drying up of the springs and shallow aquifers, increased cost of pumping by replacing centrifugal pumps with expensive submersible pumps, and land subsidence in some places due to overdrawing of water are threatening the sustainability of the aquifers (Sharma 2009).

With rapid growth in population, urbanization, industrialization, and competition for economic development, groundwater resource has become vulnerable to depletion and degradation. Management of this valuable resource is determined by its accessibility and utilizability in terms of quantity and quality. Due to imbalance between demand and availability, management approaches are facing various (p.181) ethical dilemmas. For effective, efficient, and sustainable groundwater resources development and management, the planners and decision makers have future challenges to assess the inextricable logical linkages between water policies and ethical consideration (Dutta 2005).

It is reported that the area under irrigation by groundwater through wells is continuously increasing. On the contrary, contribution of canals and other sources is decreasing. However, it is also true that the groundwater abstraction by artificial means in the Himalayan and Shiwalik foothill regions is negligible. Installing deep tube wells in such regions is a difficult and expensive task. Hence, in the mountainous regions, survival of biodiversity during the lean period of the year entirely depends upon the existence of self-draining groundwater aquifers. They may mark their presence by oozing out water in any form, for example, springs, seepage lines, or streams. Discharge rate and the perennial nature of these aquifers depend upon their catchment areas (Vashisht 2008).

Water resource development in the past century has completely ignored the hidden cost of environmental loss. But in the past two decades, there has been a major paradigm shift in water resources development and management. The old paradigm based on the philosophy of larger dams and reservoirs has begun to fail. People are now more concerned about environmental loss and economic and social issues. The new paradigm is directed towards water use efficiency by reducing wasteful application of water by changing cropping patterns, by reducing transmission loses between the field and the source, and following other similar methods. Water use could be sustainable by increasing the efficiency with which water use is allocated among different users. In addition to these, non-traditional sources of supply could play an increasing role, including harvested rain water, reuse of recycled wastewater, and desalinated sea water (Naik and Prakash 2006).

Watershed management involves the optimum use of soil and water resources between upstream and downstream areas within a watershed to ensure natural resource conservation, increase in agricultural productivity, and better standard of living for its inhabitants. Watershed management is the process of guiding and organizing the use of land, water, and other resources in a watershed unit to provide desired needs and services without adversely affecting soil and water resources. Village Tiwala Watershed Project in Haryana has improved (p.182) the overall quality of life of the villagers through employment generation activities and through increase in agricultural production. Although sustainable livelihood is the major concern of this watershed project, its efforts have also led to sustainable increase in the production of foodgrains, effective management of natural resources, and empowerment of the weaker sections of the area (Yadav 2009). Sub-watershed-based approach has been advocated for rational management of water crisis in Darjeeling town of West Bengal (Moitra-Maiti and Maiti 2009).

Rainwater harvesting has been stressed as a viable alternative to conventional water supply or on-farm irrigation projects. Storing of rainwater can be done in two ways: (i) storing in an artificial storage; and (ii) storing in the soil media as groundwater. The rainwater or run-off can be harvested using eco-friendly, low-cost technologies, such as UV-resistant plastic-lined ponds and ferro-cement tanks, and can be used for multiple purposes (Samuel and Satapathy 2008).

In Jharkhand, appropriate management measures are needed for irrigation and drinking water supply. The critical issue is the access to water for both the rural and urban poor and the legal implications. It explores the questions of water rights and related legal issues as it impacts both the rural and urban poor in Jharkhand. The water resource department of the state of Jharkhand has planned a major programme, ‘Gram Bhagirathi Yojana’ (GBY), for development of the minor surface irrigation system in the entire state (Upadhyay 2005).

Watershed prioritization forms part of watershed management and development plan. A study was conducted for developing a preliminary prioritization of sub-watersheds in Pavagada area, Tumkur district, Karnataka. The entire area has been divided into nine sub-watersheds and they are prioritized by considering various parameters, namely, drainage density, slope, rainfall water capacity, groundwater prospects, soil, wastelands, irrigated area, forest cover, and demographic data on agricultural labourers, Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) population, and rainfall. The sub-watersheds are grouped into three categories of high, medium, and low priority. Detailed survey of the watersheds falling in the category of high priority is proposed for soil and water conservation measures, water resources development, (p.183) scientific land use planning for preservation of eco-diversity, integrated study for development of natural as well as social resources, moisture conservation, sustainable farming system, etc., to accelerate the rehabilitation of the micro-environment and to generate a detailed database for each natural resource sectors, which is a prerequisite for formulation of watershed plan for its sustainable development and management (Vittala et al. 2008).

Participatory watershed management has been given considerable importance in the matter of decentralized planning and rural development. In agricultural sector, in particular irrigation management transfer (IMT) and JFM, policies have been promoted to facilitate integrated management of natural resources in a watershed context. A study on scaling up of participatory watershed management in the Himalayan foothills has underscored the importance of public sector initiative in natural resource management and argued that functionaries of state parastatals could play an important role in addressing inequities in benefit distribution that are embedded in wider rural social structure (Kurian et al. 2003).

Pastures and Grazing Lands

Pastures and grazing lands are usual CPRs available in rural areas, particularly in the semi-arid and arid regions. Ecologically, grasslands are parts of ecosystem succession in natural condition, but they have also originated consequent to deforestation and abandoned cultivation. In most of the cases, grasslands are found intermixed with big or small patches of open forest. The economy of Rajasthan is largely based on animal husbandry. Availability of grazing land and fodder is important for raising livestock in Rajasthan as almost all livestock depend on open grazing. Permanent pastures are scattered in every district of Rajasthan. With increase in number of livestock, there is overgrazing and as a consequence, the quality and quantity of forage is decreasing. Planned and rotational grazing is necessary to overcome the problem. Various schemes for the development of fodder and grazing land were introduced after independence. Grassland development programme and drought area development programme were introduced to increase fodder availability (Khandelwal 2004).

(p.184) Wetlands

Wetlands are CPRs used by the marginal sections of the society for a variety of purposes. These are shallow water bodies susceptible to inundation. They generally include lakes, ponds, floodplain wetlands, impoundments (tanks, reservoirs), mud/tidal flats, and mangroves, besides lowland paddies. Wetland ecosystems, in recent years, have acquired importance due to their role in biogeochemical cycling, and as source and sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially methane.

Wetlands in India are distributed in all ecological regions. Varying estimates of wetland area have been given by different agencies/authors. A recent study based on satellite remote sensing data has estimated wetland area in the country at 8.27 million hectare (ha), excluding paddy fields and river/canals. Out of this, inland wetlands account for 4.02 million ha (Garg and Agarwal 2009).


India has about 55.27 million ha of wasteland. Apparently, these lands are not suitable for any purpose and are exposed to the vagaries of nature, like weathering and gully erosion. Considering their importance and potential role in resource augmentation, the Department of Land Resources of the Ministry of Rural Development has been implementing three area development programmes since 1995, namely, integrated watershed development programme, drought-prone areas programme, and desert development programme, on watershed basis. These programmes have been merged into a single programme called the Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) since 2006 and above 38.2 million ha of wasteland has been developed into cultivable land. The IWMP has showed encouraging results in the drought-prone Nawapada–Kalahandi–Bargarh districts of western Odisha. The implementation of different conservation structures has checked soil erosion and has resulted in the improvement of soil moisture, soil quality and vegetation, enhancement of groundwater recharge, etc. Earlier, the dug wells were dry in March, but now, people in the region are able to harvest crops in the Rabi season also. Due to improvement in soil moisture, (p.185) there is increase in plant growth and crop yield. Check in soil erosion leads to land reclamation. As a result, people are involved in pisciculture in their ponds, vegetable cultivation, and improved agriculture in their fields (Naik 2010).

Sacred Groves

Sacred groves are community protected forest fragments with significant religious connotations. These groves are rich in biodiversity and provide ecological services in local landscapes. Amidst the agriculture field and monoculture plantations, forest patches maintain the local biodiversity by increasing the likelihood of the survival of the indigenous members (Ray and Ramachandra 2010). However, it has been found that interests related to sacred groves are often concentrated towards the groves with conspicuous presence, that is, in terms of expanse, economic importance, or presence of charismatic species. This undermines the role played by the small groves (mostly < 1 ha) and also leads to degradation over time.

In Kerala, Kavus are sacred groves and each one has a presiding deity. Most of the Kavus have idol of deities installed within the Kavus. Offerings may be in the form of money and other materials. Some of the ritual performers are fully engaged in it as a profession. Sacred groves are to be considered as critical habitats offering resources directly as well as indirectly for the people of the locality. Strong taboos have been helpful for their continued conservation (Jayarajan 2004).

In many places, sacred groves are found to contain plant varieties of medicinal values, which are becoming scarce in the forest area itself. Ethnobotanical study in four selected sacred groves in Manipur has revealed therapeutic applications of 120 plant species representing 106 genera and 57 families. These plants are used for a wide range of common ailments like skin disorders, ulcer, rheumatism, and bronchitis. It has been observed that the species that are scarce locally in the forest due to various developmental activities, deforestation, over-exploitation, etc., are abundant in the ‘sacred groves’. Information on medical claims was collected from the elderly people residing in the vicinity of sacred groves, and also from the traditional healers called Maibas (Khumbongmayum et al. 2005).

(p.186) Access to CPRs

The economic theory of open access resources is familiar to economists. It has been noted that an asset which is everyone’s property is, in fact, no one’s property. As a result, it is overused and is in a state of degradation. Common property resources are neither public nor private property, but are community property. Unlike the global commons though, they are geographically confined and, in certain cases, access is not open to all. Moreover, an emerging parallel literature on social capital hinted that it had something to say about the character of those communitarian institutions that have been built around CPRs.

Access to CPRs is a controversial issue. Some scholars have argued for easy accessibility to CPRs. They point out that over-restrictions will make the life of poor rather pathetic. In the forested tracts, the key issue is access to forest produce. While forest dependence is high, especially among the rural poor, access to forests often remains legally problematic. Prior to the Forest Act of the 1800s, grazing was free ranging, and this was circumscribed somewhat with the introduction of the concept of reserve forest and easy access of people was restricted (Ramanathan 2002)

CPRs and Rural Poor

In India, 78.2 per cent of the total landholdings are held by marginal and small farmers. These are not viable and are subject to various risks. Only 30 per cent of total cropland has been irrigated and the rest is rain-fed, which restricts agricultural activity to the wet season only. Because of this, a large number of farmers and agricultural labourers remain unemployed during the off season. Development of the non-agricultural sector is not sufficient to absorb the excess workforce, either because the rural people do not possess the skills required for the non-agricultural sector or because the non-agricultural sector happens to be capital intensive rather than labour intensive. Here, one of the alternatives is CPR-based activities, which generate income and employment and are complementary to agricultural activity, which is favourable to the rural community. In addition to this, the CPRs provide critical biomass services such as fuel, fodder, and food, and also help performing some subsidiary occupations like animal husbandry, (p.187) dairying, and collection of minor forest products. Common property resources, thus, play a significant role at the rural level (Gowda and Savadatti 2004).

The fact that CPRs are an important source of livelihood for rural households in general, and rural poor in particular, is no longer in question. Common property resources not only act as a source of income and employment but also as safety nets in periods of drought. Generally, greater dependence on CPRs comes from landless labourers and agricultural labourers. Different types of CPRs help the rural people differently.

For instance, the Jaunsari inhabitants of Bewar Himalaya chiefly live on food production by agriculture and animal rearing, which is substantiated by gathering, hunting, and fishing from CPRs. The Jaunsari tribal highlanders have always kept the ways open for supplementary supply from the CPRs, like fishing, for escaping any food crisis. Use rights for fishing are held by Jaunsari community as independent users. The rights of use within the community are equal for all members. The Jaunsari moral rules forbid fishing and hunting during breeding season through some social controls. It has been reported that in spite of highly developed agriculture and allied activities, fishing from CPRs is an essential part of the routine (Singh 2003).

Study on sustainable rural development for the village of Dudhai in Dehradun district has addressed the issue of common property natural resource endowment, constraints in development, and possible solutions. A significant portion of total land in Dudhai is either cultivable wasteland or has been left uncultivated. Water scarcity is the most important problem in the study area. The strategies outlined for rural development envisage proper use of CPRs, ensuring participation of local people/actual user of the resources (Pratap 2004).

CPR and Livelihood

Under the existing socio-economic system, a majority of the Indian population is unable to meet their total biomass and energy requirements comfortably, both through the market mechanism and administered mechanism. The general economic activity does not guarantee sufficient employment and income for the rural people even in normal times. The only viable option left for them is to depend on the existing (p.188) CPRs, regardless of their productivity and sustainability, to meet their biomass requirements and for a supplementary source of income and employment

There is general agreement that in large part of the country, CPRs provide a source of consumption and income for households that have access to them. In certain parts of the country, mainly in the arid and semi-arid regions, CPRs are of a magnitude large enough to impact labour–time allocation of large number of households. The CPRs are sometimes the only assets to which the otherwise disenfranchized have access. This is a virtuous by-product of the institutions governing CPRs. Economic theory postulates that even the casual wage rate of unskilled labourers would be higher in villages with more abundant CPRs (Barbier 2004; Dasgupta 1993; Pattanaik and Butry 2004).

A detailed study on dependence of household on CPRs, based on NSSO data, examined collection, consumption, and sales behaviour of households with respect to non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for all India and selected states of Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The commercialized nature of this activity is evident from the fact that the category of collection, ‘for sale only’, constitutes a fairly large share of 31.7 per cent at the all-India level. The share of this category increases to 32 per cent and 45 per cent in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, respectively. It is the highest (68 per cent) in Madhya Pradesh. At the all-India level, leaves, weeds, cane grass, and bamboo comprise a large part of total collections, followed by fruits and fishes. In general, the proportion of sales in total collections is uniformly higher for NTFPs according to the NSSO report, indicating a higher level of commercial activity for these products. Other studies also indicate that collection of NTFPs from CPRs is more market driven than that of fuelwood and fodder. State-level analysis based on NSSO data points towards the possibility of a new role for NTFP collection from CPRs in the context of market-oriented development, a role that has significant implications for the paradigm of development with and through conservation. It may mean that a greater possibility exists for the success of newer forms of collective management of the resource supporting such income. It may also imply that in the absence of such management, market-driven over-exploitation of such resources increases at a greater pace, or the demand for privatization of these CPRs gathers momentum as they (p.189) are conceived of as significant income-generating assets (Chopra and Dasgupta 2003)

The study about the nature of household dependence on common pool resources used two different concepts to determine the size and access to CPRs. The de jure concept was used for collection of data on the size of CPRs. The second, the de facto concept, was used for collecting information on use of CPRs. De facto access, by definition, includes land for which communities do not have de jure access. For example, state-controlled areas such as reserve forests, which can be actually accessed openly or used by a defined user groups, are de facto CPRs. Similarly, private agricultural lands that are accessible to others in the fallow seasons are also accessible commons. The reverse is possible as well, namely, that certain public lands allocated to village communities are effectively privatized (Menon and Vadivelu 2006).

The economic importance of CPRs, as a proportion of tribal assets, ranges widely across ecological zones. In India, they are most prominent in arid regions, mountain regions, and unirrigated areas conversely, they are least prominent in humid regions and river valleys. Broadly speaking, CPR dependence is linked to the nature of climatic zones: hilly forested tracks, semi-arid/arid pastoral economies, and intensive agriculture. While these are not ‘neat’ categories, they provide a useful starting point from which to understand CPR use. The communities living in hilly forested tracks and semi-arid/arid areas depend more on CPRs. However, in intensive agricultural areas also, such as Punjab and Haryana, dependence is high. As there are more de jure CPRs in the hilly tracts and semi-arid/arid zones, CPRs in the intensive agricultural areas are more likely to come from private lands.

Within these broad zones, however, there are also differences with forested landscapes, such as the western Himalayas being very different in social composition and forest use than that in the central plateau and hills or eastern plateau and hills region. Similarly, within the agricultural belt, there seems to be differences between states such as Punjab and Haryana, located in the Upper Gangetic Plains, and Kerala, located in the West Coast plains and hills—the former having a greater dependence on CPRs in general.

A more disaggregated analysis (in terms of operational holdings) illustrated that the landless are, by and large, the most dependent on CPRs and CPR products across agro-climatic zones. This is most (p.190) apparent in the case of fuelwood. In the case of fodder, large farmers tend to own more cattle, but the poor depend more on CPRs for fodder. The NTFP economy seems to be important (as a supplementary activity) to all households. Yet, in the Gangetic belt, it is important to note that the landless depend on NTFP more than the others.

CPRs and Gender Issues

The general view held by some researchers is that CPR product collection is mostly done by women and children. However, a study has shown that CPR product collection (in this case fuelwood) is largely done by adult male members of the family. Now the question that arises is: why is fuelwood collection dominantly performed by men? In the study villages, the reason discovered was the degradation of CPRs itself. Due to this, there is heavy pressure on the forest by fuelwood collectors, which results in an increase in the effort and time required for fuelwood collection. In all the study villages, respondents said that due to the non-availability of fuelwood at the nearest point in the forest, they had to go deep into the forest. Thus, fuelwood collection activity involves more time and drudgery, which is problematic for women and children. In all the study villages, it was found that people require at least half of a day (five hours) to collect fuelwood. Many a time, they have to sacrifice even wage labour to collect fuelwood as they spend the whole day in this activity. Thus, fuelwood collection is now becoming a full-time activity. The widespread use of CPR land is for fuelwood collection and cattle grazing. The survey has revealed that a larger proportion of poor households depend on CPRs for their fuel and fodder requirements. The study also reveals that more than one-fourth of the income of the poor is derived from CPRs. Thus, CPRs play a crucial role in the life of the rural poor in the study villages (Gowda and Savadatti 2004).

Problems of Commons

Two important problems regarding CPRs are inequalities and deterioration (Dasgupta 2005). Central to the debate around the commons has been the question of equity. It has been reported that richer households enjoy a greater proportion of benefits. Some studies, in (p.191) fact, have argued that while the poor benefit more in relative terms, the rich benefit more in absolute terms. Field studies indicate that non-poor households are taking up NTFP collection and sale as well (Chopra and Dasgupta 2003). It is generally believed that the poor derive a larger percentage of total income from CPRs than the non-poor. However, social structure plays an important role in the use of CPRs.

Another problem is that the CPRs are being degraded in recent years in many parts of the world, and both extent and quality are affected. There are four reasons usually cited for the deterioration of CPRs (Dasgupta 2005). Political instability and rapid population growth are the first two reasons. Third reason is that the management practices at the local level are sometimes overturned by central fiat. There are now several ways in which state authority can damage local institutions and turn CPRs into open access resources. The fourth reason is that social norms of behaviour, founded as they are on reciprocity, can be fragile. Institutions based on reciprocity are especially fragile in the face of growing opportunities for private investments in substitute resources.

One of the important difficulties associated with the study of CPRs is that almost all the studies are based on sample surveys. Even the National Sample Survey 54th Round is not free from limitations. It has been pointed out that no estimates were taken of the de facto area of CPRs. As the NSSO itself admits, the survey estimates of CPR land are perhaps on the lower side (NSSO 1999). Another problem is that estimates of CPR use were restricted to collection, which suggests that the numbers given are significant underestimates. It has been opined that although it was possible to give a good relative picture of CPR use across different agro-climatic zones, the absolute figures are equally important. That is more so where grazing is a major activity. Detailed information with regard to the livestock economy would have been useful to draw links between arable land and the livestock economy.

Institution and Policy Issues

Lack of clearly spelled out property rights and incentives has resulted in over-exploitation of the resource base. Though the strict enforcement of forest protection rules has brought down the rate of extraction (p.192) of forest resources to a great extent, a large proportion of the green manure and fuelwood requirement is still being met from forest. This practice can be curbed effectively by institutionalizing the present mode of extraction, by defining the user groups, and by setting boundary rules by engaging in reciprocal commitment of the forest department and the people.

Some studies also note that at present, there are no regulations on extraction for most NTFPs in most of the locations investigated (even in JFM and community forest management locations). This could have harmful consequence in terms of over-extraction and long-term sustainability (Gaudet et al. 2002). Some writers have argued for the easy accessibility to forest. They have pointed out that forest laws prevent original forest dwellers from earning their livelihood from forests. The communities fully dependent on forests are slowly and painfully dying of severe malnourishment, as their traditional source of nutrition and subsistence have been taken away some decades ago as a result of the forest and wildlife protection policies of the government (Radhakrishna 2009).

The old institutions of decentralized forest governance in central Himalayas are in a state of decadence. It has been found that locals are indifferent to the administrative jurisdiction of the forest in the course of their resource extraction activities. Here, collective rule violations are found to be common. The inhabitants are unaware about the long-term ecological implications of their actions. The origin of the forest councils, known as van panchayats, dates back to the early 1930s. However, both van panchayat forests as well as the state-controlled forests have degraded badly over the years. Rising population pressures also seem to undermine the efficacy or even the persistence of these age-old local institutions (Sarkar 2008).

Another example can be drawn from Goa. Goankarias, localized and semi-autonomous institutions, were formed to manage CPRs in the historical past. The Portuguese in the colonial period rechristened these institutions as communidade and internally modified them to direct the agrarian surplus to themselves. These institutions were neglected and over the years, ceased to function (D’Cruz and Raikar 2006).

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments envisaged a three-tier Panchayati Raj System for local-level governance and empowered (p.193) them to plan and manage local natural resources. Gram sabhas, the lowest democratic constituent institution of the gram panchayat, have an important role in the democratic management of CPRs. The traditional institutions can be integrated with this modern arrangement to empower local administrative bodies and enhance participation in decision-making. The tradition of community-based CPR management can be revived and strengthened (Menon 2007).

Database and Study on CPRs

National Sample Survey started collecting CPR data since the 54th Round. The survey relates to the CPRs in the life and economy of the rural population. The role of CPRs in providing biomass, fuel, irrigation water, fodder for livestock, and other forms of fodder for sustenance has been the main focus of the survey. The major contribution of the report is that it provides, for the first time in India, a comprehensive state and national-level database on the size, utilization, and contribution of CPRs. It also provides disaggregated information at the state level in terms of agro-climatic zones. The survey aims at an assessment of CPRs in terms of their contribution to the lives of the rural people.

The NSSO survey brought out that CPRs are concentrated in the central plateau region and in arid and semi-arid tracts of the country. According to the NSSO (1999) data, those CPRs constitute 22 per cent of land area in Madhya Pradesh, and 11 per cent, 10 per cent, and 8 per cent in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Bihar, respectively.

It is important to point out that geographers have not paid much attention to the study of CPRs. There is enough scope in this field. Spatial analysis of NSSO data, village survey, mapping at different scales, and remote sensing application are some of the areas warranting geographers’ attention. It is widely realized that for effective policy-driven intervention, there is a need for extensive database on natural resources and socio-economic characteristics. Use of remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) for assessing forest cover has gained importance among the researchers (Singh, Das, and Kushwaha 2003; Singh, Das, Pant, Thee 2004). Waterlogged area in Bihar has been assessed using remote sensing–GIS (Chatterjee et al. 2003).

Nationwide wasteland mapping project, carried out by National Remote Sensing Agency, provides insights into the problems related (p.194) to natural resources degradation. A study based on these maps and data extracted from these maps, and incorporating relevant socio-economic parameters, brought out the dynamics of relationship between the incidence of poverty and natural resources degradation in different states of India, representing the diverse ecosystems as well as different economic and social policy regimes and institutional mechanisms. Looking beyond wasteland mapping, the study examines how macroeconomic variables could determine the dynamics of poverty and natural resources degradation as manifested in rural India (Srivastava et al. 2004).

Conceptually, Gadgil’s (1987: 2) observation that ‘All renewable resources of the earth are in one sense common property resource as no individual can live let alone absolutely control any given resources in perpetuity’ is a good starting point for further research to examine the state of CPR management. Distribution of CPRs varies with agro-climatic landscape. Here, again, the type of resource is an important issue. Kerala does not have pastures or grazing lands like that in Gujarat, or Rajasthan, or some other north Indian states, but it has vast water resources, both freshwater and brackish water. The wetlands of India covering 58.2 million ha face degradation at various levels. It is important to assess their status, and explore causes and consequences of wetland loss. The remote sensing–GIS tool can be used very successfully for such an assessment. It is necessary to study turbidity, aquatic vegetation, and major geomorphological classes of wetlands. Sample studies in a couple of villages in Garurganga watershed, located in central Himalayas, Uttaranchal, and four villages in Dharwad district of Karnataka have stressed on the synergy between human and nature at the micro level and highlighted that unabated exploitation of CPRs is a threat to the livelihood of people directly depending on them.

The ‘tragedy of commons’ knows no boundary. Whether it is mountain or plain, or north or south, or east or west, the story of over-exploitation, increasing dependence of the marginal sections on limited CPRs, and competition with other interest groups, particularly on account of growing demand for land and water resources to cater to the needs of globalization-induced industrialization, is the same. (p.195) Micro-level documentation of common property natural resources through cadastral-level mapping in the villages and watersheds, strengthening of local institutions, capacity building, involvement of women in managing village-level commons, and appropriate policy formulation are some of the issues warranting in-depth analysis/research in future.


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