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Decentralisation and democratic forest reforms in India: Moving to a rights-based approach


  • Kumar, Kundan
  • Singh, Neera M.
  • Kerr, John M.


There is a consensus in the literature and widespread policymaker support on the desirability of democratic decentralisation of natural resources governance. However, few decentralisation initiatives in developing countries have led to more democratic governance of natural resources. India's Recognition of Forest Rights Act (RFRA), 2006, was enacted as a result of democratic processes driven by demand for recognition of forest rights by forest dwellers. RFRA represents a political, demand-based effort to reform forest governance through a provision of rights to forest-dependent people. India also continues to operate the joint forest management (JFM) programme, a more traditional state-initiated decentralisation effort. The two parallel forest reform programmes being carried out in the same landscapes provide a unique opportunity to study democratisation of forest governance in the country with the world's largest number of forest-dependent people. We examine JFM and RFRA on the criteria of delegation of power and authority, downward accountability and impact on forest-dependent poor to understand the substantively different spaces that they open for democratic forest governance. We find that the implementation of the RFRA has been strongly opposed by powerful interests, and its more radical provisions related to community rights over forests have largely remained unimplemented. However, our findings, drawing from both primary and secondary sources, also bring out the potential of the RFRA to hold the forest bureaucracy accountable to forest-dweller communities and its ability to shift tangible legal powers and authority to forest dwellers.

Suggested Citation

  • Kumar, Kundan & Singh, Neera M. & Kerr, John M., 2015. "Decentralisation and democratic forest reforms in India: Moving to a rights-based approach," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 1-8.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:forpol:v:51:y:2015:i:c:p:1-8
    DOI: 10.1016/j.forpol.2014.09.018

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Behera, Bhagirath & Engel, Stefanie, 2006. "Institutional analysis of evolution of joint forest management in India: A new institutional economics approach," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 350-362, June.
    2. Kumar, Sanjay, 2002. "Does "Participation" in Common Pool Resource Management Help the Poor? A Social Cost-Benefit Analysis of Joint Forest Management in Jharkhand, India," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 763-782, May.
    3. Francis, Paul & James, Robert, 2003. "Balancing Rural Poverty Reduction and Citizen Participation: The Contradictions of Uganda's Decentralization Program," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 325-337, February.
    4. Ram Prasad & Shashi Kant, 2003. "Institutions, Forest Management, and Sustainable Human Development – Experiences from India," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 353-367, September.
    5. Poteete, Amy R. & Ribot, Jesse C., 2011. "Repertoires of Domination: Decentralization as Process in Botswana and Senegal," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 439-449, March.
    6. Ribot, Jesse C. & Agrawal, Arun & Larson, Anne M., 2006. "Recentralizing While Decentralizing: How National Governments Reappropriate Forest Resources," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 34(11), pages 1864-1886, November.
    7. Kundan Kumar & John M. Kerr, 2012. "Democratic Assertions: The Making of India's Recognition of Forest Rights Act," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 43(3), pages 751-771, May.
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    4. Prabowo, Doni & Maryudi, Ahmad & Imron, Muhammad A. & Senawi,, 2016. "Enhancing the application of Krott et al.'s (2014) Actor-Centred Power (ACP): The importance of understanding the effect of changes in polity for the measurement of power dynamics over time," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 184-186.


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