636.3 What if fence eats the grass?: The micropolitics of forest use and control in Jammu & Kashmir (India)

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 9:30 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Saloni GUPTA , Independent Researcher, Udhampur, J&K, India
The supporters as well as critics of participatory forest management programmes have conventionally understood these interventions in relation to issues of cooperation and conflict between forest bureaucracies and village communities. Recently, some scholars have pointed to the importance of power relations within local communities in defining the gap between forest management policies and on-the-ground realities. However, very little attention has been given by scholars to unravel the crucial role played by forest field staff in ultimately shaping the outcome of nature conservation policies.

Taking the case-study of National Afforestation Programme or NAP (a centrally sponsored scheme initiated in 2002) in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), this paper demonstrates how depending on their differential abilities and respective power to bargain with the forest field staff, village residents are able to devise various strategies to secure their interests amidst the opportunities and challenges created by the NAP. Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews with forest field-staff, members of forest management committees, rural local bodies and ordinary villagers, the paper unravels the problems of forest management and governance and presents the experiences of the village communities with the forest field-staff and reveals new spaces of cooperation, conflict and contestations that have emerged under the NAP in selected villages of J&K.

The principal argument in this paper is that conservation programmes such as the NAP permeate existing relations of domination and subordination, and are reshaped by power dynamics between village residents and field staff, resulting in differential impacts on various categories of forest users. While the relatively affluent residents are able to access forest resources by indulging in illegal timber harvesting, it is the poorest who bear the cost of nature conservation interventions.