Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Amita Bhaduri
The session was kickstarted by Ms Ritika Gupta, Assistant Director at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute with a brief introduction of the topic “Peoples Participation in Environmental Conservation” and of the central organizing it, Center for Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) at IMPRI along with India Water Portal under the ambit of The State of Environment – #PlanetTalks.
Further, Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Head at IMPRI briefly introduced the speaker of the session, Shri. Mohan Chandra Pargaien who is an Indian Foreign Service Officer of the 1990 batch from the Telangana carder, is currently an additional principal chief conservator of forests, Hyderabad, and member of IUCN CEM Forest & Urban Ecosystem Specialist Group.
Shri. Mohan Chandra Pargaien started his presentation by paying tribute to the demise of Shri. Sunder Lal Bahuguna, an active environmentalist, was gravely involved in the fieldwork of environmental conservation of Nainital hills. From there he brought into light the relevance of people’s participation and emphasized how women especially of regions Uttarakhand and Rajasthan are the worst sufferers of environmental degradation.
Later he talks about how the buzzword “people’s participation” is an essential element of Development and their active involvement in the economic, social, cultural, and political spheres will increase access to decision making leading to a gradual process of empowerment.
He then explored the concept of people’s participation from a historic lens and talks about its roots from “Sabha” or “Samiti” which focuses on mutual consultation.
Later throws light on article 15 of UN General Assembly Revolution 2542 (1969) calls for “the active participation of all elements of society, individually or through associations, in defining and in achieving the common goal of development”.
Purpose of People’s Participation
He observes people’s participation to be a social process that makes stakeholders empowered which in turn will increase the acceptability and utilization of services. This empowerment will help preach gender equality, unity among people, and a better understanding of the subject. He points at how their local knowledge and wisdom will allow officials to utilize untapped resources in a more effective and efficient manner.
Stages of People’s participation
He looks at this process to be a time-taking one and thus fragments it into different ambits.
- First, being the inform stage where people are just informed and not taken any opinions.
- Second, comes the stage of consulting where local people’s views and wisdom are taken into consideration.
- Third, comes the stage of involving where the stakeholders are involved and given a voice in making decisions.
- Fourth, comes the stage of collaborating where similar thinking agencies, organizations, and villagers all at once come into play.
- The final stage is empowerment which boosts their confidence and gives a sense of ownership, encouraging them to do fieldwork more.
Essential of a successful people’s participation
He observes for people’s participation to be a success the following things to be kept in mind:
1. Meeting the expectations of the stakeholders
2. It should be enough continuity of manpower and money
3. Transparent and Two-way communications in taking consensus
4. Mandatory Participation
5. Commitment of stakeholders
6. Inclusive and Effective representation
Global and Indian Events that necessitated People’s Participation
Shri. Mohan Chandra discusses global events like The Nature Conservancy (1951) NGO-US, Silent Spring 1962 by Rachel Carson – DDT, and Indian events like Chipko Movement (1973), Bishnoi Movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan (1985), and many more which made people realize the need for environmental conservation.
People’s participation in Forest Conservation (JFM)
Later, Shri. Mohan Chandra examines the 1952 Forest policy whose main intention was not conservation but smooth functioning of trade activities. Further, it was the Chipko Movement of 1970, the epicenter of environment conservation that functioned as a catalyst in encouraging other community-based gatherings, for example, the Aarabari-Midnapur West Bengal movement on protection on Sal Forests.
He then discusses the Joint Forest Management Guidelines which were released in 1990, Panchayati Raj Act, PESA, FRA of 2006, Formation of the National Afforestation, and Eco-Development Board which further expanded the rights and responsibilities of local communities. He also observes how gradually projects were diversified in hands of externally aided organizations (World Bank, OECF Japan-DFID UK, and OU) leading to the abrupt stoppage of developments once the project periods were over, where there was the withdrawal of financing and support from the government, again pushing them to from where they came.
He then touches upon the main challenge of who will protect the forest and how involving passive stakeholders also in participation is vital. Because the constant burden on active stakeholders without any scheme of incentivization will discourage even villagers from participating especially given how benefits are intangible (improved air, water, serenity).
Another concept he discusses is Hubris’s attitude which is typically seen in western culture where they believe that progressive and resourceful countries need not be harmed by environmental degradation. Further, their personal and financial discomfort in taking efforts exacerbates the situation.
He emphasizes how important it is to ingrain habits in our daily life that are pro-environmental conservation. Further elaborates on how the solutions should be integrated with pro-poor and gender-sensitive aspects along with action-based initiatives. He concludes by stressing the mechanism being effective, adequate policy interventions, and having a strong political will.
Questions and Reflections
Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Head at IMPRI commended Shri. Mohan Chandra in his detailed presentation that succeeded in reflecting the core issues of people’s participation in environmental conservation. She further brings to notice the prevalence of a disconnect between authorities and people at the grassroots which leads to natural furies, by stating an example of the destruction of hydroelectric projects by local people in Uttarakhand. Through this discourse, she highlights the question of restoration of mountain ecology and how important is sensitization of authorities of the same is.
Shri. Mohan Chandra remarked two problems, one being the decreased productivity of land and increased population leading to migration of workers to other job options. The second, being the intervention of infrastructural development projects and tourism activity acted as an obstacle in the restoration of mountain ecology.
It can be enforced by committees and platforms where both people and authorities’ views are heard and can come to a common consensus.
Dr Simi Mehta adds to this by highlighting how common consensus among involved parties will help in achieving the empowerment of stakeholders as quoted by Shri. Mohan Chandra earlier. Further, she reflects on Shri. Mohan Chandra’s point of need for continuity of manpower and money and feels that there is a rampant dearth of funds unlike documented in papers and thus asks Shri. Mohan Chandra’s view on the same.
Shri Mohan Chandra answers the question by talking about other inherent problems like illiteracy, poverty, and the commitment of the local people. Thus, quotes people’s participation to be a highly challenging activity which raises the need for third parties like NGOs and etc.
Dr Simi then asks Shri. Mohan Chandra on how the tussle of contestations among members of bureaucracy is dealt with when coming to creating a balance of development and conservation.
Shri Mohan Chandra highlights the main challenge of bureaucrats lies in winning the confidence of people in securing them their livelihood. Since there is humungous migration of laborers from farming to other activities, retaining them in that field with the provision of incentives and demanding for their involvement is difficult. Then he talks about other challenges like proper policy intervention, lack of funds, lack of priority allocation, lack of stakeholder involvement and etc.
Dr Simi Mehta concludes the discourse by talking about the increase in budgetary allocation for environmental conservation by the central government and thanks Shri. Mohan Chandra for his informative and detailed lecture.
Acknowledgement: Nikitha Gopi is a research intern at IMPRI.