New Delhi, May 2 : The recent World Bank report, criticising the current Joint Forest Management (JFM) model for not conceding enough rights and responsibilities to communities has been debunked by experts and officials of the Ministry of Forest and Environment.
They say the assumptions in the WB report have disregarded the ground realities in the country.
The JFM concept, envisaging participation of people in forest management, was introduced in the 90s as one of the principal strategies to protect and conserve the natural green cover.
Under the programme, communities receive better access to non-timber subsistence forest products and a share of net commercial timber revenues in return for providing improved forest protection.
The World Bank says the current JFM model was heavily tilted in favour of the state Forest Department. The government staff have strong control over planning, management, investment, harvesting and marketing.
According to its study, most of the communities participating in JFM are not able to benefit from the forest products to earn their livelihood. They often view JFM as something imposed which does not take into consideration local institutions, which make use of the local knoweldge and work in local cultural context.
Many villagers view JFM as ''a top-down non-participatory process'' that can aggravate existing social tensions between tribal and non-tribal people.
Meaningful participation of communities in the micro planning process is often quite weak, with insufficient regard to people's subsistence on forest requirements and broader developmental needs, according to the report.
However, expert in Forestry like Prof J S Singh of the Benaras Hindu University(BHU) sound a note of caution, saying there were some reservations regarding giving total control at this point in time.
''The JFM is still an experiment and we should wait for some more time to see what modifications are needed,'' he said.
Enviornment and Forest Ministry experts say the World Bank has given a ''simplistic'' analysis without taking into account the complexities of the India conditions.
''The situation is not ripe yet for giving total responsibilities of forest management to communities living on them,'' said a senior official of the Ministry.
The example of the North-East is there to learn from, he said. In the North-East, states barring Asom, forest land has been under communities from the very beginning. As the region was not administered by the British, there is little forest land under the government. The result has been reckless exploitation by comunities leaving just shrubs in place of forests, he said.
In these states, nationalisation of forest land did not take place and the land remained with tribes. For example, in Nagaland, there are 23 minor and major tribes who own most of the forest land. Districts are formed according to concentration of tribes and decision of cultivation is taken by village elders. The community ownership has not done any good to forests in this state, said the official.
Citing of example of foreign country's experiment by the World Bank has not been found convincing by the Indian officials.
The report says international experence suggests that when communities are empowered with greater rights and responsibilities, forest conservation and rural livelihood tend to improve.
There are numerous successful stories from Australia, Cambodia, China, Nepal, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand in which communities have achieved a range of ecological and economic goals.
But a senior Forest and Environment Ministry official said, ''All this talk about total control by communities sounds fine and very democratic, but in India we have to see whether we have built capacities of communities good enough to make them manage the forests properly.'' ''If there has been no or inadequate capacity building, the result of abdicating control by the state Forest Departments in favour of community bodies would only result in control by the village musclemen,'' the official said.
The JFM programme currently span 27 states, represent 85000 village committees and cover more than 17.3 million hectares of forest land.
At present, the total forest cover in the country is 20.4 per cent of the total geographical area, while the target is to increase it to 33 per cent of the total area by 2012, which is sought to be achieved by greater involvement of communities dependent on forest for their livelihood.