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Library Indigenous control and sustainability of common resources in the hills of North East India

Indigenous control and sustainability of common resources in the hills of North East India

Indigenous control and sustainability of common resources in the hills of North East India

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Date of publication
December 2004
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The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, enacted fifty years ago, allows autonomy to tribal communities in administrative, legislative and financial matters and was supposed to protect them from domination and exploitation by external forces. This paper examines the extent to which self-governance by tribal groups facilitated sustainability of common resources, especially forests, in the hill regions of North East India. Drawing on secondary data, it describes the extent and rate of deforestation in the region and attempts to analyse the causes.Its findings include that:deforestation appeared to accelerate sharply during the 1980s and 1990s: roughly the same amount of forest was lost during 1989 and 1993 as during the previous three decadesshifting cultivation is the main source of livelihoods for people living in the hill areas of north-east India and is often seen as one of the main agents of deforestationwhereas cultivation cycles as long as 20 to 30 years prevailed prior to the 1950s, population pressure and land scarcity in more recent years has seen the cycles reduced to 3 to 5 years; consequently, abandoned plots rarely have enough time to regeneratetimber logging, including a large illegal trade in timber, and collection of wood for fuel, are among the other causes of deforestationsome "sacred groves" – areas of forest held sacred by traditional belief systems – have been left relatively undisturbed in the region, and act as important storehouses of biodiversity, although cultural changes in recent years have posed a threat to their survival.The paper remarks on the piquancy of the situation in North East India: elsewhere in India there have been struggles to give local communities rights over forests in an attempt to stem environmental degradation and forest loss; but in the North East, the communities already have control and authority over natural resources, and forest loss has occurred in spite of this.The paper concludes by suggesting some ways in which future policy might improve the sustainability of forest use in the region, including:there is a need to document and monitor existing sacred groves and analyse their value for biodiversity conservationsustainable management of forest resources has to be centred around the costs and benefits to the community, since it is with the community that ownership rights restidentifying ways of minimising the deleterious effects of shifting cultivation, while retaining the basic features, could be the most feasible solution.

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A. Saikia

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Geographical focus