Governance and management of resources of (mostly) natural origin assume importance in countries where a predominant section of people draw use-values, livelihood or income—depending on the nature of the relevant economic system—from these. In India, most such spaces to which there exists varying degrees of de facto access by members of a local community or a village or tribe, even while de jure property right exists with the State—unlike a ‘common property resource’—are termed as ‘common pool resources’. Study of institutional arrangements for governing these resources has been a lifelong passion for Elinor Ostrom, the only woman recipient of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.
Economists have studied the extent of dependence of households on these resources. Data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation in 54th round (1988) showed that it is the rural poor for whom the average value of collections from such common pool resources was the highest.
Granting management responsibilities of such resources to the users by the state in the nineteen nineties was marked a departure in from the then existing (entirely) centrally managed regime. Not only would it save the costs of maintaining an elaborate state apparatus, it would gel nicely with its neo-liberal posturing. What began in 1990 with the National Watershed Development Programme for Rainfed Areas or the Ministry of Environment and Forests notification on Joint Forest Management, was extended to many other resources in later years. These two, along with Participatory Irrigation Management and Inland Fishing Cooperatives are covered in the book under review. Each of these programmes warranted community level institutional arrangements. The book addresses two questions in this context: (a) whether the ‘promises’ of community management regime could be realized, and in particular (b) could it benefit the poor.
The book identifies a number of commonalities across these programmes: enhancing productivity while ensuring sustainability of the resource; the assumption of incentivizing beneficiaries towards effective resource use through grant of ‘power’; continuation of partial control of the state on the management; creation of a new, usually a village level institution consisting of end users facilitating their interest; participation of the users in the institution; equitable distribution of benefits and costs to the users; improvement in the livelihoods for the most marginalized.
The book covers and compares 30 village-level institutions across two States: a relatively well-off Gujarat with a gradual grounds up approach involving grass-roots organization, and a relatively poorer Madhya Pradesh with a top-down, rapid and government led approach.
Chapter 1 introduces the research problems and the context of Community Natural Resource Management (CNRM) in India, besides offering a brief history on the evolution of each of these institutions explaining the method behind selection of samples. The authors maintain that samples were not even representative of the State concerned, let alone India.
Students and researchers will find the chapter titled ‘Comparative CNRM: From Concepts to Field Research’ most interesting. The authors make the process involved in attaining conceptual clarity threadbare over a number of phrases that their research warranted: community, natural resource,
decentralization, institution, governance,
equity, impact on income and expenditure, and poverty. Undoubtedly such a laborious exercise is more important for a work
that weaves its story from the ground-up or that intends to compare practices across States and institutions or that required common understanding by individual authors studying specific institutions, like the book under review, but this step by step guide can be considered as a manual for any research.
Each of the four following chapters engage with one particular institution. Each identifies general constraints associated with the functioning of the relevant institution, engages deeper at the State level and compares the governance structures, and finally presents findings of case-studies against a set of questions, to inquire into the degree of success in achieving the multiple goals, around effective, equitable and sustainable management of the resource with particular emphasis on benefitting the poor. Description of the methods behind conducting village survey by Jharna Pathak on Inland Fisheries (p. 125) and by Madhu Verma on Forests (p. 309) may be mentioned specifically. Explanation of institutional processes by Amita Shah on watershed development projects (p. 202) is noteworthy as well.
Chapter seven titled ‘Conclusion: Comparing CNRM Institutions and Their Impact on Poverty in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh’ uses the institution specific findings on various qualitative parameters
from the previous four chapters to identify recurring patterns across institutions. The final chapter titled ‘CNRM and Poverty in India: The Way Forward’ lists empirically grounded policy recommendations. They include: inadequate decentralization thwarting decision making autonomy of the institutions managing the resource; lack of capacity building to make the programme genuinely inclusive at the village level; less than required attention to prevent ‘elite capture’ of the institutions; lack of attention to already existing factors that drives a wedge between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ such as class and caste, allowing cornering of benefits by a few.
None of these are new. Yet those searching for an exhaustive account of functioning of village level institutions managing natural resources and its impact on the users will find this book fascinating. The details enable the reader to zoom into a ‘high definition’ almost ground level view. Further, the level and intensity of academic rigour that is maintained consistently throughout the book makes it distinct from the other works in this field.
Nandan Nawn teaches at TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org
Book News Book News
Making Cars in the New India: Industry, Precarity and Informality by Tom Barnes is based upon extensive field research in India’s National Capital Region. The book is the first to focus on labour relations in the Indian auto industry. It proposes the theory that conflict in the auto industry has been driven by twin forces: first, the intersection of global networks of auto manufacturing with regional social structures which have always relied on informal and precariously-employed workers; and, second, the systematic displacement of securely-employed ‘regular workers’ by waves of precariously-employed ‘de facto informal workers’.
Cambridge University Press, 2018, pp. 261, R5909.00