1. Point of Departure: Population Control
Which of these three frameworks would it be rational for us to adopt? But reason cannot act in a vacuum; as G. K. Chesterton puts it, only a man who knows nothing of motors talks of motoring without Petrol; only a man who knows nothing of reason talks of reasoning without strong, undisputed first principles. What first principles should serve as our point of departure ? I suggest one which would be most widely agreed upon, at least by the elite of the country. This is that we must strive towards creating a situation in which the growth of our already large population be brought to a halt. This has never been achieved by compulsion; even the much more disciplined society of China is finding it difficult to do so. Our people must therefore be motivated to limit the number of their children. People who are scrounging for a living find children of help in their struggle for existence. At that level of subsistence they would never agree to limit them. It is only when the quality of life is a little elevated, when they do not have to worry about the next meal or the fuel to cook it with, when they have had some education, especially of womenfolk, that thoughts enter of the need to invest in each child. Only when investment in a child acquires a meaning, does limiting the number of children so that each child can be done justice to becomes an appealing concept. Only then is the motivation to limit the number of children generated, and demographic transition become possible.
This is well established as a broad experience round the world, and supported by our own experience in Kerala where the per capita income is low, but where basic security of livelihood brought about by widespread land reforms and other social measures along with the country’s highest level of women’s literacy is accompanied by a population growth rate of 1:1 percent per year, only half as much as for the country as a whole. This example emphasizes that the current trend of worsening of social and economic disparities in the country goes against all that is important for limiting our population. Our national interests therefore lie in providing basic security of livelihood and minimal health and education levels to the masses of our population; half of whom still live below the poverty line, 60 percent of whom are still totally illiterate and atleast a third without access to source of drinking water.
2. Organizing the Disorganized
This situation will not correct itself automatically. The society would continue to develop at their cost, it would remain a few islands of prosperity in an ocean of poverty, unless these people organize themselves, make their weight felt and pull themselves up by the boot straps. We must therefore provide for them something around which they could organize themselves. This something could be a resource, such as that of common lands or of employment guarantee scheme. Secondly, apart from devices for organizing themselves they need employment, productive employment that would add to our assets. And thirdly they need security in fulfilling their minimal needs such as fuel, fodder, organic manure and small timber. If we accept this set of propositions which follows quite logically from our point of departure, we are faily on way to defining how we should deal with our country’s living resources. As a corollary, we also have pointers to how we should deal with other aspects of our society, in particular, with industrial development.
3. Employment Generation
Providing steady round-the year employment for the large rural population is the most difficult challenge before us. The industrial route has proven totally inadequate in this regard. In particular, dedication of reserve forests towards supply of industrial raw material may have had a net negative impact. The paper mills may have created fewer jobs than they destroyed with decimation of bamboo for thousands of artisans dependent on it. The plywood mills may have generated less employment than was lost through the liquidation of mango and many other minor forest producing trees. The rayon mills too may have provided fewer jobs than they destroyed by promoting the conversion of naural forests to eucalyptus plantations. Furthermore, each of these industries has perhaps destroyed furher jobs, for instance, of fishermen by polluting the river. There has never been any proper accounting. However, we do broadly know that creation of an industrial job requires large investments, generally of several lakh rupees, while land/plant biomass based job can be created at far less investment. I am not suggesting that industrialization should be abandoned. I shall make other proposals about it below. I do however suggest that in the interest of rural employment generation the burden of forest based industries on reserve forests should be totally removed; for all the evidence cited above shows that this burden is unsupportable.
4. Minor Forest Produce
I suggest that instead we go back to the old Indian tradition in which forests as a source of usufructs which could be harvested without destroying the trees. There are myraids of these ranging from tendu leaves, bamboos and canes, myrobolan nuts to pine resin. An enormous number of people have been traditionally engaged in collecting and processing these. Our reserve forests should be nurtured back into diverse stands of trees, shrubs and climbers producing a variety of such produce and supporting large numbers of people in its collection and processing. The organized effort of state should go into this and in helping build institutions which generate a reasonable return for forest produce collectors and processorssuch as basketweavers.
5. Nature Conservation
Eventual banning of all tree felling and wood removed from reserve forests would also have a very salutary effect for our attempts to conserve these as reservoirs of genetic diversity and for their watershed values. For as long as fellings continue in these forests, it would be very difficult to control illicit felling and destruction. A total ban would fareasier to implement, especially if we involve local people on a wide scale in its execution. For the moment some extractions may have to continue, especially from plantations such as those of teak and eucalyptus. But after the current cycle is over, these too should be reverted to diverse natural forests, albeit enriched by species of value in production of minor forest produce. As we saw at the begininng that is very much a part of the Indian tradition, a tradition that we need to nurture. If about 20 percent of our land is maintained under suchforest cover, we would also benefit greatly from its watershed srvices.
6. Biomass Needs of Villlage Populations
A fair proportion of our fuel and fodder needs is already being met from agricultural byproducts such as coconut shells, cotton and legume sticks and paddy and jower straw. Our own estimates show that this accounts for 58.75 million tonnes out a total fuel demand of 262 million tonnes, and 368 million tonnes out of a total fodder demand of 613 million tonnes. But this is the country wide picture. ---- there are districts in Haryana where farm production can more than support the fodder needs, or in Kerala where the coconut orchards provide all of the fuel needs. However, over most of the country agricultural byproducts are quite inadequate to meet either fuel or fodder needs, forcing people to burn large quantities of dung and maintain half-started livestock. For the country as a whole therefore we cannot think of meeting all the village biomass needs based on agricultural byproducts alone, even when augmented by some agroforestry. This would necessarily have to be supplemented by biomass production on lands unfit for agriculture; the revenue wastelands and protected forest lands currently assigned for this purpose, added to, where necessary by carefully selected degraded reserve forest lands.
7. A National Network of Community Lands
These community lands from which the local population may meet their biomass needs should not above all else be open access lands. They should be lands to which access is carefully regulated by some group of people. Bureaucracy would have to help in this regulation; but it cannot accomplish if by itself. The prime responsibility for it should be assigned to small village community living in immediate-neighbourhood of the piece of land and organically dependent on it. Such a village community would not often be a cluster of villages constituting a revenue village or mandal panchayat. Rather it would be a smaller, more homogeneous settlement or hamlet. Fresh, careful surveys would have to be conducted to delimit such units and common land areas to be assigned to them. The management of the common lands would be the responsiblity of a committee elected by the gramasabha (village assembly) of this unit. Such a committee should give greater weightage to the poorer segments of the population more intimately dependent on the common lands, as well as to women. Special provisions would have to be made to ensure this, and to guard against the domination of the committee by the more powerful segments of the village population. The committee should be accountable both to the gramasabha as well as to higher level committee at mandal/tehsil/district level. Some impartial outside presence from Government administration would also have to be involved to help the committee discharge its duties adequately; to convert the open access resources into community controlled resources.
The Government may have to intially invest in generating biomas on these common lands. However, most of this investment would be in the form of human labour, and should be used to generate employment for the local people. In he l.ong run, however, the Government should not have to go on investing in biomas production from these lands. Instead all members of local community must pay for resource use either in cash or through labour input. Such charges should be so adjusted as to be adequate for long term maintenance of business on common lands. Indeed such a system of users paying for the salary of a watchman or other inputs does exist in the few forest anchayats that are still surving. Thre biomas produced from these lands should not enter market; for as with reserve forest lands it would be difficult to control exploitation once market forces come into play.
Good management of biomas preoduction as well as utilizanould call for substantial technical inputs. District level mechanisms should be generated to provide these. Such a network of common lands should be created on countrywide basis with appropriate adjustments for local conditions. A strong legislativeframe work at both state and central level would have to be created to ensure that the integrity of this network is fully guarded against encroachment at all levels, from local cultivators to Governmetn enterprise.
Such a resource would provide a concrete asset around which the poor can become organized and play a catalytic role in winning them a better quality life. It would also go a long way towards ensuring them secure supply of their basic minimum needs.
8. Tree Farming
It would obviously be impossible to provide adequate common land to meet the biomass needs of each and every villagelt alone all towns and cities. The biomass needs of this population plus the biomass needs of the industry should be met from tree production on privately owned cultivated lands. These could either be encroached Government lands, land under shifting cultivation, legally owned marginal lands unfit for cultivation of annual crops, or even better class agricultural lands. The total biomass demand such land may be called upon to fill annually could 80 million tonnes for fuel and 20 million tonnes for industrial requirements. This 100 million tonnes could very reasonably be produced on 10 million ha out of 150 million ha of land under cultivation in this country; a very reasonable level of demand. What would be necessary to make this possible would of course be a mechanism to ensure adequate financial retursn for the free farmers and way to take care of their subsistence needs in the years it takes tree crops to mature.
9. No biomass Imports
In the long run this would call for a firm policy for halting imports of wood pulp from Canada, timber from Malaysia and so on. Our farmers simply cannot stand competition from these sources, not because they are inefficient, but becuase biomass is deliberately undervalued in the wood economy as well. As Repetto and Gillis (1988)1 extensively document wood is being sold at excessively low prices all over the world; hurting in the long run interests of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia as well. Developed countries on the other hand heavily subsidize their farmers to produce whatever they do; grain, dairy produce or three crops and thereby keep the biomass prices low. Furthermore, India must pay foreign exchange for all such imported biomass; we are not in a position to accept over increasing foreign exchange burdens on our economy, or on our invironment for that matter, Afterall we are meeting a good proportion of our foreign exchange reuirements by overexploitingour prawn stocks.
10. Employment Guaratee Scheme
An employment guarantee scheme on the pattern of Maharashtra,but far better administered for the entire country could be the most vital component of providing a better quality of life for our rural poor. This scheme should be carefully designed to improve the productive potential of all lands, be they marginal farmlands, community lands or reserve forest lands. With modern technical inputs and careful planning it has immense potential for restoring the health of our land and its plant cover. With openness, loosening the hold of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and more checks and balances from those employed on the scheme and voluntary agencies working with them, the EGS could also serve as an important cause around which the powerless could become organised and acquire some clout.
11. No Subsidies to the Rich
The whole of our approach is to ensure that economic development that proceeds at the cost of rural poor should come to a halt, and be reoriented to make a better quality of life for them its central concern. This is however no plea to stop running the engine of industrialization, only to stop overheating it. Biomass-based industry should grow, but on itsown strength properly paying for the resources it can help free farmers produce, adequately controlling the discharge of its poluting waste products. This would undoubtedly cut into its currently exorbitant profitmargins, forcingit to become more efficient, which would be all to the good ofthe country.
12. Earth as a Human Habitat
Last but not the least, we must return to our cultural roots, with a respect for nature as a habitat for humanity, not contempt for it as a warehouse of commodities. We must move away from a society in which the influential can now down magnificent old mango trees to multiply money for their plywood mills; towards one that treasures its heritage, of culture and of nature. We must transform this inequitous society in which poor peasants are being forced to cut down the mango trees in their yards to fill their belly, into one in which they will be secure enough to contine decorating their houses with its tender leaves and inflourescences to remind their brides and bridegrooms of the arrival of the springtime.