Can political representation improve forest conservation? The Indian Experience
Bina AgarwalUniversity of Manchester, UK, and IEG
Shamindra Roy Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
Shiva SharmaGeorge Washington University, USA
Can political representation by indigenous communities ― whom many see as forest stewards ― enhance forest cover and biodiversity conservation? Or can indigenous control over forests lead to greater extraction? This paper addresses this under-researched question, using India’s uniquely multilayered enactments which granted Scheduled Tribes political control over local forests, in constituencies reserved for them in state assemblies and village councils (via PESA).
Using geospatial technologies for assessing tree cover plus census data, we compare Chhattisgarh’s 20,000-odd villages across reserved and unreserved categories over 2001-2019, differentiating by types and levels of reservation. We find significantly greater increase in tree cover with assembly-level reservations but the opposite with PESA, with and without other village-level controls.
The assembly-level result suggests a policy win-win ― social inclusion with conservation. The PESA results suggest that divergent interests at the village-level can stymie conservation and may need more incentives. This is the first study globally to cover these diverse dimensions and will have relevance for other countries with substantial forests and indigenous populations.
jointly with Shamindra Roy (Centre for Policy Research, Delhi) and Shiva Sharma (George Washington University, USA)