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Forest Satyagraha and Van Panchayats: Start of a New Era for Forest Management in Kumaon Himalayas
Uttarakhand, the land of Chipko movement has been known for its resistance towards the unsustainable practices of development. There has been popular resistances to development measures by the local indigenous people for equitable utilization of natural resources. The ‘British Raj’ witnessed a few movements against their forestry laws, in the form of Forest Satyagrahas, similar to module of civil disobedience movement. Britishers exploited the locals by manipulating their sacred beliefs and implementing strict laws of forestry (by banning fishing, grazing, logging, etc). They implemented scientific forest management practices without considering the importance of local knowledge systems. The locals resisted through non-cooperation (by indulging in illegal logging). Born out of these conflicts, ranged for seven decades, ‘Van Panchayats’ were formed in 1921, became functional in 1931, played a bridging role between the state and local people. Van Panchayats through conservations provided means of subsistence and prevented natural disasters (avalanche, landslides, flash flood, etc). This paper is a ‘work-in-progress’ study of the gradual devolution of rights of the local stakeholders to the government. Further the paper studies the present day land rights movements in Uttarakhand that has been demanding rights over the forest (as per the FRA 2006). It draws simile between the Indian freedom struggle and Forest Satyagrahas now led by Van Panchayat Sangharsh Mukti Morcha. It also tries to establish that the various ‘forest satyagrahas’ taking place in colonial India especially in Kumaon show a similar pattern of evolution of CBFM systems as recognised by FAO since the 1970s.