People’s Forests: Is Community Governance the Future of India’s Jungles?


The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was the first law in independent India to give forest-dwelling communities comprehensive rights to manage forest resources. The Act recognises forest lands as community forest resources (CFR), a special category of forests governed by communities.

This report, published in 2018 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, assesses the experiences of forest-dependent communities in accessing their CFR rights. The CSE spoke to people in more than 30 villages in five districts across four states: Maharashtra (Amravati and Chandrapur districts), Odisha (Kandhamal district), West Bengal (Alipurduar district) and Gujarat (Narmada district). The people interviewed included community members, gram sabha representatives, non-profits, and forest department officials. 

The report notes that communities have started exercising their rights over CFR areas through their gram sabhas and with the help of non-profit organisations. It finds that some CFR areas helped create new employment opportunities for these communities. Such experiences, it says, could be replicated elsewhere to mitigate poverty and reverse migration from forest areas.


  1. By 2016, a little over 1.1 million hectares of forest land had been ‘converted’ into CFR areas managed by forest-dwelling communities. The CSE cites this data from a report by the Community Forest Rights – Learning and Advocacy Group, and says that another 30 million hectares could potentially be handed over to communities.

  2. Citing the same report, the CSE report notes that over 10,500 CFR title deeds were issued in at least eight states across the country till July 2016.

  3. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 recognises rights over forestlands through title deeds. Data of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs shows that by October 2017 title deeds for individual forest rights had been issued to over 17.59 lakh people/households for forestlands over 1.64 million hectares. By October 2017, community rights over 4 million hectares of forestland had been recognised.

  4. Only seven states have formally recognised the rights of communities over forests. Maharashtra has issued title deeds for over 700,000 hectares of forestland. Odisha lags behind significantly. Rajasthan, till July 2016, had issued title deeds for only 152 hectares. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which have a large forest-dependent population, have not issued a single title deed so far.

  5. Wildlife, according to local communities, had returned after many years to the CFR areas in Amravati district, Maharashtra. In Payvihir village, sitafal (custard apple) trees would initially be auctioned by the forest department. After villagers got their CFR rights in 2012, they resisted this and started marketing the fruit. It fetched the village a profit of Rs. 16,000 in the first year (after deducting plucking wages), and earned the Payvihir gram sabha a UNDP biodiversity award in 2014.

  6. CFR areas provide year-round employment to the residents of Nayakheda, Payvihir, Upatkheda and Khatijapur villages in Amravati district, where over 65 per cent of the households are landless. The report says that cultivation in CFR areas brought remunerative returns and drastically reduced the migration from these villages.

  7. Similarly, in Panchgaon village, Chandrapur district, Maharashtra, a CFR area of 1,006 hectares has been divided into 24 units (locally called tapus) to extract bamboo. From 2012-13 to 2016-17, bamboo alone fetched the gram sabha Rs. 1.5 crores.

  8. In order to involve women, Panchgaon’s gram sabha handed over the management of CFRs to men and women on rotation. In October 2017, a group of 38 women started making decisions about the conservation and management of the village’s CFR area. They also started managing the bamboo trade – stocktaking, marketing, book-keeping, tax filing and so on – and deciding on the utilisation of profits.

  9. From April 2014 to June 2015, 16 of the 75 villages in the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, Narmada district, Gujarat, which are dependent on the forest for their livelihood, reaped benefits from their CFR areas. They earned Rs. 18.5 crores from harvesting 96,319 metric tonnes of bamboo during a huge harvest in 2014-15; the next year, the bamboo harvested fell to 34,703 MT. Thereafter, 12 villages took up the forest department’s suggestion of reinvesting 30 per cent of their profits in forest protection and community development.

  10. People in 12 villages in the Coochbehar forest division in West Bengal say that CFRs have helped them resist tree felling by the forest department. This, in turn, has helped regenerate native species and improved the overall quality of the forest. Villagers also say that rhinoceros poaching decreased significantly when they started patrolling the forest. However, the lack of formal title deeds still prevents many from exercising their rights over the forest.

  11. Adivasi women in Madhikol village, Kandhmal district, Odisha, have benefited from CFRs. In 2016, they were able to sell siali leaf plates, with the help of a Bhubhaneshwar-based non-profit, for Re.1 per piece – a 92 per cent improvement over the 8 paisa per plate offered by middlemen.

  12. Gram sabhas across the five surveyed districts reported an improvement in the health and density of forests since people started accessing their CFRs. There are fewer incidents of forest fires, say villagers, and the natural regeneration of local species increased all kinds of other forest resources. However, only a handful of gram sabhas have been able to exercise their CFR rights, so the report recommends that the state and district administration take steps to promote CFR management in the country.

    Focus and Factoids by Sushmita Iyer.


Shruti Agarwal and Ajay Kumar Saxena


Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi 


09 Mar, 2018