A History of Forest Politics in the Terai : A Case of Equity or Ecology?
By- Poshendra Satyal Pravat
This paper reviews and explores the equity and sustainability issues in the forestry sector in the Terai, Nepal with a focus on the past and present forest politics and policy in the region. The paper argues that Terai forestry has been historically an inequitable domain that only benefited the State and the ruling class whereas the common Nepali people did not get a fair share of the benefits from it. A review of socio-political and environmental history of the Terai also suggests that concern for environmental conservation was not a priority until recently due to the policy approach of successive governments to exploit the high-value forests for commercial purposes. The upper hand of the State in the control of Terai forests ever since the beginning of the history of Nepal remained as a legacy for a long period, even influencing current forestry policy and practice in the region. This could explain the reluctance of successive governments for transparent and accountable forest governance in the Terai. This also explains the restricted policy of the State to hand over only a few parts of Terai forests for community management.
Despite well-established community forestry practice in the hills of Nepal with local Forest User Groups (FUGs) preserving the forests, controversies and conflicting debates exist on the management of Terai forests as evident by the difference of opinions among the donors, Nepalese environment and development NGOs and the government. Though community forestry has been in place in some areas of Terai, it is a fairly new concept. The challenges for the sustainable Terai forestry have been to support the creation of new institutions of community forestry management; increased user group heterogeneity and inequity; existence of large high-value forests; and the proximity to the timber market in India.If managed efficiently, it is argued, the Terai forests could not only boost the local and national economy but also help in environment conservation (Springate-Baginski et al., 2003; Mitchell, 2001). However, given the historical context of inequitable and ecologically unsustainable forestry practice in the Terai, which has still shaped the current forest politics and policy in the region, the question of how equity and sustainability issues can be addressed remains important. With the recent political change in Nepal after years of instability and conflict, and the emphasis on equity, inclusive democracy and restructuring of the State, it is timely to ask how can Terai forestry be managed in a sustainable way? Who benefits from the Terai forestry, and how? Who – or what – loses, and why? To help answer these questions, I will be looking into a case study of community forestry in the Terai in my forthcoming fieldwork in Nepal to see what impacts community forestry brings in terms of equity and ecological sustainability and whether these two goals of environment management (ecological sustainability) and equity are compatible or in conflict. Putting it other way, the research question is thus: Does community forestry in the Terai help to address the related problems of inequity and unsustainable resource management?
Keeping this main aim of the research in mind, I will however, in this paper focus on the historical review of forestry policy and practice in the Terai. The discussion of forest politics in the Terai in historical perspective provides a research context for the analysis of the implications of community forestry policy on equity and ecological sustainability issues in the Terai. Before reviewing the past forest politics with a touch of environmental and socio-political history of the Terai, I will, at first, briefly introduce Terai and then move on to discuss its socio-economic heterogeneity and inequity.
Entry filed under: Reports.