VAN PANCHAYATS (VPs):
In Uttarakhand, a state known for its hilly terrain and rich forest resources, Van Panchayats have played a crucial role in preserving and maintaining the forests. These institutions were established with the aim of involving local communities, who are directly dependent on forests for their livelihoods, in sustainable forest management practices. The key features of Van Panchayats in Uttarakhand include:
Community Participation: Van Panchayats comprise members from the local community, often elected by the villagers themselves. These members are responsible for making decisions related to forest protection, afforestation, and sustainable use of forest resources.
Forest Management: Van Panchayats are tasked with managing and protecting the forests in their jurisdiction. This includes preventing illegal logging, controlling forest fires, and regulating grazing and other activities that might harm the ecosystem.
Afforestation and Reforestation: Van Panchayats are actively involved in planting new trees and restoring degraded forest areas through afforestation and reforestation efforts.
Economic Benefits: While the primary focus is on environmental conservation, Van Panchayats also work to provide economic benefits to local communities. They often engage in activities like non-timber forest produce collection and sale.
Environmental Education: These institutions also play a role in educating the local communities about the importance of forests, biodiversity, and sustainable resource management.
Legal Recognition: Van Panchayats in Uttarakhand are recognized under the state’s Forest Conservation Act, which grants them certain legal powers to manage and protect their designated forest areas.
Overall, Van Panchayats have been successful in fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility among local communities toward their forests. This model of community-based forest management has received praise for its positive impact on forest conservation and rural development. It empowers local people to take charge of their natural resources and contributes to the broader goal of environmental sustainability.
Selection of Van Panchayats in UFRMP:
Van Panchayat (VP) / Village Forest Council is an autonomous local institution having legally demarcated village forests. They were formed for sustainable management and protection of forests and its natural resources. The first VP, approved by the government, was formed in 1921. Uttarakhand has more than 12,000 VPs managing around 4,96,185 ha. of forests. The area under each VP ranges from small tracts of land to more than 2,000 ha. All the community forests are managed as per the guidelines in the Van Panchayat Act (Find attached document Van Panchayat Act 2005). It’s the joint responsibility of the state and communities to manage the Forest Council. For effective results, the Revenue Department guides the forest communities.
When it comes to selecting Van Panchayat as part of an Uttarakhand Forest Resources Management Project (UFRMP), the criteria often align with the overall goals and objectives of the project. These criteria are designed to ensure that the selected VPs are best suited to contribute to the successful implementation of the project and the sustainable management of forest resources. Here are some specific selection criteria that might be considered for a Van Panchayat in a UFRMP:
Eligibility Criteria for Van Panchayat in UFRMP:
- Approximate area availability (it is proposed to treat 50ha average area under each VP)
- Willingness of VP members to participate in restoration works
- Locations of certain VPs on SOI topo maps with approximate coordinates (Latitude-Longitude)
- Division/ Range wise list (which could not be located) have been provided to PMU
- Feedback on errors in plotting of VP locations, if any
Selection Criteria & Parameters of evaluation of VPs:
- Past performance of VPs
- Extent of forest degradation
- Possibility of VP cluster formation
- Distance from RF
- Population and Target group population Approach:
- Visualization / analysis of degradation and possibility of cluster formation requires study of maps showing VP locations
- Geographic Information System (GIS) shall be adopted to study such location-based information from SOI maps, FSI Forest Cover maps, Watershed Maps, etc.
Rejection of Van Panchayat:
- At times feasibility may be impacted due to reasons such as
- Other on-going projects
- Inactive VP
- Non-workable area (rocky or very steep slopes)/ insufficient workable area
- Alternate use by local community (grazing, etc.)
- Old plantations
- Final Selection after field feasibility report
It’s important to tailor the selection criteria to the specific goals and context of the UFRMP, while also considering the broader principles of community-based forest management. Ultimately, the goal is to select Van Panchayat who can work together to ensure the success of the project and the sustainable well-being of both the forest ecosystem and the local community.
During the Project, eco-restoration, livelihood enhancement, and community development activities will be carried out in 38,000 ha of forest area involving 839 Van Panchayats selected from the 13 forest divisions. Van Panchayats are chosen for these operations based on scientific metrics related to forest degradation, a cluster strategy, and socio-economic criteria.