: In a State with around 13,000 van panchayats, of which about 8,000 are practically non-functional, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has funded a project to strengthen 750 Van Panchayats.
JICA shall fund projects up to Rs 807 crore.
The amount includes Rs 657 for forest development through strengthening of 750 van panchayats. The remaining amount — Rs 150 crore —shall be used for disaster mitigation activities in the areas that lie under the forest department.
The Uttarakhand Forest Resource Management Project (UFRMP), which is being funded by JICA, would ‘address forest degradation in forest fringe areas of the State,’ and the van panchayats would be used for the implementation of the project.
Anup Malik, Chief Project Director, UFRMP, said, “The loan agreement was signed in April, this year. In June one Uttarakhand Forest Resource Management Society was formed to implement the project.”
Being a Special Category State, Uttarakhand government would bear 10 per cent of the loan amount, while the rest would be paid by the Centre.
Van panchayats, or, community owned forests, are a unique feature of the State of Uttarakhand.
However, the van panchayats started weakening after 1976, Tarun Joshi, coordinator, said Van Panchayat Sanghash Morcha, an organisation that has been working on van panchayats in the State.
Between 1931 and 1976 the villagers had complete rights over the community forests and the earnings from the forest produce.
However, after the amendments in the year 1976 and 2001, the van panchayats have been lost to the forest department. The people do not get the benefits from them any more.
Mr Joshi said, “In 2001 the van panchayats were completely handed over to the forest department. This finished the autonomy of the van panchayats as the forest produce and earnings from them were handled by the forest department.”
“It is still to be seen whether JICA’s project would actually strengthen the community rights over the van panchayat forests or would cater to the needs of the forest department,” Mr Joshi said.
The State was hit by a deluge in June, 2013, and five districts – Rudraprayag, Bageshwar, Chamoli, Uttarkashi, and Pithoragarh, bore life, property, and livelihood losses during the disaster.