“PESA Has Boosted Forest Conservation in India.”

“PESA Has Boosted Forest Conservation in India.”

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details of “PESA Has Boosted Forest Conservation in India.”This topic is relevant to the “Environment and Ecology.” section of the UPSC—CSE Exam.


Why in the news?

The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 granted political empowerment to Scheduled Tribes, prompting them to assert their rights. Their dependence on forests for livelihoods strongly opposed commercial timber harvesting and mining activities. The conservation strategy in India has faced persistent challenges involving conflicts between conservation efforts and local communities’ resource extraction practices, as well as conflicts between conservation goals and economic development initiatives. Government responses have often been fragmented, oscillating between prioritising one aspect over another based on the dynamic interplay among different factions within the national, state, and local political spheres.



More about the news:

    • The concentration of political power determines the influence of national or state elites, typically favouring the interests of large corporations over those of local communities. 
    • This tendency often results in deforestation driven by activities such as mining, power projects, commercial logging, and large dams, which can overshadow conservation efforts and the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. 
    • In India, conservation initiatives frequently adopt a top-down approach, leading to local communities losing access to vital traditional forest lands crucial for their sustenance.
    • Is there a policy approach capable of reconciling these contradictions? According to Saad Gulzar, Apoorva Lal, and Benjamin Pasquale, the answer lies in providing marginalised communities with mandated political representation. This approach not only enhances forest conservation but also safeguards their economic interests.
    • What form should this political representation take?
    • A blend of decentralisation and democratisation, where marginalised local communities living in or near forests are granted substantive, rather than symbolic, political representation. This empowerment allows them to participate actively in decision-making processes and effectively manage natural resources.



The methodology adopted to come to this conclusion : 

  • Based on empirical data to facilitate the specific type of political representation they advocate: the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) 1996, PESA extends local governance structures to Scheduled Areas defined under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. These areas predominantly consist of tribal populations, where customary rights of Scheduled Tribes (ST) are recognised.
  • In contrast, the 73rd Amendment of 1992 formalised local self-government through Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in non-scheduled Areas but did not mandate ST representation. PESA further introduces electoral quotas mandating that all chairperson positions and at least half of the seats on each local government council be reserved for ST individuals. 
  • However, in states like Gujarat, where PESA implementation has been inadequate, a common issue is the absence of mandated ST representation in gram sabha committees.
  • This diverse governance landscape provides valuable comparative datasets on local self-governance and forest cover across different geographic regions and over time. 
  • The authors leverage this variation to analyse villages: those with local self-government in Scheduled Areas (with mandated ST representation), those without such mandated representation, villages that adopted PESA earlier, and those that did so later. Their study employs a “difference-in-differences” framework using remote-sensing microdata from satellites like LANDSAT, Sentinel, and DMSP, specifically the MEaSURES Vegetation Continuous Fields (VCF) and Global Forest Cover (GFC) datasets spanning 2001-2017.
  • Unlike previous studies relying on fieldwork in limited communities to monitor local changes in forest outcomes, this research utilises remote sensing to assess deforestation and afforestation rates over time, focusing on the causal effect of ST-mandated representation on forest conservation outcomes.

Increase in STs Representation boosting tree canopy:

  • Analysing changes in tree and vegetation cover across various forested areas surrounding different village types, the researchers observed that “increasing formal representation for Scheduled Tribes (ST) led to an annual average increase in tree canopy by 3% and a reduction in the rate of deforestation.”
  • These effects were more pronounced in areas with higher initial forest cover. Importantly, the study found that these improvements began specifically “after the implementation of PESA elections that mandate quotas for ST.” 
  • The presence of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) or local self-government alone, introduced in 1993 but without mandated ST representation, did not yield similar conservation benefits. 
  • This demonstrates a causal relationship rather than a mere correlation. Empowered as political actors, STs had economic incentives to preserve trees crucial for their livelihoods, which heavily rely on non-timber forest products and sustenance needs. Thus, they opposed commercial timber and mining activities—key drivers of deforestation. 
  • “Forest stewardship” facilitated under PESA, where STs effectively pursue their economic interests, thereby enhancing forest conservation.
  • Furthermore, qualitative and quantitative evidence supports another critical mechanism for improving forest health: opposition to mining activities. Increased ST representation empowered communities to resist large-scale mining operations, significantly reducing deforestation rates in PESA villages located near mines. However, the introduction of PESA elections also correlated with an uptick in conflicts related to mining interests.

By following steps to implement PESA to boost forest cover effectively: 

  • Recognising community forest rights: Expediting the process of recognising individual and community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act can empower tribal communities to manage and conserve forests.
  • Capacity building of Gram Sabhas: Providing training and resources to Gram Sabhas on forest management inventory and using tools like GPS can enable them to monitor and protect forest resources effectively.
  • Reducing conflicts over mining and development projects: Strengthening the provision that empowers Gram Sabhas to oppose mining and other commercial projects that lead to deforestation can help communities protect forests.
  • Promoting sustainable livelihoods: Schemes like MGNREGA that provide employment to tribal communities and develop local infrastructure can reduce their dependence on forests and promote conservation.
  • Overcoming administrative hurdles and resistance to change: Addressing bureaucratic apathy and lack of political will in the forest bureaucracy is essential for effectively implementing PESA and FRA.
  • Amending state laws: States must amend laws related to land acquisition, excise, forest produce, mines and minerals, agricultural produce market and money lending to align with PESA provisions.


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Mains  based Question:

Q. How does the PESA and Forest Rights Act of 2006 strengthen democracy at the grassroots level and ensure inclusive development of tribal areas in the country?


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