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Government intervention and use rights dynamics in community forestry in Nepal: Learning from a case of Palpa District

  • Baral, J. C.

This report is about use rights dynamics set in motion by government intervention in some selected user groups in Palpa district of Western Nepal. It is argued that intervention fails to insure precise allocation of use rights which translates into a dynamics for the re-adjustments. This is attributed both to the erroneous intervention and to the nature of use rights, which is intrinsically a contestable phenomenon. As a consequence the post-intervention scene is generally dominated by a series of claim, counterclaim followed by negotiation leading to acceptance or rejections of the claims. Naturally enough, the use rights situations change over time. The dynamics is, however, impeded mainly due to the fact that the policy does not adequately recognise the contestable and dynamic nature of use rights. The Operational Guidelines, which do not explicitly acknowledge the contestable nature of use rights. They fail to guide the interventionists through the ways that such issues related to potential contests could be properly addressed. Both the legislation and the guidelines require precisely writing down the names and addresses of the user group households (HHs) but do not speak of what needs to be done if new claims arise after the handover. The Operational Guidelines although requires a review of the technical matters of the operational plans through their periodic revision, does not at all mention whether the constitution (and hence the constituent members) are to be modified based on new claims. Failure of the Operational Plan to explicitly acknowledge contestable nature of use rights may be interpreted by the field interventions in a way that use rights are absolute and have either a 'yes' or 'no' answer. It could be erroneously assumed that clear use rights were 'out there' and the interventions were required to objectively pick the 'right' users from the 'wrongs' ones. The implications of impeded contestability are more on the weak than on the powerful. This is attributable to local socio-economy and socio-culture that tends to undermine the weak. The work is based on case studies in seven connected or nearly interconnected CFUGs. The concerned CFUGs are located in distances ranging from two to nearly half a day walk from Tansen, the district headquarters. The research methodology incorporated a mix of action research and participant observation principles. It followed essential principles of action research in that the outcomes of interventions that had been carried out while the first author worked as a DFO (1990-1992) was looked more seriously when he carried out more formal piece of research leading to Ph.D. at the University of Western Sydney, Hawakesbury (1994-2000). This work draws on to the above-mentioned research.

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