The regulatory community: decentralization and the environment in the Van panchayats (Forest councils) of Kumaon, India
As a new strategy to conserve resources, decentralization of political authority has displaced earlier coercive conservation policies in many countries. More than 60 countries claim to have decentralized forest control. In these countries, communities are supposed to be involved in joint strategies to conserve forests. The story is similar for other resources such as wildlife, water, and watersheds. Decentralization is becoming ubiquitous even for provision of services, development programs, health and education. This is not surprising. Decentralization aims to achieve one of the central aspirations of equitable political governance: humans should have a say in their own affairs. Given the ubiquity of decentralization initiatives, 2 questions require critical attention: (1) What accounts for decentralization of political authority toward local decision makers? Voluntary relinquishing of power seems to fly in the face of expected state behavior. (2) Do the actual effects of decentralization policies match claims that decentralization is better on grounds of efficiency, equity, or political empowerment?