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Jayanta Kumar Sarma
Date of Publish: 2016-05-11

Common Property Resources – The Neglected Natural Assets


Common property resources (CPR) are the critical natural assets for the rural masses for its ecological services, economic and social support systems.  In Assam, CPR plays significant role for the people living in the flood affected areas, river islet of floodplains, in rain shadow zones and hills. CPR provides minor food products, firewood, building material, medicine, fodder etc in critical situation to sustain life of the poor. Some traditions seemed to exist among certain ethnic groups of the state regarding the usage of such CPR. However, with times these traditions have faded out, only some sporadic practices are now in vogue although isolation. In fact, over the period of time pressure on CPR amalgamated through multiple factors, viz. natural and man-made drivers.

The natural processes of fluvio-geomorpholoical characters of river systems from long historic period play a critical role in creation and demolition of many CPR like river islands, seasonal marshy land in the flood plain area. On the other hand, increase of population, displacement of people by flood and erosion, expansion of developmental infrastructure like roads, railways, etc increases pressure on CPR. As a result, either such types of land and natural assets are converted to settlement area/agricultural area or used up by road and railway developmental project leading to waning of the CPR.

According to the Report of National Sample Survey Organization of 1999, in Eastern Himalaya agro-climatic region  of India around 51% household collected CPR Product; its contribution to fuelwood was 53%, fodder 8% and others 39% in the region.  Household dependence on  CPR for other categories of product in case of Eastern Himalaya indicates over 1.5% depends for manure, 8.5% for fruits, roots, tubers, 1.0% for gums and resins , 1.2% for honey,1.2% for  medicinal plants, 16.2% for fish, 7.9% for leaves and 12.0% for  weeds, grass, bamboos etc . Moreover, around 77.8% of households in Eastern Himalaya use fuel wood, out of which 70.7% household collect fuel wood from CPR. In case of Assam the average value of collection per household is Rs. 519/- and the ratio value of collection to consumption expenditure is 4.89%.

 A secondary data base study carried out by M Mahanta et al in 2012 (Journal of Human Ecology, 38-3, p. 223-230) , where data of 1991 and 2001 was considered for factor analysis on degradation of CPR and migration of rural poor to urban area in the context of Assam. It indicates that there are linkages between environmental degradation and rural people’s migration which underline the fact that people’s decision to migrate may be influenced by rights of common property resources. Well-defined common property resource rights through better management of common property resources can check migration of rural people into urban spaces. Better management of common property resources will enhance the stock of natural resources as well as the income of rural people and thereby enhance the possibility of involvement of rural people in different activities for livelihood. Greater degree of certainty of income through the common property resources will be significant from the point of view of survival strategy for the rural poor. Another study conducted in 2001 by  Late MC Borah of Tezpur University in 2001 (EERC working paper series: CPR-3, MoEF, IGIDR, World Bank) covering Lakhimpur, Sonitpur district it was found that out of total 600 villagers (respondent), over 36.67% completely depend on common land particularly on forest product mainly for fuel wood (67.27%) and timber (non Sal) (32.73%). However, they barely have any clear idea about CPR based management within the community.

This type of common land provides non timber forest product (NTFP) to local villagers, which are used as food, medicine, fodder, fuel and some parts are even sold in the local market. For example, a total of 88 different NTFP collected by local people belong to Bengali Hindu, Hmar, Kuki, Reyang, Dimasa from the Inner Line Reserve Forest of Cachar district, out of which 67 are plant origin and 21 animal origin and in this way livelihood support is availed from collector to processor and then to seller (Dattagupta Shovan, Gupta Abhik, IJTK,Vol. 13(2),p.427-433 ,2014).  In another study carried out in Majuli on NTFP, it was identified that people in Majuli using around 75 different medicinal plants and 38 varieties of wild edible which are collected from grass land and river bank areas belong to village common land (Sarmah R and Saikia A,  RRJBS,vol.3,Issue3, July-Sept,2014,p.41-47). Similarly in Patkai and Borail hill ranges located in Assam part also provide important NTFP to local people, for example in Patkai part of Tinsukia district Singpho community collected around 38 verities of wild edible for daily uses which is 24 for Taiphake community, 28 for Tangsa community along with more than 50 medicinal plants for traditional medicine; a major proportion of such collection were from foot hills, forest and river bank area,  to the local community  these are village common land ( JK Sarma, Unpublished study report,FST,p-13-57,2010).

Moreover, CPRs are crucial to support rural livelihoods (livestock and land-based) and ecology. In Assam an area of 159968hectares in 2003-04 is recorded as permanent pastures and other grazing lands.

Apart from its ecological services wetlands play another significant role as common property resources in the state. Wetlands not only provide fishes but also water for agriculture, rituals, daily usage, drinking water for domesticated animals, edible floral and faunal resources including medicines. But, there is no specific institutional mechanism to manage the wetland resources. The wetlands seem to be merely confined to fishery, revenue, forest department mainly and there is a lack of integrated approaches.

Likewise different sand bar deposit area, River Island - locally called as ‘Char or Chapori’ and ‘Tapo’ (by the Nepali communities in the North Bank of Brahmaputra) plays an important role as CPR. From time immemorial, people use these areas as temporary agricultural land (which is called ‘pam kheti’ in upper Assam), in the dry winter season.   In many such areas people not only practice crop farming  but also rear cattle and buffalo locally called Khuti. These areas are also important grounds for many herbivorous wildlife which support many carnivores including tigers (Aaranayak-2009, http://www.aaranayk.org/reports/final_technical_report_aaranyak_korl.pdf).

Due to the lack of any policy framework these potential natural assets are unable to achieve desired yield. Quite contrary to that, the potential assets for the marginalized are gradually being monopolised by those with economic and muscle power. Not surprisingly though in places conflict does arise around CPR. Hence, the urgent need is of policy interventions for CPR in the state to crate inclusive approach for the marginalized who are dependent on it and to protect biodiversity so as to maintain the ecological services of these potential assets.

Photo and Text- Jayanta Kumar Sarma

( Jayanta Kumar Sarma is a freelance consultant in the area of Environment and Development and  he has been working with NGO, Educational Institutions, private entrepreneurial farm and government agencies of North-east region. He did his Post graduation in Geography from Gauhati University and Post Master in Natural Resource Management from IIFM. He can be reached at jksbeltola@gmail.com )


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