Monday, July 23, 2012

Call to empower communities to protect village commons


Thiruvananthapuram: Village communities will be better equipped to protect local resources than the government or panchayats, Director-General of the Administrative Staff College of India S.K. Rao has said.

Talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a workshop organised by ASCI and the Institute of Management in Government, he said the concept of village commons was highly relevant in the context of the rising trend of land grab across the country. He said it was time to revive the old village-level community process of protecting common resources like trees, village grazing lands or water bodies.

“When you transfer the power for protection of village commons to political bodies like the government or panchayats, you lose that ability to control local situations. No measure should be taken unless 80 to 85 per cent of citizens directly vote in favour. That way you cannot take decisions without the larger consent,” he said.

Dr. Rao said the village community as a whole should be trusted. “In some villages, people are sharply polarised, but when it comes to local issues and when people see that there is some good in protecting village commons, people would not do things which would mean that the village loses a valuable resource like village tanks or grazing land.”

Highlighting the importance of localising the process for protection of village commons, he said, “do not say it is the responsibility of the State government. To them, it does not matter if one village common is lost if someone makes a profit out of it. They want political funding.”

Dr. Rao said: “In olden days, take for example a village tank, the boundaries are recognised, you cannot encroach upon it. The village community will be watching. It is time to revive the system.”

Asked about the institutional mechanism required for protection of village commons, he proposed the constitution of a non political trust for the purpose. The trust, he said, could comprise eminent citizens. There could also be a council of elders at the taluk level, he said.

“These things do not happen just by thinking of some smart solution like in physics. There should be a will for people to do something positive.” Dr. Rao said the community governance system in some North Eastern States such as Nagaland could be a good example.

Copyright © 2012, The Hindu

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