Conservation and Society

: 2006  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 132--154

Common Property Resources in Different Agro-Climatic Landscapes in India

Ajit Menon1, G Ananda Vadivelu2,  
1 Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development (CISED), ISEC Campus, Nagarabhavi, Bangalore 560 072, India
2 Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Nagarabhavi, Bangalore 560 072, India

Correspondence Address:
Ajit Menon
Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development (CISED), ISEC Campus, Nagarabhavi, Bangalore 560 072


The importance of common property resources (CPRs) to rural communities is no longer in question. An exercise that is, however, necessary is a disaggregated analysis of CPR use across different agro-climatic zones that addresses certain unexplored issues in greater detail: (1) variations in CPR use in diverse agro-climatic zones, (2) differential dependence on CPRs between farmers of different operational size holdings, and (3) legal access to CPRs. Our contention in addressing these concerns is that they are critical to informed policy on the commons that explicitly addresses the potential of CPR-based livelihood strategies and implicitly conservation as well. The pa­per is largely based on the National Sample Survey 54 th Round data on CPRs as it presents interesting insights into the above-mentioned concerns based on a survey of 78,900 households across agro-climatic landscapes of the country.

How to cite this article:
Menon A, Vadivelu G A. Common Property Resources in Different Agro-Climatic Landscapes in India.Conservat Soc 2006;4:132-154

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Menon A, Vadivelu G A. Common Property Resources in Different Agro-Climatic Landscapes in India. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 Oct 1 ];4:132-154
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THAT COMMON PROPERTY RESOURCES (CPRs) are important sources of liveli­hood to rural households in general and to the rural poor in particular is no longer in question. Jodha's (1986) pioneering work on CPRs [ 1] resulted in a spate of literature that illustrated the importance of CPRs not only as regular sources of income and employment but also as safety nets in periods of drought. Moreover, while Jodha's work focused primarily on the semi-arid zones, subsequent literature has provided evidence that CPRs are important in other regions as well, namely hilly forest tracts and even predominantly low land agriculture [2] dominated belts of the country. Moreover, implicit in much of the discussion around the commons is that improved CPR management will lead both to more benefits for those who depend on CPRs and improved man­agement of CPRs for conservation purposes.

What remains missing, however, is a detailed examination of variations of CPR use across different agro-climatic zones and a critical analysis of the im­plications of these variations to our understanding of the commons. In particu­lar, a number of specific concerns that have been touched upon within the CPR literature, and which are crucial to a more nuanced understanding around the commons, require more attention. These include: (1) variations in the ex­tent and use of different CPR products across agro-climatic zones, (2) differ­ential dependence on CPRs by farmers with different operational-size holdings, and (3) legal access to CPRs (de jure and de facto). This paper con­siders these questions.

The paper is largely based on the National Sample Survey (NSS) 54 th Round data on CPRs. The 54 th Round presents data from across different states and agro-climatic zones both at a gross level and a disaggregated level according to particular CPR products. It also has information on operational holdings and de jure and de facto CPRs. Our contention is that this data pre­sents interesting insights about our concerns but that researchers thus far have not adequately highlighted these insights. While Chopra and Dasgupta (2002) have analysed the 54 th Round using various quantitative techniques, their study attempts to answer a very specific question relating to whether house­holds collect from the commons for sale and value addition independent of their role of providing a safety net and that too only in the context of Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. On the other hand, here we ex­amine the differential use and dependence on CPRs across agro-climatic zones and of farmers with different sizes of operational land holdings for the entire country. However, we have not made use of the unit-level data of the 54 th Round, which certainly will give further insights at the household-level into how CPRs are used.

The paper is divided into six main sections. First, we introduce the context by reviewing briefly the literature on CPR dependence. The next section ex­amines the question of access in terms of de facto and de jure CPR use. This is followed by a more disaggregated account of CPR use in terms of fuel­wood, fodder and other selected items including non-timber forest products. We then examine the distribution question in terms of use across different op­erational size-holding categories of farmers. The final section summarises the arguments made and looks at how large-scale surveys of the NSS type can be improved so as to provide more useful data to understand CPR use in different agricultural systems.

The Changing CPR Scenario

In the eighties, when many were lamenting the failure of land reform in the Indian countryside, Jodha's (1986) work on CPRs raised a different type of question, namely who benefits from land reform and who loses out. His study pointed to three main results: (1) privatisation for the most part was captured by the rural rich and the land the poor obtained through privatisation was of­ten of poorer quality; (2) privatisation of CPRs led to the loss of major income from CPRs, and (3) the poor were the bigger losers in terms of loss of income.

Jodha highlighted the importance of CPRs and CPR products to the rural economy. He illustrated that the rural poor derived between Rs 445 and 830 annually while the rich derived only Rs 300. He also highlighted that, be­tween 84 and 100 per cent of rural poor households gathered items such as fuel, fodder, food and fibre items from CPRs whereas only 10 to 28 per cent of rich households did the same. The data pertained to the 1982-1985 period and only to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The importance of CPRs to the rural poor has been corrobo­rated by subsequent research and across different agro-climatic zones (Pasha 1992; Singh et al. 1996; Beck and Ghosh 2000).

Jodhas's study has been supplemented by attempts to estimate the extent of the commons using macro-level data. The most notable of such studies was by Chopra et al. (1990). They used a nine-fold land use classification data to es­timate the total area of CPRs. They suggested that 'other than current fallow', 'cultivable waste', 'pastures', and 'protected and unclassed forests' can be broadly categorised as CPRs. Based on this classification, they concluded that 21.55 per cent of all land in India (1980-81 figures) were CPRs with the rider that this estimate might be slightly high given the fact that not all protected forests are CPRs. In fact, however, if definitions of CPRs are blind to de jure and de facto distinctions, the extent of CPRs might be much higher.

Chopra et al. (1990) also highlighted that CPRs are steadily declining in ex­tent and quality, a point that is important both for the sustainability of CPR­dependent livelihoods and the natural resources themselves (Chopra and Das­gupta 2002). Another important point is that the non-poor also benefit from CPRs. Some studies, in fact, have argued that while the poor benefit more in relative terms, the rich benefit more in absolute terms (in contrast to Jodha's findings) (Nadkarni et al. 1989; Pasha 1992; Singh et al. 1996). Furthermore, there is evidence that CPRs are often captured by the rich or allocated in ways that privilege the needs of the rich (Karanth 1992). This suggests that studies are needed to examine the relationship between CPR income and size of land­holdings more carefully.

It is in this context that we revisit the debate around CPRs. The 'state of our knowledge' with regard to CPRs in India is limited due to incomplete infor­mation and inadequate disaggregated analysis across agro-climatic zones. Our knowledge is still confined to broad areas of the country, mostly the semi-arid zones and the forest regions. In addition, there are inconsistencies regarding definitions and methodology used. Discussions about the rural poor often use different definitions of what constitutes the poor [3] and the methodologies used to calculate the value of CPRs are quite often different or not explicitly stated. Finally, we do not know enough about CPRs in terms of their de jure and de facto status-potentially an important factor in terms of understanding the vi­ability of CPR-based income in the long-run.

The 54 th Round of the NSS is a useful entry point to enhance this under­standing. Schedule 31 of the 54 th Round focuses on CPRs (among other things) and is a national level survey across agro-climatic zones and states. Surveys were carried out for 78,990 households in 5242 villages (panchayat wards in the case of Kerala). Villages were first classified into four strata ac­cording to their size and all households were classified into three second stage strata based on operational holdings/wage labour. According to the size of the strata, a fixed number of households were interviewed.


Our analysis is based on a straightforward reading of the existing data, i.e. we have not used any elaborate quantitative techniques [4] . This is the case because our interest is primarily in understanding the use of CPRs across agro-climatic zones in terms of farm size-categories, type of CPR produce and legal status, data that is readily available in the 54 th Round. We have attempted to draw comparisons across agro-climatic zones. In order for such a comparison to be useful, it requires categorising these zones into some broad-based categories. For purposes of convenience, we categorise the Western Dry Region as a semi-arid and arid pastoral-based agricultural economy. Most of the hill areas such as the Western Himalayas, the Eastern Himalayas, the Central Plateau and Hills, the Western Plateau and Hills, the Eastern Plateau and Hills, the Southern Plateau and Hills and the Islands are largely hilly forested tracts. The Gangetic Plains (Upper Gangetic Plains, Middle Gangetic Plains and Trans-Gangetic Plains) are zones of intensive agriculture while zones such as the Gujarat Coast Plains and Hills (GC), West Coast Plains and Hills (WC) and East Coast Plains and Hills (EG) are a mixture of hilly areas, semi-arid tracts and intensive agricultural areas. Even some of the other hill tracts are clearly mixed in terms of the types of agricultural systems to be found there. [5] Nonetheless, three broad categories are useful benchmarks to start with when examining the use of CPRs [6] and for drawing some useful comparisons in terms of how the use of CPRs differs in broad-based agrarian systems across these categories. Some internal comparisons are also made in terms of differ­ences within the three categories.

Access to the Commons

De Facto CPRs

A concern that Beck (1994) raised, in his study of West Bengal villages, was regarding the problem of access to CPRs by the rural poor. In the context of the villages he studied, this was important because gleaned grains were col­lected by the landless from other people's private lands (de facto CPRs) and thus access was difficult. Beck's analysis highlights an important issue, namely that de facto CPRs are in fact a better indicator of CPR use, as an en­quiry into use of de jure CPRs only might underestimate dependence. De facto access by definition includes land for which communities do not have de jure access. For example, state-controlled areas such as reserve forests, which can be actually accessed openly or used by a defined user group, are de facto CPRs. Similarly, private agricultural lands that are accessible to others in the fallow season are also accessible commons. The reverse is possible as well, namely that certain public lands allocated to village communities are effec­tively privatised. In this section we examine de facto CPR use to understand more clearly the extent of CPR dependence across agro-climatic zones.

We present data with regard to both use of CPRs and collection of CPR products. Use includes grazing within the commons in addition to collection of firewood, fodder and non-timber forest products (NTFP) for use outside the commons. Collection, on the other hand, is a subset of use and would only in­clude the removal of CPR products from de facto commons but not, for exam­ple, grazing within those commons. In other words, use would be a better indicator of dependence than collection alone. Unfortunately, data on what percentage of households use de facto CPRs across agro-climatic zones is not available so we have to depend on collection data. Among rural households, 48 per cent are engaged in collections [Table 1]. It exceeds 50 per cent in eight out of the 15 agro-climatic zones. The highest percentage of collections was in the Eastern Plateau and Hills (73 per cent), the Western Himalaya (68 per cent), the Islands (68 per cent) and the Southern Plateau and Hills (65 per cent), i.e. mostly the forested tracts. The lowest collection percentage was in the Western Dry Region despite the very high percentage of CPR land avail­ability. This can be explained either by the fact that much of the CPR use in the Western Dry Region does not involve the collection of CPRs or that graz­ing takes place more on private lands. The lowest percentages are in the Green Revolution belts of the Ganges where CPR availability per household is also the least.

[Table 2] shows data with regard to the monetary value of CPR collections across agro-climatic zones using collection data. Data are also provided for 157 states to see how important CPRs are in relation to consumer expenditure. The average annual household value of CPR collections at the all-India level is Rs 693. This average figure, however, masks significant differences across agro-climatic zones. Gains from CPRs (i.e. collection) are highest in the Western Himalayas (Rs 1939) followed by the Eastern Himalayas (Rs 1219). It is surprising that the value of CPR collection was also high in the Upper Gangetic Plains, (Rs 1070), given the fact that only 30 per cent of households collect CPR products. As we illustrate later, this is because of the high de­pendence on CPRs by the landless households. In other words, though only a relatively small percentage of total households collect CPR products, certain categories of farmers (the landless especially) are highly dependent on CPR collection.

The value of CPRs as a percentage of consumer expenditure is only 3.02 per cent at the national level [Table 2]. [8] States that have marginally higher in­come dependence in terms of percentage are Orissa (5.59 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (4.93 per cent) and Assam (4.89 per cent). States with a lower level dependence include Kerala (1.17 per cent) and West Bengal (2.09 per cent). These differences are not surprising. Orissa and Madhya Pradesh are states where dependence on forests are relatively higher and the scheduled tribe population is also significant. [9] For instance, Kerala and West Bengal are agri­culture-based economies of a less intensive nature than Punjab and Haryana. The low percentage of CPR income in Rajasthan is again best explained by the fact that CPR dependence is less in terms of collection and more in terms of grazing, given the nature of the pastoral economy there. Jodha's study (1990: A-66) in Rajasthan revealed that 84 per cent of the poor depended on CPRs for grazing.

De Jure Access

It is important to examine the relationship between de facto use of CPRs and de jure access. In most of the hilly forested tracts there is a fairly high per cent of de jure CPR land to total land. In the Western Himalayas, 33 per cent is de jure CPR land whereas in the Central Plateau and Hills and the Eastern Plateau and Hills de jure land constitutes 27 and 20 per cent respectively. The exception is the Eastern Himalayas where both the per cent of land under de jure CPRs and the per household extent are well below average. [10] Moreover, the highest per cent of de jure land to total land is in the semi-arid tract of the Western Dry Region. Hence, although collection rates of CPR products in the Western Dry Region are low (13 per cent), CPR lands would appear to be im­portant. This suggests that grazing within the commons is the most important activity there. The intensive agriculture belts generally have a low per cent of land under CPRs. This suggests that much of the CPR use in the Upper Gangetic Plains, which has a fairly high level of CPR use (in terms of value), comes from de facto CPRs.

The other point to keep in mind is that de jure CPRs are declining. During the five years prior to the survey in 1999, 1.9 per cent of the total de jure CPR land was lost, a total of 833,300 ha. The greatest decline in terms of absolute area has been in the Central Plateau and Hills, the Eastern Plateau and Hills, the Southern Plateau and Hills and the Middle Gangetic Plains. Except for the Middle Gangetic Plains, these other areas are again hilly areas so one would presume that much of the decline has come in terms of loss of village forest land or grazing lands. One possible reason for this is that some traditional sys­tems of forest management that perhaps were located in village forests are now in reserve forests. There is evidence of the latter from the study by Sarin et al.(2003) in Orissa. The relatively faster decline of CPRs in the intensive agricultural Gangetic belt is because of the small extent of de jure CPRs in the

first place. [11]

In summary, the following points emerge with regard to CPR usage across agro-climatic zones: while hilly forested tracts, semi-arid/arid economies and intensive agricultural areas are essentially geographic distinctions, they also have different farming systems and socio-economic profiles. The semi-arid zones have a large number of pastoral communities while the forest tracts are inhabited mostly by scheduled tribe communities. Second, and more impor­tantly, there is considerable diversity within the three broad-based farming systems. The Western Himalayas, for example, though a forested tract is not a scheduled tribe belt; forest dependence is significant and local CPR institu­tions such as van panchayats exist. Similarly, intensive agricultural practices in Punjab and Haryana are very different than agriculture in Kerala.

Disaggregated Analysis of CPR Product Use

The analysis so far has characterised the importance of CPRs across the dif­ferent agro-climatic zones. A more disaggregated analysis of the type of prod­ucts collected (not used) from CPRs will help to depict the nature of the dependence in a better manner. The NSS data classifies CPR products as fu­elwood, fodder and others which includes manure, fruits, roots and tubers, vegetables, gums and resins, honey and wax, medicinal plants, fish, and leaves and weeds. Approximately 58 per cent of total CPR product collections are fuelwood collections [Table 3]. Fodder constitutes 25 per cent of collec­tions and 17 per cent is classified as 'others'. There are important differences again between agro-climatic zones. In the Islands, the Southern Plateau and Hills, the Western Plateau and Hills, the Eastern Coast Plains and Hills, the Eastern Plateau and Hills, the Central Plateau and Hills, the Western Himala­yas, the Eastern Himalayas and the Middle Gangetic Plains, over 50 per cent of total collections are of fuelwood. In the Upper Gangetic Plains, fuelwood constitutes only 31 per cent of total CPR product collection. On the other hand, 69 per cent of total CPR product collection in the Upper Gangetic Plains is in the form of fodder. In the Trans-Gangetic Plains and Middle Gangetic Plains, 51 and 39 per cent of total collections are fodder resources. Other zones with a high total contribution from fodder are the Western Hima­layas (39 per cent), the Gujarat Coast Plains and Hills (30 per cent), the West­ern Dry Region (29 per cent) and the Western Plateau and Hills (25 per cent). In the Eastern Plateau and Hills, the Eastern Himalayas and the Central Pla­teau and Hills, other sources are the second most important source of CPR products. This shows that forest-dependent hill economies mostly depend on the commons (de jure and de facto) for fuelwood while intensive agricultural economies are more dependent on CPRs for grazing (if at all). The semi­arid/arid economy of the Western Dry Region appears to be similar to the hilly forested economies at least in terms of collection of fuelwood, i.e. a rela­tively higher dependence on fuelwood as compared to other CPR products.

While dependence on fuelwood is central to questions of the commons, it is important to highlight the fact that the nature of this dependence also varies across the three broad-based categories. Hence, while approximately 60 per cent of all rural households use fuelwood [Table 4], the numbers are higher, in general, in forested areas, namely in the Eastern Plateau and Hills (77.8 per cent), the Islands (74.0 per cent), the Gujarat Coast Plains and Hills (73.0 per cent), the Western Himalayas (72.8 per cent) and the Western Plateau and Hills (68.8 per cent). The numbers, not surprisingly, are much lower in the Gangetic belt where the adoption of other sources of energy is much greater and where forests and de jure CPRs are less available. This is corroborated by the collection figures. Whereas the collection of fuelwood is high in the West­ern Himalayas, the Eastern Plateau and Hills and the Islands, it is very low in the Gangetic Belt. Collection is, however, lowest in the Western Dry Region where only about 10 per cent of households collect fuelwood. Thus, while fu­elwood was the most important CPR product collected in the semi-arid/arid Western Dry Region, it is only a small percentage of households that actually collect fuelwood from common lands. [12] The likely reason for this is that fuel­wood needs are being met to a large extent from private landholdings.

The livestock data presents a somewhat different picture [Table 5]. Of all concerned households, 56 per cent possess livestock, but here too, there are huge variations. In the Western Dry Region and the Western Himalayas re­spectively, 87 and 86 per cent of households possess livestock. A majority of households, in fact, possess livestock in 10 out of 15 agro-climatic zones. Livestock ownership is below 50 per cent only in the Southern Plateau and Hills (42 per cent), the Islands (40 per cent), the West Coast Plains and Hills (36 per cent) and the East Coast Plains and Hills (35 per cent). It is interesting to note that a much smaller percentage depends on de facto CPRs for grazing (20 per cent) and collection (13 per cent) of fodder. While the lower depend­ence on CPRs for grazing is partly due to the fact that only 56 per cent of all households (at the all-India level) have cattle, this cannot explain the ex­tremely low level of dependence. It is plausible that fodder demand is being met to a large extent from private lands. Again, there are significant differ­ences across agro-climatic zones with 55 per cent of households in the West­ern Himalayas grazing their livestock in common lands but only 6 per cent in West Coast Plains and Hills. Even in a zone such as the Western Dry Region where cattle are owned by most households, the commons do not seem to be the main source for grazing-a finding that is counterintuitive. This needs to be explored in greater detail as it could be due to the dwindling extent of de jure CPRs.

The zones where 'other' produce are important are predominantly hilly for­ested tracts of the country such as the Western Himalayas, the Eastern Hima­layas, the Central Plateau and Hills and the Islands [Table 6]. The all-India figures illustrate that dependence on selected items is limited only to a small percentage of households. However, if one looks at the disaggregated zonal data, it illustrates how particular items are important in particular areas: for example, manure is important to households in the Western Himalayas, fish for people in the Eastern Himalayas and fruits, roots and tubers and leaves in the Eastern Plateau and Hills. While the numbers seem low, the comparative profile gives an indication as to the relative importance of NTFP in different agro-climatic zones. [13]

What about the Rural Poor?

Central to the debate around the commons has been the question of equity. As mentioned earlier, much of the literature has highlighted the pro-poor element of CPRs, namely that the poor derive a larger per cent of total income from CPRs than the non-poor. Equally important, CPRs have tended to support dry land farming in terms of inputs especially during drought years (Jodha 2001). However, the uses of CPRs are clearly mediated by social structures at the vil­lage level, which determine the nature of the distribution (Mosse 2003). Un­fortunately, data are not available with regard to disaggregated access to de jure CPRs and income derived from CPRs across households with different sizes of operational holdings. It is, therefore, not possible to see whether these pro-poor benefits of CPRs indeed exist within the given agro-climatic zones. Furthermore, these data can only help understand underlying processes and structures to a limited extent though they are clearly central to the struggle over the commons (Beck 1994).

Data are available with regard to the extent of households using and collect­ing fuelwood, fodder and NTFP produce according to operational size hold­ings. We categorise the data as follows: landless poor (no land), landed poor (0-1 but disaggregated into 0-0.2 ha, 0.2-0.5 ha and 0.5-1.0 ha) and landed non-poor (1+ ha). [14] Whereas the per cent of landed poor households using fu­elwood varies from 58.1 per cent amongst households with 0.50 to 1.0 ha to 49.2 per cent for households with 0 to 0.20 ha, 62.3 per cent of the landless households use fuelwood [Table 7]. On the other hand, only 58.3 per cent of the landed non-poor use fuelwood, which is similar to usage by different landed poor groups. The data with regard to agro-climatic zones highlights the fact that the dependence of agricultural labourers is highest in all agro-climatic zones except in the Eastern Himalayas and the West Coast Plains and Hills. The percentage dependence of the landless is greatest in the Gujarat Coast Plains and Hills (86. 6 per cent) and the Western Himalayas (79.3 percent).

The greater dependence on CPR products by landless households is most noticeable with regard to fuelwood. Among the landless households, 59.7 per cent of the landless households collect fuelwood whereas only 33.0 per cent of households with 1+ ha do the same. Here too there are significant varia­tions across agro-climatic zones. More than 70 per cent of landless house­holds in the Eastern Plains and Hills, the Western Himalayas, the Gujarat Coast Plains and Hills, the Southern Plateau and Hills, the Western Plateau and Hills and the Islands depend on fuelwood collection. While the depend­ence of the non-poor is also higher in these zones, it is significantly less. The overall trend of more dependence for agricultural labourers is an important finding. It suggests that CPRs are important sources from which domestic en­ergy needs are met for the landless households. It also highlights, however, the possible vulnerability of their livelihoods given that many of these CPRs might not be de jure under their control.

The livestock question is more difficult to disaggregate. At one level, pos­session of livestock itself is an asset that differentiates households. As shown in [Table 5], the total number of households possessing livestock at the all­India level is 56 per cent with significant variations across zones. While 42 per cent of landless households possess livestock, 88 per cent of the landed non-poor possess livestock. Amongst the landed poor, it varies from 25 per cent for those owning less than 0.20 ha to 66 per cent to those owning be­tween 0.2-0.5 ha to 80 per cent for those owning between 0.5-1.00 ha (NSSO 1999). A greater percentage of landless labourers therefore collect fodder from de facto CPRs than do households who possess more than 1 ha. How­ever, the numbers for collection are much lower as it also includes households who do not have cattle. The landless are the most dependent on collection with 31.8 per cent of landless households collecting fodder, something that is expected because of their landlessness and hence lack of options with regard to other fodder sources [Table 8]. The data also illustrates that in the Gangetic belt the dependence of landless households on CPRs for fodder is extremely high relative to the dependence of the landed poor and the landed non-poor. This would substantiate our earlier claim that in intensive agriculture areas, de facto CPRs are of significance.

The scenario in terms of selected 'other' items is different from one agro­climatic zone to another [Table 9]. The all-India figure suggests that landless households derive a little more value from CPR products than other groups, something that holds true in many agro-climatic zones as well. It is especially true in the Upper Gangetic Plains. What this suggests is that in intensive ag­ricultural economies, CPRs continue to be extremely important for the land­less but perhaps more so in the context of private lands as Beck (1994) had argued in the case of West Bengal. In the Western Dry Region also, the bene­fits of the landless are significantly more than those of other classes, suggest­ing that the arid and semi-arid areas of the country might be similar in this case to the low land agricultural belts and more dissimilar from the forest zones. However, in most of the hilly tracts, households with marginal amounts of land derive slightly more value from CPR products in general.

Thus the present results substantiate the results of earlier studies that reported that the rural poor depend significantly more on CPRs than the rural non-poor. Although this is more so the case in hilly tracts, the case of the Upper Gangetic Plains suggests that in economies that are much more commercially driven, the landless households remain significantly dependent on CPRs-albeit from pri­vate lands perhaps. This has significant implications in terms of access to private lands and serves as a warning that the arable and the non-arable lands must both be central to discussions around the commons. In other words, while CPRs are important they assume importance primarily in the context of agriculture and not as stand-alone resources. Access to CPRs, must be seen very much alongside ac­cess to agricultural lands.

Beyond the National Sample Survey 54 th Round

The 54 th Round has provided a useful database on CPRs across agro-climatic zones. A number of insights have emerged from this analysis. Broadly speak­ing, CPR dependence is linked to the nature of the agro-climatic zone: hilly forested tracts, semi-arid/arid pastoral economies and intensive agriculture. While these are not 'neat' categories, they provide a useful starting point from which to understand CPR use. The communities living in hilly forested tracts and semi-arid/arid areas depend on average more on CPRs. However, in in­tensive agricultural areas such as the Punjab and Haryana, dependence is also high. As there are more de jure CPRs in the hilly tracts and semi-arid/arid zones, CPRs in the intensive agriculture areas are more likely to come from private lands. Within these broad zones (for example, hilly forested tracts), however, there are also differences with forested landscapes such as the West­ern Himalayas being very different in social composition and forest use than say the Central Plateau and Hills or Eastern Plateau and Hills regions. Simi­larly, within the agriculture belt, there seem to be differences between states such as Punjab and Haryana located in the Upper Gangetic Plains and Kerala located in the West Coast Plains and Hills-the former having a greater de­pendence on CPRs in general.

A more disaggregated analysis (in terms of operational holdings) illustrates that the landless are by and large the most dependent on CPRs and CPR prod­ucts across agro-climatic zones. This is most apparent in the case of fuelwood. In the case of fodder, large farmers tend to own more cattle, but the poor de­pend more on CPRs (de jure and de facto) for fodder. The NTFP economy seems to be important (as a supplementary activity) to all households. Yet, in the Gangetic belt (Upper Gangetic Plains), it is important to note that the landless depend on NTFP more than others. Of course, these are general trends with exceptions to the rule arising as well. Moreover, the pro-poor bias should not be taken for granted as the dependence of the non-poor on CPRs is also considerable.

We have also alluded to the fact that in some areas where dependence is high, de jure availability is low. At one level, de facto CPRs are legally less secure than de jure CPRs. However, here too there are differences. For exam­ple, access to reserve forests might be considered illegal by the state and thus accessing these forests has costs associated with it. On the other hand, private lands, which are used as commons while they are fallow are mostly used with the consent of land owners.

In summary, the data from the 54 th Round reminds us of the importance of CPRs across agro-climatic landscapes and the particular concerns that need to be addressed in each of these landscapes. In the forested tracts, the key issue is access to forest produce. While forest dependence is high, especially among the rural poor, access to forests often remains legally problematic. Even in co­management schemes, the benefits to rural communities vis-a -vis the state are relatively insignificant and in some cases have actually resulted in prior rights being withdrawn. In the semi-arid areas of the country, as Jodha illustrated almost 20 years ago, legal access to forest and pasture for fuelwood and graz­ing purposes continues to be of central importance as well as the privatisation of these commons. In Green Revolution tracts, the high dependence on NTFP suggests that access to private lands (treated as the commons-gleaning of grains that is undertaken after the harvest) is crucial. This indicates the need to remain open and attentive to understanding what the commons means in different agro-climatic regions and what form of CPR management is neces­sary to address both livelihood and conservation goals.

Our understanding of CPRs through large-scale datasets can of course be improved if some of the limitations of the dataset are addressed in future rounds. First, no estimates were taken of the de facto area of CPRs. As the NSSO itself admits, the 'survey estimates of CPR land are perhaps on the lower side (NSSO 1999: 18). As the NSSO collected information about the de facto use, it could have easily presented this data. That would have allowed us a better spatial understanding of de facto CPR lands. The NSSO could even go one step further by trying to classify different types of CPR land into more comprehensive categories based on both types of land and the nature of exist­ing institutions. While it did collect information on de jure land types, the three-fold classification of grazing lands, village forests and other lands was not comprehensive enough. Moreover, for conservation purposes, it would be useful to classify CPRs according to the nature of existing institutions so as to enable more effective policy intervention that is targeted at areas where CPR institutions are perhaps more likely to emerge.

Another problem is that estimates of CPR use were restricted to collection - which suggests that the numbers given are significant underestimates. Al­though we have been able to give a good relative picture of CPR use across different agro-climatic zones, the absolute figures are equally important. That is more so where grazing is a major activity. Here too, more detailed informa tion with regard to the livestock economy would have been useful to draw more links between arable land and the livestock economy.

In order to look at the relationship between land holdings and CPR use, the NSSO should use categories similar to the Agricultural Census, namely land­less, 0-1 ha, 1-2 ha, 2-4 ha, 4-10 ha and 10+ ha. The current categorisation has 1+ ha as the upper bounds: this will mask significant differences among those who have more than one hectare of land. Although the 54 th Round also had a report on cultivation practices, no links are drawn between the two.

In conclusion, it is important to point out that the NSSO needs to analyse its raw data more carefully. How do we understand the fact that CPR dependence according to the 54 th round appears to be significantly less than much of the case study evidence? Are there data collection lapses or methodological prob­lems with the data? It is difficult to tell from the round itself. However, earlier studies of CPRs suggest that dependence levels would be higher than esti­mated. It is important to highlight that 'improved' secondary datasets need to be supplemented by more case studies that allow us to understand CPR use in the context of different agricultural systems. We have tried to highlight, at least partially, some of these differences within the hilly-forested tracts, semi­arid/arid regions and intensive agricultural belts. But the specifics of CPR use will vary even within these sub-regions, i.e. the need to study CPR use in even smaller micro-contexts. Moreover, the use of CPRs is often a strug­gle/contestation over access to resources, something not easily captured by numbers.


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the All India Conference on Agriculture and Rural Society in Contemporary India organised by the Gov­ernment of West Bengal and held at Bardhaman, West Bengal, 17-20 Decem­ber, 2003. We would like to thank the participants for their useful feedback. Thanks are also due to Sharachchandra Lele for his detailed and insightful comments. A special thanks is due to M. Sivakami for her help at all stages of writing and editing this paper.


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