Shamlat Abhiyan – Campaign for the Commons in Rajasthan
Rajasthan, India, April 2012 - Common pool resources or Commons play a critical role in maintaining the ecological balance, providing essential resources to sustain life and livelihoods, particularly of the poor, ensuring food security and meeting rural energy and fodder requirements. Over the years, there has been a steady decline both in the extent and in the quality of common lands, largely on account of changes in land use, a collapse of governance mechanisms, an absence of clear tenure and the allocation of these lands for other purposes.
Common lands are critical to the livelihoods of small-holder livestock rearers and meet priority needs of fodder and fuelwood
In order to challenge increasing threats to the Commons in the country, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) launched the ‘Commons Initiative’ in 2009, with the objective of building strategic collaborations to influence policies and programmes on the Commons in India.
Under this initiative, FES has been working closely with the Government of Rajasthan, and has facilitated the development of a draft Common Land Policy for the state which was shared for public consultation at a workshop in 2011, jointly convened by the state government and FES. With the objective of mapping and restoring the commons, FES has agreed to assist the state government on a year- long campaign – the Shamlat Abhiyan, launched in September 2011 - to create awareness at all levels on the importance and criticality of the commons. As a part of the campaign, a series of workshops at the state, division and district level are proposed, together with the development of information material on current state policies to safeguard and develop the commons.
One such state level workshop, co-organized by the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of Rajasthan and FES was convened in Bhilwara on 24th March 2012. Sharing information on the key provisions of the Draft Common Land Policy of the state and discussing the future course of action for protecting and restoring common lands were the main workshop objectives. The workshop witnessed large-scale public participation, and over 700 representatives, comprising community leaders, panchayat members and government officials from villages across the districts of Bhilwara and Pratapgarh attended the day-long event.
Dr. C.P. Joshi, Honourable Member of Parliament, Bhilwara and Union Cabinet Minister, Road Transport and Highways, was the Chief Guest at the event, which was chaired by Ms. Naseem Akhtar Insaaf, the State Minister for Education, Government of Rajasthan. In addition, six members of the state legislative assembly from Bhilwara, cutting across party lines, as well as the District Collector and the District and Session Court Judge attended the event.
In his address, Dr Joshi highlighted the important role of Panchayati Raj Institutions in conserving natural resources and improving governance at the local level. He requested panchayat representatives to improve the planning process at the village level and include common land restoration work under MGNREGA to increase biomass and water availability. He suggested that the District Collector should formulate a five year plan for securing common lands and facilitate convergence with existing programmes to develop these lands. He further directed the District Collector to ensure that pasture lands are not allocated for any other use and mechanisms are put in place for the implementation of key provisions of the draft Common Land Policy for the state. He also directed the District Collector to provide all land records on common land through the Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Suchna Kendra. Dr Joshi particularly appreciated the new initiative of FES towards strengthening the capacity and knowledge base of Gram Panchayat representatives through the Prakriti Karyashala (Rural College of Nature) and acknowledged the need for such an institution for capacity building at the local level to improve the delivery and outreach of government programmes..
Mr B.K Sharma, Regional Team Leader, Mr Yash Shethia and Ms. Dimpal from FES shared the key provisions of the Rajasthan Common Land Policy highlighting the significance of the Commons for the rural poor, particularly commons as the basis for sustainable livestock rearing and agriculture.
Community representatives shared experiences on initiatives to remove encroachments on grazing lands and working together to regenerate and sustainably manage common lands. A documentary film ‘Yeh Shamlat rahe Shamlati’ on the community effort to remove common land encroachments by village Thana in district Bhilwara was screened. The village has been successful in converting revenue wastelands into grazing lands, and establishing a strong community institution to manage and equitably distribute benefits from this intervention among village households. The pasture land development initiative has utilized funding available under MGNREGA.
The exchange of experiences motivated community representatives present at the event to undertake similar interventions in their villages.
The immensely successful state level workshop in Bhilwara was followed by a Media Consultation and a Legal Workshop convened on 30th and 31st March, 2012 at Jaipur and Jodhpur respectively. Recognising the key role of the media in shaping public opinion and sensitizing the community, the objective of the media consultation was to apprise media representatives regarding recent policy initiatives to protect the commons and the significance of the commons for rural livelihoods.
The workshop was attended by eminent journalists such as Mr. Chandra Mehta, Mr.Sunny Sebastian, Mr.Vinod Bharadwaj and Mr.P.J. Joychen representing widely circulated dailies like Nafa Nuksan, The Hindu, Dainik Bhaskar and the Deccan Herald. Journalists from The Indian Express, Rajasthan Patrika, Daily News, eTV Rajasthan, HBC News, DigiTVNews, Patrika TV, BTV, and Dainik Naya India also participated.
The Campaign on common lands often requires a good understanding of current policies related to land use and tenure, and updated knowledge of various government orders and guidelines. Further, rural communities require timely and accurate legal advice to remove encroachments on common lands and to resolve disputes emerging from these actions. The one day Legal Workshop was jointly organized by FES, the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) and the Legal Initiative Based on Research and Advocacy in India (LIBRA INDIA), with the objective of sensitizing lawyers on the issue of the commons, the need to protect these lands and the legal assistance required by rural communities and panchayat representatives.
Mr. N.N. Mathur, Vice Chancellor, National Law University, Jodhpur was the Chief Guest at the workshop while Dr. R. Shreedhar, Chairman of Mines, Minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P) and Honourable Justice G.K. Vyas were the Guests of Honour.
The three workshops organized under the Shamlat Abhiyan were successful in creating awareness and building responsibility among different stake-holders towards supporting community claims over common land and restoring them. The workshops also contributed in giving momentum to the state-wide campaign, facilitating dialogue between different stake-holders and mobilizing a community constituency for the protection and development of the commons.
The draft Common Land Policy for Rajasthan can be viewed /downloaded from the following web-link: http://www.rajpanchayat.gov.in/common/RCLP_2010.pdf
Source - Shamlat Abhiyan: Campaign for the Commons in Rajasthan, Foundation for Ecological Security.
Contributed by - Coordination Team