From the early 1990s, along with land and water, SPWD took up the issue of forest management. Forests were looked at as major common resource whose proper management is critical not only to rural people who heavily depend directly for their livelihoods on it but also for the regeneration of privately held natural resources. Joint Forest Management (JFM) network, a national level interaction forum, was instituted at SPWD in 1993 with major financial support from Ford Foundation. Through the network, forest department officials, NGOs, donor agencies, policy makers and academic institutions shared information and views on developments in JFM and its implementation in India.
JFM concept emerged in the circumstances when conflict between communities and forest department reached a stage of confrontation owing to the policy of handing over ‘degraded’ forest lands along with other ‘wastelands’ to vested interests without taking communities into confidence. There was a strong scientific opinion that these lands can be regenerated as forests if a common ground can be found for communities and the forest department to work together.
Some officials in the forest department and certain NGOs working closely with the communities showed enthusiasm for the idea. A few good models were established by spirited forest department officials by incorporating the community’s interest in the management plan. The department issued an order for mainstreaming of the concept. But, because of department’s fear of losing control over the forest produce or not taking into account the community’s interest in management plans and also because of conflicts among communities due to shifting pressure of their demand on non-JFM areas or within communities on sharing responsibility and benefits, though the number of JFM committees increased, its concept got diluted.
Because of all these lacunae, the very forces who were advocating JFM initially became its vehement critiques. The erstwhile proponents of JFM started fighting against artificial imposition of JFM and other committees. As a result, the national network no longer had the necessary support within or outside of SPWD. In JFM, long term tenurial security over forestland was lacking and the demand to incorporate JFM within the existing Forest Act or to come up with a new Forest Rights Act (FRA) became high by the early 2000s.