Just a few thoughts, before proceeding to this next book which I intend to review on this blog. First of all, there are indeed rules for book-reviews which are published in journals, pertaining mostly to the length of such reviews. What constitutes a review or a proper review, I am afraid are matters which you should learn by doing and by getting such responses as your editors send to you.
However, to the best of my knowledge there is nowhere a manual for blog book-reviews. Even the blogs which have inspired my own blog do not undertake book-reviews and to the best of my knowledge there isn't even a academic-bloggers-consortium in India, such that by interaction with each other, we could have arrived at a consensus of sorts, for how and what should constitute, a proper blog-book-review.
However, to the extent, bloggers such as us, are practicing academics, it is my contention here, that blog-book-reviews cannot even remotely resemble journal book reviews, for very simply if I wrote a review such as the one given below in a journal-style or any journal-style, then the proper wages for such labour would merit a publication of this review, at the very least.
A Book Review
When a reviewer sets out to read the work under review the prime curiosity is always satisfied by reading first the contributions of the editor or editors as their contributions set the tune for the book under review. I have thus proceeded first to the very last essay written by Arun Bandhopadhyay, in a work which at first browse seems very topical and informative reading. In his article entitled as Three Issues from a CPR Management: Village Forestry in Post-colonial South Asia Bandhopadhyay first engages in a definitional debate regarding CPR (Common Property Resources) and after a brief polemic given on the basis of N.S.Jodha's (2001) work, listed in the bibliography here, comes to the following conclusion "viewed from the broader definition, CPRs in Indian villages include community pastures, different kinds of forests including community forests, wastelands, watershed drainages, village ponds, rivers and rivulets with their banks and beds, both from a de jure and a de facto rights framework." (pp.209). In the following paragraph he makes a more remarkable claim which I shall in part cite and paraphrase. He suggests, in the light of the definition he has chosen that in village forestry practices in post-colonial South Asia CPRs have been enormously "disregarded" both in "rural development programmes" as well as in "effective forest management" (pp.209). This has, and therefore, resulted in a dramatic reduction of CPR in the two states he considers, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. Citing Jodha again he considers "the depletion of the CPRs in India from 1951 to 1981 has been measured to vary from 31% to 55% in different regions. In one of our study areas (Tamil Nadu), the decline is stated to be 50%. Three factors are mentioned as causes. First, gradual extensions of private field borders took place through outright grabbing of CPR plots individually or collectively. Second, government also made distribution of CPR land as private land in the name of land reform in the last fifty years. Third, CPR area was also curtailed by various agencies of government like the forest departments or the panchayats in the name of development or resource harnessing." (pp. 210). He thus concludes the opening section of his paper by suggesting that "In order to have clearer, more focused view of the process of change in this area (Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, parenthesis mine), this paper concentrates on the history of `village forestry' in post-colonial South Asia with special reference to Tamil Nadu and West Bengal."
Thereafter, in this article, we are introduced, historically, to the issue of forestry practices. Citing Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha's works (see bibliography) here Bandhopadhyay tells us that "from the middle of the nineteenth century, `scientific forestry' developed in India under the colonial auspices, which could lead to the artificial demarcation of `reserved', `protected' and `village' or `community forests'. This was very aesthetic, however in practice, both during and after the colonial era, this only meant official or administrative depredation of Indian Forests, whether for commercially valuable wood or for turning mixed multi-species forests, into commercially desirable single-species ones.
The post-colonial era, 1950 onward, evidenced `Vana Mahotsava' and `Grow More Food' sorts of campaigns in forest areas, conveying the message that the depletion of forests was now a matter of administrative concern. The earliest of Vana Mahotsavís actually date to 1948, when the Government of Madras enjoined upon common people to grow such species as would be useful for fuel and to save cow-dung for manure. Two years later the Government of Madras is also discussed as being worried about the loss of soil-cover due to deforestation.
Bandhopadhyay argues that the Van Mahotsavs were unsuccessful and in the 1960s and 1970s `farm forestry of various types' (pp. 211) was introduced. This also did not make any significant difference as Eucalyptus and Bamboo whose plantation was adopted proved ecologically degrading and `the lack of market intelligence in terms of prices and products was economically discouraging'. (pp. 211). Thus group farm forestry and joint industrial forestry also met a similar end.
He casts further light on the development of forestry practices. Apparently, in the 1960s and 1970s, the forest departments of various states were preoccupied with large plantation-oriented social forestry projects, backed by the central government, foreign donor agencies and various agencies...keeping however the indigenous community separate and isolated from the forest management initiative. (pp.211). He cites, in particular, the case of Bihar which encouraged the programme of nurseries and fast-growing tree plantations in the 1980s, with the help of the SIDA (the Swedish International Development Agency) "keeping however the indigenous community separate and isolated from forestry management initiative" (see Poffenberger, McGean and Khare, bibliography).
These limitations of social forestry (pp.211-212) projects became apparent over time, encouraging some planners to devise alternative methods of management. Joint Forestry Management (JFM), devised as Forest Protection Committees (FPCs), as early as in the 1970s, was adopted in certain parts of West Bengal, but only became widely known in the 1980s (see Poffenberger, bibliography). In 1988 and 1989, Orissa and West Bengal passed state resolutions recognizing the validity of community forest protection. In June 1990 the Government of India passed guidelines notifying that the exclusive rights to forest products be extended to those villages effectively protecting public forest lands. By 1994, sixteen states passed similar orders (see Poffenberger et al. op. cit.).
Having reviewed thus "the history of village forestry" (pp.212) from Vana Mahotsavs, farm forestry, and social forestry, down to joint forest management, Bandhopadhyay feels that such a review makes for an appreciable understanding of social and ecological change in the past "fifty years" (pp. 212) as also "by that matter `good governance' aspects of it" (pp. 212). He now turns to his two case studies in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
A next essay worth reviewing as a whole in this volume is Adivasi and Aranyaks: reconsidering some characterizations of their polity and economy in Pre-colonial India which is written by BB Choudhuri who is the first editor of this collection of very remarkable essays. In this essay Chaudhuri suggests that in the pre-Colonial context if it was certain that the Adivasi referred to forest dwellers then the term Aranyaks may be applied equally suitably, Chaudhuri suggests, to those groups of peasants, whether farmer or pastoral, who dwelled on the periphery of Adivasi areas, but more importantly that these two groups were in a symbiotic relationship with each other during the pre-Colonial period.
This is a very fundamental point which scholars and students of tribal history of India have to take into account as it is this which demolishes the colonial overhang of the idea that Indian Tribes were always cultural isolates. Chaudhuri buttresses this contention successfully with appending arguments. He then turns to examining the nature and impact of the pre-Colonial or the Mughal State on various forestry communities and their symbiotic counterparts.
Towards such an end he not only takes a look at the works of Shireen Moosvi and Irfan Habib (see bibliography) on the nature of agrarian relations during the Mughal Period, and we find through this exercise, that Chaudhuri's deductions are in perfect order, however, he also, through the medium of this very welcome construct leads onto challenge Gadgil/Guha's concepts about a sort of `Ram Raj' for forestry communities during pre-Colonial times.
Another essay in this remarkable volume worth reviewing is B.D. Chattopadhyaya's contribution entitled as State's Perception of the `Forest' and the `Forest' as State in Early India. The opening lines to this remarkable chapter are worth quoting in full `There are many ways in which forests have been perceived both in written sources of early India and modern historiography of analyses of such sources (here he cites a recent works as by Romila Thapar, see bibliography). the most general characterization of the forest is derived from its terminological contrast with other types of spaces. If forest was aranya, vana, jangala and so on in ancient texts, it stood in contrast to areas which were different such as kshetra, janapada, nadu, suggestive of spaces with greater human civilizational (and here I would have preferred the word Density) associations.' (contd.).
Gadgil, M and Guha, R. 1993. This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India. University of California Press.
Gadgil, M and Guha, R. 1995. Ecology and Equity: The Use and Abuse of Nature in Contemporary India. OIP. Delhi.
Habib, I. 1999. The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556-1707. OUP. Delhi.
Jodha, N.S. 2001. Life on the Edge: Sustaining Agriculture and Community Resources in Fragile Environments. OUP, New Delhi.
Moosvi, S. 1987. The economy of the Mughal Empire c. 1595: a statistical study. OUP. Delhi.
Poffenberger, M. 1985. The resurgence of community forest management in the jungle mahals of West Bengal. In Arnold, D, and Guha, Ramachandra (Ed.) Nature, Culture and Imperialism: essays on the environmental history of South Asia.OUP.USA
Poffenberger, M McGean, B and Khare, A. 1998. Communities sustaining India's Forests in the Twenty-first Century. In Poffenberger, M, McGean, B. (Eds.) Village Voices, Forest Choices: Joint Forest Management in India. OUP. Delhi.
Thapar, R. 2001. Perceiving the forest: early India. Studies in History. New Series. 17.1 (2001). pp?