|People's Participation In Natural Resources Management - Workshop Report 8 (IRMA, 1992)|
Participation is basically a political process concerned with redistribution of power in a society. This usually involves transfer of administrative and financial powers from 'haves' to 'haves not' and sharing of technical and legal information with the local people whose participation is sought. In the words of Oakley and Marsden (1984, p.88), "...meaningful participation is concerned with achieving power: that is the power to influence the decisions that affect one's livelihood". There are many empirical studies that discuss the rationale of people's participation in rural development programmes which show that the performance of such programmes is positively correlated with the degree of people's participation (Cohen and Uphoff, 1977; Waddimba, 1979; CIRDAP, 1984; 1987; Mishra et al., 1984, Oakley and Marsden, 1984, and Bamberger and Shams, 1989). The parti-cipants discussed in detail the question of why people's participation is necessary. Drawing upon their experiences, they identified the following major rationale for people's participation in NRM, as also in any other agricultural and rural development programmes:
a. Reduction in development cost to the government or NGO of planning, implementing, and monitoring of NRM projects. For example, the cost of watershed development by AKRSP(I) - an NGO - was much lower than the costs incurred by the Governments of Karnataka and Gujarat in their watershed development programmes. This was mainly due to people's participation in the AKRSP(I)'s watershed development projects.
b. Increase in the perceived and actual benefits to people participating in the programme. For example, in the Arabari Forest Range in West Bengal, both the perceived and actually realised benefits from regeneration and protection of forests were higher when the local people paticipated in the programme.
c. Correction of the mistakes made by the project authority in designing various structures. For example, according to KN Patel, in the case of Mahi Right Bank Canal in Gujarat, most of the outlets were not located properly by the canal engineers. But when the people were involved in the distribution of canal water, these defects were noticed and rectified in consultation with the local people. Similarly, according to Vivekanandan, most of the fish landing sites and market yards in the coastal areas of Kerala were not designed and located at proper places resulting in their not being used by the local fishermen. These mistakes could have been easily avoided if the local fishermen had been consulted by the officers of the Fisheries Department while taking decisions about the location of these facilities.
d. Increase in the level of political awareness of the people. For example, according to Vivekanandan, fishermen in coastal Kerala villages became more politically aware and to that extent politically developed and powerful when they were organised into fishermen's co-operative societies. They were able to influence decisions relating to their livelihood and now, no political party in power in Kerala can afford to ignore them.
e. Reaching the benefits of NRM programmes to all the legitimate claimants. For example, according to Nagabrahmam, in Ashi village of Kheda district in Gujarat, the tail-enders got canal water for the first time in 30 years when they formed a water users' co-operative society and had a say in the distribution of canal water.
f. Decrease in the perpetual dependence of people on the government/NGOs and thereby making the programme self-sustaining and the local people self-reliant.
g. Gaining access to and control of resources. For example, in Valiathura village in Trivandrum district of Kerala, fishermen introduced artificial reefs and saw to it that other fishermen from neighbouring villages did not have access to the fishing spots in the neighbourhood of the reefs, i.e., in a way they privatised an open access resource.
h. Mobilisation of local resources becomes easier when local people participate in NRM.
i. Project implementation becomes easier and smooth as a result of participation of local people.
j. People's participation usually leads to gradual empowerment of the socially and economically disadvantaged people.