The Creation of West Bengal’s Forest Underclass. An Historical Institutional Analysis of Forest Rights Deprivations

Abstract

This paper considers the relationship between the emergence and development of state forestry institutions in forested landscapes of West Bengal and the chronic and acute poverty of citizens living there.

At least 13% of West Bengal’s 80 million population (at the lowest estimates) live in forested landscapes and significantly depend on forests. Most live in severely deprived conditions and form what may reasonably be called a forest underclass: they have been collectively subjugated and impoverished by the prevailing forestry institutions. One might challenge this argument by contending that forest people’s forest livelihoods inherently destine them to a low income level, and so their poverty is latent rather than externally created. In this paper we show, using an historical institutional analytical framework, that regardless of their initial livelihood conditions, they have been gravely impacted by expropriation from control, access and use of the productive private and collective forest and land resources on which they depend and the ecological character of the forest resource has been changed in the states pursuit of timber, drastically cutting the livelihood ecosystem services they provide.

Citation

Discussion Paper Series, Research Programme Consortium for Improving Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth, Manchester, UK, No. 51. 26 pp.

The Creation of West Bengal’s Forest Underclass. An Historical Institutional Analysis of Forest Rights Deprivations

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