Bent keys

Gandhian leader Chotubhai Nayak had dreamed that they would be the key to the tribals' prosperity, these jangal mandalis, or forest labour cooperatives. They have been a feature of the Dangs since 1948 and operated till 1960, when the Dangs district was a part of Bombay state. They were dissolved with their incorporation into Gujarat that year. Restarted in 1968, they operated till 1988, when the fd ceased to give them contracts.

The mandalis used to get 20 per cent of the net produce from the fd. In reality, they became a den of corruption and politics, argues Satyakam Joshi of the Centre for Social Studies. "For instance, from 1981 to 1987, in the Kalibel mandali, Rs 2.56 lakhs was spent on welfare activities of its members while Rs 9 lakhs was spent on tours and provisions, an euphemism for the expenses of the political workers of local MLA, Govindbhai Patel," says Joshi.

The 8th meeting of the State Level Working Group on joint forest management, held in February 1994 recorded in its minutes a clear verdit: the societies had failed grossly in their development objectives. According to the minutes of the meeting, the 16 northern mandalis earned Rs 5.287 crores between 1978-1983, while the 13 mandalis of South Dangs had earned Rs 5.041 crores. The meeting concluded, "Had the funds been utilised properly, the villages would not have been in their present state of underdevelopment and backwardness."

The meeting decided that there could be less wasteful ways to joint management. A novel effort died.