Lost in transit
Nimati Domohini village in the west of Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, is on a highway where a side road breaks off and leads to the reserve's Nimati range office seven kilometres away. But the village is miles away from realising the dreams dreamt by its 331-member eco-development committee (EDC) set up in 2001. Each committee member was allocated Rs 10,000. But the village decided, on forest department advice, to purchase community-level assets.
The village invested in tractors, pig and chicken farms, a grain shed and a fishpond. Domohini's microplan was extensive. But when Down To Earth visited it in September 2003, everything had fallen apart. The village had split into two rival groups: a set of very defensive former EDC executive members who had brought the equipment and set up the facilities, and disgruntled new members who had a ramshackle office and no clue of asset whereabouts. One tractor lay broken and the other stood near the porch of a previous EDC executive member. The farms and sheds were now broken buildings, shelter for landless villagers. The fishpond had been grabbed. Arguments broke out over who had cheated the EDC, who had taken the tractors away and why farms had failed. Only one fact was beyond dispute: the project money had done village no good. The rich had got richer and the 181 poor, landless members had nothing. All villagers agreed that the project money, once an index of hope, had irreparably damaged them.
Why did Nimati Domohini go this way? This village and others like it suffered from critical defects in the project plan and implementation, which created a new delivery mechanism built around the existing structures of the forest department
The EDCs were to be set up after making villages aware about the eco-development project. NGOs were to create awareness and then frame microplans in which villages were on equal footing with the forest department. In Buxa Tiger Reserve, the first attempt at setting up EDCs failed because the NGOs the department hired were new to this kind of association. "To begin with, the NGOs made three kinds of microplans and replicated them all over. Obviously, they failed and many of these plans had to be redrawn,' says K C Malhotra, who has observed Buxa closely. The department lost time: this shows up in the number of EDCs created in each of the five years of the project. The project picked up only in the third and the fourth year, by which time the project was about to close.
Other sites suffered identically. A World Bank