When people begin to manage natural resources

The Arvari Sansad, or Arvari Parliament, is a shining example of community ownership and management of natural resources. After reviving the rivulet with assistance from the voluntary organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), the people are absolutely confident of one thing: natural resources are best managed when communities regenerate these through painstaking efforts.

In late 1998, people of the 70 villages in the Arvari basin were quite concerned as the monsoon had failed. Overextraction of water would have created a situation similar to the 1980s, when the area was declared a dark zone. The villages also had to contend with the government. Once the river had been revived and fish were seen in its water, the government began flexing its muscle. It issued a contract to a Jaipur-based contractor to fish in the Arvari waters. This got the people thinking. Who owned the river?

To discuss this matter, the villagers met on December 18, 1998, in Hamirpur village. Anil Agarwal, director of Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, made a suggestion: "Why don't you people form a parliament and manage the river yourselves?' The idea appealed and a parliament was formed. Unlike the government machinery, which takes ages to implement decisions, the people of Arvari took action within a month.

The Arvari Sansad met for the first time in Hamirpur on Republic Day, January 26, 1999. It represents all the 70 villages in the Arvari basin. It has 142 members nominated by the respective village assemblies. Every village up to 500 hectares in size appoints one member. Villages of about 1,000 hectares appoint two. The maximum limit for a village is three members. A coordination committee comprising members selected by the parliament handles the operations and ensures that the rules are observed.

The parliament met for second time on June 5-7, 1999, in village Samra. It was clear that the villagers were determined to carry out all what they had planned. A liquor company was interested in setting up a brewery in the region as barley is the main crop here and water was nor available in plenty. " The villagers got together to ensure that no industrial concern exploited the river's resources,' says Rajendra Singh, secretary of TBS.

The greatest threat to the Arvari, however, was from within. If the farmers had resorted to uncontrolled extraction of the river water, all the good work would have come to nought, especially in years with low rainfall. The parliament adopted an elaborate set of rules. They were to be executed through existing village institutions. A study was conducted to estimate the observance of the decisions taken during the first session. The compliance level was about 70 per cent. "The Arvari Sansad has forged a new bond among the people. They are joined not only be the river but also by their sweat,' says Anupam Mishra, secretary of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi. He is also the chairperson of TBS.

In the third session held in village Bhaonta on December 28-29, 1999, the parliament reviewed implementation of the rules. It was noted that none of the villages had violated the norms, though there were a few stray cases. The fourth meeting was held on June 10, 2000, in Devka-Devra village.

The relationship between the members of the parliament and the village assemblies was discussed. It was decided that the parliament members would assist the village assemblies in implementing the rules. It was laid down that the young members in the village assemblies would be informed and trained in traditional methods of common property resource management.