Out-migration in Kumaon: are Van Panchayats (forest councils) socially resilient?

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What happens to community-based institutions (CBIs) when persistent out-migration changes the socio-demographic structures in the community? This question needs exploration in the context of increasing urbanization in the developing countries,

What happens to community-based institutions (CBIs) when persistent out-migration changes the socio-demographic structures in the community? This question needs exploration in the context of increasing urbanization in the developing countries, where a substantial population depends on forests for subsistence livelihoods. In pursuance of this question, Almora district in India provided the necessary conditions of high out-migration, and the presence of oldest surviving CBIs of forest management (locally called as Van Panchayats or VPs). Framing the research question as social resilience of VPs amidst high out-migration, a representative sample of six VPs in Almora was investigated. Factors considered crucial to social resilience were analyzed by using qualitative and quantitative techniques on primary data collected through household surveys (n=111) and secondary data from authentic sources. Results, organized by three levels of analysis, highlight: 1) community - low participation, particularly of women, in proceedings of VPs, and a transition away from forest-based livelihoods; 2) institutional (VPs) - low adaptability to changes in gendered composition and a shift away from the community-specific needs; and, 3) policy - reduced use and access of forest resources for the community, and curtailed autonomy of VPs. The findings suggest that out-migration is one among the multiple factors, and its impacts on VPs are mediated by the broader political economy around VPs, thus obviating a linear causal relationship. Therefore, the findings arguably inform policy and future research by highlighting linkages between diverse contextual factors at the regional and community level, and the points of concern for social resilience of VPs, with particular focus on out-migration.