Sustainable development is almost impossible without proper attention to the conservation of common property resources. Given the market pressures and increasing individualism, it is not easy to manufacture collective consent for such purposes. Examples given here illustrate cases where people have come together to conserve nature and manage resources. The kind of rules that people have evolve vary from village to village. Generally, fuzzy boundaries and long term perspective has helped many of these institutions to survive.



Self-designed institutions for management of common property resources at the grassroots exhibit considerable variations. These institutions may be formal or informal, culturally embedded or other-wise and episodic or durable. 

The nature of rules and norms may vary across sectors, regions and cultures. The source of variability may include the nature of the stress or opportunity to which the institution owned its genesis, the context of the participants, the size of the groups and heterogeneity among stakeholders, the nature of the resource, the scarcity of resources, and the purpose of management. 

Over two decades, SRISTI has drawn a database on “CPR institutions” developed for sustainable natural resource management. A unique feature of this database is that it focuses much more on self-designed or indigenous institutions rather than crafted ones. Riya Sinha at SRISTI in collaboration with Troels Bjerregaard, a Danish student worked on a computerised cataloguing system of this database, which was later upgraded to a web based system known as “Common Property Resource Institutions database and Online Information and Interaction System”.


Twisting roots to construct bridges

The Cherrapunji area in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya is one of the wettest place in the world. The villages which punctuate these hills are scattered along a highly irregular landscape interspersed by perennial streams and deep gorges. Crossing these streams and gorges can be a nightmare, especially during the monsoon months. These villages would have remained isolated and inaccessible had it not been for the numerous footbridges that the villagers have built over the years. 

The bridges are built by twisting and positioning the roots and moulding the growth of the giant rubber tree, which grow abundantly in the area. They are reinforced with time, as the roots grow stronger. This has been an innovation by the community through knowledge and experiences accumulated over time. 

These bridges have remarkable longevity and are sturdier than the bridges made of bamboo or wood, which get washed away in torrential downpour. It does not swing or wobble like other hanging bridges. There are also some bridges with two levels that can carry people and animals. 

The cost of building these bridges is negligible, since there are no material costs, nor the need to transport raw material. The bridge is constructed and maintained by the community, incurring minimum labor cost. Learn more (Vol 16-2- April – June 2005) 


Institutions for maintenance of the breeding bull 

Breeding bulls have always occupied a place of prominence in animal husbandry. Tribal communities in Gujarat have taken up animal husbandry only over the last 15 years under cooperative dairy development schemes. They have, also developed local institutions to manage bulls, especially buffalo bulls. Usually there is only one bull per hamlet and it is treated as common property. Some of the rules evolved for calf breeding by cooperative members in many tribal villages of Gujarat are listed below. 

  1. Some villages have adopted a common practice found in many parts of Gujarat, namely appointing a particular person as a caretaker of the bull owned by cooperative society. The caretaker is remunerated in various ways : a fixed monthly honorarium paid by the cooperative, a fixed amount based on the number of adult animals in the village, a fixed amount to be deducted from the members’ milk income, a charge to be paid to the caretaker by the people using the services of the bull etc. 
  2. Regularity of handling is accepted as a principle and so the bull is housed at the caretaker’s place. 
  3. Some cooperatives provide extra concentrate feed to the bull during the winter breeding season. The members store the feed bag in a common room (in order to help the caretaker avoid the temptation of feeding the concentrate to his own she-buffaloes)
  4. Compulsory contribution of a few bundles of dry fodder every day is made by each household; in some places these bundles have to be deposited by the members at the bull house. 
  5. Seasonal contribution of agricultural by-product is made by all members. 
  6. In a few villages, “exchanges” of bulls have been carried out after three to four years in order to rotate the bulls. Otherwise, the members depend on outright purchases of surplus young bulls from nearby villages. 
  7. In Saurashtra, the breeding bull, called “gameru khunt” is under the care of a specific person. It is changed every 5 to 7 years. The people have evolved certain strict norms for the management of the bull. In village Kenedi, of Jamnagar district each family has to contribue on kg of edible oil and some dry fodder for the breeding bull. If a person defaults, an informal assembly of the village imposes a fine, either in cash or in kind. This practice has been existence for a long time.  Learn more (Vol 5 – 2 – Apr-Jun 1994) 


Grazing lands 

Gauchars or grazing lands are present throughout villages in India. These provide a common ground for cattle to graze so that they do not feed on other productive fields. This is of particular help to landless farmers whose burden is greatly reduced. Grazing lands also provide a community space for various events in the village. 

In most villages which had grazing lands, the area of the grazing land was between 10-20 acres. However, there were also some villages with more than 100 acres of grazing land. Information was sought about whether there has been a significant change in land use in the patches of land traditionally allocated for communal grazing and the reasons for it. Among the existing grazing lands, the investigation aimed to highlight institutional norms and informal rules, constituents of the grazing land and efforts for conservation of the grazing land. 


Efforts to use herbal extract for preventive health care 

The village Titoi is a multi-caste village. The main occupations are farming and cattle rearing. The crops cultivated are sorghum, pigeon pea, maize, black gram and paddy. The villagers select one day after the first rainfall before “divasa” – a particular day in the Gujarati calendar for the performance of “Nadervo”. The day is selected in such a way that the festival does not hinder the sowing activities, hence it varies according to weather. The entire village takes part in the institution and abides with its rules. 

On the selected day of the festival, the herbal experts, elders and youth of the village go to the nearby forest to collect one hundred and twenty five herbs. One important point to note here is that collection of herbs is a collective and community effort. The forest near the village does not have all the herbs needed. Therefore, herbs are also collected from the forest of nearby villages like Jetpur, Kavadiya, Karitha and Sangalvadi. While collecting the herbs nobody speaks the name of the plants and hence all the names are not known to everybody though they can identify the plant by its appearance. 

On the next day, teak (Tectona grandis L.f) leaves are spread and the collected herbs are placed on them. The herbs are then ground and kept in a large vessel. It is customary for each household to bring a litre of water and pour it in the vessel having the ground herbs. The village priest stirs the mixture very well, which is then filtered. Each household gets one litre of the filtrate with some part of the residue. 

The male member of the family brings this filtrate and sprinkles it in the entire house, in the cattle shed and on the cattle. Women are not allowed to touch this filtrate or take part in this whole ritual. It is believed that sprinkling of this concoction keeps ailments like fever, common cold, and all contagious diseases away. It is also claimed to keep the livestock healthy and fit. Learn more (Vol 11 – 3 – Jul-Sep 2000) 


Common property resource institutions : the chabutras of Gujarat 

SRISTI carried out a survey in 186 villages across 11 districts (though most villages belonged to the districts of Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Anand) in Gujarat to understand traditional informal social institutions to manage common property. Three institutions were studied namely, the chabutras, community managed water tanks and community grazing lands. 

Chabutras are bird feeding towers found across villages in India. They are of various shapes and sizes. They have been present in the country for centuries and are the most visible common property institutions found in the region. This study was aimed at finding out what changes have occurred in the traditional social norms of eco-conservation over the years. 

In the three major districts studied, Anand and Sabarkantha were high-income districts whereas Banaskantha was a low-income one. 


Resource management linked to social norms and traditions 

For childbirths, marriages and funerals, people donate large quantities of bird feed. The building of chabutras in memory of the deceased is also a common practice. During the kite festival, people are more inclined towards sacred giving and bird feeding is often considered a good karmic gesture. 

Hence, this season sees much higher bird feed donations. Especially after the kite festival, street plays are organised which accept donations. These donations are used to buy grains for birds and grass for cows. Even on a daily basis, elderly people who embark on their “prabhat yatra” (praying walks in the morning) carry a bag to collect bird feed donations from families and place them at the chabutra. 

Sometimes, as penalty for a mistake, individuals are asked to donate specific quantities of grains to chabutras. The main grains used to feed birds are wheat, bajra (sorghum), jowar (pearl millet) and maize. Different places use different grains depending on availability. Of the 185 surveyed villages, 164 had at least one chabutra. It was found that the villages which fall under the higher income group have fewer chabutras (Anand & Sabarkantha) compared to villages with lower incomes (Banaskantha). 

Higher income villages seemed to be inclined to vegetable farming on a large scale.  Although it is expected that higher income groups would spend more on such facilities, this was not the case. 


The building of chabutras 

The chabutras were built by the community in a majority of cases. Often the panchayat helped in building the chabutras. Chabutras were also built by relatives of the deceased. However, it was the entire community in 82% of the villages that provided the birdfeed. Almost all villages chose the morning time to feed birds. 

The institution of bird feeding platforms is on the decline. Most chabutras in the villages surveyed, were older than 15 years. Only 16% of the villages surveyed had a new chabutra built in the last five years. The newer chabutras are often donated by local legislators and sarpanches (village heads) out of their funds. NGOs and charitable trusts also have lately taken up the work of making chabutras. 


Challenges faced and interesting solutions 

Not all institutions face the same kind of challenges. We came across many peculiar challenges that were tackled in some very innovative ways. Some villagers informed us that they faced problems from children who would steal grains from the chabutras and sell them in the market. The villagers decided to reduce the quantity of grains in the chabutra itself and keep the bulk of the grains outside the chabutra in everyone’s view. This helped overcome the problem. 

Sometimes when a chabutra has not been cleaned for a while, it becomes difficult to feed birds there. In such a situation, villagers feed birds on their terraces until the chabutra is cleaned. In other village, it was found that cats would attack birds on the chabutra from a nearby tree. The villagers transplanted this tree to protect the birds. Similarly, in some places, low chabutras were upgraded to a greater height to protect them from dogs and cats. Learn more (Vol 25 – 2 – April – Jun 2014) 


Maintenance of the chabutras 

There were many ways in which the communities managed the maintenance of chabutras. Often schools organise field trips where children help in cleaning up the chabutra and feeding the birds. Around major festivals like Diwali, the youth in the villages take the initiative to clean the chabutras before decorating them. Many people volunteer to help with the maintenance. Moreover, when the panchayat hires someone to clean the villages public spaces, chabutras are also included. 

We found that Kheda and Sabarkantha, had the best chabutra facilities and maintenance procedures. The community played an active role in maintaining the cleanliness of the chabutra and steady supply of bird feed. An interesting observation was that some villages had covered the walls of the chabutra with a mixture of cow dung and soil to protect the birds from hurting their beaks.