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Maharashtra’s leaders often mention that their state is the same size as Germany. Of course, the comparison ends there. Recent reports offer interesting insights into how the two might differ, at least when it comes to treating natural resources like forests/lands and communities that live off it.

Researchers at the University of Freiburg analysing Germany’s role as a key donor country in the forest sector, have suggested more action to benefit local communities in poor forested countries. This after assessing the impact of German aid in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Indonesia, leading to concerns over local forest communities remaining outside of the process designed to protect their livelihoods and land.

German aid money has a disproportionately significant impact on millions of hectares of forests, depended upon by millions of people, in the poorer countries it is destined for. Since 2002 Germany has committed some €436 million forest-related funds through 89 bilateral programs, and nearly €160 million via regional programs to the three case study countries in the report.

“Germany and other major donor countries will need to play a key role in future efforts for tropical countries to reach ambitious goals to end deforestation and to shift to community based and sustainable forest management schemes,” said Greenpeace forest campaigner Jannes Stoppel. What is being clearly suggested is a shift in focus from the promotion of large-scale management schemes and related actors to the governance of natural resources at the local level.

Back home, Maharashtra has sought drastic reduction in its proposed ecologically sensitive area (ESA) in the Western Ghats. The figure (6,719 sq km) is almost one-third of the 17,340 sq km originally proposed by the Union ministry based on suggestions of the committees headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil. The state government has also significantly dropped the number of villages from the ESA, from 2,133 to 1,254.

Environmental activists have objected. "Conservation groups will certainly oppose the further shrinking of the ESA. It is well known that there are several development projects, townships and hill station projects in the pipeline in the region. It remains to be seen what are the grounds on which this reduction has been proposed," said Neema Pathak of Kalpavriksh.She said the entire process should have been carried out by local consultation and by assuring the villagers that their rights would not be affected.

Meanwhile a Times of India report, quoting latest government data, said Maharashtra government acquired a staggering 1.92 lakh hectares of land - 4.4 times the size of Greater Mumbai - over nearly 15 years. Most of the land acquired is agricultural and the bulk of it has been earmarked for irrigation schemes, followed by industry projects, the data shows.

The distressed Vidarbha region, infamous for farmer suicides, has seen the largest chunk of acquisition during this period, while drought-hit Marathwada region was next, Land rights groups are now questioning whether the state actually uses the land it acquires. "If so much agricultural land is being acquired, it will impact the livelihood of farmers. They may not succeed in finding other means of employment," said Ulka Mahajan from the Sarvahara Jan Andolan.

Looks like Maharashtra could learn from Germany, though the two are poles apart!

-- Editor