The major focus of the research in two peri-urban villages, namely, Budheda and Sadhrana, in the Gurgaon district of Haryana was to identify the factors responsible for degradation of common property resources. The study revolved around building my understanding of the various factors responsible for declined dependence on and changes in the usage of the Common Property Resources (CPRs). Factors like amplified real estate prices and reduced rainfall had an impact on the land use pattern, while other factors include social challenges like inflated inflow of cash due to land sales, illegal encroachment of agriculture and Panchayat land and elite domination.
Cities grow while villages shrink
Gurgaon's population in 2011 stands at 1.5 million against 0.8 million in 2001 with an increase of 73.9% in a decade (census 2001 & 2011). This increase in population has created a demand for better utility services. The peri-urban settlements are at the receiving end and government institutions are exploring their resources to meet the demands of the urban population. Acquisition of private agriculture land as well as common property grazing lands took place in Budheda for the installation of the water treatment plant (WTP) to provide drinking water for Gurgaon city. 230 acres of land was acquired in the first phase for the construction of a WTP. There is a plan to acquire an additional 140 acres of land for the expansion of the plant. On the other hand, Reliance, an industrial conglomerate had a plan to procure 25,000 acres of land to setup a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). They have procured around 1400 acres of land from villages Sadhrana, Budheda, and other neighboring villages. However, the project is hurdled by the strict norms of the Supreme Court in 2006 for protecting the Sultanpur National Park.
There is a sharp decline in the livestock as both the grazing and private agriculture land is declining. Most of the green fodder for livestock is procured from the agriculture fields. Rich elite who still own agricultural land has easy access to green fodder. However, they do not share with small and marginal farmers due to less availability of the fodder. The significant factors, which have influenced the shift of occupation from animal husbandry to other employment opportunities, are as follows:(a) Maintenance cost of livestock has increased as the prices of fodder have sharply increased in the last two decades and communities do not find it lucrative to keep livestock. While raising an animal (cow or buffalo), more than 70 per cent of expenditure is incurred on feed and fodder (NDDB 2009). The community from higher caste who owns the land afford this expenditure, while lower caste communities who do not own land have to pay higher input cost.
(b) Buffalo larceny gangs from Mewat are responsible for the decline in the livestock population in the village. Almost 4-5 buffaloes have been stolen in the past one year.
(c) The labour to manage livestock has also declined. Earlier joint families had more human resources who could take care of livestock. This scenario has changed with the emergence of nuclear families. The lack of interest among the youth and children to engage with livestock is also one of the reasons for sharp decline in the number of the population.
Changes in irrigation & agriculture
There has been a change in agriculture pattern in Budheda and Sadhrana. Budheda was once famous for kharbuja (Musk Melon) People showed interest to give a girl into this village due to availability of sweet water and musk melons. Now, due to increase in the saline content of the water and depleting water levels, the cultivation of musk melon has completely ceased. The three major reasons for change in agriculture pattern in the two villages are:
(a) Decline in rainfall since the 1980s
(b) Drying of open-wells used for agriculture
(c) Water in the tube well becoming saline due to the declining ground water table.
There is a strong linkage between drying of Johads and wells located in Sadhrana. Technically, Johad feeds water to the well and helps in recharging the ground water table in the area. However, with drying of Johads and with emergence of a large number of tube-wells and submersible pump sets, sweet water open-wells have dried up. These sweet water open-wells were used for filling khed (common drinking spots for the livestock) as well as for irrigation. The alternative source for irrigation is the water from the wastewater canal, which is used by small and marginal farmers (as they do not own a tube-well in their own agriculture fields).
Common properties encroachment, elite domination & socio-cultural changes
In Sadhrana, subtle domination from the higher castes resulted in reduced accessibility of common property resources for the lower caste communities. During Chakbandi (Land consolidation) in 1982, the influential Pundit and Yadav communities distributed the Panchayat grazing land adjacent to their own or within their private land. Even now, dominant classes use the cloistered Panchayat land for personal agricultural purposes. Moreover, during land consolidation, the influential castes also acquired land from the small and marginal landowners by bribing the Patwari. The Patwari reduced the prices of the land of the small and marginalized farmers compared to the prices of land owned by Pundit and Yadav communities. With this effect, when reallocation of land after consolidation took place, the large and influential landowners were compensated with higher prices. This resulted in acquisition of more amount of land as compared to their previous ownership. Currently, the large landholders forbid livestock grazing or women to collect fodder from these Panchayat lands as the land is used for their own agriculture purposes.
Usage of Common property resources like Johads has changed over the period. Budheda has a 150-year-old functional Johad, which was earlier used for bathing purposes of the community. However, it is now exclusively used for livestock's drinking and bathing. The Panchayat has extensive rights and the Johad was taken care mostly under MNREGA. The major source of water for this Johad is from rainfall and Gurgaon water supply channel. In 2010, the Johad in Budheda was leased out on a legal contract to a private contractor from Nuh (Mewat district) for 7 years (2010-2017) for fishing activities. Communities claim that the democratic process failed while auctioning the Johad. However, contract mentions that the maintenance of Johad is the contractor's responsibility. Other conditions which facilitate the use of the Johad are:
(a) Any villager can use the Johad without seeking prior of permission from the contractor;
(b) The contractor cannot add any chemicals in the Johad as it is used for drinking and bathing of livestock and;
(c) Water recharging and filling up of Johad with water from the nearby canal is the contractor's responsibility.
The depletion in the common properties is also affecting the socio-cultural behaviour of the people. Instead of fuel wood, cow/ buffalo dung cakes are now used for cooking, bonfire, and even for funeral rituals among economically weaker sections (especially SC communities). Due to depletion of grazing land, the work burden on women has increased. Traditionally, grazing of livestock has been the domain of men in households. However, with the diminished access to grazing land stall-feeding has emerged as an alternative, which has become the responsibility of women. Birbani (wife) is responsible for green fodder collection from the agriculture fields and preparation of cow dung cakes. Even after fodder is collected, women help men to cut the collected fodder and in the preparation of the mixture for feeding the livestock.
The above mentioned factors are responsible for bringing changes in usage of common property resources in Budheda and Sadhrana. There are other specific factors, which played crucial role in reducing the access for small and marginal farmers to a common property, which are: (a) Urban expansion (b) Illegal encroachment and (c) Elite domination. In a peri‐urban context, the environment is changing at a faster rate, affecting the access to common properties. Budheda and Sadhrana are bound to feel the effects of Gurgaon’s haphazard urbanization, largely in the coming future. In case of these two villages, communities with assets such as land will be able to cope up with threats of urbanization whereas the vulnerable poor might face more teething troubles in the future. Coping with new livelihood opportunities and losing access to common properties might become a costly affair for these vulnerable communities.