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  CPRs in Everyday Life of Rural People in Assam
Dr Gautam Purkayastha
October 01, 2013 | Dr Gautam Purkayastha  , Poverty

Common Property Resources (CPRs) provide a regular source of income and employment to a large section of society across age groups. It acts as a safety net for the poor, particularly during the lean season, drought or floods. It is a vital and reliable source of livelihood for elderly people who cannot work as wage earners. It offers equal opportunities to different members of a disadvantaged family to supplement the family income. In addition to main earning members, children, women, elderly people and even the partially disabled find opportunities to collect non-timber forest products. CPRs help to improve economic efficiency by providing alternative income generating activities, direct inputs to the home for daily needs and agriculture and acts as a safety measure to carry on during the calamities.

This article seeks to quantify the amount of socio-economic benefits derived by the rural people of Assam from CPRs with special emphasis of CPRs in four villages under Tinsukia district.

The sample consists of 120 households. About 31 per cent people across age groups were working for at least 180 days in a year. The gender wise distribution of workers stood at 48.17 per cent for male and 14.67 for female. In the age group ‘18 – 59’, 78 per cent of the males living in remote villages were employed either in agriculture or non-agricultural activities as compared to 75.5 per cent in nearby villages. The corresponding percentages were 23.4 and 18.9 for the females. At the aggregate level, 47.71 per cent of the 18-59 age group were employed for more than 180 days.

Dependence of Females, Minors and Aged on CPRs

The huge gender gap which was noticed in market participation rate disappears in the case of exploitation of common property resources. The role of CPRs in the lives of females, minors and even the senior citizens can be felt vividly. In two of the interior villages, 76 males and 77 females were reported to have been drawing food and non-food items from CPRs for at least 5 days in a year. In the nearby villages, lower number of males (55) and females (49) reported to have benefited from CPRs during the last 365 days. There were altogether 30 minor and 21 aged beneficiaries.

Use of CPRs by the respondents

About 17 per cent sample households revealed that they were not directly drawing anything from the CPRs. Some of them were government employees, while few others were working in private sector in nearby towns. These households were mostly characterized by either no adult unemployed in the family or the only adult member left was the housewife with a baby or the aged parents were not allowed to collect anything from the commons. Nevertheless, many of these households indirectly benefited from the CPRs – in the form of conversion of community/forest land to private tea garden, drawing drain water for irrigating farm land, purchasing fuel wood locally at low price and rearing livestock partially or wholly based on grazing land.

Village wise contribution of CPRs in total income


Income (CPRs + others) per household per year (in lac Rs.)

Total Income from CPRs during the last 365 days (in Rs.)

CPR Income per household per year (in Rs.)

CPR income as percentage of total income


1.32 (38)





2.10 (22)





1.60 (30)





2.31 (30)





1.78 (120)




Reference period: 2012-13. Figures in brackets show number of households. * Except Makumpather, all other villages had access to forest resources.

The average income per woman headed household from all sources stood at Rs. 85,954/- which was far lower than the all-household average of Rs. 1,78,000/-. The CPR income per women headed household was Rs 14,937/- as against the all-household average of Rs. 8,597/-. In percentage terms, among the women headed households, the contribution of CPR income to total income was considerably high at 11.86 per cent as against the all-household average of below 5 per cent. The income from livestock accounted for another 5.5 per cent of the total income. It seems that any further erosion of CPRs may hurt the welfare of the females more severely.

As high as 87 households (remote villages – 51 and nearby villages – 36) constituting 72.5 per cent of the sample reported to have collected fuel wood during the last year. The value of fire wood collected per user household stood at Rs. 2651/-. The break up for interior villages and nearby villages stood at Rs. 2786/- and Rs. 2461/- respectively (value of firewood estimated @ Rs.2 per kg in remote villages and Rs. 2.5 per kg in nearby villages). This mainly includes domestic consumption and a small portion for sale mostly to the co- villagers.

The utility of the CPRs can also be realized from the fact that as high as 47 males and 107 females reported to have collected (at least 5 days in a year) edible roots (kachu), banana flower, fern (dhekia), mushroom, cane and bamboo shoots, leaves used as spices and for good smell (/bay leaves), etc. from the village forests or reserve forests. Other less familiar collections included eggs of ants (amroli), honey, meat (bird, deer, tortoise, Bengal monitor, mongoose, etc), fruits (silikha, elephant apple), fish, bark, medicines, etc. Five jhumia families were reported in Lalpahar where CPRs played even a greater role in sustaining livelihoods.

At the aggregate level, the collection of fire wood was the most important and familiar source of income both in terms of number of days spent as well as the realization of value from the ‘common land’ (Table 2). The timber which also included collection of coal from abandoned mines and hunting contributed the highest amount to the gatherers’ income from CPRs. However, these incomes were mostly illegal and perhaps underreported.

Table 2-The productivity of gatherers across different forms of CPRs


Fuel wood @ Rs. 2/- & 2.50/- per kg

Fodder @ 2/- per kg

Vegetables @ Rs. 5/- per kg

Fish, etc

Timber, etc

Total days spent for collection of food & non-food items by 120 households






No. of days spent per year per households






Total value of collection (Rs.)






Value generated per trip (Rs.)






Hours spent per trip



< 2.0


> 3.0

Yield per hour (Rs.)



4.0 (approx)


68.0* (approx)

In the case of illegal logging, some amount of cost and high risks are involved. The cost involved is not counted.

The collection of fodder seems to be the second most important source of income from the ‘common land’, followed by vegetables both in terms of number of beneficiaries (days spent) and revenue generated. Although the fuel wood was collected by either sex across all age groups, the value of collection was much higher for the male collectors. It is mainly because male collectors sometimes used cycles and mini trucks (only by a few APL households) to transport fuel wood from distant places. The fodder was collected by both male and female, across age groups. The incidence of collection of vegetables was more among the females. In community fishing, both males and females participated equally. However, this head also included income from collection of honey. Hunting and collection of honey were the male dominated activities.

The return from CPRs has gone down drastically over the years and became unattractive for the rich in the present form. This might be one of the important causes for encroachment of these land by the rich. The poor households, however, still very much depends on CPR income to fill up the critical gap in their subsistence income particularly during the bad times.

It is observed that land traditionally used for growing paddy or vegetables is giving way to tea bushes. Quite a few households were seen venturing into the green tea leaf production on as small as 0.5 bigha to reasonably large 20 bigha land during the last few years. At least in some pockets, the tea plantation has been successful in converting huge tracts of economically unviable tiny agricultural fields into commercially profitable cash crops with more regular flow of income. Also, the change in land utilization pattern has increased employment opportunities both in terms of number of workers and average number of days worked in a year. To be more specific, tea cultivation has ensured a more regular flow of income for the villagers who are directly involved with it – the planters, the pluckers and the transporter of tea leaf.

The share of land put to tea has been going up but only at the cost of roofing materials (bamboo, tokou, etc), vegetables and fruits (orange, lemon, pineapple, banana, etc). The varieties of food grown earlier were able to minimize the loss of production during adverse climate. The varieties of crops grown were also important from nutritional point of view. It is also noticed that a large number of tea gardens came up by encroaching either community land or reserve forest.

On the one hand, the rise of small tea planters have contributed to the villagers’ income by raising the productivity of land in money value, creation of employment for higher number of days and more importantly, provided a hope to the educated unemployed youth. On the other, shrinking size of the common land may disturb the more egalitarian nature of the tribal society. The birth of landlessness may create a class of casual workers which was, till the other day, missing among certain tribal communities like Singpho. The Tangsa community reported a few landless casual workers in Lalpahar. Tea plantation requires healthy amount of investment in the initial years which was partially managed by selling livestock and valuable timber from the nearest forest. This has created dual problems: (i) erosion of common land meant for cultivation and grazing, and (ii) deforestation. Easy availability of loans from banks could have eased the situation to some extent (one should not ignore the risk associated with easy access to bank loans which may further aggravate the incidence of conversion of community land to private tea gardens). But in absence of land documents, no bank will extend any loan to these potentially viable farmers of commercial crops.

The contribution of aged people to family income has gone down over the past decade due to over exploitation of fish and forest resources. Mining activities in the hills and increasing competition among the growing village population over the control of ‘common land’ were responsible for degradation of natural sources which earlier used to yield more value for them. These people cannot work in the tea gardens. Moreover, there is little common land left in the village to gather useful items on a regular basis. As a consequence, their income in the form of fish catch or collection of fuel wood, bamboo and cane, honey, etc has gone down. The average number of days spent on collection of edible products and firewood from the forest has also gone down to below 40 days a year. According to some aged people, their income from CPRs/ forest products has eroded as much as 50 per cent over the past decade. This was also echoed in the Group Discussion particularly by the aged females who were still in charge of the kitchen.

Open cast coal mining was also responsible for liquidation of a portion of grazing land and a large tract of forest land which was used for shifting cultivation and/or collection of daily necessities by the tribal people a few years back. This has created a class of landlessness. Under the community ownership of land, there was hardly a casual worker. However, the corporatisation of land, encroachment of community land from within and outside the village community, craze for tea plantation, etc were responsible for the birth of landless labour among certain tribal communities living in Patkai region. Once the poor person’s safety net is destroyed by the growing mining and plantation activities (which fails to incorporate all sections of the society in its ambit), more uncertainty will prevail for the ‘deprived’.

Mining jobs are male dominated. It needs special effort from the mining companies to provide equal opportunities to all sections of the society. The erosion of ‘commons’ due to mining activities directly as well as indirectly hit hard the weaker section of the society viz. landless, jhumia families, poor aged couples, the widowed, women and children. Most of these people are not going to benefit from better contractual jobs offered by the coal mines. Thus the corporate sector is required to prepare a road map very carefully so as to ensure equitable distribution of benefits across age groups through participatory corporate social responsibility programmes.

The plantation of tea bushes on ‘common land’ by the relatively advantageous people has offered larger number of wage employment for a relatively larger number of days to the working age groups. But this was not beneficial for all. This has further marginalized the poor elderly people, partially disabled and child bearing mothers and children who can not find ‘bread and butter’ in the mushrooming tea gardens. In other words, the most disadvantaged section has been left behind by the recent development of butchering reserved forest and clearing community land for private use.

Dr Gautam Purkayastha( and ph. 9435337938 ) is Post-doctoral Research Awardee (UGC). He is Associate Prof of Economics at Margherita College, Margherita - 786181, Assam




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