Democracy on the Commons: Political Competition and Local Cooperation for Natural Resource Management in India

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This dissertation explores the effects of democratic competition among political parties in India on natural resources and the ability of local communities to cooperate for natural resource management. A significant number of decentralization policies in developing countries depend for their success on local collective action for the provision of public goods. At the same time, democratization generates multiple impulses in society, and understanding its effects on the prospects for local cooperation is important for explaining the variation in success of decentralization policies for natural resource management. I use historical and ethnographic data to understand the influence of political competition on natural resource outcomes and local collective action. The descriptive analysis draws upon theoretical and empirical literatures on political competition, collective action, and property rights, and is used as the basis for generating hypotheses as well as specifying context-specific measurements of the relevant variables for statistical analysis. I test the hypotheses on two sets of dependent variables – local cooperation and forest condition – and three datasets covering community-based irrigation and forest management systems, co-management institutions for irrigation, soil conservation, and forest management, as well as state-managed forests as the null category without decentralized management. The findings show that an inclusive pattern of political mobilization and party competition have increased the salience of environment and forests in the public domain and democratic politics, with a positive effect on resource outcomes. Further, natural resources are better managed by decentralized institutions, compared to state management. However, communities located in highly competitive electoral districts find it significantly more difficult to cooperate due to interference from political parties. Moreover, communities that are heterogeneous along the salient issue dimension in democratic politics are the worst affected. On the other hand, better representation of sub-group interests in community affairs, prevalence of democratic practices, and linkages of community leaders to multiple political parties are associated with higher levels of local cooperation. In conclusion, the findings demonstrate that communities are better at natural resource management than state agencies, but the impulses generated by democratization can constrain the ability of local communities to manage natural resources.





Chhatre, Ashwini (2007). Democracy on the Commons: Political Competition and Local Cooperation for Natural Resource Management in India. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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