Representation and Forest Conservation: Evidence from India’s Scheduled Areas
Scholars have found mixed evidence on how representation affects conservation. We posit that this is because representative institutions rarely amplify the voice of marginalized communities. We study a 1996 law that created local government with mandated representation for India’s Scheduled Tribes, a community of 100 million. Using difference-in-differences designs, we find that the dramatic increase in ST representation led to a large reduction in deforestation and also increased tree cover. We present suggestive evidence that representation enabled marginalized communities to better pursue their interests, which, unlike commercial operations, are compatible with forest conservation. While conservation policy tends to stress environmentally-focused institutions, we suggest more attention be given to umbrella institutions, such as political representation, which can address conservation and development of local communities in tandem.