From Barren Land to Thick Jungle               

Lake surrounded by thick Forest

Success story of Community Forest Management by Korku Tribe of Maharashtra 

LAST several days have been very hectic for me. I along with some colleagues including Chairman District Development Council Budgam Nazir Ahmad Khan are on a visit to Maharashra’s Vidarbha region to see the best practices on community based forest management. The Community Forest Management  (CFM) has turned out to be a powerful approach in the management of forests across the globe. During the last few decades, the community based forest conservation methods have received a lot of international appreciation as there are a large number of success stories with regard to it. In response to some of the adverse effects of state forestry and commercial timber production, the community forest management (CFM) improves local livelihoods and helps to conserve forests as well. International organizations like the UN , donors NGOs, and governments are the great advocates of CFM.  The idea of enacting the Forest Rights Act in 2006 by the Indian parliament was to accept the fact that without community involvement the forests cannot be conserved or protected. Our Govt’s have spent huge funds for fencing of forests but in spite of doing all that we have not been able to get the desired results.

In 2012, Payvihir which is a small  tribal village with mere 600 population under Upatkheda panchayat in Amravati  district of Maharashtra was awarded 182 hectares (3600 kanals approx)  of degraded land to exercise its community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. Along with Payvihir, the adjoining villages of Upatkheda , Jamda and Khadijapur also got the community forest rights  (CFR) under Forest Rights Act (FRA).  All these villages are inhabited mostly by Korkus which is a tribal community found around Amravati and some parts of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.  A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Khoj played a great role to create awareness about Forest Rights Act and other rights based legislations among the residents of Payvihir and adjoining villages in 2009 -2010.

As the locals became aware of their rights, the tribal Jaati Panchayat also called Chawdi got involved in this activism.  Within 3 to 4 years, the Govt was forced to hand over a huge chunk of forest land to the local Gram Sabha under the Community Forest Rights-CFR. In only Payvihir hamlet, 182 hectares of barren forest land was handed over to local gram sabha in 2013. Within 3 to 4 years under joint forest management (JFM)programme and convergence with schemes like MG-NREGA more than 30,000 trees were planted on this 182 hectares of forest land.  The solar based tube wells were also provided under the JFM programme by the Govt to locals and in the last 5 to 6 years the entire area has seen a huge transformation.  The barren land has now turned into a full fledged forest with the help of the Forest Rights Act.

Intervention of NGO Khoj  

Due to the efforts of Purnima Upadhyay the founder of Khoj, the gram panchayat of Upatkheda especially the local youth fully got involved with FRA activism which led to revival of the local forest biodiversity. The 182 hectares of forest land that was handed over to the local gram sabha of three hamlets under Upatkheda panchayat is now visited for different species of birds. I witnessed this myself recently, as I, along with other visiting colleagues from Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, were putting up in Payvihir village. The Govt has constructed a beautiful training center in the middle of the forest which is also known as Interpretation Center. Several NGOs and Govt officials visit this center regularly for workshops and training. A nominal fee is charged from them that helps locals to maintain the center.

Local youth like Ramlal Kale, Amit Sonare , Krushna Belsare,  Ravi Yewale and many others  became the torch bearers of the FRA  movement in Payvihir, Upatkheda , Jamda and Khadijapur Pur village in 2009 -2010. All these youths were trained by Khoj and now they are working independently. The villagers took up several soil and water conservation works, plantations, and protection from forest fires and grazing. They also undertook a lot of afforestation programmes by convergence with MG-NREGA.  A small lake in Upatkheda which had a good number of fish in it was also handed over to local gram sabha after a long fight with the private firm that was earning profit from it through fishing. The firm was giving some lease amount to Maharashtra Fisheries Department and the local community used to get nothing.  Uttam Shanware, a local resident and former Sarpanch of Upatkheda had to fight a long battle for it and he was even arrested by police for raising his voice against the private company. At the end, the fishing rights were given to the community and from the last 3 years the income generated from fishing goes to local gram sabha. The lake is now surrounded by thick forest managed by the local Korku tribe community.

CFR Titles in Ranpur 

Last year in November, I visited Odisha where a dozen villages in Ranpur block of Nayagarh district received around fourteen (14) community forest right (CFR) titles. The villagers also received the same number of community forest resource right (CFRR) titles as well. During that visit also Chairman DDC Budgam  had also been invited to participate in the event that was held  in a remote forest village of Surkabadi in district Nayagarh which is around 100 kms from Odisha’s capital city of Bubaneshwar.

The event was more like a festival as this was a historic day for the residents of two dozen villages. Hundreds of men , women , children wearing traditional colourful clothes had assembled in an open field as early as 9 am on Nov 22nd , the day when people were supposed to get the title. The actual event started in the afternoon, but the enthusiasm of the people was so charged that they kept waiting for their MLA and other officers of the administration  under scorching sunlight for several hours.  The local MLA of Ranpur Satyanarayan Pradhan and Chairman DDC Budgam Nazir Ahmad Khan jointly gave away the CFR titles to villagers. The officers from forest , revenue and tribal affairs department were present on the occasion.

Confederation of forest villages 

The people around Ranpur forest area in Nayagarh district have already been working for conservation and protection of their forests and forest resources including the wildlife for last 24 years under the banner of Maa Maninag Jangal Suraksha Parishad (MMJSP) which is a confederation of around 132 community based forest protection groups  in 132 villages. Arkito  Sahu the Secretary of the Maa Maninag Jangal Suraksha Parishad has been putting his sincere and tireless efforts to organize the people in 132 villages for protection and conservation of forests. To give them institutional support V Giri Rao the Director of Vasundhara a reputed NGO based in Bhubaneshwar has also been working with people like Arkito Sahu for the last many years.  Vasundhara has been working around the Ranpur area since 1995. This NGO has helped MMJSP with institutional support like the documentation of their great work and to involve women in forest committees which has been a very tedious task. After enactment of the Forest Rights Act in 2006 Vasundhara and MMJSP have been working more rigorously to ensure the benefits of this legislation reach out to the forest dwellers around Ranpur block.

It was for the first time in last 14 years since the enactment of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 commonly known as Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) that community forest rights (CFR) or community forest resource rights (CFRR) were conferred on other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) as well. In the past the titles were mostly conferred on scheduled tribes (ST’s) in India but due to local community mobilization by civil society groups all this was possible. The community rights conferred on the 24 villagers which includes joint title for a group of villages to collect and use the firewood and household implements within and outside traditional boundary. The villagers have the right to collect, process , use and sell minor forest produce, such as bamboo, kendu leaves (making beedis) , tubers, green leaves etc. The villagers are allowed to undertake value addition , storage and transportation of the products. The rights on the water bodies along with fishing and grazing rights have also been given to the 24 villages. This was not the case in the past. Many villagers would be sent to jail as the forest department would invoke various sections under  the Indian Forest Act of 1927.

Community Management 

Under the Forest Rights Act the local Gram Sabha are empowered to protect and conserve or even manage the forests or forest resources. The act gives the local communities like forest dwelling scheduled tribes or other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) the rights to protect and preserve the forest's biodiversity and wildlife as well. The section 5 of the Forest Rights Act 2006 reads

“That holders of any forest right, Gram Sabha and village level institutions in areas where there are holders of any forest right under this Act are empowered to - (a) protect the wild life, forest and biodiversity; (b) ensure that adjoining catchments area, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas are adequately protected; (c) ensure that the habitat of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage; (d) ensure that the decisions taken in the Gram Sabha to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are complied with “

Conclusion 

A wrong assumption has been built by some forest officers and conservationists that forest dwellers are a threat to forests. Tribals in India are used to being called encroachers but Governments in the past never tried to involve them in conservation. After the Forest Rights Act was enacted , all this became possible. Successive Governments in Jammu & Kashmir never took any steps to enact FRA type legislation in the past. The way people of Upatkheda panchayat particularly residents of Pavihir village have regenerated their barren forest land with thousands of trees is an eye opener for those who have been opposing giving forest land to the local communities under the Forest Rights Act 2006. If a small tribal community can do such wonders why can’t others follow this model?  The FRA is not meant for forest encroachment but has been basically enacted to give the control of the forests to local communities who can well manage their forests and its resources. There are many success stories wherein local communities are seen doing better watch and vigil of forests and earning their livelihood as well from forest produce.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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