Dhani Panch Mouza Jungle Surakhya Samiti is a case of collective forest management system where five villages have come together to manage a forest as a common resource. The Dhani Forest protection effort is one of the several thousand similar forest protection and conservation initiatives by communities in Orissa. Many forest neighbouring communities have responded to the process of forest degradation by evolving local arrangements to conserve and manage forests. These local arrangements seek to regulate access and control over neighbouring forest patches and in effect bring open access forests under Common Property Regime (CPR) regime of the communities.

Dhani forest is located in the Ranpur block of Nayagarh District in the south of Orissa State. It is situated at a distance of 73kms from the capital city Bhubaneswar. It is a large tract of Reserve Forest having mixed dry deciduous type of forest vegetation. Dhani Forest has an area of about 2200 hectares out of which 839.75 hectares is being protected by a group of five villages since 1987. The five villages (Barapalli, Arjunpur, Kiyapalla, Balarampur and Panasdihi) have formed a Joint forest protection and management committee called the “Dhani Panch Mouja Jungle Surakshya Samiti”. The population of these villages consists of Brahmins, Khandayats, Harijans and Tribals. The tribes include Saora and Kandha people who are the forest dependent communities. The Brahmin and Khandayat (farming community) castes are the influential people. Of the five villages, Kiyapalla and Panaspur are purely tribal settlements. The village Balarampur has a significant tribal and schedule caste (Harijan) population, while in Barapalli and Arjunpur the dominant caste is Khandayat .


Dhani Reserve Forest was part of Ranpur Gadajat (Princely State), which had a semi-independent status during the native Hindu rule and in the subsequent British periods. Initially only two formal forest tenures “Reserved Forests (RF)” and “Protected Forests (PF)” were created. Within the RF there were three categories of forests. For the A class reserves people had no rights, but there were special considerations for the poor in the estate and they were allowed to collect fruits, roots and fibres for their own use without any payment. The B Class Reserved Forests were used to meet the needs of the tenants from which, people got timber of reserved species at half the schedule rates and that of unreserved species at one-fourth of the rates for bonafide purposes. The third category being the “Khesra Forests” or the Village Forests which was differently known in different estates and localities. Till 1918, forests of Ranpur estate were under the Police Department. In 1918, after the Forest Department was established in the estate the forests came under the Forest Department. Within the Khesra forests the tenants were allowed to collect bamboo and timber for agricultural implements and house repair by obtaining permits from the King. Certain species could be taken freely from the Khesra Forests for their domestic/agricultural needs. At times people were allowed to collect their forestry requirements free of cost in lieu of Bethi and Begari . Every year the King issued permits for a period of one month for collection of timber etc. for bonafide purposes. The Kandha and Saora tribes of this area enjoyed special concessions on use of various NTFPs for own use. Yet, Ranpur estate had strict rules and regulations which prevented the people from exploiting the resource with full freedom. Offences such as collecting unripe fruits, or hunting of wild animals were strictly dealt with. More than thirty species were declared as reserved trees, which were reduced to 9 in the early 1940s. People were not allowed to cut these species without permission, these could however be cut for self-consumption on obtaining permission. People were free to collect fruits and flowers of the declared reserved trees without permission except Mango (Mangifera indica), Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), Harida (Terminalia chebula), Bahada (Terminalia bellerica) and Aonla (Embelica officinalis). But there existed strict restriction on selling or exporting trees without a permit.

During the King’s period forest was abundant and despite strict restrictions on access to the forest local people did not face any scarcity of forest produce. After Independence as the estate was taken over by the Indian government, pressure on forests for forest produce as well as on forestland for conversion to agricultural land began mounting. In the late 1950s the FD also gave permits to the local contractors to harvest timber. The local people also accelerated tree felling in a rush to get some wood/money while they could. By the mid-60s’ most of the low lying forest areas were completely devoid of large trees. The forest department took up a Teak (Tectona grandis) plantation in the area harvested by the contractors. This Teak plantation as also Dhani Reserved Forests had completely degraded by 1980. Apart from the above mentioned reasons, disinterest of the forest department, rapid urbanisation in the nearby areas, illicit smuggling of timber and the extraction of rootstocks contributed to this degradation.


Degradation of the forests seriously impacted the villagers. People had to traverse long distances to collect fuel wood and timber. A variety of food items such as fruits, tubers and leafy vegetables that supplemented food specially during the lean season disappeared gradually. The impact of drought and crop failure became more acute in the absence of the life-sustaining food-flow from forests. Forest degradation had other implications too. The stream originating from Dhani started disappearing. Soil erosion in the upper reaches of the hills affected soil fertility in neighboring fields. Migration of people to outside in search of work intensified. Droughts became frequent which brought in the feeling that forest degradation was one of the main reasons for such a recurrence. Villagers realised that forest degradation affected them the most, and hence the initiative to reverse the trend of forest degradation would have to come from them. Since the above mentioned five villages shared traditional socio-cultural ties and were dependent on the forest, they decided to join forces to protect the forests. In a meeting of the five villages, a decision was taken for joint protection of the Dhani South Reserve Forest. A set of rules and regulations were framed to ensure smooth management of forest protection. The umbrella rule being that “the entire forest area is declared restricted and nothing is allowed free from the forest”. Initially, a lot of effort had to be put to contain the pressure on forest from the other villages. Five persons from each village formed squads for patrolling the forest. As the pressure on the forest reduced the number decreased to two persons per village. Formalisation of forest protection and management happened on the 10th September 1987 with the formation of a Forest Protection committee, named as Dhani Panch Mouja Jungle Surakhya Committee. The committee discussed extensively the various problems relating to forest, their causative factors, and ways to tackle these. The committee identified taila cultivation , rootstock extraction, heavy grazing and fuel wood extraction as heavy pressure on the forests. A process of negotiation was initiated with the taila cultivators’ and the committee gradually convinced them to stop cultivation. Similarly, notices were issued to all villages in the area intimating them about ‘forest protection’. Strict rules were laid down for dealing with these pressures. The committee apprehended the offenders and imposed fines on them. In the initial days of protection conflicts were rather frequent. Even though there was significant external pressure prior to forest protection, the patrolling arrangements kept forest offences under check. In 1991, however there was a sudden rise in the number of offences. This coincided with the regeneration of the forests and the fact that the protection arrangements were beginning to lax as the poor and landless sections found it difficult to spend the entire day in the forest at the cost of their daily wages. Other than the outsiders who were illegally accessing the forests, villagers of the Panch Mouja were also getting restless and wanted some product flow from the forests. With the regeneration of the forests there was no corresponding change in the rules and the initial expectation of people that forest protection would fulfill their needs was not met. This led to residents of Panch Mouja to get involved in breaking rules and becoming offenders in their own forests. Due to this pressure and growing resentment of the villagers, the Committee was forced to accede to changes in the forest rules. They modified the rules to include annual cleaning and thinning operation before rainy season thus ensuring a steady supply of fuelwood to the villagers. However, felling of green trees for fuelwood was not allowed. The cleaning material was to be shared equally among all the households of the five villages. Collection of dry and fallen twigs and branches, leaves, fruits, climbers, berries and tubers was allowed without any cost or permission. Tribals and Harijans, were allowed to collect dry, fallen, twigs and branches and Siali (Bauhinia vahlii) leaves to earn their livelihood. Poles for household construction could be obtained with a nominal fee and permission from the committee. The villagers were allowed to take 100 bamboo at Rs 30/- for their needs. But this bamboo could not be sold or bartered outside. The villagers could take wood for cremation purpose free of cost and without any prior permission of the committee. Similarly the neighbouring villages could get bamboo and timber from the forest only after seeking permission of the committee and paying a certain amount. Special concessions are made when the material is needed for community festivals if a particular village does not have any forests, and in case of individuals who require wood for repairing of house after instances of fire or accidents. The committees also appointed two paid watchers with the conditions that the villages will provide all the help possible. They were initially paid through household contributions but with the increase in income through cashew harvesting rights, the system of household contributions was discontinued.

While dealing with offenders the Panch Mouza Committee decided on appropriate action depending on the nature and gravity of the offence. During the initial years of forest protection no major decision regarding forest offences could be taken by the committee. However, with the growing number of offences imposition of fine became a standard penalty. The fine amounts varied depending on the value of timber species. Fines imposed on offences was highest during 1991. This also marked the beginning of referring cases to the forest department. It was noticed that with the increase in actions on offences the number of offences dropped in the subsequent years.


The committee made several efforts to develop alternate sources of income for the headloaders. The committee, with support from the Forest Department, arranged for leaf
plate stitching machines and provided training to women’s group for processing of ‘Siali’ leaves. Some of the forest dependent households are now dependent on the milk business because of the schemes brought in with help from government agencies. Few other forest dependent households were allotted small patches of degraded forestland by the committee, which they have brought under grass cultivation. Grass from the fields is supplied to the dairy project, thus, benefiting the cultivators. A School has been set up by the villagers through the forest protection initiative. Regular environmental awareness building activities are taken up through celebration of Environment day, Van Mahotsav (Forest festival) etc. Renovation work of a dilapidated pond near the forest has been undertaken by the committee to provide irrigation facility to the agricultural land. Villagers have placed great importance on initiating their children to importance of forests The children are involved in actual forestry operations like nursery raising and plantation. The children are also involved in environmental debates and discussions. Rallies are taken out during celebration of World Environment Day, Van Mohotsav etc. and are led by the children. Once every three month or so the children accompany the forest watcher in his rounds to learn about the forest. The watcher guides them through the forest and familiarises them with the various plants, their uses and locally known silvicultural/religious significance. Children from other villages are also brought to Dhani under various awareness campaigns. The children are also maintaining a local bio-diversity register that lists the bio-diversity in the forest.


The forests protected by Dhani Panch Mouza Committee had its root system intact at the time when protection was initiated. Mere protection led to profuse regeneration. Most of the trees and shrubs reverted back. The continued conservation activities brought back the lost wealth of flora and fauna. But, the intensity with which they occurred in the past has changed. As people report, the present forest ecosystem of Dhani has more than 250 plant species, 40 birds, 19 reptiles and a number of insects. Besides the natural forest, new plant species of mixed variety (Acacia, Eucalyptus, Chakunda have been added through plantations. With the regeneration of forests and reappearance of various forest products, the forest dependent villagers were able to revert back to forest based livelihoods. The various forest based livelihood being fuelwood selling, collection of Kendu leaves, Siali leaves for leaf plate making, tuber for both consumption and sale, creepers, medicinal plants etc. Fuelwood gathering is also allowed to outside villagers but on the condition that no one can enter the forest with any cutting instrument. Apart from the benefits to the direct forest dependent population, the villagers have benefited from the checking of soil erosion and recharge of streams flowing through forest. In-fact the initial initiative for forest protection in Dhani, as in many other villages came from farmers having their agricultural fields at foothills.


The success of Dhani forest protection is based on a sound institutional mechanism. In the initial years the Executive Committee was basically concerned with the protection of Dhani forest. But as forests regenerated profusely there was manifold increase in the other forest related activities. The growing forest now required efficient management. The committee was expected to perform in a more diversified way in order to cater to these needs. The ten-member committee formed in 1987 had remained unchangd till 1992. Now with the growing number of forest offences, the leaders recognized the shortfalls in the forest protection committee and felt the need to reform the institutional arrangement. As a first step, the forest protection committee was reconstituted in 1992. By 1991, to check irregularity in attending meetings, attendance was made mandatory and a rule was made that members absent in three consecutive meetings would be dismissed. Similarly, fines were to be imposed on members who either left the meeting half way or did not attend even if they were present in the village. In the same year an Advisory Committee and a Working Committee were formed in order to guide and facilitate the functioning of the Executive Committee. An Audit Committee was later formed to look into the financial matters of the Forest Protection Committee. As the income of the committee had increased through collection of fines, forest products and occasional grant of the forest department. The Audit Committee consisted of educated persons of the Panch Mouja. This separate group did not consist of members of the Forest Protection Commitee so as to increase transparency. In 1995, Panch Mouza Committee was formalised as Van Samrakshyan Samity under the Joint Forest Management Programme of the State. As VSS, the membership of the Executive Committee increased to 21 and women members were included in the committee for the first time. In the same year a Squad Party for wild life protection was formed keeping in view the increasing instances of poaching.


Dhani’s experience with the state machinery has been better than most. Though initially there was a lack of interest in the protection effort, gradually the support has grown. In 1993 with the state entering into a Joint Forest Management agreement with the Dhani villages their support has been more forthcoming. The state has supported some of the economic development initiatives and offered technical help in improving the forests. Though certain issues such as sharing of forest produce etc. are still unresolved. Also there is considerable tension in the process of devolution of power to the local communities under the Joint Forest Management framework


A source of internal conflict arises from the social structure of the community itself. Local forest protection programmes are stuck in highly stratified and iniquitous social context. Thus, caste and gender inequities become significant friction points. In the case of Dhani the impetus for forest protection had come from the farming community/landed persons to “protect” their lands from the adverse effects of soil-erosion. These sections being less dependent on forests and therefore less
affected by decisions that restrict access to forests. But it is important to note that in Dhani’s case, the Forest Protection Committee tried to deal with these equity issues by allowing greater concessions and also alternate income sources for the poorest members of the community to reduce tension on this front. Likewise, the Dhani villagers have had to wrestle with gender issues. Women are involved only since 1995 but only three and they are not routinely consulted when important decisions are made. Conflicts with outside villages have also been part of the mix with which the Dhani villages and other forest-protecting communities in Orissa have had to deal. In Dhani. Kadamjhola, another village bordering Dhani forest, declined to participate in the original forest protection plan but now wants to share from the forest. Other neighboring villages have also sought a share of the replenished flow of forest products. In earlier years, these villages regularly infringed on the protected forest patch, causing many disputes.


Dhani has inspired other villagers in the neighbourhood to take up forest protection. It
has offered the community - as well as the world - some basic lessons in the value, degradation, and restoration of forest ecosystems. The reward for their efforts has been tangible and significant for the finances of the community as well. It has added money to the common village fund, and brought economic opportunities to the poorest and most forest-dependent villagers. The residents were hit hardest by the original decision to limit access to the forest, and the Forest Protection Committee has always realized they were an essential element in the long-term success of the restoration. Special efforts were made to compensate the direct forest-dependent sections. The case shows that local natural resources can also be used for sustainable economic development of the village.


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