Suruguda, a nondescript village of Orissa was honored the national Indira Priyadarshini Brikshaya Mitra Award in 1989 for efficient forest management. This tiny village which consists of 155 households under 6 hamlets (padas) has become a source of inspiration for adjacent villages and the entire district. The village consists of a mixed community of Agharias, Brahmins, scheduled castes and tribes. The village is located about 23 km from the District Headquaters. Agriculture, agriculture labour, service, sale of milk, carpentry and bamboo weaving are some of the major occupations in the village. Floristically, the forests are dominated by Sal (Shorea robusta) and bamboo.
Until 1960, the Khesra forest (Revenue forest) was under the direct supervision of the landlord. The villagers could extract dry wood, NTFP like leaves, fruits and flowers from the forest, with the permission of the landlord. These forests were popular hunting grounds of the king and the landlord and therefore punishment for offences was severe. It was the fear of such punishments that resulted in preservation of the forests in this region. However after 1960 as the landlord system was abolished in India, the degradation of the forest began. It was around this time that the government of India also started coupe felling in forests for timber extraction. Large parts of the forests were leased out to the contractors. This led to considerable degradation of forests between 1970 and 85. The degradation was further accelerated because of unrestricted cattle grazing, excessive extraction of wood, especially by the dominant Agharia community, indiscriminate forest fires and stone quarrying. The adjoining villages were equally responsible for the depletion of the forest. For the lower income groups in the village, particularly, the scheduled castes , the forest became a quick source of money. By 1980, the forest had reduced to a barrenpatch. Although this affected every villager it was the economically poor, largely the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes, who were hit the hardest. The affluent villagers ie the higher castes were not much affected as they could afford to buy fuelwood and agricultural tools from outside.
With the down fall of landlord system, many community institutions emerged in the village. The Agharia community, which was strong in the times of the landlord, continued to play an important role in these village administration institutions. Village constituted a number of committees to deal with education, religious functions, etc. However, decisions relating to the village as a whole or inter village/intra-village conflicts are collectively discussed in a village meeting. One male member from each family has to participate in the village meetings. Conflicts if not resolved at this stage are taken to the civil administration.
TOWARDS COMMUNITY CONSERVATION
Interestingly, it was a conflict between Suruguda and a neighboring village, Jhariapali that led to forest protection. It happened when the villagers of Jhariapali did not allow the Harijan community of the Suruguda villagers to purchase rice from their market anymore. To teach the Jhariapalis a lesson, it was decided to prevent Jhariapalli villagers from entering the forests that they accessed for their firewood and fencing material needs. Initially the decision to protect the forests was taken by two padas in the village Harijan pada and Bhuiyan pada. A forest protection committee was formed and letter was sent to the forest department to seek permission for protecting a part of reserved forest. A few months later the entire village joined in and a village meeting was called. In this meeting an executive forest protection committee was formed with representation from each hamlet (pada). Though the incident with Jhariapalli was the immediate trigger for forest protection the other concerns that influenced the decision were acute scarcity of fuelwood and wood for house construction, agricultural implements etc. Soon the villagers were protecting 80ha of reserved forests and 40ha of revenue (khesra forests).
The first informal Forest Protection Committee (FPC) was formed in 1985. FPC members were selected from within the General body with representatives of all caste groups. The people who had taken the initiative for protection were included in the committee. At this stage there was a dominance of the scheduled caste communities. However, changes in the committee came when it was formalized later, first as the Van Forest Protection Committee (VFPC) in 1989 and then as the Van Samrakhan Samiti (VSS) in 1994 under the Forest Department’s Joint Forest Management programme. The initial effort was informal and leadership was more committed to forest protection, whereas in the more formal set up the leadership is more for power and resources.
For the protection of the forests, initially thengapalli was practiced. After a couple of years, as the pressures on the forests reduced, the number of people going for patrolling was reduced from six to two. . The nearby villagers gradually became aware of the protected status of these forests and the penalties to be paid by offenders.. The committee members regularly monitored the protection arrangement and rectified its faults. A strict set of rules were formulated, which evolved over a period of time, depending on the changing circumstances. An informal set of rules started in 1985, with a complete ban on entering the protected forests. In the initial periods night patrolling was also done which subsequently stopped with the reduction in the number of offences. In 1988, different rates of penalties were introduced for different kinds of offences. In 1990, the amounts were further increased to put a greater pressure on the offenders. In 1994, because of JFM the forest committee was formalized and a formal set of rules and regulations were worked out. There are specified rules for regular thinning of the forests under the FD promoted silvicultural practice. The thinning operations are performed with the objective of promoting the growth of valuable species. The other rules for protection include:
In addition to setting up these rules and regulation the villagers also strictly monitored spread of fires for the first few years and took measures to put out fires quickly.
The rules, frequency and dates of thinning, efficacy of management, offences, etc. are all discussed in the meetings of the committee. The period of meetings are not strictly fixed. In the initial period meetings of the executive body took place once in a week. Gradually the frequency decreased to once in month. Whenever required and or whenever an offender is caught meetings are called immediately. The committee appoints a person from the village itself for intimating committee members and the villagers. The person who gives the message is called Katuala. While executive committee meetings are restricted to executive committee members, in the General Body meeting participation of atleast one person per family is mandatory. Mostly men attend these meetings. In the executive committee as well as general body, there are women members, however, they only attend the meeting if it is being called by the FD or some visitors have come to the village.
For forest protetion each household contributes voluntary labor for patrolling irrespective of the family’s financial condition and other constraints. The committee has not put any restrictions on NTFP gatherers from near by villagers keeping in mind the economic conditions of the NTFP gatherers.
The initial problems were to find ways to deal with the pressure from forest dependent villages. A lot of effort had to be put in to convince the villagers to protect the forest for their livelihood and the future generation.
IMPACTS OF COMMUNITY EFFORT
Strict protection seems to have helped improve the vegetation growth in these forests. A field study conducted by Vasundhara in 2001, indicated that there is a good regeneration of commercially valuable species such as Sal and Bamboo. Quality of bamboo boles indicates a good harvesting technique and good regeneration. The frequency distribution pattern of tree species indicated that most of the species are regaining their vigour safeguarding their regeneration stands. However, some NTFP species such as Beheda (Terminalia belerica) and Hirada (Terminalia chebula) do not seem to be regenerating as well and could do with better protection.
Although the regeneration of NTFP species was recorded to be low the production of NTFP has improved ever since the protection started. Protection has also ensured higher concentration of medicinal plants, which are addition to the local income.
After years of protection, the villagers have started getting benefits of the protection. In 1990 the villagers extracted 266 cartloads of fuelwood and in 1997, around 3,600 pieces of bamboo were harvested. of the increase in NTFP has contributedto the incomes of people belonging to the marginal section of the village. In addition the villagers will be getting 50 percent of the benefits from harvest of valuable timber under JFM.
The JFM has also enhanced the institutional capacities. The villagers now have greater confidence to deal with the FD and other outsiders. Since it is the first village in the locality to start forest protection, it has been a model to the neighbouring villages to start protection.
protect trees and reduce their dependence on them
for fuelwood, chullas (a locally developed stove
which uses paddy husk as fuel) were adopted by the
Suruguda households. Now the villagers also have
various other forms of fuel like gobar gas and
electric heaters. The VSS identified 50 households
for a 50 % discount on alternative cooking material.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CONSTRAINTS
Role of the FD: In the initial stage of the Joint Forest Management process, the Forest Department (FD) was very supportive but this support declined gradually. Infact the FD helped the upper caste community gain the position of prominence in the protection process, which was dominated by the disprevileged sections when the initiative was informal. In addition, there was little or no involvement of the villagers in formulation of the micro-plan, in fact many villagers are not ware of its existence. Micro-plan has not been implemented effectively. It is apparent that the department is yet to internalize the concept of people’s participation.
Equity in decision-making and benefit sharing: Participation of women in forest protection is only nominal, to meet the requirement of the JFM resolution. Male leadership of the initiative has not felt a need for involving women in decision making.
The distribution of benefits from forest protection among the villagers was largely equitable in the initial years. Of late, however, elite sections are appropriating higher benefits, e.g. in some cleaning operations the benefits have bee grabbed by a few influential people. While in one hand powerful people often get higher benefits, poor end up paying a much higher cost for forest protection. For example, each family has to contribute equal amount for forest protection activities. There is little sensitivity towards those, such as old and widows, who may not be in a position to pay the contribution. According to some people from the disprevileged sections, the interim needs of the community are also being addressed inconsistently and with a strong caste bias.
However, considering that a number of poor families and women from the village as well as neighbouring village depend upon NTFP sale for livelihood. There is no restriction in the collection of NTFP.
Local Politics: Presently the Van Samarkhyan Samiti is facing a crisis with the emergence of factional politics. Initially all sections had an equal say in the decision making process now, the power is mainly concentrated in the hands of the upper caste. The committee now lacks a strong leadership. Since regeneration and the consequent rise in value of resource, positions in forest management committee is viewed as positions of power and the committee has been reshuffled and important seats have been occupied by the inexperienced young people belonging to the dominant caste.
Encroachment: Encroachment of the common grazing land and its subsequent conversion to agricultural land is causing tension between two castes of the village.
Local politics, differential penalty for powerful sections and weaker sections (with weaker sections playing a higher cost), ineffectively dealing with some cases of tree felling, among other reasons has cause a resentment within the community. This has also affected the overall unity of the village questioning the long term sustainability of the initiative.
Realising the above mentioned problems, in 2001 the village committee decided to meet and take corrective action. This reflects the maturity of the village and a desire to bring about positive change.
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Sahid Nagar, Bhubbneshwar – 751007
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