Impact of the sanctuary status Because of the changed status of the area the VSSs in the villages were dissolved in 1996 and eco-development committees (EDCs) were formed. Till date 25 EDCs have been formed in different villages in the Balukhand- Konark area. In the Balukhand area, which comes under Puri Sadar and Gop blocks of Puri district, nine EDCs have been formed. The remaining 16 EDCs have been formed in the Konark area. The villagers agreed to this decision. Before the formation of the EDC, the forester and the range officer had conducted meetings in every village explaining about the dissolution of the VSS and the formation of EDCs. In most of the villages there was no change in the members of VSS and EDC. The executive members of the VSS automatically became executive members of the EDC. However the EDC mandated at least seven members from the village (two female and five male) and one forester as the secretary.
According to the villagers, till 2002-3 cashewnuts were being auctioned from the sanctuary. The villagers were engaged in the collection of the cashewnuts as wage labourers. Women and children of the marginalized and Scheduled Caste families and the landless families were primarily engaged in the collection activity and were earning Rs 5 per tin of cashew. In a particular day they were able to earn around Rs 15. Their monthly income came to around Rs 4500-5000 per family from the two months of cashew collection.
The order of the Supreme Court in IA No. 548, dated 14 February 2000, prohibited the removal of dead, diseased, dying or wind-fallen trees, driftwood and grasses, etc. from any national park or sanctuary. The direct implication of this blanket ban order was a ban on the collection of cashewnuts by the villagers from the sanctuary area.
The collection of cashewnuts has been stopped from the sanctuary since the year 2002-3. According to the DFO, Puri Wildlife Division, despite the ban, during the years 2002-3 and 2003-4, the quantity of cashewnuts collected was 953.37 quintals and 515.75 quintals respectively. These collections were seized by the FD and disposed off through the Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation Ltd (TDCC). The revenue released and remitted to the government is as under:
Interim application filed in the Supreme Court In response to the Supreme Court order, the local people of the Balukhand-Konark sanctuary area have filed Application No. 604 in the Supreme Court regarding the collection of the cashewnuts by the villagers from the Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary in Orissa in relaxation of the court order dated 14 February 2000 passed in IA No. 548.
Application was filed by Shri Benudhar Pradhan, President of Sri Sri Beleswar Belabhumi Banasuraksha Samiti, Balukhanda, Puri, Orissa State and the other villagers had also signed the application.
The main submissions made by the applicant are as under:
1. That several villages which are located close to the Balukhand- Konark Sanctuary have been helping in protecting and maintaining the forest and wildlife of the sanctuary from 1996 to 2002, when the van suraksha samitis (VSS) were dissolved and Eco-development Committees (EDCs) were set up;
2. That because of good protection work done by these committees in preventing poaching of animals, there has been steady improvement of the habitat and the wildlife in the said sanctuary in which the main species found are blackbuck and spotted deer.
3. That the villagers have been collecting the cashewnuts from the sanctuary, which are not consumed by the animals; in fact they are harmful to the animals. Besides being harmful, if the nuts are not removed there will be more regeneration of cashew plants, which is not good for the sanctuary and the animals inhabiting it.
4. That as a result of the stoppage of the collection of the cashewnut from the sanctuary, no funds from the sale/auction of cashewnuts have been received by the EDCs, due to which their community development and other works have suffered.
The Orissa Forest Department supported the Applicant’s Application and has observed that cashew being an exotic species, its nuts are not eaten by the wild animals. In fact they are harmful to the animals if they eat them. There are about 1,12,245 cashew plants growing in the sanctuary, and if the collection is stopped there would be profuse regeneration of these plants, which will be detrimental to the habitat as well as to the wildlife of the sanctuary. On the other hand, large quantities of cashew if not removed will lead to the entry of the unscrupulous elements which could not be prevented by the Department due to shortage of staff.
Further the removal of cashewnuts is also permissible under Section 29 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as it would help benefit the wildlife and habitat of the sanctuary. The said provision prohibits removal and commercial exploitation of any forest produce from any National Park and Sanctuary but since cashew is a peculiar forest produce and cannot be used for the personal bonafide needs of the local people, the Orissa Forest Department urged the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) (set up to deal with forest related cases by the Supreme Court) to relax the order of Supreme Court passed on 14 February 2000 and authorize the Chief Wildlife Warden to issue necessary permit for the removal of cashewnuts from the said sanctuary.
The Orissa Forest Department has definitely taken a positive move by supporting the community in front of the Supreme Court. The application filed by the villagers under the leadership of Benudhar Pradhan was done under the guidance of Mr. Chhadda, the then DFO, Puri Wildlife Division.
After its observations, the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) recommended that the Chief Wildlife warden, Orissa, may be permitted to allow collection of cashewnuts by the villagers adjoining the Balukhand–Konark Sanctuary through their respective Eco-Development Committees under the supervision of the Orissa Forest Development Corporation Ltd (OFDC) or the Tribal Development Corporation Ltd (TDCC). The sale proceeds should be utilized in improving the protection and management of the sanctuary and also for creating community assets through the EDCs in the respective villages on a pro rata basis.
The CEC recommendation came on 30 August 2005 and the orders of the CEC will come into force from the forthcoming season of cashew collection, i.e., April-May 2006.
While discussing the case with the DFO, he agreed about the ongoing cashew collection inside the sanctuary and said that on record the Department shows certain amount of cashew collected by the villagers as being seized by the Department, which is disposed off through TDCC. The revenue remitted to the government in the last two years has been shown in the table above. Such an arrangement, though not on legal lines, has served not only the benefit of the poor people but also the wildlife and the sanctuary.