Towards the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, illegal felling of teak and other plants was done mainly by outsiders. Villagers noticed that the hill near the village, which had always been green, was turning into a barren and dry sand pile. This began to worry the villagers. In addition, Chaitram Pawar, a youth in the village, was noticing some other harmful effects.
The supply of fuelwood had become irregular. A third of the 35 wells in the village had gone dry. Forest degradation was leading to a number of other social problems. In the absence of other livelihood options, women had turned to liquor production as a source of secondary income. Liquor consumption led to social disquiet in the village.
Pawar felt the need to do something about the situation in his village. Gajanan Pathak, who was then associated with a local NGO Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, extended his support. Subsequently the forest department (FD) also started helping Pawar in his initiatives. The forest department extended their Joint Forest Management (JFM) scheme to the village in 1998. JFM has subsequently been also extended to other villages in the vicinity. Thus a large contiguous patch of forest is currently under protection by different villages.
Pawar mobilised the villagers and urged them to take action. He pointed out that if deforestation continued, their access to dry wood, fruits and other minor forest produce would get affected. In a village gathering on 23 May 1993, a local informal forest protection committee (FPC) was set up to protect the forest. Initially some villagers were sceptical about this initiative. They were then roped in as important position holders in the FPC. Pawar was elected the chairman of the FPC.
It was decided that the FPC would not have any permanent members. The idea was that each family would have the chance to send a representative to the committee in turn. Thus all the families in the village had a stake in the entire process.
The people of Baripada have initiated a plant diversity register process in October 2004 to monitor the plants found in their forests. They have identified 14 different sites from the forest and initiated vegetation mapping through a 100 sq m quadrant.
Rules and Regulations
The rules and regulations for forest use were announced in the weekly markets and in all neighbouring villages. The rules included:
1. Anyone found destroying or taking anything from the forest would be punished as per the rules framed for regulating human and cattle activity in the area.
2. Only the inhabitants of the village were eligible for extracting resources from the forest, if at all. Two elderly people in the village would work as watchmen and report to the FPC. The watchmen would be paid Rs 100 per month and would be changed every year.
3. Each family would pay Rs 3 in cash or 7 kg of grain to generate funds required to pay the watchmen.
4. Any person found removing any plant or animal material without permission would be penalised Rs 151 per headload and Rs 751 if taken out of the forest in any other manner. For cattle grazing in the forest the fine would be Rs 1000.
5. If someone other than the watchmen caught the culprit, then an award of Rs 501 would be given to the person.
6. Farmers whose lands lay next to the protected community forest would have the moral responsibility to report any theft they may encounter.
7. Nobody from within or outside the village would be allowed to enter the forest with a bullock cart for any reason.
Subsequently, there have been some changes in the rules and regulations. For example:
1. The neighbouring villagers are now allowed to extract some resources for social and religious purposes but only if the permission had been sought in advance from Baripada village.
2. For 30 days in a year 50 acres of forestland is given for grazing. The area allocated for grazing is changed every year. Grazing for sheep and goats is not allowed.
3. Villagers are allowed to remove dead/dried wood on social occasions or community gatherings (deaths, weddings, etc). In addition one month during winter (February/March) is a free time again, when only villagers are allowed to remove fuelwood.
The Indian government recognised the effort of the village by awarding it Rs 1,00,000. This amount was used in starting a village level jaggery-making unit. This unit now employs 25 young men from the village.
Inspired by Jan Seva Foundation, environment education camps for local school children are organised in community protected forests. In these programmes the schoolchildren get acquainted with local plants, including medicinal plants, birds and animals.
In 2003, Pawar helped the village women start a fish-farming cooperative using the common village pond. Jan Seva Andolan helped in the process. The women are now pleased as they can give up making liquor. Since alternatives are now available, the women have taken a strong stand on drinking alcohol. Men are now afraid of coming home drunk. Villagers have also undertaken cultivation of a common forest nursery as part of joint watershed development activities.