Belgata Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Chandrapur, Maharastra Forest Ecosystem Conservation 141.64 Reserved Forest

Case Study (2009)

Background

The story of Belgata is a unique narrative of the villagers of a tribal village that overcame its vices, particularly alcoholism, and organized themselves for the development of the village as well as individuals. Located in Mul taluka of Chandrapur District, this village lies 9 km from the taluka headquarters. This is a forest ecosystem with young trees, plants and shrubs that have been planted here in the past 8 years. The total area conserved is 350 acres and is legally categorised as reserved forests (RF), under the jurisdiction of the forest department (FD). Species like teak or saag, hirda, rohan, yen, sesam, tiwas, tendu, charoli and Amla can be seen here. Indian peafowl were once abundant but are no longer found. Avian fauna like parakeets, sparrows, pigeons, owls, wildfowl and waterfowl are found. Quails, cranes and Indian rock Python are some of the wild animals found in these forests. The total population of the village is 640 with the majority community being the tribals, who comprise 95 per cent of the population. The other communities residing here are the beldars, kunbis and mahars (Scheduled Caste). The main sources of income of the villagers are dairy farming, working as agricultural labourers, and employment with the railways. The livestock consists of 500 cows, 250 bulls, 70 buffaloes and 500 goats. The villagers depend on the forest for most of their biomass requirements such as fodder, fuel, food, fodder, timber for house construction and agricultural implements, and so on. Apart from Belgata, 19 other villages depend on the same forest for their timber, fuelwood and fodder needs. Before protection, uncontrolled extraction and illicit felling had almost completely destroyed the forest. The forest department could do nothing to stop the destruction. There were many stories where the villagers would tie up the government forest guard on duty to a tree and steal timber. Alcoholism and domestic disputes were a way of life.

The first step of awareness about the issues came to the villagers in the 1970s due to the effort of a tribal villager V.S. Triptiwar. This 65 -year old was greatly influenced by leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave and had participated in many of their movements. He used the method of saam daam dand bhed to eradicate alcoholism in the village. These are the four methods of dealing with alcoholism as successfully practised by Anna Hazare in the village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra. The four words mean prohibition through persuasion, coercion, fine and if nothing works, then punishment. He targeted the youth of the village and motivated them to persuade their fathers to stop drinking. Awareness camps were conducted and help was sought from the forest department (FD). Slowly the villagers gave up the bottle and began to spend more time in farming and forest protection activities. Once the village was rid of alcoholism, their awareness about the issues facing the village increased. By 1990-1 they realised that the forests of Belgata had degraded so badly that they may not be able to support the needs of the future generations. In 1992, the forest department introduced the Joint Forest Management (JFM) scheme to the villagers. Awareness programs were organized with visual demonstrations and educational groups were formed. Camps for water conservation were also organized by the FD in order to raise awareness. By September 1992, JFM started in Belgata and a van sangharakshak samiti (VSS) was formed for the management and protection of 350 acres of forest. Three other groups that exist in the village—the mahila gat (women’s group), gram sabha (village assembly) and the Bhajan Gat (community religious singing group)—also participated in forest protection. The VSS is a 11-member committee, of which 4 members are women (the forester is the membersecretary). It is mandatory that decisions are taken in the presence of 70 per cent of the villagers. The village has decided that 10-20 people would patrol the forest every day. Some of the rules that have been established by consensus in the village include:

• Extraction of fuelwood and timber for agricultural implements is prohibited in the protected

• Grazing is prohibited and villagers are encouraged to replace their goats with high-yielding buffaloes.

Violators of the rules are fined by both the VSS and the FD. The stolen timber is impounded by the FD and auctioned at a later date. Of the amount earned at the auction, 50 per cent is given to the VSS. In addition, the VSS takes up community development work with voluntary community labour contribution (shramdan). The village women also patrol the forest and have on several occasions been instrumental in apprehending timber thieves. As per the JFM scheme the villagers are entitled to a 50 per cent share if any resource extraction is carried out by the department after 10 years of protection offered by the villagers. The villagers requested the FD to also include the other villages in the sharing of fuelwood and bamboo. Apart from JFM, the village has also adopted the concept of gramdaan.1 In this concept, all the farmers have to surrender one-twentieth portion of their landholdings to the gram sabha for community use and management. Also, they are bound to sell their lands only within the village, thus preventing any outside presence.

 

Since the commencement of protection, the forest has regenerated and the villagers no longer have a deficit of timber. The forest has flourished and the availability of a certain kind of local species dikemali, which is used as fuelwood by the villagers, has increased. Ample fodder has increased milk production and the overall income of every villager has improved. There has been an increase in the water table, which has proved beneficial for agriculture. Increase in the bird population has kept a check on the pests, further benefiting agricultural production. The villagers feel a sense of pride towards their forest and share an amicable relationship with the FD. Their efforts received a boost when the media highlighted their efforts and they won an award of Rs 1 lakh for their protection efforts.

With the increase in forest cover, the population of wild animals has also gone up, particularly the wild boars. Wild boars cause serious crop damage, leading to resentment among the villagers against them. There does not exist any policy to compensate the villagers for such damages. The villagers also feel that instead of dividing fuelwood among all households equally, sharing should be based on the size of each family. The decision regarding equal division is as per the JFM rules.

  This case study has been put together by Ruchi Pant. The material for the case study has been    extracted from S. Chatterjee, S. Dey, A.R.K. Sastri and R.S. Rana, Conservation and Sustainable Use of    Natural Bioresources: A case study on Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh (World Wide Fund for Nature, New Delhi,  2000); R. Pant, ‘Conflicts, Resolution and Institutions in Forest Resources Management:  Experiences from   the traditional mountain communities of Arunachal Pradesh’, in K.Seeland and F.  Schmithusen (eds.) Man   in the Forest (Delhi, D.K.Print World (P) Ltd., 2000); People’s Commission on  Environment and Development, ‘Report on Public Hearing on Environment and Development’ (New Delhi, The People’s Commission on Environment and Development, 2002). 

V.S. Triptivar, Belgata.
Post Chicli, Taluka Mul,
District Chandrapur
Or
Anusayabai Sadashiv Todse,
Sarpanch, Belgata.
Post Chicli, Taluka Mul,
District Chandrapur

RFO
Forest Range Office,
Taluka Sidevahi
District Chandrapur
Mahadeo Girlurkar,
‘Khoj’, c/o Shri P.M. Khandelwal,
Near Govind Lodge, Gujari Bazar,
Paratwada-444805

1 Villagers donate a part of their land for the common village good to carry out community activities, including agriculture, regeneration, etc.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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