Binjgiri Hill

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Puri, Odisha Forest Ecosystem Conservation 360Protected Forest

Case Study (2009)

Background

Binjgiri hill is located 14 km southeast of Nayagarh, a sub-divisional headquarter of Puri District in Orissa State. The hill is surrounded by eight villages, including Kesharpur, Nagamundali, Binjgiri, Puania, Angasingi, Badagorada and Sanagorada. The hill has a dry mixed deciduous forest, with species like mahua, amla, babul, dhobein or passi, bael, purple orchid tree, tendu or kendu, spinous kino tree and palash.

The total area of the hill is 360 ha. Prior to independence this area was a part of Nayagarh princely state. After independence it has come under the jurisdiction of the state and has been ascribed Protected Forests category, locally called khesra forest. The local people have rights for bonafide use of wood, e.g., wood for agricultural implements and house construction, fuelwood, etc. 

The population of these villages varies from 182 to 1281. Badagorada has the maximum human population of 1281 and the minimum population of 182 is in Binjgiri. There is no tribal population in these villages and in most villages the khandais community is in the majority and hence in a dominant position. Puania and Sanagorada have a large scheduled caste population and there is no clear dominant caste as such. The main occupation in all villages is cultivation with the majority population consisting of small, marginal farmers and landless labourers.

The ecology, flora and fauna of the hill were virtually undisturbed until 1940. Older people remember a number of streams flowing through the forests in the hill. The scenario however changed after independence, when massive deforestation took place. By the late 60s, Binjgiri did not have any forest left.1 The streams dried up and the surrounding villages that depended upon these forests faced scarcity of fuelwood, water for irrigation and threat of loss of soil fertility because of increased soil erosion. 

In the 1970s Prof. Narayan Hazari from Kesharpur village, who was teaching in Utkal University, started writing letters to the villagers of Kesharpur expressing a strong concern about the degraded forests and urging them to act. Gradually this made an impact on a few of the perceptive villagers. Mr. Joginath Sahu, the headmaster of the middle education (ME) school got involved and started an environmental campaign.

As a result of this, the villagers of Kesharpur decided to protect a patch of Binjgiri in 1976. As the regeneration came up, the threat of pilferage from the neighbouring villages around Binjgiri increased. The villagers realized that in order to protect these forests they would have to involve other neighbouring villagers in the protection activities. 

The environmental awareness campaign, already initiated in the early 70s in other areas through padayatras, slogans and meetings, was further strengthened and made action-oriented. This had an impact on other villages on the periphery of Binjgiri Hills and resulted in seven other villages also taking up forest protection.2

Before 1982, the protection was informally done. In 1982, a workshop was organised under the auspices of the National Social Service (NSS) in three villages—Gamei, Nagamundali and Kesharpur—which was attended by representatives from 22 villages of the area. At this workshop, ‘Brikshya O’ Jeevar Bandhu Parishad’ (BOJBP) (Friends of Trees and Living Beings), a voluntary organisation consisting of members of these 22 villages, was formed. The leadership of this organization was in the hands of Joginath Sahu, Udayanath Khatia (a marginal farmer, Kesharpur) and Vishwanath (a schoolteacher). This led to the active management of Binjgiri hill by the eight villages and fourteen other villages provided support by restraining themselves from exploitation of the Binjgiri hill forest. 

Brikshya O’ Jeevar Bandhu Parishad (BOJBP) is an organization based on Gandhian philosophy and uses Gandhian tools like padayatra, fasting and satyagraha for averting threats to the forests. Villages that adhere to the BOJBP ideology follow an informal village governance system.3 The structure of these informal village institutions is almost the same in all the villages. Each village has a general body (GB), which consists of one member from each household in the village. The GB then elects members of the village council, which consists of 5 to 10 members. The office bearers of the council are president, secretary and treasurer, and are selected by the GB. The village council members are not elected but selected by common consensus. The process of selection of village council members is different in Kesharpur village. Here the villagers have evolved an innovative system of annual elections to reduce the possibility of nepotism. In this system, there are no candidates for any post. Villagers above the age of 18 years cast their vote by secret ballot bearing the names of five persons on it. The five persons whose names occur the maximum times are requested to become office-bearers.

Village council meetings are held regularly in all villages. The office-bearers do not hold the post by tenure; instead they are removed from their post as and when the villagers lose faith in them. Except Anasinghi and Binjgiri villages, none of the other villages maintain minutes of the meetings. However, all councils maintain accounts and the details of expenditure and receipts are presented to the GB at least once a year.

The village councils have been traditionally managing the village schools, temples, village common lands, ponds etc. as common resources. Village ponds are mainly used for bathing and more significantly for pisciculture. The village council manages the pisciculture in the ponds and pays fees to the panchayat (an administrative requirement for obtaining the rights to practice pisciculture) from the village fund and arranges for seed collection, distribution and sale of fish.

Village common land is cultivated by the village council on a share-cropping basis. The council selects the person for this purpose and the village share goes into the village fund. In some villages, the village temple and its land are also managed by the village council. Councils in these villages also organize village festivals.

The eight villages protecting Binjgiri have only a rough idea about their respective portions in the Binjgiri hills. There are no clear demarcation lines. They have framed a set of rules, defining the rights and duties of villagers, which include:

1. The forest is to be protected by voluntary patrolling on rotational basis following the system of thengapalli (stick rotation). In thengapalli, the household(s) assigned the patrolling duties for the day is given the intimation of the same by the ‘thenga’ (wooden stick) placed at its door on the prior evening. Subsequently, the thenga is passed from household to household. The number of pallis (persons on duty) per day is determined by the village council, depending upon the forest area and the external pressure on the protected patch.

2. It is mandatory that every household participates in thengapalli. In case of inability to go on duty, mutual exchanges of duty or adjustments are allowed. Refraining from the duty without informing or without adequate reason invites compensatory duty on two days instead of one.

3. No one is allowed to cut any tree from the forest without permission. In case of an emergency, the village council can allow such permissions.

4. Dry twigs, fruits, seeds and flowers can be cut. Some shrubs specified by the village council can be cut for fuelwood.

5. The area is closed for grazing until natural regeneration or plantation gets established. In some villages, rotational grazing is practiced.

6. Nobody is allowed to enter the forest patch with an axe, except with prior permission of the village council.

7. The villagers can collect the stones for construction from the forest area for bonafide use only.

8. In case of threat to forest from outsiders, every villager is to help the palli on duty.

9. The person who violates the rules is fined. The fine depends upon the village council. Normally the offender is asked to apologize publicly.

During the initial years of protection, a few villages decided to disallow goat rearing. All the goats in these villages were sold off. Village councils allowed goats to be kept only after some regeneration took place. Thengapalli is generally discontinued where regeneration has been established, and the system of community vigilance is followed in these areas. Even the villages that still practise thengapalli discontinue during the agricultural season.

Kesharpur has another significant rule for the trees on the riverbank. It has been decided that the farmers who own adjacent farmlands will look after these trees. When a tree matures, the council takes the decision to fell the tree. The wood is then equally shared between the caretaker and the village. The caretaker also has full rights over the fruits and flowers from these trees.

Conflicts within or between villages are mediated by BOJBP. This body tries to resolve these differences through emotional appeals, tolerance and understanding. It discourages monetary fines or coercion, and promotes local arbitration at community level instead of external intervention to resolve conflicts.

Some forest officials express doubt about the success of such a management system. Various forest officials have however cooperated with the villagers on various occasions. Social forestry taken up by the FD on 44 ha of the hill has led to close interaction between the two. There has also been interaction with other government officials, such as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and District Magistrate, who helped in stopping quarrying that was happening the forests. The National Social Service (NSS) organisation has also played a vital role as an external facilitator. Plantations on barren hill areas with the help of college students and environmental awareness campaigns formed a major part of these NSS camps.

Kesharpur has become extremely green with a large number of trees in the forest and the village. Even small children can give detailed accounts of the trees they have planted. In this area, there have also been cases of demands for seedlings in dowry and plantations of trees as a part of death ceremonies instead of feeding Brahmins.

Forest protection and regeneration has become an end in itself instead of being merely the means for economic gain or for fulfilling the needs for forest produce. Nobody in the villages speaks of cutting of trees. Production of poles and timber which requires a longer gestation period seems to be of less immediate relevance.

However importance has been given to the production of fuel, either in the form of fuelwood or leaves and fodder. Since protection, the availability of both has increased. In Kesharpur, after the goats were given up, a large number of babul trees came up, particularly on the foothills and banks of ponds and river. This wood is now used for making agricultural implements, fencing and as fuel. Availability of fuel sources like leaves and twigs has increased. Increase in the availability of nontimber forest produce such as nuts and berries and their sale is now providing an additional income to harijan (Scheduled Caste) women. In addition, many kinds of roots, leaves, tubers, bamboo shoots, etc. are collected by the people for self-consumption.

With increase in vegetation, wild animals such as wild boar, sloth bear, black-naped hare, macaques, reptiles like Indian rock Python and many kinds of birds have returned to the forests.

Other benefits from the protection include prevention of soil erosion, increase in soil fertility, rise in water table and increase in rainfall. A number of streams that flow in Kesharpur now have water much after the monsoons.

Equity Issues

All residents of the village have equal access to the forest and rights to collect dried twigs, leaves, etc. are equal. But it has been observed that it is the poorer sections that mainly practice gathering, which is a time-consuming process. The rich generally have trees on their farmland and sufficient agricultural residue as fuel, or else they purchase fuelwood. Thus it seems that the increase in NTFP and fuel materials of the forest benefit the poorer sections more, whereas the richer persons have benefited by way of better agricultural yields.

In thengapalli, it has been observed that the poorer sections suffer more, since due to their turn at patrolling they have to fore-go one day of labour, which would mean going hungry on that particular day. The richer sections often send one of their hired labourers when their turn at thengapalli comes.

The issue of equity also arises in terms of inter-village distribution: the area managed by the villages is not in proportion to their population and other villages which are at the same distance from Binjgiri as the protecting villages do not get a share of its produce. In such cases, even when there is no equity the tradition survives.

Leadership issues

At present the people have faith in the BOJBP and the general feeling is that the organization is working for the common interest. Loss of faith in this institution may lead to the crumbling of the system. Another factor, which may affect the sustainability, is the possible non-availability of the credibility and devotion of leaders like Mr. Joginath Sahu in future. The organization may not be able to survive without strong leadership. 

  This case study has been compiled from: S. Kant, N. Singh and K. Singh (1991) Community Based Forest Management Systems- Case studies form Orissa (Bhubaneshwar, Vasundhara). We are extremely grateful to Vasundhara, an NGO based in Bhubaneshwar, for the helpful contribution and comments on the first draft.

Vasundhara
Plot No. 15
Sahid Nagar, Bhubaneshwar – 751007
Ph: 0674 2542011 or 12
Email: [email protected]

1 The reasons for such massive degradation after independence are not very clear. However, it is possible that it happened after abolition of the landlord system in India in the 1950s, when the forests under the Princely States became open-access forests because of the estate losing authority over these forests and villagers not having any authority over them.

2 Meanwhile other hills, like Malati near the village Manapur, were also protected and plantations were undertaken in other villages.

3 The village governance system appears to be working along with the official Panchayati Raj system in these villages. However, the exact working relationship of these village institutions with that of the panchayat is not very clear from the existing information.

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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