|Location||Ecosystem Type||Conservation Type||Area(hectare)||Legal status|
|Buldhana, Maharashtra||Mixed||Ecosystem Conservation||1510||Joint Forest Management (JFM)|
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|Location||Ecosystem Type||Conservation Type||Area(hectare)||Legal status|
|Buldhana, Maharashtra||Mixed||Ecosystem Conservation||1510||Joint Forest Management (JFM)|
Botha, a small village in Khamgaon tehsil of Buldhana district in Maharashtra, is well-known for its success in the Joint Forest Management Programme in Maharashtra, which was initiated by the enthusiastic DFO Dr. Mohan Jha. The village comes under Khamgaon Range in Buldhana Forest Division. This forest is classified as a Class A forest and covers an area of 1510 ha.
The village lies on the outskirts of the Dnyanganga wildlife sanctuary, and part of the conserved forest falls within the sanctuary. The major tree species found in the forest are ain, dhavada, palash and teak. The total human population of Botha is 270, distributed in 63 households. The inhabitants of the village are mainly Mahadeo Koli tribals and the scheduled castes.
The total geographical area of the village is 1662 ha. 49 per cent of the villagers are landless, while 51 per cent of the population consists of marginal farmers growing crops like paddy and nachani. Livestock rearing is also practiced. The total cattle population is 388, with 267 cows, 40 buffaloes and 81 bullocks, and there are also some sheep and goats.
The villagers are dependent on the forest for fuelwood and fodder. Fodder is not collected only for home consumption but is also an important source of revenue for the villagers. Another important source of revenue is the leaves of anjan, which, being a high-value fodder, fetches a good price. A few villagers collect medicinal plants from the forest. Cattle graze in the forest.
According to the villagers, excessive grazing by the cattle of the nomadic Kathiawadi community from the neighbouring state of Gujarat was a major reason for forest degradation in Buldhana district. Traditionally, Kathiawadis would migrate seasonally to Buldhana district to graze their cattle and sheep. They had a distinct understanding and resource-sharing arrangement with the local villagers. Local villagers would offer to house them on their land to get manure in their fields from the goats. However, this relationship started changing over last two decades. Gradually, the Kathiawadis bought land and settled in parts of Buldhana. They owned cattle and donkeys in hundreds, which would graze in the surrounding forests, leading to rapid degradation of forests. The donkeys would feed on the bark of the teak tree, resulting in the wilting of the trees. To camp in the forest, the Kathiawadis would clear patches of forest. While in the past they used the forests for a short period in a year, moving on to other areas soon, now they remained in the forests almost throughout the year. The local people could not stop them since the Kathiawadis are financially and politically a very strong community.
Illegal tree-felling for the saw-mills was another major problem. This was done by an organised forest mafia using a group of 20 to 30 women and men. Many times male forest staff found themselves helpless in controlling these smugglers for fear of being framed for mistreating women. The leaders of this mafia were also known to bribe the FD and had connections with the politicians.
The local people wanted to put a stop to all these activities that were causing degradation of their forest. However, they felt helpless due to the strong economic and political power that the Kathiawadis and the mafia enjoyed. Villagers saw a ray of hope when the new DFO (Territorial) of Buldhana, Dr. Mohan Jha,1 showed interest and determination to stop these illegal activities.
In 1996, annoyed by the situation, the villagers of Dongarkheda—a village close to Botha— approached Dr. Jha and sought his help. That same evening, Jha conducted a meeting in Dongarkheda and towards the end of the meeting a plan of action was prepared to drive away the Kathiawadis. The very next day, villagers of Botha (including women), Dongarkheda and a few other villages gheraod (encircled) the heti (settlement of Kathiawadis). They stayed there for two days and refused to let the Kathiawadi cattle graze in the forest. The forest staff helped and carried food and other requirements for the villagers. The Kathiawadis finally surrendered. They were asked to pay Rs 50,000 as a fine for grazing in the forest and leave Buldhana district. The Kathiawadis agreed, paid the fine, left the district and have not returned till date. The recovered amount was deposited in the forest department treasury.
Encouraged by this experience, the villagers of Botha decided to protect the forest in their area. They were also convinced of the commitment of Dr. Jha to the cause of forest protection.
The Joint Forest Management programme of the Maharastra Forest Department was taking shape during this period. On seeing the willingness of the villagers to protect their forest, Dr. Jha visited Botha and informed the villagers of this programme. The villagers felt that the programme would help them to protect the forest. The gram sabha (village council) and the gram panchayat (village executive) passed a resolution to participate in the JFM programme and a forest protection committee (FPC) was constituted in August 1996. As per the JFM Resolution, the local forester became the member-secretary of the committee and one individual from each household became a member of the FPC. With the active participation of the villagers, a micro-plan was prepared by the FD. A participatory rural appraisal was conducted to know more about the village and to understand the needs of the people.
The DFO Buldhana signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the FPC and allocated 1486 ha of forest land to it for protection. The responsibilities of the FPC included:
1. Protection of forests,
2. Regulated use of forest products that were obtained from forest cleaning, etc.,
3. Maintenance duties,
4. Ensuring equitable sharing of any benefits to the entire village from the forest produce, and
5. Protection against fire.
In the first year of JFM (1997), a community hall was built and a leaf plate-making machine was purchased. However this machine did not prove to be useful, as there was no assured market in the vicinity. A check-dam was also constructed to increase the availability of water in the village and bamboo plantation was carried out on 20 ha. In the next year, mixed plantation was undertaken on 25 ha.
A separate bank account for the FPC was opened, which was jointly operated by the secretary and the president of FPC. Fodder grown on the protected forest land was harvested and distributed in the village by this body. Surplus was sold in the market and the money was deposited in the FPC account.
Villagers took turns in forest protection. They did not appoint any paid watchman. Cattle, sheep and goats were not allowed inside the protected area. For grazing a fine of Rs 20 per cow and Rs 30 per bullock was charged. Sheep, if caught, were handed over to the FD for legal action. In 1997-8 with the help of the FPC, the FD registered 11 cases against illegal grazing and tree felling. Rs 45,470 was collected as penalty which was deposited in the FD. Before the JFM programme there were hundreds of goats in the village. After JFM the village decided to reduce the goat and sheep population, and switched to rearing buffaloes and cows to reduce pressure on the forest. To allow the plantations and fodder to grow, rotational grazing of cattle was practiced with a cycle of 4 years.
The FPC had many sources of revenue apart from the fine amount and the auction of the confiscated material. It also collected anjanpala, i.e., leaves of anjan. These trees make very good fodder and are found in abundance in the forest. These leaves were plucked under the supervision of the FPC, collected at one place and sold at a reasonable price. The revenue earned from the sale was used in paying off the wages of the labour engaged in plucking, and the surplus was deposited in the FPC account. This JFM programme was supported by the World Bank-funded Maharashtra Forestry Project. Under the project the FPC was receiving Rs 1000 per month for protecting the plantation till the duration of the project, which ended in the year 2003.
The FPC even managed to earn some income for the FD. For instance, during a collective inspection tour with the forest guard, the FPC noticed 20 live stumps on the protected forest land. Coppicing and cleaning of these stumps yielded 4.088 cubic meter of wood, which was auctioned and the sum of Rs 20,000 was handed over to the FD.
Buldhana division consists of seven ranges. There are range-level networks of all the FPCs in that particular range. The district-level network of FPCs comprises members of range-level FPCs. The network used to meet once in six months. The SDO (Sub District Officer) is the secretary of the district-level network. The current status of the network is not known. Khamgaon range network had 15 FPCs and 11 members on the executive committee (EC). The range-level network is represented by one or two members of the individual FPCs. The network would choose its own president and secretary and meetings of the network were held every three months. The tenure of each elected EC would be for one year. Expenditures incurred for the meetings were paid by contribution. The network guided the individual FPCs on issues related to registration, protection, etc. If any of the FPCs faced any problem, the network approached the higher officials to resolve them.
Botha FPC was also a member of JFM Maharashtra Network. FPC members felt that their association with the state-level network definitely helped them in lobbying for their case.
Protection activities have led to protection of forests from large-scale illegal grazing, extensive forest fires and illegal felling. The Botha FPC received the Vanashree award for the year 1997-8 for their efforts at forest conservation.
Till the end of 1997, the FPC was very active in the protection of the allotted forest land. However, serious problems developed thereafter. Two major problems were declaration of a wildlife sanctuary in the area, and hence a sudden shift in rights and responsibilities without any consultation with the villagers; and a World Bank-sponsored forestry project coming to an end in 2003.
The Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary was declared in January 1998 in accordance with the state government’s resolution to bring a certain percentage of forest land in every division under the protected area network.
The sanctuary includes within its boundary forests protected under JFM by Botha and other villages in Buldhana. The declaration of the sanctuary also meant transfer of jurisdiction from the territorial wing of the FD to the wildlife wing. Thus completely new staff with a very different mandate (of strict protection of the area from all kind of human use) were now in charge of the area. Within the sanctuary, rights of the local people were no longer valid. The villagers could not enter the sanctuary without the permission of the District Forest Officer (Wildlife) at Akola. The FPC established under JFM was now considered defunct, as the Wildlife Protection Act did not allow for any conservation model that involved local people in the management, or any kind of use of a PA. This gave rise to a conflict situation. People felt betrayed; according to them, ‘The wildlife for which the sanctuary was declared has been benefiting as a result of the protection provided by the FPC, so the villagers should not be denied their rights.’
After many deliberations with the Wildlife Wing, including the Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, the villagers decided to continue with the protection of the allotted land and sale of the surplus fodder in the market. The Villagers were supported by Maharashtra Joint Forest Management Network and other NGOs in their demand. Though the FD has not accepted this legally, informally villagers have been give verbal assurances that they could continue fodder extraction as long as this is not misused for commercial interests.
On 10 August 1998, a few FPC members accompanied the RFO, Forester and Forest Guard were on patrolling tour when they found about 1000 sheep grazing illegally on the 25 ha of protected plantation. On the instructions of the forest staff, the villagers started rounding off the sheep and caught one of the Dhangars (mobile goat and sheep rearers, migrating locally within Maharashtra). Suddenly they were attacked by a hidden group of about 30 to 35 Dhangars. The forest staff were not attacked but they remained silent spectators. Four villagers were seriously injured and were admitted to a hospital. Though the hospital expenses were borne by the FD, it did not file any complaint against the Dhangars. The Dhangars, on the other hand, launched a false complaint against the FPC members for violent attacks at a place which was 7 km away from the actual site where the confrontation took place. Their complaint included the names of Botha villagers who were not even present at the site when the confrontation took place. The villagers suspect that the Dhangars were instigated to resort to violence by the local politicians. This was apparently because the Dhangars were actually looking after a huge population of sheep owned by the local politicians.
Villagers of Botha whose names were in the complaint were arrested and later released on bail. However, for the next three years the case was pending in the court. The cost of the case was borne by the FPC, which they managed to meet with great difficulty.
Some NGOs, such as Kalpavriksh, Vrikshmitra and JFM Maharashtra Network, investigated the case and submitted a detailed report to the government. They lobbied for taking the case off the board; finally, the case was resolved in 2002.
This attack and the following events affected the morale of the nearby FPCs. They felt that it was futile risking their lives for protection of the forests when the FD itself does not show the commitment to assist them. However the Botha FPC has made an attempt to convince them to continue with the protection of forests saying that if a similar incident happens again they will now be better prepared with the bad experience behind them.
After constant demands from the villagers and continuously extending protection to the forests, in 2003 the DCF (Wildlife) formed a Joint Wildlife Protection Committee on a strictly informal experimental basis. Under the Village Eco-development Programme, a number of activities were undertaken, aimed at reducing dependence on the forest and hence the pressure on it.
Approximately Rs 600, 000 were sanctioned for this village in the early 2000s. With these funds, training programmes for skills such as motor rewinding, motor driving, bee keeping, poultry rearing and masonry work were organised, wherein resource persons from outside were specially invited to train the villagers. Horticultural trees were also planted. Out of the Rs 600,000, approximately Rs 300,000 were utilized for the above-mentioned activities; the remaining Rs 300,000 were sanctioned for improving irrigation. However an irrigation check-dam had already been constructed by the zilla parishad (district council). Since the villagers were not allowed to divert it for any other activity, this money was returned to the government.
Crop damage by wildlife is a major problem near the sanctuary area. Compensation is seldom paid in these cases. It is quite difficult to prove the cause of damage. To reduce the damage, the wildlife wing planned to install a solar energy-activated fence around the sanctuary area. The amount was sanctioned for 4 km, but the villagers wanted it for 10 km. They decided to ask for more funds and returned the already sanctioned amount. The funds have not arrived yet. The FPC feels that they have learnt a lesson: ‘Never to return government grants in anticipation of additional amount.’
Botha is considered a success story of JFM in Maharashtra. DCF (Territorial) Mohan Jha who initiated the JFM programme in Buldhana had a cordial relationship with the local villages and was able to use this relationship to effectively protect the forests as well as improve the economic status of the villagers. However, under political pressure he was transferred from Buldhana. The Wild Life (Protection) Act was implemented in the area for the well being of the forests and wildlife; however, while implementing the law the ground reality was completely ignored. The wildlife wing would have done well by building on the existing goodwill of the people. The law needs to be more flexible to be able to incorporate the preparedness and contexts of a local situation.
Presently the FPC is functional. Protection activity is still going on. The villagers collect dry wood and anjanpala from the sanctuary area with the oral permission of the Conservator of Forests (Wildlife).
The villagers strongly feel that the FPC should have legal recognition, and should be given identity cards. Considering that they shoulder most of the protection responsibility, they should be given the status of forest staff. The FD officials are sceptical and think that the FPC may misuse such powers.
The FPC members have decided to participate in party politics as they feel that political support is essential in case of difficulty. There have been attempts to bribe the FPC members into letting the Dhangars graze on the forest land. However till now, the members have shown commitment and not succumbed to such temptations.
The FPC is trying to take back from the wildlife wing the 1468 ha of forestland that was protected under the JFM programme. They have registered the FPC and the Wildlife Protection Committee in May 2001 under the Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950, and Societies registration Act, 1860. They feel that registration will enable them to undertake activities and accept grants directly.
Some of the forest officers feel that the Botha success has been blown out of proportion in order to gain publicity and the ground reality is quite different. The officers also feel that JFM programme cannot be implemented successfully if funds are not available. However the Botha FPC members say that they are willing to protect their forest even if there is no financial provision.
|This case study has been compiled based on field visit report of Girija Godbole (Jeevan Sanstha, Pune) in 2001; and the visit of Neema Pathak and Neeraj Vagholikar (Kalpavriksh) in 1999.|