Chakrashila Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Dhubri, Assam Forest Species Protection 2000Wildlife  Sanctuary

Case Study (2009)

Background

The Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Dhubri district of Assam. The forests in the sanctuary are of dense semi-evergreen and moist deciduous type, with patches of grasslands and scattered bushes, and several water sources. The climate is temperate, with dry winters and hot summers followed by heavy rains.

The diverse ecosystem has species like tiger, leopard, golden langur, leopard cat, gaur, crabeating mongoose, Indian porcupine, pangolin, flying squirrel, and civet cat.

The tribes that inhabit the fringe villages of Chakrashila are the Rabha and Bodo. Besides them there are some Garo and the Rajbanshi tribals, along with some Muslim families as new entrants to the villages. Agriculture is the main occupation of the villagers, with paddy as the main crop. In addition to paddy, potatoes and green vegetables are grown for home consumption and a few livestock are kept. Most families own their own looms and weave their own cloth. The income levels of the villagers are low, and they depend upon the surrounding forest resources in order to meet most of their daily requirements, such as raw material for houses, agricultural and musical implements; and for food, fuel and fodder. Most of the protein in their diet comes from the forest areas in the form of fish, snails and insects. There is a heavy dependence on the perennial springs of the forest for irrigation and potable water.

Legally the forests of Chakrashila are categorized as USF (Unclassed State Forests).1 The denudation of forests began here due to the extreme poverty of the local villagers. In order to earn a daily living, the villagers worked for the affluent merchants who hailed from different districts of Assam. They used the local villagers’ services as labourers for extraction of firewood and valuable timber from these forests. Indiscriminate smuggling of sal and other valuable trees left this more than 5 sq km stretch of once-thick forest completely denuded. The degradation led to a scarcity of biomass for the local villagers. The major shortfall in the resources that could be used by the villagers led to the migration of youth to other places to seek employment. Most of them started working as labourers in the coalfields in Meghalaya, while the others came under the influence of political ideologies and took up arms. The rise in forest denudation led the villagers into encroaching deeper and deeper into the forest. This in turn caused further drastic shrinkage of the forests extending up to 20 sq km.

The conservation efforts were initiated by an NGO called Nature’s Beckon, which has been visiting the area since the 1980s. They realized that the conservation of Chakrashila would not be possible unless the local villagers prevented outsiders from exploiting their forest resources. They felt a need to educate the local people on the importance of conservation for their own welfare. Towards this objective, in 1985 they set up a temporary settlement at Jornagra village on the periphery of Chakrashila. Various activities such as active bird-watching trips and trekking through the forest were taken up. Complimenting the work of Nature’s Beckon, some of the village youth showed a keen interest and eventually became members of the group. Gradually, the local tribes developed trust towards the group and held active discussions on the various aspects of the environment. This group started convincing the people that the local people were the only ones who could work towards saving and restoring the natural resources of Chakrashila. Although some of the villagers were receptive to this suggestion, they expressed their inability and helplessness to take pro-active efforts to prevent the powerful merchants and poachers from invading the forests. The people were made to realize that these actions were a punishable offence and the benefit of the doubt would rest with the people who are working towards conservation.

The members of Nature’s Beckon subsequently began visiting every house in Chakrashila and tried to understand the problems faced by them, like poverty, lack of education and poor health. The emphasis on women participation in environmental management was realized. It took a year for this NGO to gather the total support of the entire village, and hence November 1988 was selected for direct action against the poachers and smugglers.

Initially the villagers faced several violent clashes, which led to injuries to some youth, yet help from the forest department was not sought. They did not want to be dependent on any external agency for their needs. The youth repeatedly confronted the poachers and smugglers, often resulting in injury and death. On one such occasion a truck, which had entered the forest to smuggle trees, was burnt and a huge quantity of saws, axes, other tree-felling equipment and a few arms were seized. All the seized material was handed over to the forest department. In appreciation of their dedicated work, the state government rewarded them with an amount of Rs 5,000 from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, which further boosted the villager’s morale.

Since the periphery is mainly a sal-dominated forest, the green canopy was restored in no time, especially with round-the-clock vigilance of the villagers.

Constructive work also began simultaneously in the village itself. Due to paucity of funds, initial support was provided from the sale of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) such as thatch, bamboo and grass. Villagers were encouraged to cultivate their traditional foods like wildflowers, edible roots such as tapioca, and to raise edible insects. They were also encouraged to eat their traditional foods like snails, field rats and crabs.

Kitchen gardens were raised with help from Nature’s Beckon, who supplied the villagers with the various vegetable seeds. Poultry and pigs were raised which helped them to sustain themselves and were an added source of income. Weaving, which is a vital source of income for the tribal families, was started anew in many poor families. 

There was a remarkable effect after conservation efforts by the villagers providing them a sense of self-respect by way of improvement in their economic condition. They set an example to adjacent villages like Abhyakuti, Bandarpara, Kaljani, Damodarpur, Banshbari and many others. These villages approached Nature’s Beckon to provide assistance. When the other villages around the Chakrashila Hills Reserve joined the effort, the need for an office and a training centre for the youth and women was felt. A campus, Tapoban, was developed for this purpose at no extra cost, as most of the work and resources necessary came spontaneously from the villagers. It is now a vital centre of learning and offers hospitality to naturalists and enlightened tourists from faraway places. Villagers are taught to plant trees, shrubs, medicinal plants, edible roots, fast-growing fuelwood trees, fruits and flowers, thatch and bamboo so that they could be spared the drudgery of collecting these from deep inside the forest. A small project of digging furrows to connect cultivable land and a perennial source of water has resulted in doubling of production of crops.

A forest area survey was taken up by Nature’s Beckon. A checklist of birds, mammals, reptiles, plants and other species was prepared. It was discovered that not only was Chakrashila home to the endangered golden langur but was also a habitat of many other endangered mammals like Chinese pangolin, crab-eating mongoose, clouded leopard, leopard, gaur, tiger; endangered reptiles like monitor lizard, water monitor, king cobra, Asian leaf turtle; and endangered birds like great hornbill, oriental pied hornbill, Eurasian eagle owl, osprey, black baza, etc. On the basis of this information, the NGO along with the people decided to approach the forest department to declare the area a wildlife sanctuary. It was thought that this would provide more scope for the social development of the villages living on the periphery through eco-development projects. When the state government remained silent on this issue, public pressure was created through repeated appeals and media coverage. During this period, from 1988 to 1994 plantations were taken up in the denuded areas on the periphery of Chakrashila in the villages of Jornagra, Abhyakuti, Kaljani, Damadarpur, Bandarpara and Chakrashila. The different species that were planted were sal, poma, Sida spp., phulgamari, oxi, kum, bhelu, koroi, sonaru, jam and simul. Most of them were planted for the golden langur and other wild animals. Artificial salt licks2 were also created for the animals inside the forest. The villagers volunteered to clear weeds like lajukilata, jarmony bon, etc., which inhibit growth in the forest. Through all these activities the villagers continued to zealously guard the forests. Signboards of various kinds were also installed.

On 14 July 1994, the Governor of Assam notified the area a Wildlife Sanctuary. After the notification, Chakrashila started receiving funds for the socio-economic development of the fringe villages. However, the forest department did not discuss the planning or implementation of the scheme and utilization of funds therein with the villagers or local NGOs. The people feel that the funds have been misused. Chakrashila is still being protected by the village communities. Nature’s Beckon has taken the initiative of developing infrastructure inside the fringe villages of Chakrashila. With the cooperation of B.R. Samal, Deputy Commissioner of Dhubri District, village roads, wells for drinking water, sanitary latrines for every household and brick houses with corrugated iron sheet roofing for every family were constructed. The brick houses were constructed for 160 families, making Jornagra perhaps the only tribal village in Assam with all these facilities for all the households. 

Some of the constraints of community-based conservation in Chakrashila are:

1. Total lack of infrastructure for the management of the biodiversity (such as specialized field equipment) for this protected area.

2. Uncertain tenurial rights of the villagers over the forest resources.

3. Lack of knowledge among local people regarding government policies and laws relating to protected areas.

This case study reflects on the combined efforts towards forest protection by an NGO as well as the villagers. The main motive of forest protection has been realized by the villagers by way of understanding its importance and has led to forest regeneration. However there still is a need for transparent operations between the villagers and the government, as also for regulated resource use and for changes in the infrastructure.

  This case study is based on S. Datta, ‘An NGO Initiated Sanctuary: Chakrashila, India’. In A. Kothari, N. Pathak, R.V. Anuradha, and B. Taneja, Communities and Conservation: Natural Resource management in South and Central Asia (New Delhi, Sage Publications and UNESCO, 1998). We are thankful to the author for updating the information in August 2002.  

Somyadeep Dutta
Nature’s Beckon
‘Dutta Bari’, Ward No. 1
Dubri 783301
Assam

1 These kinds of forests are considered to be acquired by the government but have not been assigned any specific categories so far. Local communities do not consider these as government owned forests and often continue to use and manage these as community forests.

2 Salt licks are natural deposits or blocks of rock salt which animals particularly mammals lick. Artificial salt licks are created in the forest for the benefit of animals by burying 15-20 kilograms of salt into the earth in suitable locations inside the forest (generally created near waterholes of the forest), which are frequented by wild animals.

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

Recent Updates

Attitudes towards forest and wildlife, andconservation-oriented traditions, around Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, India

A study on examining the attitudes towards forest and wildlife among Rabha, Bodo and Rajbongshi communities from three villages in the Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary of western Assam, India.

A Critical Analysis on the Local Community’s Attitude And Intention Towards Ecotourism And Conservation in Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, Kokrajhar, Assam

This study focuses on the different aspects of ecotourism while examining the local people’s view and attitude about Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary located in Kokrajhar district of Assam.

Status and Conservation of Golden Langur in Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, India

A report to help guide future conservation efforts for the golden langur and for the management of the Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary.

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