Dhani Panch Mouza

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Nayagarh, Odisha Forest Ecosystem Conservation 840 Joint Forest Management (JFM)

Case Study (2009)

Background

Dhani Panch Mouza Jungle Surakshya Samiti is a case of collective forest management system, where five villages have come together to manage a forest as a common resource. The Dhani forest protection effort is one of the several thousand similar forest protection and conservation initiatives by communities in Orissa. Many forest-dependent communities have responded to the process of forest degradation by evolving local arrangements to conserve and manage forests. These local arrangements seek to regulate access and control over neighbouring forest patches and in effect bring open-access forests under the common property regime (CPR) regime of the communities.

Dhani forest is located in the Ranpur block of Nayagarh district in the south of Orissa. It is situated at a distance of 73 km from the capital city Bhubaneswar. It is a large tract of reserved forest having mixed dry deciduous type of forest vegetation. Dhani forest has an area of about 2200 hectares, out of which 839.75 hectares is being protected by a group of five villages since 1987. The five villages (Barapalli, Arjunpur, Kiyapalla, Balarampur and Panasdihi) have formed a joint forest protection and management committee called the Dhani Panch Mouja Jungle Surakshya Samiti. The population of these villages consists of Brahmins, Khandayats, Harijans and tribals. The tribes include Saoras and Kandhas, who are forest-dependent communities. The Brahmin and Khandayat (farming community) castes are the influential people. Of the five villages, Kiyapalla and Panaspur are purely tribal settlements. The village Balarampur has a significant tribal and Scheduled Caste population, while in Barapalli and Arjunpur the dominant caste is the Khandayats.

Dhani Reserved Forest was historically part of Ranpur gadajat (Princely State), which had a semi-independent status during native Hindu rule and in the subsequent British period. Under British influence, Ranpur estate also initially categorized its forests into two formal forest tenures: Reserved forest (RF) and village forest. RFs were further categorised into A class reserves and B class reserves. In A class reserves, people had no rights, but there were special considerations for the poor in the estate and they were allowed to collect fruits, roots and fibres for their own use without any payment. The B class reserved forests were used to meet the needs of the tenants, from which people got timber of reserved species at half the schedule rates and that of unreserved species at one-fourth of the rates for bonafide purposes. The second major category was the Khesra Forests or the Village Forests, which was differently known in different localities. Till 1918, the forests of Ranpur estate were under the Police Department. In 1918, after the forest department was established in the estate, the forests came under the forest department. Within the Khesra forests the tenants were allowed to collect bamboo and timber for agricultural implements and house repairs by obtaining permits from the king. Certain species could be taken freely from the Khesra Forests for their domestic/agricultural needs. At times people were allowed to collect their forestry requirements free of cost in lieu of bethi and begari.1 Every year the king issued permits for a period of one month for collection of timber etc. for bonafide purposes. The Kandha and Saora tribes of this area enjoyed special concessions on use of various NTFPs for own use. Yet, Ranpur estate had strict rules and regulations, which prevented the people from exploiting the resource with full freedom. Offences such as collecting unripe fruits or hunting of wild animals were strictly dealt with. More than thirty tree species were declared as reserved, which were reduced to nine in the early 1940s. People were not allowed to cut these species without permission; they could however be cut for self-consumption on obtaining permission. People were free to collect fruits and flowers of the declared reserved trees without permission except for mango, jackfruit, tamarind, kamlagundi, kochil, harida, bahada and aonla. But there existed strict restrictions on selling or exporting trees without a permit.

During the royal period, the forest was abundant and local people did not face any scarcity of forest produce despite strict restrictions on access to the forest. After Independence, as the estate was taken over by the Indian government, pressure on forests for forest produce as well as on forest land for conversion to agricultural land began mounting. In the late 1950s the FD also gave permits to the local contractors to harvest timber. The local people also accelerated tree felling in a rush to get some wood/money while they could. By the mid-60s most of the low-lying forest areas were completely devoid of large trees. The forest department took up a teak (Tectona grandis) plantation in the area harvested by the contractors. This teak plantation as also Dhani Reserved Forests had completely degraded by 1980. Apart from the above-mentioned reasons, disinterest of the forest department, rapid urbanisation in the nearby areas, illicit smuggling of timber and the extraction of rootstock contributed to this degradation.

Degradation of the forests seriously impacted the villagers. People had to traverse long distances to collect fuelwood and timber. A variety of food items such as fruits, tubers and leafy vegetables that supplemented food, especially during the lean season, disappeared gradually. The impact of drought and crop failure became more acute in the absence of the life-sustaining food-flow from forests. Forest degradation had other implications too. The stream originating from Dhani started disappearing. Soil erosion in the upper reaches of the hills affected soil fertility in neighbouring fields. Out-migration of people in search of work intensified. Droughts became frequent, which brought in the feeling that forest degradation was one of the main reasons for such recurrence.

Villagers realised that forest degradation affected them the most, and hence the initiative to reverse the trend of forest degradation would have to come from them. Since the above-mentioned five villages shared traditional socio-cultural ties and were dependent on the forest, they decided to join forces to protect the forests. In successive combined meetings between these five villages (facilitated by some notable individuals) during 1985-7, a decision was taken for joint protection of the Dhani South Reserved Forest. A set of rules and regulations were framed to ensure smooth management of forest protection, the umbrella rule being that ‘the entire forest area is declared restricted and nothing is allowed free from the forest.’ Initially, a lot of effort had to be put to contain the pressure on forest from the other villages. Five persons from each village formed squads for patrolling the forest. As the pressure on the forest reduced, the number decreased to two persons per village.

Formalisation of forest protection and management happened on 10 September 1987 with the formation of a forest protection committee, named as Dhani Panch Mouja Jungle Surakshya Committee. The committee discussed extensively the various problems relating to forest, their causative factors, and ways to tackle these. The committee identified taila cultivation,2 rootstock extraction, heavy grazing and fuelwood extraction as sources of heavy pressure on the forests. A process of negotiation was initiated with the taila cultivators, and the committee gradually convinced them to stop cultivation. Similarly, notices were issued to all villages in the area intimating them about forest protection. Strict rules were laid down for dealing with the pressures. The committee apprehended the offenders and imposed fines on them. In the initial days of protection, conflicts were rather frequent. Even though there was significant external pressure prior to forest protection, the patrolling arrangements kept forest offences under check. 

In 1991, there was a sudden rise in the number of offences. This coincided with the regeneration of the forests and the fact that the protection arrangements were beginning to become lax since the poor and landless sections found it difficult to spend the entire day in the forest at the cost of their daily wages. Other than the outsiders who were illegally accessing the forests, villagers of Panch Mouja were also getting restless and wanted some product flow from the forests. With the regeneration of the forests there was no corresponding change in the rules, and the initial expectation of people that forest protection would fulfil their needs was not met. This led residents of Panch Mouja to get involved in breaking rules and become offenders in their own forests.

Due to this pressure and the growing resentment of the villagers, the committee was forced to accede to changes in the forest rules. They modified the rules to include annual cleaning and thinning operations before the rainy season, thus ensuring a steady supply of fuelwood to the villagers. However, felling of green trees for fuelwood was not allowed. The cleaning material was to be shared equally among all the households of the five villages. Collection of dry and fallen twigs and branches, leaves, fruits, climbers, berries and tubers was allowed without any cost or permission. Tribals and Harijans were allowed to collect dry, fallen twigs and branches and siali (Bauhinia vahlii) leaves to earn their livelihood. Poles for household construction could be obtained with a nominal fee and permission from the committee. The villagers were allowed to take 100 poles of bamboo at Rs 30 for their needs. But this bamboo could not be sold or bartered outside. The villagers could take wood for cremation purposes free of cost and without prior permission of the committee. Similarly the neighbouring villages could get bamboo and timber from the forest only after seeking permission of the committee and paying a certain amount. Special concessions are made when the material is needed for community festivals if a particular village does not have any forests, and in case of individuals who require wood for repairing their houses after instances of fire or accidents. The committees also appointed two paid watchers on the condition that the villages would provide all the help possible. They were initially paid through household contributions, but with the increase in income through cashew harvesting rights, the system of household contributions was discontinued.

While dealing with offenders, the Panch Mouza Committee decided on appropriate action depending on the nature and gravity of the offence. During the initial years of forest protection, no major decision regarding forest offences could be taken by the committee. However, with the growing number of offences, imposition of fine became a standard penalty. The fine amounts varied depending on the value of timber species. Fines imposed on offences were highest during 1991. This also marked the beginning of referring cases to the forest department. It was noticed that with the increase in actions on offences the number of offences dropped in subsequent years. 

The committee made several efforts to develop alternate sources of income for the headloaders. The committee, with support from the forest department, arranged for leaf-plate stitching machines and provided training to women’s group for processing of siali leaves. Some of the forest-dependent households are now dependent on the milk business because of the schemes brought in with help from government agencies. A few other forest dependent households were allotted small patches of degraded forest land by the committee, which they have brought under grass cultivation. Grass from the fields is supplied to the dairy project, thus benefiting the cultivators. A school has been set up by the villagers through the forest protection initiative. Regular environmental awareness building activities are taken up through celebration of Environment Day, van mahotsav (forest festival), etc. Renovation work of a dilapidated pond near the forest has been undertaken by the committee to provide irrigation facility to the agricultural land.

Villagers have placed great importance on making their children realize the importance of forests. The children are involved in actual forestry operations like nursery-raising and plantation. The children are also involved in environmental debates and discussions. Rallies are taken out during celebration of World Environment Day, van mahotsav, etc., and are led by the children. Once every three months or so the children accompany the forest watcher in his rounds to learn about the forest. The watcher guides them through the forest and familiarises them with the various plants, their uses and locally known silvicultural/religious significance. Children from other villages are also brought to Dhani under various awareness campaigns. The children are also maintaining a local biodiversity register that lists the biodiversity in the forest.

The success of Dhani forest protection is based on a sound institutional mechanism. In the initial years the Executive Committee was basically concerned with the protection of Dhani forest. But as forests regenerated profusely there was manifold increase in the other forest-related activities. The growing forest now required efficient management. The committee was expected to perform in a more diversified way in order to cater to these needs. The 10-member committee formed in 1987 had remained unchanged till 1992. Now, with the growing number of forest offences, the leaders recognized the shortfalls in the forest protection committee and felt the need to reform the institutional arrangement.

As a first step, the forest protection committee was reconstituted in 1992. By 1991, to check irregularity in attending meetings, attendance was made mandatory and a rule was made that members absent in three consecutive meetings would be dismissed. Similarly, fines were to be imposed on members who either left the meeting halfway or did not attend even if they were present in the village. In the same year an advisory committee and a working committee were formed in order to guide and facilitate the functioning of the executive committee. An audit committee was later formed to look into the financial matters of the forest protection committee. The income of the committee had increased through collection of fines, forest products and occasional grants from the forest department. The audit committee consisted of educated persons of the Panch Mouja. In order to increase transparency, this separate group did not consist of members of the Forest Protection Commitee. In 1995, Panch Mouza Committee was formalised as a van samrakshyan samiti (VSS) under the joint forest management programme of the state. As a VSS, the membership of the executive committee increased to 21 and women members were included in the committee for the first time. In the same year a squad party for wildlife protection was formed keeping in view the increasing instances of poaching.

The forests protected by Dhani Panch Mouza Committee had its root system intact at the time when protection was initiated. Mere protection led to profuse regeneration. Most of the trees and shrubs reverted back. The continued conservation activities brought back the lost wealth of flora and fauna, but the intensity with which they occurred in the past has changed. As people report, the present forest ecosystem of Dhani has more than 250 plant species, 40 birds, 19 reptiles and a number of insects. Besides the natural forest, new plant species of mixed variety (Acacia sp., Eucalyptus sp., chakunda (Cassia siamea), cashew (Anacardium Occidentale) and teak (Tectona grandis) have been added through plantations. With the regeneration of forests and the reappearance of various forest products, the forest-dependent villagers were able to revert back to forest based livelihoods: fuelwood sale; collection of kendu (Diospyros menaloxylon) leaves, siali leaves for leaf-plate making, tubers for both consumption and sale, creepers, medicinal plants, etc. Fuelwood gathering is also allowed to people from other villages but on the condition that no one can enter the forest with any cutting instrument. Apart from the benefits to the directly forestdependent population, the villagers have benefited from the checking of soil erosion and recharge of streams flowing through the forest. In fact the initial step towards forest protection in Dhani, as in many other villages, came from farmers having their agricultural fields at the foothills.

Role of the forest department

In the initial years of protection the Dhani Panch Mouja Forest Protection Committee (FPC) was in desperate need of help from the forest department (FD) to deal with forest offences. According to the FPC, at that time the FD did not come forward to support them adequately. Consequently, over the years the committee become more self-reliant and came to depend on local actions, dealing with offenders through social sanctions, etc.

The success of the effort drew the FD’s attention towards Dhani Panch Mauja and it was selected as an ideal site for JFM. In 1993, with the state entering into a joint forest management agreement with the Dhani villages, their support has been more forthcoming. After formation of the VSS, the FD has been providing legal and technical support to the protection efforts. In 1996, a management plan was drawn up, and Rs 33000 were allotted for forest management work. This fund was used by the VSS for different forest development activities like construction of waterbody inside the forest for wild animals, plantations, etc. The FD has made an assessment of the bamboo availability in the forest and is facilitating the administrative clearances to allow bamboo harvesting by the VSS. Initially the forest was degraded forest; now, due to the community’s efforts the forest has good bamboo growth, but the community has to wait for government clearances for its harvesting, which is creating tension between the community and the FD.

Dhani’s experience with the state machinery has been better than most, although certain issues such as sharing of forest produce between the state and the people are still unresolved. Also, there is considerable tension in the process of devolution of power to local communities under the joint forest management framework. JFM has uniformly prescribed institutional arrangements, rules and regulations for all sites. This ignores the vast array of institutional arrangements that exist in Dhani as well as in other self-initiated efforts for protection and management of forests. This is causing problems in Dhani. The Working Plan prepared by the FD defines the rights and access of the people of the adjoining villages over the forest protected by Dhani Mauza. This has created misunderstanding between protecting and non-protecting villages. This has also discouraged the villages which have been protecting these forests for decades. The protecting villagers feel a need to clarify the legal rights of the communities and ensure better tenurial security. Additionally, as JFM is conceived and implemented by the forest department, the balance of power is skewed in favour of the department. This lopsided power dynamics has created considerable tension in the process of devolution of power to the local communities under the JFM framework. 

Internal community dynamics

A source of internal conflict arises from the social structure of the community itself. Local forest protection programmes are stuck in highly stratified and inequitable social context. Thus, caste and gender inequities become significant friction points. In the case of Dhani, the impetus for forest protection had come from the farming community/landed persons to ‘protect’ their lands from the adverse effects of soil erosion. These sections are less dependent on forests and therefore less affected by decisions that restrict access to forests. But it is important to note that in Dhani’s case, the forest protection committee tried to deal with these equity issues by allowing greater concessions and also alternate income sources for the poorest members of the community, in order to reduce tension on this front. Likewise, the Dhani villagers have had to wrestle with gender issues. Since 1995 three women have been included in the committee, but more to satisfy the requirement under JFM. Their participation as largely token and they are rarely consulted for any important decisions.

Conflicts with neighbours

Conflicts with outside villages have also been part of the mix with which the Dhani villages have had to deal with. Kadamjhola, another village bordering Dhani forest, declined to participate in the original forest protection plan but now wants the share from the forest. Other neighbouring villages have also sought a share of the replenished flow of forest products. In earlier years, these villages regularly infringed on the protected forest patch, causing many disputes.

Dhani has inspired other villagers in the neighbourhood to take up forest protection. It has offered the community—as well as the world—some basic lessons in the value, degradation and restoration of forest ecosystems. The reward for their efforts has been tangible and significant for the economy of the community as well. It has added money to the common village fund, and brought economic opportunities to the poorest and most forest-dependent villagers. The residents were hit hardest by the original decision to limit access to the forest, and the forest protection committee has always realized they were an essential element in the long-term success of the restoration. Special efforts were made to compensate the directly forest-dependent sections. The case of Dhani shows that local natural resources can also be used for sustainable economic development of the village.

  This case study been compiled from: R. Panigrahi and Y. Giri Rao (eds), Conserving Biodiversity: A Decade’s Experience of Dhani Panch Mouja People (Orissa, Vasundhara, 1997).

Vasundhara
Plot no. 15
Sahid Nagar, Bhubaneshwar 751007
Tel: 0674-2542011/12
E-mail: [email protected]

1 Free labour for the king.

2 Clearing the lower regions of the hills for cultivating brinjal (Solanum melongena) and mandua/ragi (Eleusine coracana).

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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