Jarmal Village

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 Location  Ecosystem Type    Conservation Type    Area(hectare)  Legal status 
 Sundergarh, Odisha  Forest  Ecosystem Conservation  72.44  Joint Forest Management

Case Study (2009)


‘The forest will be of great help to our children if not to us.’ These words effectively voice the concerns of the villagers of Jarmal for future generations. ‘If the forests can give so much with simple protection, then they would save us from poverty and hunger. It is our duty to protect the forest from all evil.’ Forest protection in Jarmal is one of the earliest community forest protection initiatives in the state of Orissa. Jarmal comes under the Birbira Gram Panchayat of Sadar Sundergarh block in Sundergarh district. Forest protection has now been initiated in more than 15 surrounding villages.

Jarmal is divided into 3 hamlets: Kalupada, Telipada and Khadiapada. With the total number of households being 158, it has a diverse caste composition: bhuian 50 households, khadia 60, brahmin 1, keuta 5, marbari 20 , gauda 5, lohar 3, harijan 11 and babu 3 households. Around a fourth of the households are landless, and earn their livelihood primarily from wage labour. These households get labour work in the agricultural fields during the season, or in neighbouring cement factories and coal mines (at a distance of 30 km from the village). Else they migrate to cities like Surat (in Gujarat) and other places for employment. Some landless households take up land from landed households on a share-cropping basis. Apart from labour work these households also depend on the collection of various seasonal forest products for livelihood. A third of the remaining households are marginal farmers with up to 2 acres of cultivable land. They generally grow two crops a year, which includes vegetables. In addition to cultivation, they also depend on wage labour during lean periods. Even though their primary dependence is on agriculture, a majority of the households in this category collect forest produce both for sale and household consumption.

The rest of the households are economically better off, having 10-12 acres of cultivable land. These are usually households whose members are engaged in government and private service. The rich households engage wage labourers for collection of forest produce such as mohua flower and fruit, tamarind, etc. from the trees on their agricultural land. Paddy is the main crop cultivated during the kharif season. The cultivators grow wheat, groundnut and vegetable during the rabi season. The village is well irrigated with a minor irrigation project and a few wells in the fields. According to the villagers there has been a marked increase in the livestock population over the years. A rough calculation indicates that there are about 1000 cattle and 500 goats in the village. The forest provides the grazing space for the entire cattle population. The forest has been declared free for grazing. However, agricultural fields are used for grazing immediately after the harvest.  

Prior to independence these forests and their resources were under the ownership of the king of Sundergarh. The forest was divided into various blocks and put under the charge of the local gauntias, who were appointed by the king. The king’s permission was required for use of any forest produce. But, in practice the gauntias issued passes to the people for obtaining forest produce. In turn, they were required to keep a record of the quantity of forest produce taken by each individual family. In return for forest produce, the villagers were required to provide free services to the king. They used to carry wood to the king’s palace at Sundergarh. The villagers were also engaged in chasing the animals in the forest when the king came for hunting. Disobedience of the king’s rule was met with severe punishment.

At the time of independence, the forest had been transferred to the forest department. The villagers were being granted periodic rights for using the forest. For four days during April-May, the forests were kept open for villagers to collect fuelwood. The forest guards regulated such operations. During other seasons of the year, the villagers had to approach the forest department through the ward member. Unlike the king’s period, people were not fearful about the forest department. There was enormous rise in fuelwood extraction from the forest. As a whole, the pressure on forest gradually mounted. Inadequate protection arrangements by the then forest department and the demands of the timber business were some of the other causes of forest degradation. The situation was so bad that towards the end of the 60s people even started taking out rootstock from the forest.

By the beginning of 1970, people began to face enormous problems in obtaining their daily forestbased needs. Daily household necessity items such as leaf plates and cups (khali and dana) could only be procured from far-off places such as Manamunda village at a distance of 12 km or had to be purchased from the market. The same hardship was involved in collection of fuelwood. Items like mushrooms, which were earlier easily available during rains, slowly became scarce. Shortage of forest products seriously impacted the poor who depended on them both for self-consumption and sale. Agriculture was seriously affected when leaf litter from the forests, which was used as green manure, reduced considerably. Acute scarcity of fodder forced people to either sell off their cattle or graze in the forest area of other villages. The other effect was that grazing in distant places resulted in harassment to the villagers at the hands of outside villages. But the most disturbing for the villagers was when rootstock was beginning to be extracted from the forest. Realizing the gravity of the situation, the villagers decided to initiate forest protection.

The villagers had a series of meetings where people expressed concern and anxiety over forest degradation. Everyone in the village considered protection of the forest as the only alternative. A village meeting was called wherein the modalities of protecting the forest were discussed. 179 acres of reserved forest was declared as restricted. Four persons from four different households went on forest palia (rotational patrolling) each day. A detailed list about who would go on which day was made and circulated. The nearby villages were also intimated and their help and cooperation was sought. However, there was no formal protection committee formed during this time. The lead role in the entire process was taken by two elders: Shri Sasidhar Sa and Shri Madhusudan. The palia system continued for only one year, after which it broke down, as a few households were irregular in going on palia. Some of them did not go at all. So those who were regular in palia gradually lost interest. Consequently, the protection arrangement became ineffective in 1971.

In 1971 a watcher system was introduced. A paid watcher was appointed for regular patrolling of the forest. Two ser (approximately 1 kg) of paddy per household per month was fixed towards the salary of the watcher by all households. The watcher was paid eight khandi (1 khandi = 12 kg) of paddy per month as salary. In 1976 this arrangement also broke down. A few households stopped contributing paddy, causing discontent among the others. These households were mainly the landless, who found it quite difficult to contribute. It was a critical phase in forest protection. After a series of consultations, the palia system was reintroduced as an alternative to the watcher system. Two persons from different families went on patrol each day on a rotation basis. In 1988 a five-member forest protection committee was formed in the general body meeting of the village. 

At the start of forest protection there were no systematic rules set, except for the one-line norm” ‘No one can cut anything from the forest or enter into it with any sort of cutting instrument.’ Collection of fuelwood was allowed only with the committee’s permission. The villagers had also sent letters to the neighbouring villages informing them about the initiation of forest protection. The entire forest was declared restricted for grazing. Besides felling of green trees or branches, carrying fire or setting fire within the forest was disallowed. Collection of mushrooms was free for all. A fine amount of Rs 51 was fixed as penalty for forest offence cases. In case the offender was unable to pay the fine amount, he was required to request the committee for a total exemption from the fine amount. The committee has also developed a need-based utilisation system, whereby it provides forest products to the households that need them the most.

The FPC occasionally assesses the need upon receipt of a request. The committee sells the surplus forest products in the village at a very nominal price. A stock register is maintained by the committee to record the use and availability of the forest produce.

A formal forest protection committee (FPC) was set up in the village with the help of forest department after the joint forest management (JFM) resolution was passed in the state in 1988. Jarmal was one of the first villages to be brought under JFM in Orissa. Once selected, the members of the forest protection committee (FPC) continue as long as they are managing the affairs of the forest properly. The general body (GB) of the village is free to select new members and terminate existing members. As long as there is no specific complaint against any existing member, he is allowed to continue in the committee. In case of a need to change any of the office-bearers, the village would assemble to decide the matter on a consensus basis. The GB of the village sits at least once a year to review the performance of the FPC. The secretary and president of the forest committee are continuing in their positions since 1988.

The committee earns its income through contributions from villagers, sale of deadwood, income from forest development work undertaken through contribution of free labour by the villagers, and through the support from the panchayat under various development programmes. Besides looking after protection and management of the forest, the committee takes a special interest in popularising the forest protection movement in the area. This is done, for example, by organising a football tournament on World Environment Day each year. They invite football teams from more than thirteen neighbouring villages and educate them about environment and forest protection. On the final day of the tournament, higher officials of the FD, local political leaders and other government officials are invited. The committee has also made provisions for distributing prizes and certificates of merit to the participants.

By 1975 the number of wild animals like deer and wild pig had started increasing in the forest.

In recent times the committee has started annual cleaning operations in the forest, which is able to provide for the fuelwood requirements of the entire village for about two months. For the rest of the year the villagers meet their fuelwood requirement from other sources. Those who can afford to buy fuelwood from outside the village do so; others regularly collect leaves from the social forestry plantation. The use of electric heaters or kerosene stoves is common in most landed rich households. Bhusee chullaha (paddy husk) and sawdust are also burnt in a controlled chullaha, which is used by a majority of the households. Priyagni Chullaha, distributed through the District Rural Development Agency, is another fuelwood efficient chullaha used by the villagers. However, in spite of this wide range of fuel sources, some villagers, particularly the poorer households, also depend on the protected forests of Manamunda and Khajurijharan villages for fuelwood.

After the initial strict protection and once the forests regenerated by 1975, they were opened up to villagers for regulated use. For example, the villagers can now collect dry, dead and fallen wood freely. Villagers are also free to collect non-timber forest produce (NTFP). Increase in the availability of NTFP has particularly benefited the landless, who depend on the sale of NTFP to a great extent. The forests are now also opened up for grazing. Villagers could procure free branches with leaves for raising platforms on festive occasion. The forest streams now provide water for agriculture, which is an added incentive for the landed households.

Even though people avail a number of benefits from the forest, the committee has not yet started issuing house construction materials to the villagers. In the opinion of the committee members, ‘Once we start allowing such materials everyone in the village would need it which, in turn, would be adverse to the growth of the forest.’1 In its present condition, the forest can provide facilities for house construction materials at a low level, but the forest protection committee is not prepared to take the risk at this stage. It is planning to convene a meeting along with the district forest officer (DFO) to discuss the matter before taking a final decision on this. The current status on this decision is not known. 

Income generation activities undertaken by the forest department contributed to the well-being of the village. In 1998, the forest department started making a trench around the forest. That was a major employment generating activity. A large number of people got employment for quite a long period. This was considered as a welcome step as it saved the forest from cattle. This prolonged work also strengthened the relationship between FD and village. 

In 1995-6, under the provisions of JFM, micro-plan plantations were taken up in the forest gaps by the FPC. In 1997, detailed forest demarcation work was initiated by the forest department in order to indicate the boundary of reserved forest. 

With the regeneration of forests, the wild animal populations also increased. This in turn increased the instances of poaching, particularly by the neighbouring villages. After the initiation of JFM, the FPC has sought help from the local forest guard to control hunting. One of the first cases of hunting occurred in 1975, when villagers from Birbira killed a wild boar from the forests. The committee members apprehended the offenders and filed a case against them. However, they could not prove in the court of law that poaching had indeed happened. The offenders were acquitted and this demoralized the villagers. Finally they took to case to the respected elders of the community. In this trial, however, the crime was confirmed and the guilty had to offer a public apology. Thus a compromise was finally reached.

In 1991 the forest protection committee entered into a major conflict with the village youth club. The youth club was formed in 1991 and organised a meeting in the village. The DFO was invited as the chief guest in the function. The conflict started when the president of the youth club claimed in the meeting that the forest was being protected by the youth club. They also requested the DFO to issue a written document to this effect. The claim of the club disturbed the members of the FPC. A conflict between the youth club and the FPC members continued for a few months. The committee members met the DFO several times. The DFO asked them to produce proof of their protection. The FPC members could produce all necessary documents, including resolutions of the meetings, to prove that they had been protecting the forests for last two decades. Finally the conflict was resolved.

The village had a social forestry plantation in 1989 of around 33 acres on village revenue land. A number of traders from outside the village are interested in purchasing the poles from the plantation. But, the villagers are not agreeing to the idea of selling plantation due to the following reasons: leaves and fruits of acacia serve as a major source of fuel especially for parboiling; the trees have created a better environment in the village; money from plantation might lead to conflicts in the village.

The villagers in general and forest protection committee in particular have established a very good relationship. The forest protection initiative has constantly been supported by the FD staff. Though the interaction started several years after the actual initiation of forest protection by the villagers, the FD support has gone a long way towards revitalizing the spirit of forest protection. Involvement of the FD in facilitating the protection activities of the villages has greatly motivated the villagers. In addition, with the implementation of JFM, forest development work was regularly undertaken by the FD with the help of the villagers, which contributes to the income of the villagers. The committee also organises an annual feast in the forest, which is attended by forest officials of the division. Such occasions have created opportunities for healthy relationships as well as better understanding between the village and the forest department. Participation of the higher officials in the village functions has tremendously boosted the morale of the villagers.

The villagers realised that pressure from the dependent communities will mount on them if there is acute scarcity of forest resources with only one available source. They believed that all the forest adjoining villages should be involved in protection and regeneration of degraded forest from where they can meet their basic needs. Indirectly pressure on their forest would be reduced in addition to general well-being of the area. They had distributed a 1988 government resolution among the forest-protecting villages and those who could be motivated to take up protection with a supportive forest policy. The villages which were directly or indirectly influenced by the Jarmal villagers to take up forest protection are Badakachhar, Amashranga, Majhapada, Birbira, Bijadihi, Talasara, Salipali, Ghantabuda, Lahandabuda, Kumutimunda, Manamunda, Duduki, etc. Thus Jarmal was able to positively influence its neighbours as well.

  This case study was provided by Vasundhara.

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

1.  Editors’ note: It is unclear where the villagers meet this requirement from. Whether the forests surrounding the protected forests have to provide for this need, and are hence negatively impacted by the conservation effort, is also unclear.

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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