Jharbeda Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
  Sundergarh, Odisha Forest Ecosystem Conservation Not Available Joint Forest Management

Case Study (2009)

Background

Jharbeda is a unique case of community forest protection insofar as the strength of such selfinitiated systems is concerned. Situated in the Bonai block of Sundargarh district, the village stands as an example of how community-level forest management systems could sustain the worst impacts of the rural social and caste structure. From the forest protection and management point of view, the village started forest protection in 1980. But the mechanisms adopted by the villagers for forest protection failed frequently, leading to rearrangement of the protection system. Jharbeda has about 142 households and a population of 700 people. There are 5 behera households, 10 rana, 30 teli, 70-80 scheduled tribe households and 17 households of the scheduled caste. Traditionally, the village is divided into two groups: the tribal and dalit group and the general caste group. The teli caste is economically well off. The other general caste people are mostly identified with the teli caste.

By 1980 the forest cover had decreased drastically. It was full of thorny bushes and shrubs. Big trees had totally disappeared from the forest. Small animals like rabbit were visible in the forest only from a long distance. The causes of degradation were stone quarrying; forest fires, mostly during the kendu leaf season; pressure from nearby villages, smuggling of trees/wood by the villagers as well as outsiders; and internal conflicts which led to one party indulging in destroying the forest. The tribals and the harijans (SC) were the worst affected, as they depended on the forest for a majority of the months in a year. Even though many of them have land, they earned a major part of their livelihood from the forest. Forest degradation led to scarcity of essential forest products like leaves, fuelwood and brush sticks. It led to dependence on other villages’ forests and frequent humiliation, travelling to far-off places for collection of forest products and the thought that their children would not get anything from the forest and face innumerable problems if the forests were gone. The tribals and the landless poor were the worst affected people due to forest degradation.

The intimate relationship between the tribals and the forests was gone with the degradation of the forests. This became the important reason because of which the tribals in Jharbeda initiated protection. A few leaders like Thither Kerketa, Ramchandra Behera and Khageswar Rana took the initiative and called for a general meeting of the villagers. The meeting was attended by 70-80 tribal and Harijan households. The general castes, especially the Telis, did not attend the meeting as they were not on good terms with the organising group and the issue of forest protection did not attract them much. The meeting was attended by tribals and Harijans only. The leaders explained about forest protection and its benefits to the people. A consensus emerged from the meeting to protect the forest. A committee was formed to look into the matter. The office-bearers included Ramachandra Behera as president, Thither Kerketa as secretary, Bandhua Rana as the treasurer, and a number of other members. The members demarcated the forest area to be protected. It was decided that the committee would meet once a month to discuss and review the forest protection activities. The day and time of the meeting was being fixed as per the convenience of all the members. The Behera (who belongs to the milkman community) circulates the notice for the meeting and informs all about it. The forest protection committee generally discussed about the protection activities and other emerging issues concerning the forest. There were two things about which the people were thoroughly convinced:

1. Since they were protecting government’s forest, they would one day be rewarded by the government.

2. Even if they were protecting unofficially they have to secure the support of the forest department; else it would not be possible to maintain the forest.

The thengapalli (voluntary patrolling by rotation) system was adopted as the protection mechanism. Two persons were required to patrol the forest each day. In case of need the entire committee went to the forest for protection. Two kg of paddy per household per year was collected towards the salary of the Behera. A set of rules and regulations was framed for managing the forests. It was decided that two persons from different households would go on thengapalli to the forest. Unauthorised entry into the forest, both by villagers and outsiders, was prohibited. Collection of forest products could be done from outside forest areas. The committee would impose penalties on the offenders. The fine amount was to be decided by the committee. Once the forest regenerated, the committee would give permission to the villagers for obtaining forest products. Entering the forest with any cutting instrument was considered an offence. Grazing and collection of dry branches were however allowed.

The committee undertook cleaning in the forest with the support of the forest department. The villagers contributed free labour and deposited the wage money given by the FD in the common fund. The committee also made a stone boundary wall around the forest, money for which was also given by the FD. 

In the initial years of protection there was no major conflicts concerning forest. The forest was so degraded that everyone had stopped depending on it. As a result, forest protection activities continued uninterrupted. Problems started cropping in with regeneration of tree species. Pressure on the forest by both the outsiders and the insiders mounted.

The committee gradually found it difficult to manage the conflict situations arising out of offence cases. It sought help from rest of the village and invited the other group (general caste) to join their efforts in protecting the forest. Instead, the general castes indulged in destroying the forest. Even though the committee somehow contained the outside pressure, interferences from inside the village were not within its control. The general caste group claimed that the forest belonged to the government and the tribal group had no rights to stop them cutting trees. Nine years of undisturbed protection suddenly entered into a phase of chaos and confusion. A general body meeting of the committee was organised to discuss the problem. There was a common feeling that the forest could not be protected in an atmosphere of confusion. Repeated requests to the other castes in the village to participate in forest protection had not yielded any significant results. The committee decided to discontinue formal protection of the forest. However, considering the importance of forests in their lives, a final request was sent to the villagers for taking charge of forest protection.  

After a series of consultations, the teli community took the responsibility of the forest. Lalit Sahu became the head of the committee. This was not a very formal arrangement, as most of the households were not part it. The earlier group of tribals and harijans did not participate in the protection. There were only 30 teli households, and they found it difficult to protect the forest. There was tremendous pressure on the forest not only from Jharbeda village but also from the surrounding villages. In the meantime, the youth club members had informed the FD about the illegal storing of trees by some of the households. The FD conducted a house-to-house search operation during this period. However, the original culprits could not be apprehended; instead those who occasionally bring wood from the forest were caught. The incident brought a lot of opposition to the teli group. The villagers asked them to immediately withdraw from forest protection. Unable to contain the pressure, the group abandoned forest protection within a few months.

Before the teli group took over, many people in the village were in favour of the youth club getting involved in protection of the forest. The youth club was involved in palli mangala (Welfare of the Village). In 1987 the yubak sangha (the youth club) developed a mango orchard for the village. They also organised a cycle rally to spread the message of forest protection and environmental conservation. After the failure of the teli group, the youth club took the initiative.

In 1989, after a gap of about one year, Jharbeda started formal protection of the forest once again. The transfer of the forest to the youth club was considered the best alternative at that point of time. Two members went patrolling the forest on rotational basis. Gradually the number of members increased. They declared that entering the forest without sufficient reason would be considered an offence and the person would be penalised. Since the group was active, they closely monitored the protection activities. With the involvement of the sangha in protection, the pressure, both from outside as well as inside the village, suddenly came down.

The yubak sangha got registered as Bapuji Club in the same year. This brought them legal recognition and they started implementing a number of developmental programmes of the government. The opposition group in the village (mainly the teligroup) slowly became active and started interfering in the forest. They also instigated the nearby tribal villages of Goudapada and Badapada. These two villages, on the pretext of thekua paridhi (a customary tribal hunt), destroyed the forest. The offenders were brought to a central place in the village. After prolonged discussion, the offenders confessed their offence and vowed not to get involved in the Jharbeda forest in future. In January 1990 the sangha found that pressure on the forest was mounting. The rival groups in the village were clandestinely involved in destroying the forest. The sangha brought a brahmin, who declared with chanting of mantras that anyone who destroys the forest would lose his son. For about one year no one even entered the forest in fear. However, the opposition was in search of an opportunity to defame the sangha. 

In December, one person found a poisonous snake in his house. The opposition made an issue out of this. They declared that the number of poisonous snakes and other harmful animals were increasing due to the density of the forest. They started blaming the club and appealed to the people to cut the forest in order to save their own lives. They also demanded an immediate cleaning and thinning of the forest. Accordingly, the youth club took a decision to undertake cleaning operations in the forest. The forest was declared open for cleaning. The opposition exploited this opportunity and started cutting big trees. They also facilitated the nearby villages in taking out trees from the Jharbeda forest. This resulted in serious destruction of the forest. Once the cleaning was closed, the club immediately brought the forest under its control. In 1991 the club made efforts to popularise forest protection by attaching it to the District Literacy Mission. Their slogan was: ‘If the people become literate they will grow friendly towards the forest.’ 

But destruction of the forest by the opposition group continued. This was the time everyone felt that the forest had once again entered into another phase of confusion. In 1992 Antaryami Rana, the club secretary, took up a government job. Consequently, he started giving less time to the activities of the club. There was no one in the club who could provide leadership to the ongoing activities, especially forest protection. This provided enough opportunity to the offenders to destroy the forest. Disgusted with the perennial conflict, the club decided to abandon forest protection. During the club’s period no specific rules and regulations were framed concerning the forest. Except for one-time cleaning material, there was no direct benefit to the people from the forest. 

This brought about a situation where no group in the village was in a position to take over the responsibility of the forest. It was not even possible for the village to unite for the cause. This resulted in rampant destruction of the forest. This was the phase when small groups, on a hamlet basis, started voluntary protection of the forest. There was no formal committee or similar arrangement, but hamlets took the responsibility out of their own interest.

 The Kisan Sahi, Odiya Sahi and Ghatipir hamlets individually protected parts of the forest from 1992-3. It was not a joint or concurrent protection by these hamlets. Rather, one hamlet took over when the other left protection after a brief period of time. However, such efforts could not bring stability to the forests. Forest destruction continued and there were also opposition to these groups’ efforts from within the village. The phase ended with all three groups getting frustrated and abandoning forest protection. During this time, the women started going to the forest and their pressure on the forest was considered to be the greatest threat.

In 1993 the DFO visited the village and explained about forest protection. With the initiative of the DFO, a local voluntary organisation took the responsibility of restarting forest protection in Jharbeda. A mahila samiti (Women’s Group) was formed in 1994 and the group was motivated to take up forest protection. The women were involved for three basic reasons:

1. According to the villagers, the women who formed the samiti were involved in cutting the forest. These tribal and SC women depended on the forest for their livelihood through fuelwood sale.

2. The women’s group would be able to check the women coming from outside villages.

3. There were no other groups in the village to take up forest protection. So people felt that it was worth experimenting with women taking the responsibility.

Four women from four different hamlets went to the forest for patrolling on rotation. They declared the forest as restricted. Taking earth from the forest for khapara (roof tiles) and stone quarrying were prohibited. Grazing was allowed and so was the collection of dry fuelwood for 3-4 days during the summer. In the same year the mahila samiti took up gap plantation work with help of the FD. The women also raised a nursery. They contributed labour and deposited the wage money in the common fund. The samiti requested the FD to help them to undertake cleaning in the forest. The decision for cleaning was taken because of two important reasons:

1. The forest had an unhealthy growth of thorny bushes, which hindered the regeneration of trees.

2. The samiti decided to give some benefits to the villagers in terms of fuelwood. 

The FD released a grant of Rs 1000 for cleaning operations. The samiti invited the villagers to participate in the cleaning, and collect the materials for fuelwood purposes. The villagers responded positively and contributed free labour for cleaning. The Rs 1000 was deposited in the samiti fund. A total of 60 households participated in the operation and each got half a cartload of cleaning material free. This activity of the mahila samiti was commended by the villagers and they now reposed faith in the capabilities of the women. 

In the beginning there were only 10 households that were members of the samiti. Gradually the number of members increased. However, the 30 households of the Teli caste did not become members. The women’s group repeatedly invited the opposition group to get involved in the activities of the samiti, but without any result. Some of the general caste women also became members of the samiti. The Teli caste women neither became members nor opposed the activities of the samiti. However, in spite of everything the women were successful in effectively protecting and managing the forest wealth of the village.

The samiti had played an active role in taking up fire-fighting measures in the forest. There have been three major fires in the forest since the samiti has taken charge of the forest. Soon after the women’s group took over, the opposition had set fire to the forest in 1994. The women’s group immediately went to the forest for extinguishing it. Their request to the male members for help was rejected and not a single male helped them in fighting the fire. The males in the village said that since women were protecting the forest, it was their responsibility to extinguish the fire.

The samiti took account of various forest offences and decided the cases. In the initial days of protection by this group, the women were insulted by the male members several times. The offences included the case of stone quarrying by Tikiraposh village, fuelwood selling by women of Kinjirikela village and similar cases. The group successfully resolved all such cases. It also collected fines up to Rs 100 from many of the offenders. Though the instances of forest offences were frequent, one positive development came up remarkably during the samiti’s time. The interference from the Jharbeda villagers drastically came down during this phase. With the women taking charge, the opposition groups in the village did not want an open fight.

There were some things which added to the strength of the women:

1. The activities of the samiti were staunchly supported by a majority of the villagers.

2. The FD also supported the women’s group and there were regular visits by the FD staff to the village.

3. It became a prestige issue for the males in the opposition not to have conflicts with the women, as in the traditional social structure, women are considered unequal to males.

4. People had grown sick of prolonged conflicts (for about 14 years), since the start of forest protection by the tribal and Harijan group. 

The support of the FD had strengthened the forest protection activities of the mahila samiti in Jharbeda. However, there were situations when the women’s group had felt frustrated and demotivated by the responses of the FD. Once the samiti sent a written application to the DFO informing him about the rampant felling of trees, and requesting him to take quick action against the offenders. But there was no definite action taken by the FD; nobody from the FD even ever came to enquire about it. The offenders challenged the women’s group, saying, ‘Your FD did not come to help you. So no one is going to come to rescue you even if we kill you.’ 

In 1997 the women’s group apprehended 6 carts in the forest which had come to take trees from the forest. They rang up the DFO immediately and asked him to send his staff to decide the case. The women held the carts for a long time but nobody from the FD reached them. The women were thoroughly frustrated when, being unable to fight against the offenders, they had to set them free. Slowly faith in the FD started declining and all future hopes rested in them were gone.

The women also expressed doubts about the role of the present forest guard. They complained that the guard neither helps them at times of need nor does he act against the forest offenders. In 1997 a contractor, in connivance with the forest guard, took trees for 30 Indira Awas Yojana houses which he had taken on contract. Repeated information to the FD did not yield any result. 

A state-level award for forest protection was conferred on the women group in 1995. The representatives from the samiti were selected to go to Bhubaneshwar to receive the award. The samiti granted money from its own account for the travel and other expenditures. However, the representatives returned back to village as the award ceremony was postponed. The samiti incurred an expenditure of Rs 300. Again in 1996 three members were sent to Bhubaneshwar for receiving the delayed award. Unfortunately, due to the death of a national leader the programme was further postponed. The entire group was dissatisfied over the award issue. A small fraction of the samiti withdrew from membership and indulged in destroying the forest. They accused the representatives of misappropriation of the money which was given to them for travel and other expenditure. Meetings could not be organised regularly, as many of the women did not attend any longer. In June 1996 the women who attended the meetings regularly formed a new samiti and invited the breakaway group to join. This confusion continued till 1997. The internal conflicts resulted in loosening of the protection system, and destruction of forest by others started once again.

As the problem intensified, the samiti stopped forest protection in 1997. It was emphasised that people dared to destroy the forest because there were no male members in the protection arrangement. One month after this incident, the Forester came to the village and formed a village forest protection committee. He included members from all the hamlets. Four male persons from the four hamlets went on patrolling on rotation basis. Later the FD formed a van samrakhyan samiti (as per the provisions of the joint forest management (JFM) resolution) and 2 members (one male and one female) from each household were taken as members. 

One important feature that stands out in the case of Jharbeda is that forest protection went through a number of important phases. It has been either a caste group or a cultural group or a similar group that took on the role for forest protection. Despite the various internal conflicts and despite repeated failures of the various groups in doing so, there was never a period of complete breakdown of the system, as informal protection/understanding among the people kept the system alive.

 

 This case study has been taken from: P.K. Nayak, M.R. Mishra and A.K. Nayak, ‘Jharbeda Village – A Protecting Case, Sundargarh District of Orissa’; as part of a collaborative research project undertaken by the Natural Resources Institute, UK, and Neera M. Singh, Vasundhra, Bhubaneshwar.

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

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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