Kawant, Naswadi,Pavijetpur and Chhota Udaipur region

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Vadodara, Gujarat Forest Ecosystem Conservation 2,40,000 JFM

Case Study (2009)

Background

The Kawant region is located at 21°55’ to 22°27’ North latitude and 73°40’ to 74°03’ East longitude in Vadodara District of Gujarat. The nearest road-head/rail-head is Vadodara, which is roughly 60 to 120 km away from the stretches of forests preserved by communities. The area is inhabited by many communities, which include mainly the tribal communities belonging to Rathwa, Nayak, Bariya, Kolcha koli and Bhil. The non-tribal communities are very few, mainly a few shopkeepers. This region covers an area of 2400 sq km, of which 98 villages are conserving forests falling within their traditional boundaries. These conserved stretches of forests range between 20 ha to 125 ha in area. All the conserved forests are Reserved Forests under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. A few of the villages of Pavi Jetpur taluka and their conserved forests are located near Ratanmahal Bear Sanctury.

The 1960s and 70s witnessed massive deforestation in Gujarat. The reasons for this destruction were many, with the main one being clear-felling of forests by the forest department. Kawant, Naswadi, Pavi Jetpur and Chhota Udaipur regions also faced rapid forest destruction during this period. Within a short span of time, the available forests for the forest-dependent tribal communities in this region were drastically reduced. Slowly the pressure on forests from the people mounted, and whatever was left of the forests was finished by the 1980s. The immediate sufferers were tribal communities living in forest areas. As Shankarbhai Rathwa, an elder tribal of Mundamor village says, ‘On one occasion we did not even have two long logs to carry dead bodies and had to pull out the logs from the hutments to burn dead bodies. This was a shock and we realized that if we did not do something then we will have to see unknown but dire situations.’

As a response to general degradation the forest department also started tree plantation programmes in the 70s. The planted forests were clear felled on a regular basis to earn revenue for the Department. The communities were silent witnesses to the plantation drives carried out by the forest department. For years, the department plantation drives have been stories of failed plantations, corruption and wastage of forest resources. Villagers were keenly observing these drives and analysing reasons for their failures.

In the meanwhile, throughout the entire tribal belt of the region, apart from facing day-to-day hardships, tribal communities were facing a unique but serious problem of half-burnt dead bodies. This led to social upheaval, and villagers began to look for ways of solving the problem.

Establishment of forest protection activities

Having witnessed the forest department plantation drives and analysed them, the villagers strongly felt that plantations were not the solution to their problem. They also knew that the seemingly barren hills and forest stretches were blossoming every year in the monsoon. They realized that the forests of their village still had enough root stock, and if the natural sprouting of each year is protected form grazing and immediate consumption, then it would be possible to regenerate the forests like in the past. But this simple realization was not easy to implement. Everyone in the community had faced the difficulties equally, but even then it was not easy to reach a consensus on the solution.

In most villages, when some villagers initiated conversations about protecting forests for future use, the sceptics within the community would strongly oppose the idea. One of the major points of contention was the fact that the forests were legally owned by the government. After a few years of simultaneous discussions within many villages, a few villages like Usela and Patadia overcame the impasse around 1983 and took a courageous initiative to protect naturally grown monsoon forests. Initially, the villagers received cooperation from the forest department. The villagers evolved rules of use, protection and community penal provisions for breach of rules. They arranged for day-andnight surveillance of forests by teams from within the village. This entire movement was strongly supported and encouraged by a local social worker, Shri Harivallabh Bhai Parikh. He appreciated the people’s initiative, sensed its potential and backed the community momentum. Shri Parikh also inspired many other neighbouring villagers to join this conservation movement.

As the forests of Patadia and Usela villages, which started protection activities first, began to regenerate, this massage reached beyond the neighbouring villages to faraway villages and across the area. Slowly a movement picked up in about 90 villages.

The major stumbling blocks that the villagers were faced with were the fact that the forest department owned the forests and that some villagers were questioned about their right to protect the forests. Additionally, some disgruntled elements within the villages often joined hands with some forest staff and made it difficult for the protecting villagers. Dealing with the strong timber mafia and lack of support from the forest department often led to frustration. In some villages, however, villagers did receive cooperation from the forest officials.

Establishment of the joint forest management programme

The informal community initiative had inherent weaknesses, particularly the fact that the villagers had no sustained assistance and guidance in hours of need. In 1992, the state government of Gujarat adopted the joint forest management (JFM) programme. The programme, as elsewhere in the country, was aimed at regeneration of degraded forests with the help of local people, while sharing any benefits from these forests with the local people. People of the area, with the help of NGOs, started to institutionalise their forest protection efforts under JFM. However, JFM did not succeed in this region, mainly because of faulty implementation. Many villages were stuck with the process of registration of their cooperatives, as the forest department did not help them in the process. At state level or at local level there was no pressure to force the forest department to implement the JFM policy in its true letter and spirit. The NGOs involved were also working to help implement the programme more as a project rather than as a long-term process of participatory forest management. Many of these NGOs lost interest in the programme once the funds were exhausted with the department.

Overall, the rights envisaged under the JFM program over the conserved forests were not visible to the villagers. The communities were not sure that they would ultimately get at least 50 per cent of the benefits that would accrue once the regenerated timber was harvested as envisaged under JFM. In many villages where people seized wood from the smugglers the department refused to grant 50 per cent partnership over such material. At many places, when the regular pruning of the forests was done, the products were not shared with the villagers. Even the wood fallen in rain and storm was not allowed to be shared with communities. Getting nearly nothing from the forests, not even to meet their daily requirements, after years of protection was again frustrating and discouraging for the villagers.

Despite opposition from the villagers, the forest department undertook plantations in the forests being protected by the local villagers. This was the final straw that made villagers extremely apprehensive and distrustful of the forest department. At the community level, the disgruntled elements that were against conservation became stronger. Now they could claim with confidence that government cannot and shall not part with forest resources. At many places, the local forest department personnel joined hands with such disgruntled elements and encouraged them to frustrate community conservation forces.

Ultimately, there was a slowdown in conservation efforts, and the momentum was on the decline. A few villages witnessed severe setbacks and the regrown forests once again turned barren. In many villages, however, the momentum was not affected by negative feedback and they continued to preserve their forests.

Current status

Arch Vahini, an NGO, has been closely associated with livelihood and development issues of tribal communities in the tribal pockets of Vadodara, Narmada and Dharampur districts of Gujarat. When some members of the NGO witnessed this decline in the momentum towards forest protection, they decided to intervene. Their objective was to stop further decline of the conservation initiative and to revitalise the community initiative where it had gone down. Arch Vahini started its work by studying and understanding the existing efforts of conservation. Subsequently, they began their work on community-based conservation and management of forests.

Arch Vahini’s experience in last few years shows that there is an increasing shift in the attitude of tribal people in this area. There have been many demands for vantalavdis (forest tanks) from the villages, particularly for wildlife in regenerating forests. There seems to be a sense of belonging and concern and responsibility towards the forests that they have been protecting and the wildlife within them.

After 2–3 years of sustained interactions with the villagers, the villagers are assured of critical inputs when required. Consequently the local meetings are yielding higher results. There is a new enthusiasm among some villagers towards forest protection. However, there are still many doubts and impediments because of past disappointments and frustrations. There is a lot that still needs to be achieved but Arch Vahini is hopeful.

Like in the past, Arch Vahini is also facing constraints because of the forest department. The government has initiated a well-intentioned scheme called the Forest Development Authority (FDA). Under this scheme all the funds meant for forest development within a district come directly to the FDA. The FDA has the authority to disburse the funds directly to the village institutions for management and development of forests. Although the intention is good, here again the implementation is faulty. The FDA is mandated to establish new local institutions rather than accepting the ones that the village communities have established and that have been working towards forest conservation. This is unfortunate as people’s enterprises/efforts carried out on a massive scale are not only not recognised but are systematically undermined. The forest department, instead of recognising and authorising the local people’s endeavour, is bypassing and creating parallel trusts and legal arrangements. This would dampen local inhabitants’ motivation and initiative.

Despite all this, the strong will, determination and hard labour of people has won, at least in relation to forest regeneration. Once again the forests are live and the hills are green. Forest regeneration has been good and local communities have benefited from the regenerating forests. Immediately in the first year of conservation, they could get fodder for cattle and dead and fallen wood as fuel. After 5-6 years of preservation they could get wood for agricultural implements and for home repair. They could now also collect minor forest produce.

The quality of the regenerated forest differed depending on the quality of protection accorded to it by the concerned villagers. Villagers recount the return of many varieties of birds along with hares, jackals, macaques, hyenas and different kinds of reptiles. Peacocks, now in plenty in these forests, were according to the local people never found in this region earlier. Similarly mammals like nilgai and reptiles like pythons have also been reportedly seen for the first time now in many villages.

Over many generations Apatanis have evolved an intricate system of natural resource management. These include efficient forestry and agricultural skills. There is a strong sense of belonging even today because of the critical cultural, religious and biomass dependence on the ecosystem. Under the influence of modern education and changing socio-cultural scenario, some of the traditions seem to have weakened. However, the fact that the villagers have realised the damage such changes can bring about to their ecosystem and have initiated the village forest protection committees is a strong indication that community-based conservation can be a success in the area if the right conditions are provided. One such condition could be a positive wildlife conservation policy, which would take into account people’s participation in the management and protection of the ecosystem rather than alienating them by creating conflicts, such as creation of the sanctuary without their consent or information.

  This case study has been contributed by Rajesh Mishra, Arch Vahini in 2007.

Rajesh Mishra
ARCH Vahini
Soni Street, Kawant,
District Vadodara, 391170
Gujarat
Tel: 9426125617; (02669) 254448 (R); (02669) 250140 (O)
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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