Until the early 1960s, the forest was under the direct supervision of the Vijaynagar jagirdar and the villagers had little to do with the forest. They had no rights over it. Dry wood, leaves, fruits and flowers in the forest were free for them, even though permission of the jagirdar was a must. The threat of severe punishment for culprits resulted in the preservation of greenery in the region. After 1960, the degradation of the forest began with the abolition of the jagirdari system. Most of the trees were illegally cut by the jagirdars. For the tribal people, especially those in the lower income group, the forest became a quick money-making source. It also led to large-scale timber smuggling and sale of forest products, and soon the forests of the village were completely wiped out. This had an impact on the overall economy of the area.
The Jhanjharmata mandli of Malekpur was one among the first few cooperatives to get registered in 1986 (Registration no. Agri./2715 dated 12.8.1986) with the initiative of Shri. Siddhrajbhai Solanki, a professor at Gujarat Vidyapith, and VIKSAT (a NGO working in the villages of Bhiloda Taluka on issues related to enhancing people’s participation in natural resource management). Initially 60 households (of the total 110 households) came forward to become members of the cooperative. After the registration, the cooperative applied to the forest department (FD) for the lease of the forest land. However, after two years, in 1988, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India rejected this application under Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
During this period, the focus was on development of private land within the village through various programmes like Vikas Bagh—small plots of horticultural and forestry species (in 800 sq m) to meet the primary needs of the tribal families for fuel, fodder and fruits. A fodder plan was drawn out to get green fodder of pioneer jowar during the summer. 50% of the programme cost was met by financial assistance from the Tribal Area Sub-Plan (TASP), Khedbrahma, and the remainder was met by the people in the form of labour. A bio-gas programme was initiated with financial assistance from the Himmatnagar centre of the Gujarat Agro-Industries Cooperation Limited.
The protection efforts and rules for punishment were refined from time to time. As per one of the provisions of Gujarat JFM order, the cooperative which undertakes afforestation work on its own or with the financial assistance from non-state government agencies would be entitled to 80% of the share of the final harvest. The JVUSM has resolved to avail of this provision and are not keen to get any assistance from the forest department. While the pros and cons of this provision are being debated, the FD has shown less enthusiasm towards JVUSM. Now the provision has been changed and in all cases the cooperative is still in dilemma as the final agreement between the JVUSM and the FD remains unsigned.
Activities carried out by JVUSM: Out of 167 ha forest area , 45 ha was totally barren, on which the FD carried out plantation. The remaining 122 ha of land had the potential for regeneration due the presence of root stock. The cooperative initiated protection of forest in 1986; the area was closed for open grazing and free cutting to facilitate regeneration. Today, the forests of Malekpur have regenerated.
Due to protection activities the people have also started getting benefits in terms of increased fuel-wood supply, timru-leaf collection, and fodder-grass collection. Malekpur village has helped in promoting JFM concept in other villages.