Mega, Malo and Dipu

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 West Siang, Arunachal Pradesh Mixed Sacred Grove Not Available Unclassed Forest

Case Study (2009)

Background

This case study depicts the conservation efforts undertaken in three villages, namely, Mega, Molo and Dipu, located along the River Siyom in the West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The forests protected by these villages are legally categorised as Unclassed State Forests (USFs), under the Assam Forest Regulation Act, 1891, applicable to the state of Arunachal Pradesh. These stretches of forests have always belonged to the people and the management of these resources has been vested with the Adi Gallongs, the local tribe. USFs are not officially declared; but all forests that do not belong to any of the categories1 of Reserved, Anchal, Village Forest or Sanctuaries and National Parks are considered as USF in law. Large tracts of forests in the state of Arunachal fall under the category of USFs, and are used and managed by the local communities.

Mega village is 40 km from Along district headquarters on the Along-Mechuka road. Moyo is 25 km from Mega village and Dipu is 18 km from Molo. The Siyom River joins these villages and Molo village is situated at the conjuncture of the Siyom and Sike rivers. The state bus is the most efficient means of transport to get to Molo and Dipu villages. Mega has the largest population with 80 households; Dipu has 30 and Molo 25 households.

These villages are inhabited by the Adi Gallong tribe, which is one of the progressive sub-tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The Adi Gallongs are animists and worship different elements of nature. In Adi society, the tiger is considered to be an elder brother and killing a tiger is considered the biggest sin. Killing of a tiger either by mistake or even in self-defence attracts very serious punishment in the form of a year-long period of penance during which the person has to live in isolation, cook his own food and is not allowed to join the community in various festivals and rituals including hunts. Adis were hunter-gatherers earlier but subsequently took to jhum (shifting cultivation) cultivation. The main occupation of the villagers is farming and the main crops grown by them are maize, mustard, millet, chillies, beans and pumpkin. As the younger generation is getting educated and not interested in farming, the manpower available for jhum is on the decline. Consequently, many villagers have now resorted to settled wet rice cultivation. With the rise in education, villagers have also found employment in government offices.

Prior to 1996, contracting out part of their forests for timber extraction to timber traders was one of the major sources of income for the villagers. These contracts were usually given out for secondary forests regenerating on jhum lands. In 1996, the Supreme Court of India banned extraction and sale of timber from all kinds of forests unless done under working plans approved by the Forest Department. As the villagers do not yet have approved working plans, the ban has resulted in a loss of income in these villages. This had led to a heavy dependence on non-timber forest products from the forest belt adjoining the villages. They collect boulders, stone chips, gravel, sand, toko or multipurpose palm leaves, charcoal, firewood, bamboo, cane and medicinal plants. Animal husbandry is yet another source of income to these villagers, who rear mithun (semi-domesticated cattle), pigs and fowls.

Topographically, this area is largely hilly and rugged, with some parts of the undulating mountainous terrain having a steep drop to the river. The community-protected forests are dense primary forests largely comprising sub-tropical evergreen forest species, with the presence of some components of tropical forest. Some of the cane species endemic to this general region and found in these forests include Calamus arunachalensis and Calamus khasiana. Some of the dominant floral species found in these forests are Actinodaphne obovata, dhup, dhale katus, bastard cedar, dalchini, thanet, mewa or mauwa, khewanua, Lindera sp., kusavithagari, Phoebe sp., ar kanla, East Indian almond, Vitex sp., rasamala, Cinnamomum spp., oak spp., hairy mountain fig, orchid, avacado.

Bamboo and cane species found here include rawthing or giant bamboo, Calamus arunachalensis, Calamus flagellum, Calamus inermis, takhe-tikhe, phulrua or red bamboo, and chal.

Some common species of mammals found here include barking deer, civet, Assamese macaque, tiger, leopard, jungle cat, fishing cat, common mongoose, smooth otter, yellow-throated martin, tree shrew, and hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel.

Avifauna species seen in this area include Kalij pheasant, rufous-necked hornbill, pompadour green pigeon, pin-tailed green pigeon, common snipe, common sandpiper, white-rumped vulture, crested serpent eagle, harrier, sparrow hawk, common kestrel, and greater racket-tailed drongo.

The Siang River Valley in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the two important corridors of Indian migratory raptors. Migration of raptors between Palaearctic regions and the Indian subcontinent occurs principally along two corridors: the Indus river and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra river (when the Tsangpo enters India in Arunachal it is known as Siang, and later when it enters Assam it is known as the Brahmaputra). Out of the 63 species of raptors reported in India, about 75 per cent are reported from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. A total of 22 raptor species were recorded in a survey carried out under the aegis of ATREE, of which 10 are near-threatened and three are vulnerable species.

Close to 200 ha of forests in the vicinity of these villages are protected by the local community. These are dense primary forests, largely comprising sub-tropical evergreen forest species with the presence of some components of tropical forest.

These forests are undisturbed due to the decision taken by the ancestors of the present generation. The exact reason for the preservation of these stretches is unknown but has been followed strictly for generations by one and all in these three villages. Even the system of felling of trees under the timber permit scheme of the government is not acceptable to the village council. This decision of these villages is well known and widely respected by all, including the Forest Department officials. It is for this reason that contractors, traders and forest officials have not approached local people for felling timber under the timber permit scheme in these forests.

Some officials believe that the true reason for the pristine condition of these forests is their inaccessibility. The steep slopes of the mountainous forests do not allow people to access resources there. However, some local people are of the opinion that the reason behind the decision to preserve the forests is the foresight of the ancestors to provide for the future generations (intergenerational equity).

No specific institution is involved in the protection of these forests. The traditional village councils deal with violation of the regulations related to conservation. Violations are negligible, as people fear the wrath of the supernatural elements. Many taboos are attached to felling of trees and killing of certain animals in forests, which are associated with death in the family. Such taboos prevent local people from violating the socially accepted norms with respect to these forests.

These habitats are also well protected because there exists a buffer area, where people practise jhum and extract resources for meeting their other requirements. The forest adjoining Mega village is located on steep mountainous slopes, thus making the resources there inaccessible.

Regulatory rules are not restricted only to the forests but also extend to the local rivers and streams. Fishing in the nearby rivers and streams is a regular practice and more of a sport and mode of entertainment for the unemployed youth and old men, though it does add to the food intake and nutritional balance. Blasting and explosives are rarely used. People have rights over different stretches of the river. Some parts of the river are community-owned, while others have family or clan ownership. Ownership over the river can be sold within the clan, mainly for fishing purposes. Anyone overexploiting the fish resource by use of explosives is punished by the village council (kebangs). Only traditional fishing equipment is allowed for fishing. 

The stretches of secondary forests in the vicinity of the villages are used for NTFP collection, bamboo extraction and periodically for jhum cultivation. These are now in a relatively degraded state and incapable of meeting the domestic and commercial requirements of the locals. If attention is not paid to these forests, people may eventually be forced to use the resources from the protected forests.

Another severe threat to the conservation practices in these villages is the erosion of the value system amongst the younger generation due to modern education. This has resulted in the increase in the commercialisation of the economy that has inflicted a commodity approach to the forest resources.

The Supreme Court of India’s order in 1996 banning timber felling without a working plan, and a subsequent order in February 2000 (in another case) prohibiting collection of NTFP from forest and protected areas leaves the local tribal community with few options for eking out a livelihood from the forest. Earlier local people would sell their timber permits to saw mills or other traders (sometimes a single permit would fetch any where between Rs 600-60,000 depending on the species). This has led to the increase in the rate and extent of extraction of NTFPs such as cane and medicinal plants.

Considering that these forests are under community control and existing practices of conservation are deeply embedded in the customary law, and also considering that the forest cover of the state is nearly 80 per cent (far above the recommended 66 per cent for the hills as per the Forest Policy), a proper policy with regards to collection and processing of NTFP to benefit the local communities needs to be formulated rather than imposing bans of the kind mentioned above. The state needs to make a concerted effort to develop wood-based industry to make opportunities available for the local populace, keeping in mind the attitude and flair of the public.

Transmission of traditional customary laws and social practices related to management and conservation of natural resources to the younger generation is also required with efforts from the government, village elders and traditional institutions, in order that the new generation takes pride and respect in their own systems and carries forward the tradition of forest protection.

  This case study has been contributed by Ruchi Pant in the year 2001 in her report for the Directory of Community Conserved Areas in India by Kalpavriksh. The flora and fauna information has been adapted from the 2001 field notes of Dipankar Ghosh (member, WWF – Kolkata).

Ruchi Pant
16 Deshbandhu Apartments,
Kalkaji, New Delhi 110019.
Ph: 011- 251603984, 09810845648 (mobile)
E-mail: [email protected]

Dr. S. K. Barik,
Botany Department, NEHU, Bijni Complex, Laitumkhra Shillong – 793022
Tel: 0364-250106 x227
Fax: 0364-250108
Tel (R): 0364-231698
[email protected]

1 For more details on the legal status of forests in Arunachal, see the Arunachal Pradesh State Chapter.

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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