Mendha Lekha Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Gadchiroli, Maharastra Forest Ecosystem Conservation 1900 Community Forest Resource

Case Study (2009)

Background

Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra state in India, along with areas in the surrounding districts and states, is a region famous both for its biodiverse, dry deciduous forests as well as for its tribal communities. The district is more than 700,000 hectares in area. Approximately 80 per cent is under forest cover, a figure that is the highest in the state and is among the highest in India.

Mendha-Lekha is located 30 km from the district headquarters and is spread over two small and closely situated tolas (hamlets). The total area of the village is estimated at 1900 hectares. Nearly 80 per cent of this area is forested. There are approximately 400 people in the village, largely without any class and caste hierarchies. The entire population is composed of the Gond tribe, which has ruled and inhabited the surrounding forests since time immemorial. The livelihood of the villagers is heavily dependent on subsistence farming and on the forests, which provide a range of food, fuel, timber and fodder. The average landholding is five acres. The major source of income is from the collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFP) and daily wages from labour work with government and private agencies.

According to Rodgers and Panwar (1968),1 the area falls in the bio-geographic zone of Central Plateau. The forest type is the sub-group Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests (5A/C3) of Dry Deciduous Forests, with patches dominated by teak and bamboo. The local sub-types of forests found here include teak forests with dense bamboo, teak forests with scanty or no bamboo, mixed forests with dense bamboo, and mixed forests with scanty or no bamboo. The main species of bamboo is veddur while katranji is also found along the major streams and riverbanks.

A total of 125 species of plants, 25 of mammals, 82 of birds, and 20 of reptiles have been recorded from the forests so far. Villagers report presence of Indian gaur, chital or spotted deer and wild dogs or dhole in the past, none of which have been sighted for last three decades. Animals like monkey and Hanuman langur are used in traditional medicines. Indian wolf, leopard, sloth bear, tiger and Indian peafowl are the endangered wild animal species in the forests of Gadchiroli district at large. Another highly endangered species found in these forests is the Central Indian giant squirrel. The range of the sub-species found here is restricted only to certain parts of central India. Leopards are common, while tiger sightings are few and far between.

In the late 1970s the Indian government proposed an ambitious hydroelectric project in the adjoining state of Madhya Pradesh. For the poor tribals of the region, the project not only meant displacement from their traditional homes and possible social disruption but also destruction of large stretches of forests on which their livelihood and culture heavily depended. It was also claimed that the majority of the benefits to be derived from the power generated would go to industry and other elite sectors of society. This awareness led to a strong tribal opposition to the project, and many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helped the local people mobilize and organize public rallies and agitations against the dams. In 1985, after prolonged and determined tribal resistance, the government shelved the project.

The anti-dam struggle emphasized and strengthened the determination of the tribal people to take decisions at local level for activities directly affecting their lives. It gave rise to a strong movement towards self-rule in the region, based on the revival of tribal cultural identity and greater control over land and resources. Mendha was one of the villages where this process gained momentum. Upon their return to Mendha, individuals who had been engaged in the anti-dam movement continued to advocate for greater village self-rule and collective responsibility. Discussions ensued over a period of 4-5 years centred on key village issues such as creating equal status for women, reducing alcoholism, creating greater personal responsibility, and establishing means to protect and regulate the use of the surrounding forests. The discussions led to many positive social, cultural and environmental changes, including the development of a forest protection and management system in the village.

Prior to 1950 the forests in the region were controlled and managed by local tribals as common property, and their overall charge rested with the tribal landlords. A strong system of community management governing the use of the common lands existed. However, it is not clear what the health of these forests or the status of forest management in the area surrounding the village of Mendha was. In 1950, following independence, the Indian government abolished the tribal system and all lands were vested with the government and subject to the Indian Forest Act (IFA) of 1927. Forest areas occupied by settlements continued to be privately owned, whereas all other wasteland, common property land, etc. came under state ownership. The forest department assumed management responsibilities for the forested land. The customary rights over common property that people had enjoyed for generations were not accepted, and the region was declared protected forests (PF).2 Under pressure from the local population, an inquiry into local people’s rights was undertaken in 1953 and completed two years later. The report recommended that the customary rights be legalized in the form of an act. There was also a recommendation to form customary zones for villages to meet their daily requirements, which was subsequently accepted and implemented.

However, because of the inaccessibility of the forests in the district, officials did not visit many villages. Many questions and criticism were raised about how the customary zones were assessed and demarcated. Demarcation was not made physically on the ground, and villagers were not informed about the zones. Management and use of the government forests was then established with detailed instructions and rules. These instructions envisaged that the forests would be managed on a scientific basis by the forest department, and communicated to village governing bodies that would then regulate the supply of customary requirements—using a quota system—as per the established rules. However, the forest department was critical of many aspects of this programme which granted large areas of forests for customary needs. In the 1960s, the forestry department, looking to regain control of more forest land, took control of the quota system. As quotas were not sufficient to meet people’s basic needs, and paying more money for further concessions was not feasible, paying bribes to the local forest officers became a common practice. Mendha villagers describe the period between the state takeover in the 1950s and the beginning of the movement towards self-rule in 1989 as filled with unpleasantness and humiliation.

The state also exerted greater control over the forests in 1959, declaring its intention to constitute some of the PFs as reserved forests (RFs). In accordance with the IFA, a study was carried out on the rights of the local people in the forest (the IFA states that the rights of the local people must either be legally accepted or acquired before any forests are converted to RFs). In 1992, based on the study’s recommendations, 84 per cent of the total PFs and unmanaged forests in the Gadchiroli Forest Division were declared RFs (1697.27 sq km out of a total of 2019.65 sq km). The remaining 16 per cent was assigned as PFs to meet people’s customary requirements. This decision affected a substantial part of the forests traditionally falling within the boundaries of Mendha village. It also meant that approximately 1900 hectares of the customary zone of the village was to be reserved forests. This left only about 350 hectares as protected forests for the villages to meet their customary needs. The criteria used by the forest department for determining and assigning areas that would fulfil people’s customary needs were not clear. Despite local resistance, the process was carried out.

Between 1950 and the late 1980s a number of state-sponsored commercial extraction activities were initiated in the forests surrounding Mendha village. These activities, such as the indiscriminate  felling by charcoal contractors, forest department timber and bamboo extraction, and activities of a paper mill (private bamboo extraction), along with the increased human and cattle population within the village and in the surrounding areas, had a negative impact on the quality of the forest.

Regarding forest-based wild animals, little is known about regulations or legal provisions protecting them from hunting or trapping prior to 1972. After the enactment of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, hunting of wild animals was officially banned across Indi.

 

In Mendha, the movement towards self-rule and protection of the surrounding forests in the late 1980s led to the creation of three key village institutions.

The gram sabha (GS)

The village council for Mendha is called the gram sabha (GS). In the past, village elders took most decisions. However, through the village discussions that took place during the late 1980s movement towards self-rule, a decision was reached to constitute a village-level decision-making body. The GS was created, and is responsible for all village-level decisions including those related to natural resource use and management. It was agreed that the GS would use a consensus process for decision-making, and that these decisions would prevail over any government or other decisions. The GS initiated the move towards self-rule by acquiring factual, legal and political information about the village including various revenue and customary use documents. The move initially faced strong opposition from officials but villagers eventually succeeded in acquiring every important document.

The GS is composed of at least two adult members (one male and one female) from each Mendha household. All adult members of the village can attend the meetings. The GS has its own office and an office administrator maintains the records of all meetings organized in the village. It meets once a month and issues are discussed and revisited, if necessary until a consensus is reached.3 On average, about 75 per cent of the members attend GS meetings, with equal participation from men and women. In 1999, a decision was taken to declare a traditional holiday on days when the GS is convening to make it possible for the maximum number of people to participate. Outsiders (including government, industry, NGO representatives, etc.) are occasionally invited to discuss their plans and programmes with the villagers. The GS also functions as a dispute resolution body for small village-level disputes. For larger conflicts, a meeting of elders from 32 surrounding tribal villages is called. The GS also decides what activities will be assigned to other village institutions based on interests, responsibilities and capacities.

The GS is responsible for the following forest-related decisions and activities:

• Carrying out watershed development in the forest

• Holding discussions on forest use activities and other issues such as forest fires and soil erosion from the forests

• Formulating forest protection rules and ensuring adherence to these rules

• Selecting representatives for the official van suraksha samiti (see the Joint Forest Management programme below)

• Delegating responsibilities for forest protection

• Handling NTFP extraction and trade-related issues

In carrying out these decisions and activities, the GS works with forest department staff. Most often, these will be the local forester and two guards who are directly responsible for the forests falling within Mendha village boundaries. The GS can also interact with the four forestry officers who oversee these three functionaries.

The GS has also registered itself as an NGO, the Village Management and Development Organization. In this role, the GS carries out a number of village development and welfare activities. It focuses on equitably distributing the costs and benefits of development projects and programmes amongst the villagers. The GS has also been a strong force in coordinating the efforts of many government departments and NGOs wanting to offer various forestry protection or development programmes.

So far, the GS has deliberately avoided receiving major external funds, unless originating from government programmes targeted for the region. Each member of the GS donates 10 per cent of her or his wages to the GS corpus fund from their employment generated through the GS. Any money left over from GS projects or programmes also goes into the fund. In addition, any donations or payments made by visitors go into the fund. The GS now has its own account in a local bank, and uses a unique accounting system that spreads the responsibility and accountability for withdrawing and spending money among many villagers.

The mahila mandal (MM)

All women in the village (of all ages and classes) are members. The President of the MM is chosen at every meeting for that meeting. Often the GS meetings also work as MM meetings. Forestrelated activities carried out by the MM are:

• Regular monitoring of the forests;

• Punishing those who breach forest protection rules.

The abhyas gats (AG)

This is a study circle which operates as an informal gathering of people. Meetings are convened as and when desired for discussions on any issue. Outsiders are sometimes specially invited if the village wants some specific information or desires debate on a certain issue. These dialogues have helped the villagers develop their conversation skills, increase their awareness of the outside world, learn about their rights and responsibilities, and obtain important inputs and information which help them take informed decisions at GS meetings. In turn, outsiders have gained insights into village life and the process of village self-rule. For example, discussions initiated by outsiders at the AG significantly helped the village overcome the problem of encroachments on forest land. Discussions in the AG have also been focusing about the negative impacts of fire and hunting on the ecosystem. Frequently, the AG members establish smaller, specialized study circles to pursue particular issues and research (e.g., bird and habitat inventories, honey extraction). The following are a few examples—and some results—of the many participatory research and monitoring activities related to forest management:

• A study on the number and types of bird species and their habitats.

• A study on the impact of NTFP collection on the productivity of the concerned species. The results led to a decision to prohibit the felling of fruit trees in the village.

• A study on the behaviour of bees and the structure of their combs during honey extraction. The findings led to the development of a new enterprise specializing in ‘non-violent’ honey extraction. The marketing of non-violent honey has generated substantial economic benefit for the members of the honey-bee study circle.

Both village and outsider members of the study circles carry out these activities.

The gram sabha often interacts with another key village-level administrative structure, the village panchayat. The panchayat is an executive council of elected representatives from one village or a group of villages. It works with the government administration and the judiciary. In most government schemes and programmes the elected panchayat is responsible for receiving funds and implementing projects. The panchayat for Mendha is composed of the elected members from Mendha and two other adjoining villages. In 1999, a decision was taken by these three villages to select rather than elect their members to the panchayat. By doing so they hoped to eliminate the corruption involved in the election procedure. The selection has to be unanimous and the process takes place in an open meeting where the merits of each candidate are discussed freely.

Establishment of forest protection activities

Efforts towards forest protection started in 1987 through various discussions in the gram sabha. Several decisions were taken, including:

• All domestic requirements of the village would be met from the surrounding forests without paying any fee to the government or bribes to the local staff.

• Approval of a set of rules for sustainable extraction.

• No outsider, including governmental, would be allowed to carry out any forest use activities without the permission of the gram sabha. If someone was caught doing so, the material would be seized by the village and the offender would have to accept any punishment decided by the village.

• No commercial exploitation of the forests, except for NTFP, would be allowed.

• The villagers would regularly patrol the forest.

• The villagers would regulate the amount of resources they could extract and the times during which they could extract resources from the forests.

To implement these and other minor decisions regulating extraction, an unofficial van suraksha samiti (forest protection committee, see below) was formulated, including at least two members from each household in the village. Originally, a procedure for collecting fines from those who did not adhere to the village forest protection rules was established, but this failed to work because people did not want the responsibility of collecting fines and, most often, fines were not paid. As a result, the system for applying sanctions to Mendha village members became one of peer pressure, creating family shame and social ostracism. In the commercial sector, the gram sabha— representing a strong and united village opposition to forest practices and revenue sharing— succeeded in stopping the timber industry’s bamboo and teak extraction from the late 1980s/early 90s.

Mendha villagers speak proudly of the fact that the forests now ‘belong’ to them, and that they have implemented effective forest protection activities. Indeed, despite the state’s 1992 declaration of 1900 hectares of the customary zone of the village as Reserve Forests, the villagers continue to view the entire area as their forest and include it in their activities governing regulated use and protection.

Establishment of the Joint Forest Management programme

The efforts of the villagers at forest protection were not initially recognized in official circles. However, in 1992 an opportunity arrived to remedy this when the state adopted a Joint Forest Management (JFM) resolution. In general, the JFM scheme envisages the handing over of degraded lands and forests to villagers for raising valuable timber species. Plantations are created and valuable forests regenerated, with the forest department and villagers jointly responsible for forest management. After 5–10 years, valuable timber is harvested and local villagers involved in forest protection are entitled to receive up to 50 percent of the revenue generated. The scheme, however, was not applicable for districts like Gadchiroli where most of the forests were still close canopy natural forests. Since Mendha’s forests were healthy standing forests, the government did not plan on creating plantations for revenue generation, and there were no guidelines for benefit sharing for standing forests. The villagers, however, persistently demanded that they be included in the JFM scheme, pointing out that they should not be punished for protecting their forests thus far. With the help of some supportive forest officials, the villagers succeeded, and they entered into a JFM agreement in 1992. Subsequently, an official van suraksha samiti (VSS)4 was formed and Mendha became the first village with standing forests in the state—and one of the few in India—to be brought under the JFM scheme.

After the introduction of the JFM programme, the villagers discussed the scheme in greater detail with outside experts. Subsequently, the villagers managed to bring in many provisions that were not usually within the mandate of the JFM resolution. These included meeting the actual needs of the villagers and not interfering with the rules set out by the villagers for controlling the extraction of resources from the forest. Thus, the rules (some written, but most unwritten) followed by the villagers are a mixture of what the official resolution states and what the villagers have decided. The written rules include: 

• All decisions regarding the forests will be taken in a joint meeting between the forest department and the villagers.

• Mendha villagers will have the first right to employment in any official forest-related activity in the village.

• To carry out any work in the forests, permission will have to be sought from the gram sabha.

The unwritten rules include:

• Labourers from the outside will have to take a letter of permission from the VSS;

• Villagers will extract forest produce for their real requirement as per the existing village rules;

• Villagers will have the power to punish offenders both from within the village and outside;

• Details of the joint meetings will be recorded both by the forest department and the villagers.

The functions of the VSS were also adopted for Mendha’s JFM programme. The VSS in Mendha meets far more often than it is officially obligated to, and the meetings are open to all members of the GS, not just the executive committee. The creation of the official VSS has not affected the functioning of the unofficial Mendha VSS, and official decisions found unacceptable to the villagers are not carried out. The official VSS has a set of forest protection rules, and supports the authority and role of the GS regarding its forest protection activities. The official VSS in Mendha carries out the following forest-related activities:

• Daily forest vigilance, carried out equally by men and women members.

• Stopping outsiders from commercial extraction, e.g., the paper industry.

• Initiation and implementation of JFM in the village, including decisions about the time of bamboo extraction and plantation, methods to be employed and payments to be made.

• Appointing an official firewatcher in the village. For any forestry operation to be carried out under the JFM, a joint meeting between the forest department and the villagers is organized and all matters, including those of daily wages, are openly discussed. As evidenced above, the implementation of the JFM scheme is largely based on the Mendha village rules and regulations, not the provisions of the JFM Resolution. JFM in Mendha village is viewed as among the very few successful cases of JFM in Gadchiroli District.

After the village initiative towards forest protection started in the late 1980s, all outside commercial activities in the forest were stopped. Beginning in 1994, the forest department designed a Forest Working Micro-plan for Mendha village. Despite limited involvement of the villagers, the gram sabha did discuss and accept joint bamboo extraction by the forest department and the villagers. The micro-plan has been in operation since 1997-8, ending an almost decade-long ban on commercial extraction from forests (except for NTFP). The following are the present-day forestbased employment and livelihood opportunities for Mendha villagers:

• Food: There is substantial dependence on the forest for food, including honey, roots, fruits, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, fresh leaves, and hunting for wild meat.

• Under the JFM agreement with the forest department, the villagers have the first right to any daily wage employment for forestry works in the surrounding forests. These activities include bamboo extraction and plantation of forest species.

• Non-violent honey extraction and specialized marketing.

• Fuelwood: Permission from the VSS is required for each cartload. As per the village rules collection of only dry wood is allowed, with some exceptions for collecting green branches. Currently, biogas plants are being constructed in the village to reduce the dependence on firewood.

• Timber and bamboo: For household needs, collected from the surrounding forests as usufruct rights. Bamboo is a vital material in the villagers’ lives.

• Fodder for livestock: Each family owns about 5-6 heads of livestock on an average. Rearing of livestock is for both consumption and sale. Cattle depend entirely on the forests for fodder. Cattle dung, as manure for the fields, is an important added incentive to maintain livestock.

• NTFP: Collection for domestic consumption and for sale. Food and commodities are sourced from various species’ flowers, fruits and leaves.

Ecological Impacts

Only limited ecological studies have taken place to try to measure the impact of Mendha’s conservation initiative. A major finding is that, since the introduction of forest protection activities, the unregulated use of forest resources by commercial interests, the adjoining villagers and Mendha villagers has been controlled to a great extent. Mendha villagers claim that the quality of the forests in general has improved during this period, but they qualify this, saying that availability of certain resources, especially closer to the village, has gone down, including fuelwood and some palatable grass species. They attribute this to the increased human and cattle population within the village and in the adjoining areas. Due to increased human and cattle populations, encroachment of forest areas for agricultural expansion has increased. Thus, the forests have receded further away from the village leading to a decrease in forest resources in the vicinity. However, the quality of the forests in Mendha improves as the distance from the village increases. Villages in adjoining areas have the same, or worse, amount of degradation in nearby forests, and all have greater degradation than Mendha in forests further away from the villages (possibly due to the continuation of commercial extraction activities). Specific, positive ecological impacts include:

• Soil and water conservation programmes: In the last seven years the villagers have taken up a number of soil and water conservation programmes, including building an earthen dam to retain water for longer periods. This has been especially critical in summers when water is a scarce commodity;

• The decision not to set fires in the forests and to the extent possible help in fire extinction.

• A vigilant watch is now kept in the forests against illegal activities.

• The forests are protected from commercial activities like extraction of bamboo by the paper mill.

• Imparting to the government the value of bio-diverse forests. Through the JFM scheme, the villagers have been able to impress upon the forest department their preference for a more diverse forest in contrast to government-preferred forests dominated by commercially valuable species.

A repeat visit to the forests in 2004 indicated that the quality of forests has gone down since the extraction of bamboo started in 1998. Conversations with the villagers revealed that this has been noted by them too, and there have been discussions in the gram sabha about what can be done to check further degradation. Villagers are of the opinion that a three-year extraction cycle is too short for optimal development of bamboo. This is also because, in addition to bamboo extracted with the department, villagers too take bamboo boles and bamboo shoots. They were considering bringing this up with the forest officials.

Along with a team of people under the guidance of Madhav Gadgil from the Indian Institute of Science, the village youth have also compiled a People’s Biodiversity Register for the village. The information has been uploaded on the village computer for the use of the villagers, if need be.

Social impacts

The following are some important social impacts of the village initiative towards self-rule and forest protection:

• Increased empowerment by striving and achieving the capacity and confidence to assert their rights and reaching a stage where the village is respected even in official circles. Today all government and non-government people come to the village (if they need to), instead of calling the villagers to their offices. They sit with them and converse with them on equal terms and often in their language.

• Inclusion in decision-making processes.

• Established a reliable reputation as effective partners in development and forest protection. Through a non-violent strategy Mendha has established strong and good relationships with many government officials, who in turn have helped them at many crucial points.

• Established informal yet strong institutional bodies. The village has initiated a democratic and transparent process of informed decision-making and implementation, which creates clarity in understanding and collaboration in community effort.

• Stronger equity: They have created almost equal participation of all villagers in the process of decision-making, including women and the poor;

• Inspired others: The village effort has set an example for many surrounding villages, which have a lower economic status. Many villages have begun to work towards the same model of fostering self-reliance and a better quality of life.

• Managed financial transactions with confidence: The GS has its own bank account and manages it well.

• Strengthened livelihood security to all: The GS tries to ensure basic economic security to all villagers through access to forest resources or other employment opportunities, including forestbased industry like honey and other NTFP collection.

• Strengthened inter-departmental coordination and cooperation among various government agencies: Villagers have achieved inter-agency coordination and cooperation among all line agencies functional in their area. For example, the gram sabha organized joint meetings of representatives of all the government functionaries in the area with the villagers. These meetings facilitated a face-to-face dialogue among these agencies and resulted in a pooling together of otherwise segregated resources for certain developmental activities in the village.

While earlier there was a strong opposition to Mendha and its efforts at self-rule and forest protection in surrounding areas, a visit in 2004 found the situation quite transformed. Adjoining villages such as Lekha and Tukum are now trying to follow in the footsteps of Mendha. Despite a multi-community society, Lekha village now meets regularly and discusses issues related to village development as well as forest conservation.

While Mendha village has made significant progress with their process of self-rule and forest protection, many challenges remain. The following are some of the main ones:

• Ecological monitoring and evaluation at the village level does not take place. There are no studies being done to evaluate the impact of forest-use activities such as hunting and bamboo extraction on the long-term viability and sustainability of the forest and its resources. The villagers, along with a few researchers, are presently planning to establish a research station in the village. The local villagers will assist the researchers both in fieldwork and data analysis;

• More efforts towards controlled hunting and grazing by cattle are needed, as is better personal use of forest resources;

• Greater legal recognition of village process is needed. Even though Mendha villagers have de facto control of the ecological and developmental processes in the village, aside from those included in the JFM programme, these processes are not yet recognized by the law. There are possibilities of giving legal recognition to the village efforts through many existing and proposed laws and policies, which need to be explored. For example, in the case of long-term protection of the forests, the villagers could consider requesting status as a protected area (i.e., national park or sanctuary, under the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972). However, as yet there are no provisions in the Act where the control of the protected area could remain with the conserving communities and where they would be able to meet their subsistence needs while protecting the area. Under the revised Wild Life (Protection) Act, 2003, two new categories—Community Reserves and Conservation Reserves—have been introduced. However, both these would be inappropriate for a situation like Mendha as of now. The Biological Diversity Act 2003, also has a provision for the declaration of heritage sites, which could be useful for Mendha once the bill is enacted. In the Forest Act of 1927, along with the RF and PF categories (both government-owned and -managed) there is a third lesser-known and highly underutilized category of village forests (VF). In this category, the forests are owned by the state but the management powers rest with the surrounding local community. Mendha is an excellent candidate. The most important legal provision for Mendha is the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. This Act gives more decision-making and implementing powers to village-level institutions, especially in tribal areas. It also confers ownership rights of a specified list of NTFP to the local communities. There are many useful provisions in the Act which can be helpful to initiatives like Mendha’s. However, the Act is relatively new and there has been little work toward implementation at the ground level. Therefore, its potential remains unknown, and there are many outstanding issues. For example, it is not yet clear whether the Act provides control over the resources and development plans of government-owned lands (this would include the majority of Mendha’s forests) to the local communities, or whether the GS (as in Mendha) is recognized as the basic administration institution at the village level.

• Stronger institutionalization of the initiative is needed. In the absence of statutory recognition, and subsequent institutionalization, the sustainability of Mendha’s initiative depends very heavily upon various informal support structures. These are, for example, outside individuals, sympathetic officers, and dedicated village members and leaders. Major changes in any of these people could affect the character and progress of the initiative.

• An extension role should be considered. Considering that a large part of the villagers’ time must go into earning their livelihoods, it is sometimes difficult for them to dedicate the time and energy required for the forest protection activities, especially if there are no immediate threats. Therefore, a proactive outside agency, especially a state agency, could play an important extension role to keep the momentum going.

• Ongoing government resistance to power sharing continues. Despite the success of JFM, the JFM resolution does not provide guidelines for benefit sharing in standing forests. Mendha villagers demand that 50 per cent of the profits from the sale of any forest produce extracted from their forests under the JFM scheme should be shared with the villagers, since they are sharing equal responsibility with the forest department for forest protection. The forest department contends that the area involved is too large and the revenue generated too much to share with a single village. Mendha has put forth a number of possibilities to solve this issue, but so far the forest department has resisted sharing revenues. Moreover, the forest department originally denied the village had been officially accepted as a JFM village, an assertion quickly refuted based on the village’s own copy of the minutes of the meeting establishing it as part of a JFM scheme. Some of the problems stem from a distrustful attitude toward the Mendha initiative on the part of forestry officials. This attitude comes from the bureaucracy’s continuation of the colonial attitude of distrust and authoritarianism towards local communities. Education, including visits by officials at all levels to Mendha can help create new beliefs and attitudes that support these positive initiatives and social processes.

• Till the year 2000, efforts to include surrounding villages in village protection and regulated use activities did not succeed. Even though neighbouring villagers were required to seek permission for extraction of biomass for basic requirements from the VSS, they seldom abided by these rules. To protect the forest resources from unauthorized extraction, material was confiscated. Moreover, on-the-ground forest department staff are known to have accepted bribes from members of surrounding villages in exchange for illegal extraction of resources. The situation has changed in recent times after surrounding villages, on the persuasion of the forest department, have decided to get into a Joint Forest Management arrangement.

• Village leaders and government officials need to make more efforts to engage villagers in the development of a long-term forest management plan. Present forest staff, though helpful to Mendha’s initiatives, are not proactive themselves. Suggestions have been made to the FD to include villagers more in forest planning processes.

• Role of leadership and sustainability of effort: Transparent and democratic functioning of all decision-making processes has achieved greater villager participation and investment, and thus a more sustainable initiative. However, there is a lack of participation of youth in the process, which could create a vacuum in terms of a second line of leadership. A greater focus on village life and including local issues as an important part of the formal education syllabus may improve the situation.

  This case study has been adapted from: Neema Pathak and Vivek Gour-Broome, Tribal Self-Rule and Natural Resource Management: Community Based Conservation at MendhaLekha, Maharashtra, India (Pune, Kalpavriksh, and International Institute of Environment and Development, London, 2001). The information taken from this book has been updated based on a visit to the village in October 2004 by Neema Pathak, Ashish Kothari and Bansuri Taneja of Kalpavriksh

Devaji Tofa
Village Mendha-Lekha
Dhanora Taluka
Gadchiroli District
Maharashtra
Ph: 07138-54129
Mob: 9421734018

Mohan Hirabai Hiralal
Chiddwar Hospital
Shinde plot, Ramnagar
Chandrapur,
Maharashtra
Ph: 07172-258134
Mob: 9422835234
Email: [email protected]

Neema Pathak and Vivek Gour Broome
Kalpavriksh
Apt. No. 5, Shri Dutta Krupa
908 Deccan Gymkhana
Pune 411004
Maharashtra
Ph: 020-25654239
E-mail: [email protected]

1 H.G. Champion and S.K. Seth, A Revised Survey of the Forest Types of India (Dehradun, Forest Research Institute, 1968).
2 The IFA identifies three categories of forests under state control: protected forests (PF), reserved forests (RF) and village forests (VF). The RFs are the strictest category where very few rights of the people are accepted and most rights are extinguished. PFs allow more rights in them. VFs are forests which are owned by the state but are handed over to the villagers for management and use, a category seldom used.
3 However, if there is unanimity, a decision will go forward without consensus. For example, despite divided opinion on the value of controlled fires for maintaining forest health, the GS made a unanimous decision not to set forest fires, which the villagers follow to the extent possible.
4 The van suraksha samiti (VSS) is the official forest protection committee established under the JFM resolution. The VSS needs to include at least one member of each family in the village and is expected to elect an executive committee composed of six village representatives, two NGO representatives, the head of the village executive, and the local government-appointed village liaison persons.

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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The forest of Mendha-Lekha – ICCA in Maharashtra, India

Situated in Gadchiroli district of the Maharashtra State (India), the village of Mendha-Lekha is famous for its bio-diverse, dry deciduous forest, but also for the struggle of its tribal community towards self-rule.

Fortune in the woods

An article about the workings of the Mendha Lekha village.

Mendha Lekha is first village to exercise right to harvest bamboo

An article about how Mendha Lekha was the first village to start selling bamboo with official permission from the government.

Seeking alternative path for India in Mendha Lekha model amidst increasing risk to democracy

An article discussing the actions of the villagers in Mendha Lekha concerning their land.

Related Information

Participatory Forest Management in Mendha Lekha, India

A case study of how traditional, participatory forest management can be beneficial in places like Mendha Lekha.

The transformation of Mendha-Lekha

An article about Mendha Lekha and the workings of the village.

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