Rupabalia Reserved Forest

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 Location  Ecosystem Type    Conservation Type    Area(hectare)  Legal status 
 Dhenkanal, Odisha  Forest  Ecosystem Conservation  900  Reserved Forest

Case Study (2009)


Dhenkanal district is known to have the highest area of forest under protection and management of local villagers in Orissa. The total area under protection is estimated to be 56,500 ha, protected by 264 village communities. The protection extends to 4.67 per cent of the total reserved forests in the state, and to 18.7 per cent of the other categories of forests.1

Rupabalia reserved forest (RF) is located in Dhenkanal district near Joranda town, which is at a distance of 24 km from the district headquarters. Rupabalia is a hillock surrounded by eleven villages, out of which eight villages—Atinda, Mahapada, Vejibolua, Nathua, Chattia, Birikhunti, Bhatkatni and Barahota—are managing the entire Rupabalia RF. These villages have divided amongst themselves over 900 ha of Rupabalia RF and about 700 ha of surrounding khesra2 forest for use and management.

The current human population of these eight villages varies between 160 (Vejibolua) and 1185 (Mahapada). In three villages—Chatti, Barahota and Bhatkatnim—the dominant section of the community are the SC/STs. The other five villages are more heterogeneous. Economically, except Mahapada and Birikhunti, in all the other six villages almost the entire population is below the poverty line. The majority consists of the landless, who survive on agricultural labour and other day-to-day means of income. Even in the other two villages, the percentage of such population is high.

Rupabalia hillock contains two types of forests: mixed forests on hilltops and upper slopes, and sal forests on lower slopes and foothills. The common species in mixed forests are shalmali or red silk-cotton tree, amaltash, dhaoda, jamun, amla and Bridelia retusa. The sal associates are beheda, hirda, mahua, kendu, haldu, etc.

Prior to independence, this area was under the princely state of Dhenkanal. The demarcation of Rupabalia hill was complete in 1933, and it was declared a reserved forest in 1959 by the state forest department.

The local people enjoyed the privileges and concessions in accordance with the Dhenkanal and Hindol Forest Rules and Durbar Declaration of 1939. Scientific management of forests in Dhenkanal state was started in 1929. This compartment was prescribed the Coppice Working Circle. The working plan of 1978-98 admits that this was a complete failure and mentions: ‘The following blocks probably didn’t contain good forest growth with adequate coppice vigour and contained steep hills which could have been excluded from coppice working…Rupabalia…The hilly areas including steep slopes which had been allotted to coppice working circle have been completely devastated and probably the adoption of this faulty system of management is primarily responsible for this calamity which could have been averted.’ Subsequently, Rupabalia was put under Rehabilitation and Plantation Working Circle. Till 1982-3, about 172 ha was treated by the forest department by digging trenches, protection from grazing, and artificial regeneration. Since 1982, the department has not taken on any forestry operation in this forest, possibly because by this time the communities had taken over the responsibility of protection and sustainable use.

It is not clear exactly how the protection of forests by the local villagers began. It is believed that protection started spontaneously in some villages and then spread to others. Initially only the khesra Forests were taken up but later the protection extended to the reserved forests too.

The conditions which seem to have encouraged community protection and management of forests include:

1. High scarcity of fuelwood and construction material;

2. Almost uniform dependence of all sections of society on forests, particularly for fuelwood and construction material;

3. Possibility of uniform distribution of material benefits;

4. Mutual trust in each other;

5. Common expectations of people; and

6. The impacts of awareness camps.

In the early 80s, a workshop on forest protection was organised at Nathua village by Professor Radhamohan in collaboration with the People’s Institute of Participatory Action and Research (PIPAR). This workshop left a major impact on the villagers and some more villages took up forest management.

Generally, informal village committees are responsible for forest management. In a few cases, either the sahi committee (committee of a particular caste) on its own, or together with the informal committees, manages the forests. For example, in Birikhunti, a sahi known as Nuasahi has a separate patch of forest, which is managed by the Nuasahi Committee, while the other patch is managed by the informal committee for the rest of the village.

The informal committees in Mahapada have become defunct after a series of conflicts. Presently four sahi committees are managing their individual patches of forest. Generally, the informal village committees and sahi committees together manage the village ponds, temple, village common agricultural land and schools. However, in Vejibolua (a hamlet of Mahapada), villagers formed a forest protection committee in 1972 exclusively for the management of the forest. Now this committee is also taking up other developmental activities.

In the cases of Birikhunti, Chattia and Nathua, the informal committees have merged with village developmental committees to avoid duplication of committees.

Generally, an informal forest protection committee consists of a general body, an executive body and office-bearers. The general body has representatives from each household of the respective village. The sahi committees are generally caste-homogeneous, though sometimes a few families of different castes may also stay in a sahi and participate in the sahi committee. Normally the office bearers belong to the dominant caste, except in Bhatkatni, where the secretary of Saurasahi is a Brahmin. Sahi committees function in a more informal manner compared to the village committees.

The tenure of committees is normally not fixed except in Nathua (three years) and Bhatkatni (one year). The general body, if not satisfied with the functioning, can change the executive body and the office-bearers at any time.

Meetings of the committee are normally arranged as per the requirements except in Vejibolua, where the committee meets every month. The working of village committees and informal forest protection committees is more systematic than sahi committees. Normally the minutes of the meetings of village committees are recorded and signed by the members present. Every committee has funds under its control, which is kept with the secretary or the treasurer, except at Atinda where it is kept in a bank. All accounts are kept open to villagers and are presented at the annual general body meeting.

The working of informal forest protection committee of Veijibolua is highly systematic and at every meeting all details of participation, accounts and activities are recorded.

In addition to the informal forest management systems mentioned above, the forest department has also constituted official forest protection committees (FPCs) under a Government Resolution of 1988. As per available information, Rupabalia RF has been allotted to ten villages. All revenue villages, except Chattia, which are managing Rupabalia for the last few years have been included in these ten villages. In addition, five villages which are not among the villages informally protecting the forests (some are not even close to these forests) have also been included. Except in Nathua and Birikhunti villages, the villagers are not even aware of the existence of such a formal committee. In Nathua, since the Sarpanch is also the head of the formal committee, the formal committee is functioning in the village.

Even though legally these forests are categorised as Class B Reserved Forest, which demands strict administrative prohibitions, local villagers exercise significant control over these forests. Local villagers have framed their own rules and regulations relating to:

1. The composition, functions and duties of the committees and the office bearers; 

2. Villagers’ roles in protection, extraction and distribution of forest produce;

3. Conflict resolution; and

4. Penalties for defaulters.

The system of resource use is based on the sense of reasonably balanced sharing. All community members have relatively equal access to resources, calculated according to the needs and supply from the existing forest. Each member is assured that others will not take undue advantage at their expense. Penalties are strong disincentives for using forest resources in a manner not sanctioned by the community.

Each committee has its own set of rules, which change and evolve over time and are often based on the same guiding principles of equity and sustainable use. The set of rules for one of the villages, Vejibolua, are given below.

The forests are protected through either thengapalli or through paid watchers. In some cases, during the months of the kharif crop, the thengapalli practice is discontinued. The community takes up important operations like cleaning and coppicing voluntarily, and the resulting material is used for fuelwood as well as poles.

A number of conflicts have been reported in this area. In Mahapada village, conflict arose due to perception of unequal and favoured distribution of benefits to different castes. The non-Brahmins alleged that the Brahmins were violating the rules and cutting trees, while not discharging their forest protection responsibility. This conflict was resolved by dividing the forest patches among the caste committees for management.

A major conflict and physical clash occurred between Kendupada and Atinda over the latter’s protected forest patch. The residents of Kendupada tried to cut and take away the sal trees which were protected by Atinda. This fight was resolved only after the intervention of government officials and PIPAR.

In Vejibolua, two villagers felled some trees against the rules and challenged the authority of the committee to punish them. At that juncture, the concerned police officer passed judgement in favour of the committee.

It is seen that the forest officials also support this system of forest management, even though it is not in keeping with the Indian Forest Act. In a number of cases, communities have resolved conflicts through their own innovative approaches. In Joranda village, the inability to resolve a conflict led to the cutting of a large patch of sal forest. Now this village has no forest left.

Regeneration of forests has ameliorated the fuelwood situation in the villages. Earlier the villagers would obtain fuelwood from the Kapilash Reserved Forest, which was time-consuming and expensive as it had to be carried in carts, with the cost amounting to Rs 100-120. Now, except in Bhatkateni and Barahota (which have smaller patches of forest and are still regenerating), the villagers get ample fuelwood through cleaning of forest patches every year for a nominal cost of Rs 2-5 per cartload.

Non-timber forest produce, including fruits like bel, aonla, and baheda, has significantly increased. Tribals in particular have benefited from this as they often depend on collection of tubers, stems and leaves of various plants from the forest for food, particularly in times of scarcity.

Regeneration has also led to increased employment opportunities. The tribals of Chattia village get full employment for 45 days of the kendu leaf season and for 15 days of the sal season and earn about Rs 15-20 per day. Opportunities for leaf plate making and chatai (mats) making also provide tribal women and children employment for about six months.

Generally timber is not harvested but if needed for purposes such as construction of schools, emergency house construction, etc. then it is available at a nominal price.

Forest management has also led to a certain degree of empowerment of the poor.

In most villages, harvested forest produce was being distributed equitably. Since there is no restriction on collection of fuelwood (dry and fallen) by headloads and non-wood forest produce, the poorer sections seem to have benefited more. Equity seems to be more in cases where patches of forests are being managed by caste-based committees. However, in areas where village committees are managing the forests, the higher castes are often perceived to be gaining more, as they can afford to take cartloads of wood out as compared to headloads by the poorer sections. This has sometimes caused tensions. In Mahapada, this has resulted in the division of the common patch and management of separate patches by SCs and STs. During the time when community forest management was being taken up, the villages who began protection first took over a large area of forest for management, while the other villages were left with little or no area at all. These imbalances put pressure on the excluded groups and in some places like Atinda and Kendupada, the villagers were not able to prevent outsiders from coming and exploiting the forest. This pressure is bound to grow once the trees, mainly sal, become older. In addition, Kapilash Reserved Forest, which is a source of timber and fuelwood to all the villagers in the area, has recently been closed by the forest department. It is inevitable that those people earlier dependent on Kapilash would now turn to Rupabalia. This is bound to significantly increase the pressure on the protected forests. Pressure may also increase in areas where a large population shares a small forest patch. The major driving force behind community protection was the scarcity of forest produce. In the event that such a scarcity arises once again, there will be great pressure exerted on the forest. Pressure is also bound to grow when the sal trees mature, as the older these trees become, the more expensive they get. This could put much pressure on the conserving community, considering the lack of freely available timber and fuelwood in the market. A positive external intervention may be needed in these areas; however, any government intervention unless well designed and properly implemented may upset the fragile equilibrium within and among the villagers.

  This case study has been compiled from: S. Kant, N. Singh and K. Singh, Community Based Forest Management Systems –Case studies from Orissa (Bhubaneshwar, Vasundhara). We are extremely grateful to Vasundhara, a Bhubaneshwar-based NGO, for their helpful contributions and comments on the first draft.

Plot No. 15
Shahid Nagar, Bhubbneshwar 751007
Tel: 0674 2542011/12
Email: [email protected]

1 Project Corporate Consultants (PCC),‘Report on the Study on Enumeration of Forest Patches Protected by Villagers in Orissa and Mechanism and Motivation behind such Protection’ (Bhubaneshwar, unpublished, 1990).

2 Patches of forests assigned to villages to meet their bonafide requirements.

3 In thengapalli, the household assigned the patrolling duties for the day is given the intimation by means of the thenga (wooden stick) placed at its door on the prior evening. Subsequently, the thenga is passed from household to household. The number of pallis (persons on duty) per day is determined by the village council depending upon the forest area and the external pressure on the protected patch.


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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