Samantsinharpur, Andharua Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Nayagarh, Odisha Forest Ecosystem Conservation 300 Joint Forest Management

Case Study (2009)

Background

Samantsinharpur is the only hamlet of the revenue village Andharua Samantsinharpur under the Gopalpur Panchayat that is protecting its forests. Having felt the consequences of forest degradation in terms of acute shortage of forest produce and the fear of complete destruction of the natural forest cover, they started protecting the forest in 1985. Samantsinharpur has two sub-hamlets: Khandayat sahi and Harijan sahi. While the Harijan sahi comprises only Harijans, the Khandayat hamlet has a more heterogenous composition, with Khandayats in a majority. There are a total of 65 households belonging to various castes and the total population is around 700.

Cultivation is the main occupation that creates employment opportunities for the people here. Out of the 65 households, 50 have their own land. Families without land get employed as labourers in the fields during the agricultural season. The Khandayats are mostly agriculturalists. Gaudas are basically pastoralists, their traditional occupation being rearing cattle and dealing in milk products, but of late they have also taken to agriculture. Telis earn their livelihoods by trading and extracting oil from oilseeds using indigenous methods. As the oilseeds are no longer available, the family is now dependent on labour and selling of firewood. Gudias traditionally make confectioneries but they too have now adopted agriculture. 

Harijans are the second largest group in the village and their traditional occupation varies according to their sub-caste. They are involved in weaving of bamboo and cane baskets, drum-beating during social functions, headloading, collection and selling of NTFP’s and agricultural labour. During the lean season they also migrate outside the state as bonded labour. Unlike the other castes, Harijan women also play an important role as bread-earners. They collect siali leaves, firewood, climbers, broom grass, khajur (date palm) leaves, fruits, tubers and berries and sell them at the Gopalpur market near the village. Some of the collection is seasonal and occasional. 

During British rule, Samantsinharpur was under the control of the Ranpur king. During this period this area was covered with dense forests. The king allowed people to extend agricultural lands but with some regulation, wherein a distance of 10 feet from the forests had to be maintained for cultivating land. With the increase in population and a consequent demand for land, the forest was eventually cut for growing crops and settlement. Gradually the forest disappeared from the vicinity of the village.

When in 1947 the princely state was merged with Orissa state, the forest also came under the control of the forest department (FD). The lower areas of the forest were degraded by then and widely used for cultivation. As forests were seen as the richest source of revenue by the government in those days, they were leased to private contractors for timber-coupe-felling. In the year 1960, the forest close to Samantsinharpur was also given for coupe-felling, which resulted in the felling of all the big trees. The FD saw the potential and declared it as a Reserved Forest (RF) in 1966 to commercially exploit the resources.

During 1966-7 the FD conducted saguan or teak plantation. At that time they permitted the villagers to cultivate crops inside the plantation area on the condition that they will protect and nurture the teak plantations. Encouraged by this, the villagers cleared the remaining species in the lower areas for growing crops like ragi, brinjal, black gram, etc. This resulted in the forest area becoming a monoculture of teak plantations. The FD also was lax in forest protection and control. Only one Range Officer existed for the entire Tangi and Ranpur area; this was obviously not enough to keep a watch over the forest. There was heavy extraction and smuggling of teakwood from the area. By 1980s the forest was completely destroyed. Rubber plantation by the Orissa Forest Development Corporation (OFDC) during 1984-5 also acted as a stimulant to take up protection efforts. With rubber plantations in the forest, the villagers became extremely concerned about the future availability of firewood for their needs.

With the loss of forest cover came the inevitable loss of other ecological and economic services, resulting in irregular rainfall, decline in agricultural yield, etc. Scarcity of firewood was the biggest problem faced by the village. Women could no longer procure twigs and branches. Having no other alternative, they started using poksunga herb, a non-timber species also considered as a weed, which was never used earlier. Womenfolk suffered as they now had to spend long hours in cooking food for the family, which affected other household work. Sitting in front of a smoky chullah was not an easy task. People also faced difficulty in getting wood for cremation. Some villagers started working out solutions to these problems and came to the conclusion that they had to protect and regenerate the forest. Many discussions and debates ensued as to how and what needed to be done. In 1984, the process of forest protection began, but it was limited to discussions and meetings as the villagers were much clear about how to protect the forest. 

In 1985 the villagers, in a common meeting, finally took the decision to protect the forest patch of Haripur Mundiya close to the village. Haripur Mundiya is an RF and is approximately 300 ha in area. 

In the beginning two members from the village committee were given the responsibility to look after and manage the protection of the degraded forest patch. These members, supported by the village committee, handled the forest protection till 1988. As the forest infringements increased along with other conflicts, a change was brought in the system. In 1988, a separate forest committee called the Ranbijuli Jungle Surakshya Samiti was formed. This committee was constituted of active villagers but with the participation of the entire village. An informal system with certain rules, regulations and adoptive measures was developed. To begin with, strict regulations were framed to protect the stumps and the roots. Outside intervention of any kind such as cattle grazing, felling and root extraction was completely banned. Even after forest regeneration, nobody was allowed to cut trees in the forest. In 1995, this informal system gave way to a formal van samrakshyan samiti under the joint forest management scheme of the FD. The new committee was called the Ranbijuli Van Samrakshyan Samiti . The committee plays an important role in conflict resolution. 

Over a period villagers have developed mechanisms to improve protection and make it more effective. The villagers adopted a voluntary patrolling system, which is continuing till today, to keep a close vigil over the protected forest area. Two men, one from each of the sub-hamlets, move around the forest everyday. In the night three persons, two from Khandayat sahi and one from the Harijan sahi keep watch over the forest patch. Patrolling is done on a rotational basis involving each household. The forest watchers on patrolling duty are called palias. When any offender is caught, he is taken to the village and in cases where the watcher is unable to deal with the offender alone, he asks the villagers to come to the forest. Social pressure is first exercised over the offender. Yet if the offender keeps repeating acts like cutting trees etc., then he is penalized with a monetary fine. The fine is fixed at Rs 50 for all types and size of trees. In extreme situations, a case could be filed against the individual with the Range Officer, but this has not yet happened so far. 

The villagers cite examples of people from other villagers committing offences. One such example is from 1993, when the villagers caught hold of a person from Bimbadharpur village cutting a teak tree to repair his house. A meeting with the elders of Bimbadharpur was called and the case was discussed. They found that the need was genuine, but the committee was not informed, and therefore the committee decided to punish him. Instead of a monetary fine they asked the person to return the wood by carrying the log of wood on his head back to Samantsinharpur. 

Besides the forest, the village has also been managing the common resources of the village collectively. Several informal committees have been formed to serve this purpose. There is a village orchard that was earlier managed by the entire village. Now some trees are divided among households, whereby every house in the village has two big trees and three small ones. The remaining trees come under the management of the village committee. There is a stone mine, to which people have free access to collect stones for construction. There is also grazing land which all families are free to use. 

The committee at present has a two-tier structure, consisting of the general body and the executive or working body. The working body is the functional unit, which looks after the forest protection and management activities. The general body comprises one male member from every household in the village. The general body selects working-body members every year on the last day of Ram Navami (a Hindu festival). The composition of the working body varied in different years. In 1985, the body comprised 3 members from the Khandayat caste. In the following years the membership increased and at present there are a total of ten members, with representatives from both the Khandayat and Harijan castes along with some women representatives. The working body is the main functional unit and the implementing body. The general body is basically involved with the major decisions related to the rules, penalty system, forest activity etc. All these get recorded on a resolution register that is maintained by the working body.

The working body is selected for one year; however the period of an individual’s tenure is not restricted. A member can continue in his/her post for more than one year if the work is satisfactory. In case it is not, then the members can be dismissed, and a general body meeting is called to select a new member. But this has never happened so far. 

In the initial days the committee convened meetings every month to discuss rules, regulations, possibilities of stopping infringements, improving the system, etc. As the committee strengthened and the protection activity continued smoothly, the frequency of the meetings decreased. In case of an emergency, the general body or the working body can be quickly convened. Information about the meeting is intimated to the hamlet through a dakua (one who spreads the word by beating a metallic instrument). This person is compensated with paddy. 

In the initial years there was not much support from the FD, but some forest officials did help and encourage them at a personal level. During the period of rubber plantation, the local range officer cooperated with the villagers in taking up plantations and promised to give employment to local youths in the plantation. After the intervention of Vasundhara, an NGO, in 1995, there has been a good interaction between the FD and the villagers. Vasundhara helped the people to become aware and update their knowledge about forest policy, government resolutions and goings-on in the forestry sector. 

Besides the availability of firewood and other NTFP, the benefit of community conservation can be gauged from various indications. Watchers no longer go on night visits regularly, as the trees have grown and, with the forest cover getting dense, entering the forest has become difficult. During the years 1986 and 1996 when the FD carried out silviculture activities in the lower forest area, it was done under the close supervision of the committee. Villagers got labour work on a daily-wage basis and the work was distributed on a rotational basis so that one individual from each household got labour. Rough estimates state that each household must have received at least 4 quintals of harvest. When forest protection started, the access by neighbouring villagers was prevented. This resulted in conflicts on a daily basis. However trespassing and conflicts hardly take place any longer. 

Due to regeneration, the people of Samantsinharpur have also begun to enjoy some benefits from the forest. They are free to collect dry, fallen twigs and branches of dead trees. They can collect berries, tubers and edible leaves. The committee permits them to take bamboo for construction and repairing house in case of fire accidents. Individuals from the village or from neighbouring villages can obtain certain products though the committee after paying a nominal price. Cattle-grazing is also allowed and so is the extraction of bamboo on an annual basis during the celebration of village festivals. Villagers are however not allowed to extract timber wood for self-use or sale. Yet mostly people are able to meet some of their needs from orchards, personal plantations and their gramya jungle, and prefer to avoid the long distance travel to the protected forest patch. Twigs and branches and other NTFPs derived from cleaning and thinning under silviculture operations are distributed equally among all households.

The people’s institution has developed to resolve smaller disputes with outside villagers, though the Samantsinharpur people see a possibility of conflict with their neighbouring village Krushnapur over sharing an area of the protected forest. According to Samantsinharpur, Krushnapur village has initiated protection process of an adjacent patch. Now these villagers are claiming a part of the area being protected by Samantsinharpur, which, however, is not ready to share a portion with the other village.

Arguments are gradually coming up regarding using certain forest produce, especially by the forest-dependent groups, who meet their needs from distant protected and unprotected forests. Moreover the community has also started raising tenure-related issues, questioning the ownership rights over the protected patch. They aspire for support from the FD to encourage their efforts and sustain their interest in forest protection and management.

In 1997, the villagers were involved in conflict with the OFDC, which, when carrying out the rubber plantation in the forests, had promised jobs and benefits to the local youth if they helped in the protection of the plantation. This was an informal arrangement between the villagers and OFDC. Villagers protected these plantations for over a decade. However, when the plantations were raised and it was time extract the sap, OFDC brought in contractors and hired specialised labour. This led to an agitation and eventual stoppage of work by the dissatisfied local youth. The conflict was not resolved till the time that this case study was written. Current status is not known.

The sustainability of forest protection has been largely due to strong leadership and the integration among different castes in the hamlet. In all these years the community has developed a strong protection and management system. They have also developed a unique system of decisions being taken by the entire village together, but implementation is done by various sub groups set up by the village. This fact, along with the capability of the committee to handle various dynamic issues successfully, has united Samantsinharpur for a common concern. 

  This case study has been compiled from information contained in R. Panigrahi and Y.G. Rao, ‘A Case of Community Forest Protection, Samantsinharpur Village, Nayagarh District of Orissa’; as part of Collaborative Research Project undertaken by The Natural Resources Institute (NRI), United Kingdom and Neera M. Singh, Vasundhara, Bhubaneshwar, 1998.

Vasundhara
Plot No. 15
Sahid Nagar, Bhubaneshwar 751007
Tel: 0674 2542011/12
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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