The villagers of Satara Tukum have been watching the degradation of their surrounding forests and to some extent contributing to it. The general feeling among the villagers was that the forests belonged to the government and the government had the responsibility to protect them. Much of the protected forest around the village had already been encroached upon. Satara Tukum was brought under the World Banksponsored forestry programme in 1997. Mr. Chaphekar (Divisional Forest Officer) and Ms. Imtienla Ao (Assistant Conservator of Forests) persuaded the villagers to join the Joint Forest Management (JFM) scheme under this programme. An agreement to this effect was made in the gram sabha (village assembly) on 14 November 1997. About 285 ha were allotted to the village community for protection. A samiti (committee) was appointed, which had 96 members—i.e., one member each from all the 96 households. These 96 members included 84 men and 12 women. Since the government resolution prior to 1998 required only one person per household in the JFM committee, the Samiti is even today dominated by men, and women’s representation comes only from the women headed households. The executive committee consists of 12 members, three of which are women (as per the requirement under JFM resolution). The participation of women members in the decision-making process is nonexistent. The executive committee is elected every two years. After the appointment of the samiti, Imtienla Ao prepared the micro-plan for the area which was approved by the samiti. As per the micro-plan the FPC undertook the following activities to protect and manage the forests:
- Forming groups of seven persons each, which would patrol the forests daily on a rotational basis. The patrolling teams tried to convince hunters and others to stop their activities rather than forcibly stopping them.
- Prohibition on free grazing. Cattle grazing illegally in the plantation and regeneration areas were impounded by the FPC.
- Controlling illicit feeling, a serious problem facing these forests.
- Appointment of a forest guard to look after the plantation area as well as the protected area.
- Generation of employment through forestry works such as plantations, soil and moisture conservation, and so on.
- Those coming to the forests for headloads of fuelwood for sale were strictly warned or punished (particularly those from other villages).
- Soil erosion was effectively checked by building check-dams on various nallahs and big gullies.
- Raising plantations of bamboo, shiwan or gambhari, khair and teak or saag on 60 ha of degraded area.
- Giving loans to needy villagers to establish small cottage enterprises, such as vermicompost plants, swing machines, dairy development, etc.
- Various other schemes taken up to create alternative livelihoods for the villagers, such as beekeeping, sewing-machine training for young village girls, dairy development activities, development of medicinal plants in the village, etc.
- Health and education were given importance with the introduction of toilets, bio-gas plants and better educational facilities, all with FPC funds.
- The women of FPC formed a mahila bachat gat (self-help group) in which they got 57 quintals of rice in subsidy, which was distributed to each family in the village. The rice recovered from each family was stored in a seed bank for use in the next year.
- Youth in the village were organised to protect environment and study fauna and flora of the village. A ‘Young Environmentalist’ movement was organised by a Nagpur-based NGO, the Vidarbha Nature Conservation Society.
The FPC has an account jointly managed by the FPC and the forest department. This account receives money from the forest department for various developmental activities. The profits from catching and selling fish from a community fish-tank established under JFM also go to this account. Sometimes various forestry works are carried out through voluntary work (shramadaan) by the villagers and the amount meant for their payment is deposited in the FPC account. As of September 2004, the samiti had Rs. 1.26 lakh in its account. The Sarpanch (president) of the samiti and the forest guard (member secretary of the samiti) are the joint signatories. Before making an expense the samiti has to pass a resolution and the accounts are regularly announced at the meetings of the samiti but not at the gram sabha. The funds in the account are used to give loans to farmers. In the lean period, each member of the samiti gets a loan of Rs 1000. This loan is returned on 14 January (Makar Sankranti, the harvest festival) with 2 per cent interest. If the loan is not returned on time, some property of the concerned person is mortgaged. These funds are also used for some community activities, such as buying vessels for village functions, etc.
The effort was very successful till funding was available from the WB. However, after the forestry scheme ended the government was not any longer as interested in the initiative. This has demoralised the villagers; they are also not sure what kind of benefits they would eventually get, because till 2004 no Memorandum of Understanding had been signed between the village and the government. Lack of funding and lack of information at the village level of tapping various government schemes has made it difficult for people to continue to patrol the forests at the expense of daily wages that they would earn.
Bamboo harvesting from the protected forests was taken up in 2004 by the FD. Villagers, however, were only paid daily wage labour. No royalty or share of the harvesting was paid. Initially, the villagers refused to offer labour for bamboo harvesting because the paper mill was only paying Rs 2.60 per bundle of bamboo. When villagers raised the point that for similar work the rate elsewhere was Rs 8 per bundle, the company decided to get labourers from other villages. The village put an embargo on the outside labourers. They gave them food for 15 days but did not allow them to work. Eventually, the company agreed to pay Rs 3 per bundle. Considering that there are few opportunities available for employment, such incidents are extremely discouraging for the village, more so because they have protected the forests for nearly a decade now.
The samiti is demanding that the adjoining forest compartment should also be handed over to the village for protection. According to them, this will bring a larger area under protection and villagers would also benefit more when any harvesting eventually takes place. In discussion in 2004, the local RFO and ACF agreed that this could be done as there were no villages around. If the village would pass a resolution, this area could be handed over to the samiti.