During the field trip, we visited 10 villages across the two blocks of Korchi and Kurkheda in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. In Kurkheda block, we are currently working in four villages, namely Bhimanpally, Sawargao, Bortola, and Chipri. Except for Chipri, we visited the other three villages in the Kurkheda block. In the Korchi block, we are currently working in seven villages, namely Padiyaljob, Alli Tola, Saawli, Sohaile, Jhankaargondhi, Baritola, and Dhodke, all of which we visited. The following observations and insights were shared during our group discussions and meetings with the villagers during our visit.
Non-Timber Forest Products Collection (NTFP) and Forest Dependence
During our visit in the first week of December, as part of SEM, we asked the villagers about the type of products they harvest from the forest during the season. They indicated the following list of products they accessed during the period:
- Charota – Rs. 10 per kg
- Mohur ka patta- 100 plates for Rs. 60
- Laak- Rs. 90 per kg
The villagers told us that a few more vegetables and roots will be available in mid-December or at the end of the month. Apart from this, the villagers were accessing forests for bamboo, firewood, and grazing, including grazing of pigs.
Insights on Improvement and Protection Activities undertaken in the study villages
Patrolling: In almost all the 10 villages we visited, patrolling was a major activity undertaken by the villagers. In every village, around four or five people from different households would go to the forest every day and participate in different activities like monitoring the forest, clearing of a transit path, restricting entry of outsiders, etc. Patrolling is mostly undertaken in all seasons (throughout the year). In some villages, however, patrolling is not undertaken except during the harvest season and peak agriculture season that involves sowing, weeding, etc. In Bari Tola village, for instance, every day, a group of nine villagers goes to monitor the forests. Individuals who are unable to go patrolling during their turn will have to pay a fine of Rs. 200. Patrolling activities are crucial during specific periods/months. For example, during the bamboo sprouts shoots season, strict patrolling is required to protect the shoots from cattle.
In these villages, both men and women go for patrolling. We were told that in Alli Tola that the number of women going for patrolling has increased lately because intruders and neighboring villagers who would steal firewood and other resources from the forest would accuse the men of the village of harassment on being caught. Doing so insulated the intruders and neighboring villages from theft charges.
In most villages, patrolling is voluntary, however, in some cases, the villagers are paid a meager amount for the same. In Dodke village, for example, the patrolling practice is a little different from that of the other villages we had visited. In Dodke, four people are in charge of patrolling for one week; groups of four individuals take turns every week and each person are paid Rs. 50 per week. In other villages like Belgao, payment of fixed wage for patrolling is being considered.
Rules and Regulations
In Sohale village, in order to harvest Sagwaan (which falls in the category of commercial timber), a special request letter needs to be submitted to the Gram Sabha. Only after the Gram Sabha gives approval, Sagwaan can be harvested. Further, the sale of Sagwaan or any other tree that has commercial value is strictly prohibited; Sagwaan is only used for self-consumption. The villagers told us that each person in the village is entitled to use one Sagwaan tree for one’s needs or requirements; the decorum for access is to be followed.
In Bari Tola village, we found that people have stopped using small timber for fencing purposes, instead, they are using copper/silver wire for fencing. When asked about the rationale guiding this change, the villagers told us that the amount of small timber is reducing in their forest, and that they want to let it grow. From the year 2016; a request letter is to be submitted to the Gram Sabha for small timber. Recently, the Gram Sabha decided to provide one “mota jhaad” (big log of wood) instead of many small logs of wood.
Fines and Punishment
In the villages we visited, fines and punishments are not for trespassers and those who steal firewood and other resources from the forest. The people who are caught stealing firewood or commercial timber are asked to leave the resources with the villagers and they are warned of adverse consequences if they continue to make such attempts. In Jhankaargondi village, the villagers told us that the Forest Department had instructed them to allow people from other villages/outsiders to take firewood as they are dry logs of wood that tend to catch fire easily. The villagers recounted one instance when they caught an outsider stealing firewood but were forced to let him go due to instructions from the Forest Department.
The villagers undertake several improvement activities to improve and protect their forest. Weeding, pruning, and plantation activities are some of the improvement activities.
- Pruning of trees is done for bamboo, tendu, sagwaan etc. Most of the pruning activities in the villages were undertaken by the Gram Sabha, hence, the labour charges and other input costs were paid by the Gram Sabha.
- Plantation- We found that plantation is another improvement activity in the villages we visited during the trip. In most cases, the saplings are given free of cost by the Forest Department while the labour cost is provided by the Gram Sabha. The saplings planted were of cashew, custard apple, mango, bamboo, etc. Plantation and other improvement activities are undertaken with a lot of planning and discussions conducted during the Gram Sabha meetings. In Alli Tola village, for example, a plantation activity was planned in an area of 10 hectares, however, the villagers did not approve it as the forest already has limited space for grazing and this would further reduce grazing space. We observed that the villagers always try to reach a consensus before implementing any project or improvement activity.
- Labor generation activities (mostly around forests) are quite frequent in Community Forest Rights (CFR) villages. Such improvement activities provide villagers an opportunity to earn money within the premises of their own village. For example, in Jhankaargondhi village, Rs. 2 lakhs were provided from the block to the Gram Panchayat under the Swacch Baharat Mission. This money was used for the development of public goods, while a substantial amount was used for plantation activities. Two members each from 28 households in the village were employed for bamboo plantation. Similarly, in Sohale village, 20% of the previous year’s tendu revenue was set aside for the generation of work for the villagers in the near future.
- Fire Control– Fire incidents are very frequently in these forests, especially, during summer. When fire occurs, those present in the village go to the forest to control the fire. Fire is usually extinguished with small branches of trees that are easily available and are free of cost. We learnt that the Forest Department was providing fuel powered fire control machines. In Bortola village, for example, the forest department provided fire control machines to the Gram Sabha. The fuel cost of such machines is paid by the Gram Sabha. These machines are kept with different Gram Sabhas on a rotating basis and are used in the event of a fire.
Gram Sabha Meetings
Of the 10 villages we visited, we learnt that executive meetings are conducted only in a few of them. When asked about the reason, we were told that it is preferable to discuss any important matter amongst all the villagers rather than discussing it among the 12 members of the executive group. They preferred that people across the village come together to discuss issues pertaining to the forest. They touched upon several areas such as management practices, cost & labour management for upcoming tendu and bamboo harvest, major issues affecting the forests, etc. Several external parties also visit these villages to understand their CFR practices; Researchers, students from various universities, NGOs; and government officials form the primary visitors to these villagers.
Awareness and a general sense of responsibility among the people towards their forest is quite prevalent. Hearing about their larger objectives and action plans was interesting. In Bharitola village, the villagers have formed a biodiversity committee with the objective of creating an inventory of all the products accessed from the forest and to generate GPS maps of their forest. The committee members have also counted and recorded the actual number of trees found in the forest for each species.
Changes in the forest
In the 10 villages that we visited, stories were shared about the changes that occurred in their respective forests over the last decade. In Padiyaljob village, the villagers shared that the functioning of the paper mill until a few years ago caused rapid harvesting of bamboo in large quantities. This has resulted in a substantial reduction of bamboo in their forest. Likewise, the people of Bhimanpally village told us that bamboo in their forest has grown thinner over the years because of the improper techniques adopted during the collective harvest. As a result, bamboo currently found in the forest is quite thin in comparison to that of the previous years. In Saawli village, the tendu contractors initiate fire in the forest so that new tendu leaves/saplings can grow. This process, however, destroys other forest resources including bamboo. Bamboo trees catch fire quickly during the months of February and March that are extremely dry. These tendu contractors send their men to stealthily start a fire in the forest to avoid detection by the villagers who would not allow it. It has also been reported in several sites that the number of monkeys has increased in the forest. Monkeys not only destroy crops but also consume NTFPs such as hereda, bhereda, guava, etc, thus depriving the villagers who would otherwise collect and sell these products.
In Alli tola, villagers claimed that the condition of the forest has improved as a result of the strict monitoring and regulation practiced by the villagers over the past 12 years, i.e. well before they got their CFR. They pointed out that in the past, the threat was from the people of the neighboring state of Chhattisgarh who use to steal Sagwaan. Now, things are under control, thanks to strict patrolling.
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