A Tale of Two Forest Villages: Badamul and Sahajbahal

The mystery of the forest deepens with increased interactions with the people inhabiting the forested landscapes. It deepens further with a greater understanding of the concept of forest villages and un-surveyed villages that are of a special kind.

What are forest villages?

In order to keep the forests in its control, the forest department conceptualized ‘forest villages’ also known as ‘un-surveyed villages’ to achieve two major goals:

  1. Forest regrowth: to achieve growth of forest resources such as timber and others. In this connection, the forest department’s efforts date back to the British period in India when people from other forests were shifted to forest villages in order to ensure consistent maintenance of forest resources.
  2. Rehabilitation sites: forest villages were used to rehabilitate and settle people displaced by governmental development projects.

Badamul Village

Badamul village in Angul district of Odisha state is a forest village and rehabilitation site. Here, the early settlers saw large rooted flora called ‘Badamul’ in Odiya  (Bada meaning large and mul meaning roots)—the village derives its name from this combination of words. Displaced by the Derjang dam project, these settlers have been residing in Badamul  since 1961.

The early settlers of Badamul

The early settlers of Badamul (by show of hands)

Guided by Pushpanjali Satpathy from the research and policy advocacy group, Vasundhara,  the residents of Badamul became aware of the potential involved in converting the status of their village  from a forest village to a revenue village.  Around 60 families of Badamul fought for more than ten years to get this recognition. Today, their village is recognized as a revenue village, while the residents hold Individual Forest Rights titles that were received in August 2018. The Forest Rights Act enables the legal conversion of ‘Forest villages’ into ‘Revenue villages’, thus allowing both individual and community claims related to rights over forest. The residents of Badamul are now working towards claiming  community rights under the FRA.

Child looks on as its mother prepares snacks

Sahajbahal Village

Sahajbahal in Redhakhol division of Sambalpur district in the state of Odisha is another forest village that is in the process of converting to a revenue village. The Young Divisional forest officer of the Redhakhol division is taking personal initiative in expediting the conversion process. The early inhabitants of this village are originally from Sundergarh; they moved  in search of greener pastures to improve the community’s livelihood. This is substantiated by a map from the year 1947 that shows  the area of the forest. It further shows that in 1959 the land was purchased by the villagers by making a payment of INR 11,000  to the local princely estate of Sambalpur in Redhakhol. This serves as irrefutable proof that these villagers have been residing in this village since 1959.

Meeting with the residents of Sahajbahal at their Church

Currently, the forest department is engaged in creating maps with the help and participation of the villagers; creation of maps is nearing completion. Soon after the formal process of recording of the  revenue status is complete, the villagers can claim individual as well as community forest rights under FRA. The entire process is spearheaded under the pioneering leadership of Pushpanjali Satpathy from Vasundhara.

A 1947 map showing the forest area

CFR Potential of 400 Villages in Redhakhol Forest Division of Sambalpur District

A latent potential has been unlocked because of an enterprising DFO who believes that securing  defined titles in communities will enable better preservation of forests. One wonders if this is the changing face of the colonial forest department, or, if this is a contradiction that all colonial institutions will face as they continue to operate in independent former colonies. We do not know the answer to this, only time will tell. In the meanwhile, 400 villages of these pristine forests in Redhakhol division comprising of six Ranges will soon be abuzz with new possibilities as the process of filing community claims will soon begin in right earnest, with Vasundhara leading this initiative.

The DFO of Redhakhol has taken special initiative in popularising the Gond and Santhali tribal art by displaying it across the park instituted by the forest department
The DFO of Redhakhol has taken special initiative in popularising the Gond and Santhali tribal art by displaying it across the park instituted by the forest department

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