The story of a principled chief conservator of forests in Chhattisgarh

In Bastar, Chhattisgarh, whatever development projects and schemes are prepared and implemented by the government there is no substitute for the availability of proximate forests. The majority of people require firewood to cook; seasonal foods such as mushrooms and fish are collected without cost; wood for construction is a regular requirement. When people do not have their own forest they have no option but to stray into their neighboursʼ forests. Much of the tension between adivasi villages in Bastar and elsewhere can be reduced to the fact of “strangers” exploiting a patch of forest conserved by the people of one or two villages. The increasing pressure on resources alters the dynamics and the relations between people. Usually, good forest patches are the result of an intact traditional system of forest use, often combined with a person or a community that is conscious of the circumstances and makes an effort.

A man, Damodar, had the idea of bringing together the people of all the villages that came into his villageʼs forests. Over months he prepared the ground for such a meeting. He started by first taking the youth of the village to visit – in twos and threes – each village to explain to the people what the planned meeting was about. Each village was asked to discuss and think about its specific problems and select representatives to come and voice them in the larger meeting. These initial interactions, started by Damodar through local youth, went on for about two months.

The first big meeting was held in Badla Kot in March 2013, and was attended by about 200 people and hosted by Damodar. Each village representative got a chance to speak, there were some informal group discussions, and one could feel that it was an issue that evoked emotions. Some decisions have been made: all the sacred groves in the villages will be restored; there will be large scale planting of native trees; each village will raise and protect its plants. Saplings of useful and native species are to be made available locally as well as from a nursery run by the Legal Environmental Action Forum (LEAF) that has a centre in Jagdalpur. Read more

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