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Participatory Forest Resource Management: A Case of Lodha Community

Joint Forest Management originated in West Bengal in 1980's in Asia and Africa. The major hardwood of Arabari is Sal, a commercially profitable forest resource. Ajit Kumar Banerjee, a silviculturist working for the Forest Department as the Divisional Forest Officer, was conducting trials which were constantly being disturbed by grazing and illegal harvesting by the local populace. Joint Forest Management (JFM) is an approach and program initiated in the context of the National Forest Policy of 1988 wherein state forest departments support local forest dwelling and forest fringe communities to protect and manage forests and share the costs and benefits from the forests with them. For working in coordination with villagers, Forest Committees are constituted. A Micro plan for the development of forests and villages is prepared by the Forest Department and the forest committees. Along with the protection and development of forests, the main purpose of this plan is to fulfil the forest-based needs of the local population like small timber, minor forest produce, fuelwood, leaves, grass, fodder etc. by regulated use of the forests.
The present article is an observation based case study of the Lodha community of Muchiberiah village of Paschim Midnapore. The village is inhabited by the Lodhas since a long time and their livelihood is dependent on the collection and selling of forest resources. Despite being the primary users of forest and living in the vicinity of forests, they mostly have been ignored in the affairs of the nationalized ambition of forest protection and its management.  The study specifically highlights the structure and functioning of Joint Forest Management (JFM) in a Lodha village (Muchiberiah) of Paschim Medinipur district.
According to Kasinath Nayek, Niranjan Nayek, Bankim Nayek and some villagers – in February 1989, forest officer and some staffs came in this village and asked that this large dense forest is not a govt. property but the property of the community. To preserve this forest it is not possible for us but your active co-operation is needed. Forest officer and Range officer fixed a date for call meeting and a meeting held between officers and the villagers. After meeting, 10 members from the villagers are included in a committee and a JFM committee was formed on 06.02.1998 in the name ‘Muchiberiyah Banraksa Samitee’(MBS). 92 ha. of forest area was allotted for protection particularly Khasjungle, Tailakkapur, Muchiberiyah to the committee members of the village. At that time 10 people in the committee from the village took the oath to protect and preserve the forest. Among this 10 people, Niranjan Nayek was selected as head of committee. At present there are two types of forest protection committee namely Muchiberiyah Banraksa Samitee and JICA Committee. Muchiberiyah Banraksa Samitee (MBS) is connected to forest office and solely responsible for taking decision related to the management and protection of the forest resources. JICA committee is responsible for doing plantation in the forest area in collaboration with forest department and also look after the protection and management of plantation trees. At present MBS (Muchiberiyah Banraksa Samitee) is comprised of 128 people of which 6 are main members headed by Tarapada Nayek. Whereas JICA committee comprised of 15 members of which 4 are main members headed by Kasinath Nayek.
The committee imposed following rules for the protection of the forest and they kept provision for legal action in case of disobeying of rules by the villagers,
·         The villagers are allowed only to collect dry woods, leaves, and stems and also edible products such as mushrooms, honey etc. from the forest.
·         Restriction is imposed to cut big or small living trees.
·         Villagers are also prohibited to hunt and kill any wild animals.
·         Villagers cannot cut the small and un-matured tree, instead, they can cut matured tree with prior approval from the MBS.
·         The villagers are allowed to take the forest products that is wood (either live a dead) only during the emergency time, (construction of homes, to burn the dead bodies etc) as per requirements with permission.
·         After logging, the logs will be auctioned by the forest department and the 25% share of the selling price will be deposited in the account of MBS.
·         Provision for legal action is there in case of illegal logging of trees by the villagers.

During the study it was observed that the MBS played an important role in bringing changes in the perception of the local stakeholders. MBS is not only protecting forest resources but also acting as an agent of broader social transformation by developing community consciousness, cooperative endeavour and financial support system for the villagers that come under the jurisdiction of MBS area. Hence, MBS can be considered as a model of holistic development that worth detailed study.
BY- Manoj Raul, PhD Scholar, RKMVERI, Ranchi

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