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Developments in the lives of villagers in Gir Forest and surrounding Junagarh (where the Asiatic Lions live): Jan 2007

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  • Atul Singh Nischal
    Developments in the lives of villagers in Gir Forest and surrounding Junagarh (where the Asiatic Lions live): Jan 2007 YOU ARE HERE: Homepage Newsdesk ...
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2007

      Developments in the lives of villagers in Gir Forest and surrounding Junagarh (where the Asiatic Lions live): Jan 2007



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      FEATURE-India's forgotten tribes gain rights over forests


      01 Jan 2007 07:04:29 GMT

      Source: Reuters


      By Rupam Jain Nair


      GIR SANCTUARY, India , Jan 1, 2007 (Reuters) - Daya Rakha, 36, was born in the jungles of the Gir wildlife sanctuary in western India and knows little else except how to live off the forest's resources.


      Just as his ancestors did generations ago, Daya ekes out a meagre living mainly by tending to his cattle which relentlessly graze in Gir's lush forests.


      But Daya -- like millions of India 's forest dwellers -- has never been able to call the forest his home. Instead he has been treated as a criminal by authorities as he has no legal right to stay in the forests where his forefathers lived and died.


      "It is the eviction notices from the government and rules made to uproot us by the forest officials that give us sleepless nights," said Daya, who belongs to the 8,400-strong Maldhari tribe of Gir.


      Over 40 million of India's most impoverished and marginalised people live in the country's forests -- including tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks -- but for years have been neglected by the government and left to fend for themselves.


      The Maldharis have long lived with eviction threats, alleged harassment and extortion by officials who say they are guilty of environmental destruction and endangering wildlife in the sanctuary -- one of the last bastions of the rare Asiatic lion.


      But a new law will for the first time enshrine their right to live in the forests and national parks. Conservationists are worried this could hamper efforts to save India 's endangered wildlife such as lions and tigers.




      In Gir, the pastoral Maldhari community live a simple life in small mud houses hidden deep in the forests, with no electricity, running water, schools or access to healthcare.

      They earn a living by producing milk from their cattle, growing vegetables, collecting honey and trading their produce in the local market for items like food grains. Most are illiterate and unable to count or use money.


      Activists say these forgotten forest people lead a primitive life and face many hardships.

      "The pastoral communities do not figure in the electoral rolls," said Shekla Rakha from Setu -- a charity promoting the rights of forest dwellers. "They have become non-entities, left to fend for themselves for generations."


      As a result, activsts say these communities are vulnerable to exploitation allegedly by forest officials who forcefully evict them or compel them to pay bribes to enter and exit sanctuaries.


      "Two months ago when my mother died, the forest officials did not allow my relatives from nearby villages to enter the forest for the last rites," Amra Suba, a shepherd said as he tended to his flock of sheep.


      "I had to pay to get permission for their entry to my own house."

      But the Recognition of Forest Rights Bill 2006, passed by parliament in December, could help end the suffering of many of India 's forest people by giving them rights over forest land.


      The law, which will apply to those who have lived in the forests for at least three generations, will allow dwellers to use non-timber forest produce such as bamboo, stumps, cane and to collect honey. But it prohibits them from hunting animals.




      While this is seen as a landmark law by social activists, environmentalists and forestry officials who hold forest dwellers responsible for damaging the environment and poaching wild animals, are concerned.


      "If allowed to live in the forest, they will degrade the habitat as their cattle graze in direct competition with prey like deer," said Bharat Pathak, conservator of Gir's forests, referring to how a fall in prey would hurt numbers of predators.


      Livestock are also prone to epidemics and could infect Gir's wildlife which includes the rare Asiatic lion whose numbers have recovered to around 360 from less than 15 in the mid-20th century due to a successful breeding project, he added.


      Conservationists are also concerned that the law will allow more encroachers into the forests and push wildlife out of protected areas, leaving them more vulnerable to hunters.

      Some wildlife activists say it is essential that forest dwellers be involved in conservation efforts and given a sense of ownership and responsibility over the forests, perhaps by employing them as tourist guides or forest guards.


      Forest dwellers say they are not responsible for the loss of wildlife and regularly report poaching to authorities and monitor illegal activities such as mining and tree felling. "Officials say we are eating up the forest but in reality we are helping in protecting the lions and the jungle," says Lali Rudha, a mother of seven children.


      AlertNet news is provided by REUTERS







      To fight salinity ingress, here women harvest rainwater


      Sibte Husain Bukhari


      Monday , January 01, 2007

      Mangrol, December 31: Thanks to the innovative rainwater harvesting scheme launched by the Rural Support Programme of Agha Khan Foundation, more than two dozen villages in this taluka of Junagadh district have managed to overcome the drinking water crisis. The scheme is being implemented in coastal areas where salinity ingress has been a perennial problem.

      And the agents of change in these villages are none other than the women. Volunteers of the Foundation are tapping the potential of women, who are known to appreciate the day-to-day domestic problems better than men.

      The Foundation, with the help of village women, till now has built 2,500 underground rainwater storage tanks. The storage capacity of each tank is 20,000 litres and is enough to meet the drinking water needs of a family for a whole year.

      The building of the tanks has now saved the rural folk of the strenuous job of fetching water from a distance of two to three kilometre.

      According to Daxaben Vadher of Farangta village, the new way of getting drinking water is a welcome relief. ‘‘Earlier, we had to walk about three km to fetch water...our men were not ready to understand this problem, but the Foundation’s workers helped us,’’ she says, adding that they now get clean drinking water.

      To make rainwater conservation a regular affair, the field workers of the Foundation have mobilised women to form groups, who are given the mandate of carrying the message forward. And with the help of these groups, the Foundation’s workers organise street plays, cultural programmes and rallies to create awareness about the importance of rainwater conservation.

      Agha Khan Foundation’s community organiser V K Jogal says they have now mobilised hundreds of women in 30 villages in Mangrol taluka for implementing the rainwater harvesting scheme. ‘‘We provide them technical support and they are now able to get drinking water round the year from a resource that is their own,’’ he said. Besides the rainwater harvesting campaign, the Foundation is also undertaking the task of helping farmers to recharge farm wells. ‘‘More than 200 wells in the area have been recharged with rainwater,’’ said Jogal.

      Nazabhai Bharda, a farmer in Shil village, says recharging the farm well has given them a new lease of life. ‘‘Our farm is the only means of livelihood. Now, in addition to monsoon crop, we can also reap winter crop,’’ he says.

      Foundation’s area manager M S Vora says mobilising women power is what lies behind the success story. ‘‘Ahmedabad-based NGO ‘Jan-Path’ and ‘Save Gir-Save Nature’ movement have also been lending their helping hand to us in preventing salinity ingress in the costal belt of South Saurashtra region,’’ Vora says.




      In Saurashtra-Kutch, NDDB decides to go with the flow


      Yashpal Parmar


      Monday , January 01, 2007


      Vadodara, December 31: Graduates recruited as milk procurement supervisors for Junagadh Dairy have set in motion a new change in Saurashtra and Kutch region, which are undergoing a major dairy co-operative reconstruction. The Saurashtra Kutch Dairy Project, that comes under the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), has now assigned the job of milk procurement to educated youths, which was earlier left to the farmers.

      An NDDB spokesperson said that at present it has more than 700 milk procurement institutes (MPIs) covering Junagadh, Porbandar, Amreli and Jamnagar districts. The newly-recruited people were being trained by veterans and were now handling MPIs in the interiors of Kodinar, Sutrapada, Una, Junagadh, Amreli and other parts of Gir region. The supervisors have to co-ordinate everything—from organising MPIs to pooling milk, quantity and quality monitoring, and dispatching the milk to Junagadh Dairy, like in other milk unions.

      The recruitment of graduates for this job has infused a semblance of professionalism into the job, which is at par with NDDB’s corporatisation ideology. It is learnt that in the first phase, NDDB has appointed six such supervisors in Kodinar, two in Una and two in Amreli. The number is expected to increase with the expansion of business.

      An MPI supervisor said, ‘‘We maintain regular milk receiving documents (RMRD), attend milk procurement sessions and impart awareness about various things among farmers.’’

      In fact, the endeavour has served as a bridge between the local milk producers and the dairy industry as a whole. Also, it is helping to transmit first-hand information about the large group of scattered customers and their behaviour to the parent body. This, in turn, becomes crucial for improvement and strategy-making, said an MPI source.

      He said supervisors play a major role at the grassroot level, keeping farmers abreast about various things such as milk rates, methods for animal husbandry and how to get the maximum price for their products. After it was revived, Junagadh Dairy’s daily milk procurement has increased up to 2.05 lakh litres per day. Kodinar, Una and Sutrapada have a collection of 36,000 litres of milk per day, which is expected to grow as more farmers are approaching co-operatives because private procurers do not pay them well, said a supervisor on the condition of anonymity.

      With an expansion in milk procurement in the region, the number of MPIs is also likely to go up. Kodinar region alone has around 54 MPIs and will see a rise as more and more villages are being covered by these new supervisors.


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