After a decade of struggle, the women of Odisha’s Nayagarh district lead the battle for forest rights from the front, having reclaimed what they think is theirs and winning the rights over forest resources in 24 villages.
Narrating their hardships while trying to protect the forests, the block-level Women Federation President in Ranpur, Shashi Pradhan said that the women of Nayagarh District see the forest as a “source of their livelihood” and have been “protecting it since 1984.”
“Women have been protecting and conserving these forests since 1984. People living in the villages had no idea about these rights. The women took charge and decided to hold awareness campaigns on Forest Rights Act,” Shashi said.
Community and forest resource rights were granted to Kodalapalli and Sinduria village together as they led the fight for the rights jointly.
Explaining why the forests are managed mostly by women in Nayagarh district, Shashi said that there was “mismanagement” when the forests were taken care of by the men.
“There was miscommunication and huge mismanagement when men used to manage the forests. Later, women took over and led the fight for rights,” she said.
Another forest-dweller in Ranpur, Anita Pradhan told PTI that there were instances when people from other villages attempted to invade their forest and tried to peel the barks of the trees.
“The women of these villages always fought back. They would visit those invaders’ village, hold meetings with their block presidents and once even confiscated their vehicles when their forests were illegally invaded by them,” Anita told PTI.
On November 2, 2021, 24 villages in Odisha’s Nayagarh district received 14 community rights (CR) and community forest resource rights (CFRR) titles. The titles were assigned to the villages under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act.
“We view these forests as our source of livelihood. There are various kinds of resources here. Be it herbs, shrubs, fruits or vegetables, we get everything from here,” another forest-dweller of Ranpur said.
Cashew or ‘kaju’ cultivation is one of the primary sources of income for the people living in Kodalpalli and Sinduria village, they said.
“There is at least 20 acres of land for kaju cultivation in these two forest areas. The work is primarily managed by 15 families in Kodalpalli and seven families in Sinduria village and they manage to earn around Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per annum,” Shashi said.
The forest committee of the village also saves Rs 5,000 yearly as an “emergency loan” fund for the forest-dwellers, from the money they earn from cashew cultivation.
“The money is lent to the forest dwellers in case of medical emergency. Those who take loan from that fund, have to return it whenever it is convenient for them,” she said.
She said that all villagers possess medical insurance cards and that, each family earns around Rs 50,000 a year through forest-conservation and cashew cultivation alone.
Earlier, environmentalist Sunita Narain had said that forests need to be viewed as a “habitat of the tribal communities” and forest conservation must be considered a “way to build local livelihood.”
“Trees are a very important part of finding an answer to climate change and forests play a very important role in reducing pollution,” said Narain, the Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav had earlier said that the new forest conservation rules “do not dilute or infringe on” the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, allaying concerns about new rules allowing cutting of forests without forest-dwellers’ consent.
The environment ministry had notified the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022 under the Forest (Conservation) Act on June 28 to replace the earlier rules, notified in 2003. (PTI)