As Jaisalmer villagers fight for sacred grove, a larger question looms

Allocation of village land for the development of solar and wind parks at the cost of pasture land is detrimental for villages

By Aastha Maggu
Published: Monday 27 July 2020
Locals have maintained and protected sacred groves for centuries. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Residents of Devikot village in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district are fighting to protect a sacred grove that caters to the forage requirements of more than 35,000 large and small animals in the area.

Sacred groves are areas of natural vegetation protected by village communities due to religious reasons. Historically, villages surrounding Devikot have maintained and protected this land.

The grove around the Degrai Mata temple was allocated for community use by Jaisalmer’s king in the 16th century.

In 2004, villagers received approximately 5,817 hectares of land registered in the name of the temple.

The villagers submitted a memorandum to Jaisalmer’s district collector June 2020 to register the remaining 9,358 hectares of land in the name of Degrai Mata Temple Trust.

The Rajasthan government now, however — in an attempt to adopt cleaner sources of energy — is planning a solar park in the area.

The allocation of village land for the development of solar and wind parks has begun in Jaisalmer and neighbouring districts Barmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur as well. Some of these village pasture lands were misidentified as wastelands by the state government.

Locals have maintained and protected these lands for centuries. They depend on these common property resources — including orans (sacred village forests) and gochars (village grazing land) — for dry fodder for their animals.

Around half the income of small and marginal farmers in Rajasthan’s arid areas comes from dairy and animal husbandry, according to the state government’s draft State Livestock and Dairy Development Policy, 2019.

With soaring temperatures, communities have to cope with stressed natural resources. Herders, thus, find it challenging to arrange fodder for their livestock.

The deplorable condition of these lands occurred due to encroachment by some locals, disinterest of Panchayati Raj institutions and reallocation of the land by the state.

This mismanagement poses a direct threat to fodder security for the livestock that is dependent on them. This is because during summers, dry and arid parts in Rajasthan receive poor rainfall.

In a state where Amrita Bishnoi — along with her community members — died to protect groves three centuries ago, the present state efforts to adopt greener energy sources at the cost of destroying pasture lands is a dangerous attempt against the livelihood of several villagers.

The opportunity cost of setting up these solar and wind parks is high, reckless and irreparable.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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