Community forest rights at work: Chhattisgarh’s Chargaon reaps benefits in first year itself

Gram Sabhas, Community Forest Management Committee, non-profits join hands to streamline processes in Chargaon Naya Basti

By Zumbish
Published: Thursday 14 July 2022
Chattisgarh's Chargaon reaps benefits of CFRR in 1st year, other villages not lucky Photo: Purushottam Singh Thakur
Nursery in Naya Basti houses saplings that villagers plant in the forest. Photo: Purushottam Singh Thakur Nursery in Naya Basti houses saplings that villagers plant in the forest. Photo: Purushottam Singh Thakur

Chargaon village in Chattisgarh’s Dhamtari district has emerged as a torchbearer of utilising forest rights to underpin livelihoods. 

The two Gram Sabhas of the village — Naya Basti and Purana Basti — received Community Forest Resources Right (CFRR) for separate areas in August last year. The village uniquely received two titles, while many are struggling to receive even one.

Timely intervention by the villagers to aid the process of making the claim made this possible. The population of Naya basti is almost four times of purana basti, said Purana Basti resident Manoj Watti (30). “But some of the villagers from Naya Basti failed to show up at several CFRR meetings, in which full attendance is mandatory.”

Bringing together the large, combined population of the two Gram Sabhas was proving to be a task and delaying the process, he added. “So, we decided to claim separate titles to speed up the process considering that individual Gram Sabhas, even from the same village, are allowed to apply seperately.”

Unlike most other neighbouring villages that were also awarded the title during the same time, villagers in Chargaon have started streamlining the growing and selling of forest produce. 

Down To Earth (DTE) visited Naya Basti earlier this month to follow the progress made since it received forest rights for 2,045 hectares of forest land. 
“It has not even been a year since we received CFRR title and we have a nursery in our village where we have over twenty varieties of saplings we will plant in our forest area,” said Deonath Netam, 61, from Naya Basti.

They have also started undertaking responsibilities for protecting the forest since they got the rights, since they can now take pride in being the claimants, he added. “The forest is like my father.”

Residents of Naya Basti with the CFRR title document. Photo: Purushottam Singh Thakur

In some other villages and peri-urban areas of Dhamtari that DTE visited, economic gains from the forest rights are still a distant dream despite receiving the title.  

But in Chargaon, better returns from forest produce has reduced migration from the village. Almost all the residents of the village used to migrate to other parts of Chhattisgarh and the country to look for work, said Netam, adding: 

Low-scale forest produce cultivation has increased — be it Mahua or herbs. This change and full freedom to use forest resources with CFRR has reduced migration here drastically.

The residents have been selling tendu leaves through intermediaries since they received forest rights, he said. 

A ranger with the forest department visited their area and told the Gram Panchayat that 1,000 sacks of tendu leaves were sold from Naya Basti on a tender basis the last time they gathered the leaves, the local villager added. “No other village in any nearby village got so much quantity of tendu leaves they gathered sold by intermediaries.” 

The superior quality of the leaves in their area is likely behind the good sales, according to the village dwellers.

Organised approach

Reduction in migration from the village after it got CFRR is a story of self-sufficiency, said Vatti. The direct benefits of the CFRR titles have been restricted to protecting their resources from their forest area, he added. “Better planning and the active role of Community Forest Management Committee (CFMC), with the backing from civil society groups, have led them to benefit so much economically over a short period.”

The villagers are yet to see the desired increase in profit share from forest officials through sales of small forest produce, said Sugmalal Vatti, another resident of Naya Basti. “But now, anybody from the neighbouring village or official is scared of entering our forest without our permission. That is the power of CFRR.” 

Moreover, in an important development from 2021, Chhattisgarh had set a new record of procuring 73 per cent of the country’s forest produce. It became the only state to procure 52 minor forest produce under the minimum support price scheme.

Read more: How Nagri, a modern nagar panchayat in Chhattisgarh, fought for its traditional forest boundary

The Gram Sabha, with the help of a non-profit, has come up with a visual roadmap of community initiatives for efficient forest management, Netam told DTE, holding up the document.

It had 13 circles in different colours drawn by chalk with guidelines for various functions such as the boulder check dam to check soil erosion due to heavy flow of water, managing big rocks, grazing, disposal, small scale forest produce and disposal of waste in each. 

The guidelines were written using words such as pasertala, bada dogri, sonadai used by traditional forest dwellers that the local forest dwellers are familiar with. 

The roadmap, though in the planning phase as a drill to guide villagers on forest management, is an extensive vision document. 

“Our Gram Sabha’s approach is that we have to save our forests from misuse, deforestation, hunting or poaching of animals by some people,” said Vatti. He added:

We form groups and take a round of the village and keep a check on outside elements who may burn wood in the forest and prevent forest fires as well. Our livelihood completely depends on the forest.

Only Gonds live in this village and they are united on the subject of CFRR.

Around 1,800 square kilometres of the Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve is within Dhamtari, where gathering tendu leaves is prohibited. So, villages like Jorataraai, Masalkhoi and Karhi within the reserve that have received the CFRR title, can’t gather or sell tendu leaves like the residents in Chargaon.

The lack of a proper CFMC is another impediment for the villagers who are yet to taste economic prosperity from CFRR, DTE noticed. 

This is the third in a series of stories on villages and peri-urban areas of Chhattisgarh that received forest rights last year. Also read the first and second reports. 

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