The Forest Rights Act and self-help transformed this remote Odisha tribal village; here is how

Residents of Loyendia have regenerated forests and made a new dirt road within a decade of getting community forest resource rights

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Thursday 07 July 2022
The residents of Loyendia village in Kandhamal district, Odisha. Photo: Arabinda Mahapatra
The residents of Loyendia village in Kandhamal district, Odisha. Photo: Arabinda Mahapatra The residents of Loyendia village in Kandhamal district, Odisha. Photo: Arabinda Mahapatra

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, empowered India’s indigenous people and traditional forest dwellers like never before. It continues to transform lives of these marginalised sections almost 16 years after its passage. Down To Earth recently found evidence of this in a remote corner of Odisha.

Loyendia is a tiny Adivasi hamlet surrounded by lush green forests atop the Ugadi hill in Odisha’s Kandhamal district. However, the scenic landscape did not exist a decade ago. The residents had to strive for that, using the community forest resource rights (CFRR) granted to them.

The village has 13 households. Eleven of them are from the Kondh community, a scheduled tribe. The remaining two fall in the category of ‘other traditional forest dwellers’. Loyendia residents were given the CFRR title in 2012.

A paper mill, run by Odisha Forest Development Corp until 2012, exploited the forest to the point of degredation, Jai Ram Kanhara, secretary of the community forest management committee (CFMC), alleged.

The villagers pressured the mill to wind up operations. They then formulated a plan to manage the forest they had been given rights over, in accordance with the title.

They made a new dirt track that connects the last paved road of Phulbani town, the headquarters of the district, to the village. They also constructed a new bridge to cross the stream that runs through the hill.

“The old path was steep and rocky. It was difficult for the elderly to reach the village back then. Even the tree trunk that acted as a bridge over the stream had become weak,” Padmini Kanhara, the CFMC president, told Down To Earth.

“So, we decided to create a new dirt road by clearing out some bushes and paving the way with soil. This could only happen after we got the title and were allowed access to the forest,” she added.

The members of the 13 households also protect and conserve the forest, using only a small amount of produce for their survival. “We do not allow outsiders to harvest bamboo or timber and take strict action if we see anyone exploiting the forest. We harvest only what we need for personal use,” Padmini said.

The residents collect saili and sal leaves to make plates and bowls for their homes, along with other medicinal herbs and tubers for their everyday needs.

The villagers have also made fire lines ever since the 500 hecatres of degraded forest was handed back to them. Women play a big role in guarding the forest against fire. During summers, they regularly make rounds of the forest to put out even the smallest spark.

“The forest department is pressurising us to make a Van Suraksha Samiti (VSS), but we have refused. If we make a VSS, the forest will go back into the hands of the forest department and the same destruction will start all over,” Padmini said.

The difference in the state of the forest is there for all to see. “Now, there are 10-50 bamboos in each bush and there must be at least 500 such bushes in the whole area. This forest is ours now and we know how to protect it,” Jai Ram said.

Petra Kanhara, 80, the founder of the village, is content that the interference of the forest department is a thing of the past.

“I came here in 1982, with my wife and kids and cleared a small area for cultivating vegetables and paddy for my family’s needs. The forest department filed a case against me for practicing jhum cultivation here,” he said.

He had to take the permission of forest officials whenever he needed something from the forest. “They used to demand bribes in the form of vegetables from my farm, poultry or money. Now, at least my children do not have to face this,” he told DTE.

The villagers applied in 2017-2018 for converting Loyendia to a revenue village from a forest one. But, no progress has been made so far. “We do not have electricity, water pipelines or schools for our children because Loyendia is still a forest village. Our children have to walk 4-5 km per day to attend school in Dongimeli village,” Jai Ram said.

Angad Kanwar, the member of Odisha’s Legislative Assembly for Phulbani, said he will raise the issue in the next session of the Assembly and try to speed up the process.

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