The green guards

Van Gujjars lead the way in forest management by forming a voluntary protection force

Published: Saturday 15 March 1997

A meeting  of Gujjars who have (Credit: Joseph Antony / RLEK) in a few weeks' time, one might come across colourfully attired Van Gujjars -- the pastoral tribe residing in the Rajaji forest in the Shivalik hills of Uttar Pradesh -- talking on wireless sets as they patrol the forests. These trained voluntary forest guards hope to effectively monitor movements inside the proposed national park and help curb activities which are detrimental to the forest.

These steps have been pioneered by the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (rlek), a voluntary organisation working among the Gujjars. It has acquired two frequencies from the ministry of telecommunications and, in the first phase, has ordered 40 wireless sets from West Bengal Electrical Limited.

These community forest guards will be trained on issues of biodiversity, history of forest legislation and biodiversity conservation, to develop micro plans for their areas, to understand their role as forest guards and in the use of new technologies such as wireless sets. "All this is within the framework proposed by the 'community forest management plan' that the Gujjars along with rlek and other experts had submitted to the ministry of environment and forests last year," explains Avdhesh Kaushal, chairperson of rlek. The ministry has allowed the plan to gather dust.

Distressed by the problems facing the forest, the Van Gujjars decided to prepare their own voluntary forest guard force. These guards will use the wireless sets to report poaching, forest fires, tree felling and other disasters like epidemics among domestic and wild animals.

In the past too, the Gujjars have been reporting illegal activities, but they claim that many a time the forest department has allowed the culprits to go scot free. "Through this community forest guard programme, we want to demonstrate that we are the most effective protectors of the forest and deeply care for it," says Talib, a Gujjar from the area.

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