A vigilant eye on Orissa's forests


THENGA PALLI: Villagers of Orissa’s Nayagarh district have adopted the participatory approach to guarding their forests. Photo by Ananda Teertha PyatiS

uddenly, two people appeared in front of us with metre-long sticks! Seeing the dread on our faces, they smiled at us. The villager, who was with us, reassured us and told us that it was the duo’s turn to keep a watch on the forests that night.

Their wooden stick was, of course, really a trifle in the context of the poaching mafia. But, over the decades, it is this stick that has been protecting thousands of hectares of forest area here. What’s more, it has drawn the attention of Britain’s education department also!

This is a unique system of protecting the forests. Though governments are spending crores of rupees for various schemes, forests are on the verge of extinction. Not so in Orissa’s Nayagarh district, where villagers have adopted the participatory approach of forest protection. This is called Thenga Palli. Thenga means stick and palli is rotation.

Post-independence, the forest area has been depleted. With poaching on the rise, villagers faced a lot of scarcity in terms of timber, fodder and fuel. It was then that residents here decided to take up the issue. They found an answer from the Denkanal area. Tribes there were using the community approach on a small scale since 1930, to protect the forests.

Residents of Kesharpur decided to protect the forest with this as an inspiration. In a short span of time, people from other villages around Kesharpur also joined in the effort. The system, started three decades ago, is still being continued in this area.

Different approach

The approach the villagers have taken is simple. They have carved out sticks, measuring a metre long. The village committee, comprising senior citizens, prepares a list of people who will take turns to guard the forests. Every day, two men are asked to guard the forests. At the end of their vigil or palli (rotation), they leave the sticks in front of the homes of the next pair who’ll guard the forest.

Initially, there were conflicts with poachers. But the villagers didn’t give up. In  a couple of years, the results were there for all to see. The timber mafia gave up, and poaching became non-existent.

Thenga Palli teaches us a simple lesson: that we should not depend on the government, forest department, or other development schemes to revitalise the forests.

The movement has been extended to 95 villages. The protected forest area has increased from hundred to 10,000 hectares. Villagers earn their incomes by way of selling wood and other renewable forest resources. Industries and timber businessmen come to the villages and purchase timber. This amounts to Rs one lakh every year, and is a key resource for development activities in the region.

Britain’s interest

The officials of the education department, Hampshire county of the UK, heard about the system and a delegation even visited Orissa to study it. Realising the significance of Thenga Palli, the delegation recommended that it be included in school curricula. Now, a lesson on the same has been added in textbooks. Over 20,000 students of 3,500 schools are reading the success story of Indian villagers.

But, unfortunately, the state government doesn’t quite agree with the ThengaPalli system, and has termed it “illegal”.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry