People join hands to dot the hills green

Participatory: A view of Mugadal Betta in Pavagada taluk. Restoration efforts by villagers, which included protecting its vegetation and a plantation drive, have given a new lease life to this hill and four other hills in the region. photos by author

Hill ranges are an integral part of Pavagada taluk in Tumakuru district. Ruins of hill forts at these ranges speak volumes about the glory of the bygone era. At every foothill there lies a village.

Many hills on the ranges are now barren as they have lost green cover. However, four hills — Mugadal Betta, Thimmappana Betta, K Rampur Betta and Hosadurga Betta are lush green.

Though these hills can’t be compared with hills on the Western Ghats in terms of vast green cover, they have the vegetation nowhere else to be seen in the district. These hills have vast grasslands, besides medicinal plants.

These hills are located in a region that
receives less rainfall, but experiences more heat, have a story to narrate. Forest fire, hunting and deforestation had cascading effects on the green cover of the region about three decades ago.

A case for conservation

In the light of these growing concerns and deforestation turning out to be an existential threat, conservation became a questionable factor leading to the emergence of many conservation groups.

The dawn of revival was heralded when residents of villages around foothills decided to form a committee to restore the ecosystem in the region. It was a conscious move by well-meaning citizens as they took a firm step forward to guard the hills that had sheltered life since time immemorial.

They came out with various means that acted as tools to combat deforestation. They vowed to reforest degraded lands on the hills. As their move earned the trust in the villages, many came forward to preserve and boost the dwindled green cover.

Four decades of relentless efforts of villagers not only saved the hills but also resulted in an extraordinary diversity of species.

The Mugadal Betta lies between Kotagudda Road and Chennakeshavapur village. The hill is spread over 500 acres land and is about 2870 feet in height. The hill lies to the south of the village.

As deforestation had cascading effects, Mugadal residents formed a committee to guard hills in 1995-96. Anand Nayak of Mugadal headed the committee, while every member kept a vigil against tree felling.

Lingappa, a resident of Kariyammanapalya who has composed street plays describes how the committee penalised those felling trees through fines.

They levied a fine of Rs 1,001 for felling a tree for firewood. If more trees were felled than what was required for firewood, the penalty was Rs 2,000. The fine amount varied between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 for felling trees for various reasons.

As the village had a small population, it was very easy for the members to identify those chopping the trees. Alert members and shepherds also provided valuable leads about people cutting down trees.

Environmentally conscious citizens supported the moves of the committee that prevented deforestation. They did not even take the help of the forest department in restoring green cover.

Within a few years, the number of trees on the hill went up. Moreover, residents too planted a wide variety of saplings. Restoration of the ecosystems has recharged groundwater table in the region.

Villagers have bought a piece of land near the hill. They auction custard apples grown naturally on the hills and collect money. They spend money to conduct
annual fairs and sports meet, besides cultural events. This has attracted the attention of youths.

The committee members’ efforts led to similar moves at Byadanur, Kannamedi, Rajavanti and Palavalli. In the past two decades, collaborative efforts have led to social harmony in these villages. Expansion of green cover has benefitted wildlife, too, as many animals now take shelter in these forests.

“The initiatives have taught a meaningful lesson to the villagers. They now realised the importance of restoring ecosystems on the hills,” remarks Nagendra, a retired forest officer.

Income generation

Members of the committee guarding the Kariyamma forest have even developed a revenue-generating model. They use the money earned by selling custard apples and invest in small business. “Guarding a hill has now become a proud initiative,” says Nagendra.

Restoration of ecosystems on four hills is a classic case study to understand how such acts recharge groundwater, points out Sheshagiri Rao, a scientist conducting research about agriculture and environment.

These hills now have a significant amount of green cover, fodder and water, sheltering leopards, bears, rabbits, foxes and Hanuman langurs, he adds.

(Translated by Jagadish Angadi)

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