Pitching in for protecting the bio-diversity, flora and fauna of Himalayan forests
A movement that a handful of woman activists started in the early 1980s to save forests in the Himalayan terrain of the picturesque Lahaul Valley, populated mainly by Buddhists, has yielded the fruit of labour.
It began in the panchayat of Kawaring - which has a population of 112, of whom 64 are women, according to the 2011 Census - and then was taken up in other parts of the valley located at an elevation ranging from 13,000 to 20,000 feet above the sea level.
View of Tolang village after fresh snow fall near Keylong in Lahul and Spiti (Photo by Shailesh Bhatngar/ Indian Photo Agency)
Currently, 139 'mahila mandals' or women groups in 27 of the 28 panchayats in the valley have pledged to guard the forests.
The latest addition is the Thirot panchayat, some 40 km from district headquarters of Keylong.
"Two 'mahila mandals' in the Tindi panchayat are yet to pass a resolution to guard the forests," said Divisional Forest Officer Hira Lal Rana. This is the last panchayat located adjoining Pangi in Chamba district.
The 'mahila mandal' in the Thirot panchayat passed a resolution last month that if anyone was caught cutting trees, a fine of Rs.5,000 would be imposed. The offender will be even socially boycotted.
Rana said the 'mahila mandal' in Thirot has also decided to fence the entire forest. Before this, three panchayats in the Miyar valley decided to protect the forests through community participation.
"If the forest is saved, we will save the biodiversity. The fencing of the forests, which will be done in summer, will enable the native fauna to flourish," said octogenarian Dolma, a resident of Thirot.
She said the colossal damage to the biodiversity with the upcoming hydropower projects in the Lahaul Valley can now be witnessed and it's high time to save the biodiversity.
Another villager Chokpa said the villagers have taken a pledge to safeguard the local flora and fauna.
Severe winter in the higher reaches prompted wild animals to migrate to lower altitudes.
"During the winter season, we remain alert as poachers are active. In summer, we will set out in batches to the nearby forests to guard it voluntarily," Chokpa added.
Wildlife officials said migration of the Asiatic ibex - a wild goat species - and the Himalayan blue sheep or 'bharal' in the valley is common during winters. Even the sighting of the red and the common fox goes up in the villages.
Rana said in October every villager in the valley is allowed to collect (fallen or dry standing trees) from the forests for 10 days. After that no extraction of the forest produce is allowed.
There is also provision to provide firewood at subsidised rates to locals during winters.
"A few years ago the demand for firewood at our Udaipur depot was around 4,000 quintals during winter. Now it's over 7,000 quintals. This shows that the locals are now banking more upon government supplied wood than on forests," said an official.
According to Rana, taking the help of villagers, especially the women, in protecting the forests has been a great success. The forest department has only a "supervisory role".
The panchayats, through resolutions, are empowering the women to act against the violators.
He said the fines being collected by women groups for violation of rules are used for their work.
Every year the forest department honours the best woman group with cash prizes.
Kawaring resident and Zila Parishad member Rigzin Samphel said the drive started from his village to safeguard the forests is now a grand success in the entire valley.
Not open throughout the year, the landlocked Lahaul Valley in Lahaul-Spiti district remains cut off for at least five months from December owing to heavy snow accumulation at the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft) - the only connection with Manali in Kullu district.
It reopens once the snow starts thawing after mid-April.
According to the census for 2011, the population density in the district, inhabited mainly by tribals, is just two people per sq km against the state's 123 people per sq km. - IANS