Conservation of forests and wildlife is necessary to protect the biodiversity. This is important because loss of biodiversity leads to ecological imbalance. But any conservation effort for forest and wildlife must keep the interests of all stakeholders in mind.
Before the beginning of the colonial rule in India, forest dwellers were free to utilize the resources from forests as they wished. But things changed when the British rulers took over the control of the forests in India. They restricted the access of forest dwellers to forest resources. This created huge problems for many people who had traditionally been dependent on forests for their survival.
After the independence of India, the forest department took over but the interests of forest dwellers continued to be ignored for a long time. The forest was cut to obtain timber for making railways and for various construction activities. The cleared forest was replaced by planting eucalyptus trees which led to the problem of monoculture. Growing a single species is called monoculture. It disturbs the biodiversity of an area.
There are many examples which suggest that involvement of local communities is necessary for any conservation effort. The Bishnoi community of Rajasthan is one such example. Amrita Devi Bishnoi is still remembered with reverence for the way she fought for protecting the khejri trees in Khejrali village. She; along with 363 other people; sacrificed her life for the protection of khejri trees in 1731. The 'Amrita Devi Bishnoi National Award for Wildlife Conservation' has been named in her honour.
Another example is of the nomadic herders of the Himalayas. The nomadic herders used to graze their animals near the great Himalayan National Park. Every summer, the nomadic people brought their herds down the valley so that the sheep could get plenty of grass to eat. When the National Park was made in that area, the nomadic herders were stopped from grazing their sheep in the protected area. Now, in the absence of grazing by the sheep, the grasses grow very tall in the region. Tall grasses fall over and prevent fresh growth of grass. This shows that by excluding and alienating the local people from forests, proper conservation efforts cannot be carried out.
The Chipko Movement began in the early 1980s from a small village; Reni in Garhwal district. The women of the village began hugging a tree to prevent the cutting of trees by the contractors. The Chipko Movement later spread to other parts of India. It had been instrumental in stopping deforestation to a large extent.
In 1972, the forest department realized its mistake while reviving the degraded sal forests of Arabari forest range. Arabari forest lies in Midnapore district of West Bengal. The earlier methods of policing and surveillance were a total failure as they often led to frequent clashes with local people. It also led to alienation of people from the conservation programme. Then came a forest officer; named A K Banerjee; who was a real visionary. He involved the local people in the revival of 1,272 hectares of forest. In lieu of that the villagers were given employment in silviculture and harvest and were given 25% of the harvest. They were also allowed to gather firewood and fodder against a nominal payment. Due to active participation of the local community there was remarkable revival of the Arabari sal forest. By 1983, the value of the forest rose to Rs. 12.5 crores.
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