Conservation of Sacred Groves in the Western Ghats by the Ghisar Gram Panchayat, Maharashtra
Ghisar is a village in Velhe taluka, situated in the catchment of Kanadi river, about 70 km South-West of Pune district in Maharashtra. Flanked by the Sahaydri mountains on either side, it is a part of the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot. Comprising roughly 105 households, the Gram Panchayat of Ghisar has been protecting its sacred grove, with evergreen forests spread across 5 hectares, along with a water stream, which flows into the main Kanadi river. A sacred grove is a patch of vegetation which is conserved because of its association with some deity.
Need for the Initiative
These sacred natural sites in the district are increasingly threatened due to fragmentation, forest clearance and rapidly eroding cultural and ecological linkages, especially amongst the younger generation. The increase in the population of the village and in the number of cattle has increased pressure on the biological resources. Over 70% of the surrounding area has been bought by entrepreneurs for development purposes. The lack of legal framework for conservation of sacred sites in the state, presents a major challenge in establishing an effective governance regime.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
The conservation of the sacred groves in Ghisar was initiated by the Gram Panchayat with active involvement from members of village households. The grove is dedicated to Jugai Devi, the tutelary deity of the village. The boundaries of the sacred grove were demarcated with common consensus and strict rules & regulations were formulated for conservation and sustainable use of its biological resources, with a hefty penalty levied on defaulters. Agricultural activities, cattle grazing, logging, hunting of wildlife and fishing from the stream flowing across the grove have been prohibited. Limited collection of fuel wood and other NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Produce) is permitted from the groves and is mostly confined to the outer periphery of the forest area. The panchayat actively engages in spreading awareness regarding the significance of conservation of natural resources and their traditional ecological values. The forests prevent act as a carbon sink, prevent soil erosion, regulate the ambient temperature and provide aesthetic beauty. Numerous festivals are celebrated in the sacred grove throughout the year. The cultural activities engage the youth of the community and attract guests from nearby villages and districts. These initiatives have resulted in a strong community spirit among the inhabitants. As a result of the conservation initiatives, the grove is now abode to 130 floral species including the endangered Nothapodytes nimmoniana, known for its anti-cancer properties, and Cheirostylis parvifolia, a rare orchard in the state. Other endemic floral species found in the grove are, Litsea stocksii, Holigarna grahamii and Persea macrantha. Fruiting trees such as Carissa congesta & Elaeagnus Species are also abundant in the groves. Although the main occupation for the community is bamboo cultivation and cattle rearing, it depends on biological resources in the groves for food, medicine and fuel wood. Additionally, 30% of the floral species in the grove are of economic importance and contribute 5-10% to the total household income. Several pollinators, along with endemic and threatened birds such as the Crimson Backed Sunbird, Oriental Scops Owl and Indian Long Billed Vulture also inhabit the groves. The river supports several aquatic varieties of fish and crustaceans that serve as a source of sustenance for the community. The Panchayat is now focusing on providing infrastructure and training for developing ecotourism with facilities for homestays, ethnic cuisines and guided nature trails. In order to conserve the biological resources in the region while securing livelihoods for the local communities, the Ghisar Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) was constituted in 2019, in accordance with the mandates of the Biodiversity Act 2002. The BMC is in the process of finalizing its People’s Biodiversity Register, which is an inventory of the local biological resources and associated traditional knowledge.
The Ghisar Gram Panchayat, received special mention in the India Biodiversity Awards under the category ‘Decentralized Governance’ in 2014
Contact -Ankur Patwardhan Tel. +91-9823812653 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org