Collective Conservation of forests by Van Utthan Sansthan in Udaipur District, Rajasthan

An integral part of Rajasthan’s culture, the Orans are sacred village forests that are an important source of water in the form of small springs, ponds, and rivulets and are rich in biodiversity. Floral diversity of orans constitutes dhak, kadamb, keekar, khair, and guggal, etc. which are used by local people for food, fodder for livestock, and medicines. Sambhar, nilgai, wild pigs, and peacocks constitute the faunal diversity of Orans. They serve as a source of water and pasturelands, and people use these places for cultural gatherings, festivals, and other social events. Communities practicing agro-pastoralism are dependent on these Orans for centuries. But now, these orans have undergone degradation and are severely under threat.

Need for the Initiative

However, successful implementation of JFM and facility for conflict resolution amongst formal and informal institutions in the JFM framework requires attention in the State. The land settlements in the 1960s created new boundaries, which were largely arbitrary. The arrival of the Forest Department mostly excluded communities from management roles and responsibilities. This was followed by incidences of over-exploitation of forest resources, droughts, illicit privatization and unplanned construction works. As a result, most areas in the Udaipur district of the State that were pristine forests until a few decades ago, lie severely degraded. With the inception of the JFM programme in 1991, the communities were included into the management of the forest areas surrounding their villages. The collective management of forest resources and implementation of JFM saw challenges on behalf of the State and the communities.

conservation initiative and its impacts-

Van Utthan Sansthan (VUS) is a network of Village Forest Protection Committees (FPC)[1] formed under the Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme, to facilitate co-management of natural resources by combining the traditional knowledge and practices of local communities with technical and scientific inputs from the government, and further support the village-level democratic institutions such as the FPCs, in implementation of policies and guidelines formulated by the State for conservation and management of natural resources. It was registered as a Society in 2003 and is presently amongst the largest networks of FPC’s operating in India. Their direct intervention covers more than 240 villages in five blocks- Jhadol, Kotra, Kherwara, Gogunda and Girwa- of the Udaipur district, facilitating management of 67,000 hectares of dry deciduous forests, majorly in the Semi-Arid region of the State. The activities of VUS are coordinated by a 17-member Executive Committee (EC). The EC is elected every two years by the General Body of VUS, which includes all FPCs that are members of VUS. 30 per cent of the Executive Committee membership is allocated for women. Five functionaries are selected from the EC along with an office coordinator for managing the daily affairs of the organisation. Members of the EC are responsible for various forest divisions of the associated blocks. The EC meets every month to discuss their progress, related issues and collectively makes important decisions. The Seva Mandir is consulted on need basis. Since 2006, the key functions of the VUS EC have been to oversee the governance, reorganize and re-elect FPCs and to strengthen other village level institutions. Under the guidance of Seva Mandir, VUS develops and implements participatory monitoring, evaluation and research on ecological schemes in the area under Joint Forest Management, in Udaipur. Since its inception, VUS has organized workshops to elucidate the roles and responsibilities of FPCs and the forest department under National Policy Framework. The VUS also organizes technical workshops to create awareness regarding good conservation practices and forest management schemes such as ‘Van Sahayogis’ (forest helpers). VUS assists in resolving inter-village conflicts related to boundary disputes and grazing and helps the forest department in dealing with illegal privatization of the forestlands. Issues regarding over-exploitation, mining, droughts, illicit privatization, unplanned construction works etc, are resolved by VUS.
The conservation efforts have augmented the vegetative cover of the area. An increase in the key floral species in the region have been observed as a result of both plantations of new saplings as well as regeneration of natural root-stocks. These forests provide ecological services such as carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air purification. Animals like leopard, jackal, fox, hyena, rabbit, etc. have been spotted after decades.[2] Employment of nearly 100,000 community members has been created through JFM. Better access and availability of fodder and fuel wood is viewed as a major benefit. The communities sustainable collect various Non-Timber Foesrt Products[3], such as tendu leaves, gum, honey, etc., from the forests. Watershed ecology has led to higher productivity of arable lands. Assessments show that availability of fodder from forestlands had risen to 1,000 - 1,200 kilogram per hectare by the third year of intervention. Over the last few years, VUS has decolonized several hectares of encroached forestlands and have been able to recreate their identity as a common resource.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

VUS won the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Co-management’ in 2012.

contact:Shailendra Tiwari Tel. +91 6376135347 Email: shailendra.tiwari@sevamandir.orgRajasthan has 3 cases, please add picture for third case in drive.