Sakhra (Maharashtra): Can india's tribals protect forests and fight the timber mafia?
A village in Maharashtra proves this is possible. The people of Sakhra conserve and patrol their forests successfully, to prevent loggers from taking over. The results are for everyone to see.
An important change is taking place in these hills in the tiny village of Sakhra, in Maharashtra. So tiny is this village that the milestones don't even acknowledge it.
The change: increase in greenery due to forest protection being initiated by the progressive villagers.
Says a villager, Shyamji, "Last year we planted 26,000 seeds. In the previous year we planted kaju and badam trees."
In the 60s, Sakhra village was nestled in a different place until a dam was built, forcing the villagers to relocate nearby. Along with relocation, the villagers also had to combat deforestation.
They planted seeds and armed themselves with sticks to become vigilantes. Today the vigilantes roam the woods in groups of 10, hunting for trespassers and raise a veritable storm if they spot one.
Says another villager Baburao Ojire, "We are tribals of the jungle. If we protect the forest and plant trees we get many benefits including food."
The women too contribute by scavenging for fallen branches. All this because the government is dead they say.
"The government does nothing to protect our forest. They simply watch and leave," adds Ojire.
Fourteen years of forest conservation in Sakhra has resulted in lush greenery. But on a more important note - and on a macro level - the awareness to expand and preserve forests has spread to other villages around Sakhra.
The word has spread because green activists travel from village to village revealing the benefits of protecting forests especially in context of the Scheduled Tribes Bill, 2005.
Says a social worrker, Madhubai, "If we get the right to protect our forest, it will be very good for us."
Indiscriminate cutting of trees is forcing tribals to take the law into their own hands. They're keeping a watch today so that future generations will be able to enjoy the lush greenery.