To Save Our Forest is to Work with the People

Dr. P. DashSharma



    It is now clear that a system of State forest management based on policing the forest and more stringent penal measure have failed in the past. Democratic, decentralised and participatory forest management is the need of the hour for a sustainable development. Sustainable development in generally taken to mean "improving the quality of human life within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystem". Decentralised and ‘Participatory’ forest management has been considered as the only long term solution to the problems of deforestation and environmental degradation in the country. The National Forest Policy of 1988 had stressed the need for involving the people of the local forest dependent villages for managing the forest. This new line of thinking has led to the development of "Joint Forest Management" (JFM) which has gained importance these days.

 However, a controversy has sparked off by an Act drafted by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs called "The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005". This seeks to correct the ‘historic wrong’ whereby British rule denied the traditional rights of tribals in forests. The bill has raised a storm of protests, led by a rival arm of the government, namely the Ministry of Environment. Ministry officials have even threatened to go on dharna outside the Prime Minister’s house if the bill is passed. Their cries have been amplified by powerful wildlife conservation lobby, chiefly based in New Delhi.

    So this is the impression of our bureaucracy about the people who live in and around the forests. The paper will discuss about that — to save our forests is to work with the people.


    The forest provide the tribals and other communities living close to the forests the following — habitat, shelter, and shades; raw materials for household equipments; other objects of material culture like resins, gums, and dyes, etc.; wood for building houses, fencing and tool making etc.; firewood, herbal medicines; fodder for cattle and grazing areas; and other material objects like ornaments and religious items, etc. These are some of the direct benefits the tribals and other communities get from the forests. In India tribal life and economy are intimately connected with the forests, which covers about 23 per cent of the total geographical area of the country.

    To drag on the continuity of our discussion we need to look back what the colonial masters of pre- independence period had done, that is, wresting the rights of the tribals from the forest (cf. Dash Sharma, 1977, p. 51-52).

British Policy

    Before the advent of the British rule in India the forest-dwellers and other indigenous communities enjoyed freedom to use forests or exploit forest resources mainly for their livelihood. There was only customary regulation of people’s rights over forest lands and forest produce. This customary regulation did not pose any problem due to the existence of vast tracts of forests and a small population size. The forests-dwellers and other communities living in and around forests were supposed to collect only the fallen leaves, twigs and fruits and not cut any tree therein which helped in the conservation of natural forests.

    In 1894 the British government declared its Forest Policy which specifically emphasised the commercial use of the forest and it paved the way for the regulation of rights and privileges of forest-dwellers over forest land and produce. The comprehensive Indian Forest Act came in 1927which contained all the major provisions of the earlier Act. The Government of India Act, 1935, passed by the British Parliament created Provincial Legislatures and the subject of forest was included in the Provincial list under this Act. Thereafter, several Provinces made their own laws to regulate forests and the rights and privileges of forest-dwellers over forest land and produce. The British forest policy was mainly based on commercial interest and it aimed at supplying timber and other forest resources to colonial forest based industries. The commercial exploitation of forests was to encourage at the costs of the forest-dwellers, the tribal and other indigenous communities, for the greater interest of the colonial rulers. They permitted licensed contractors to collect forest resources by all means without considering the future consequences.



    After Independence there was some rethinking on the issue of forest policy. The new National Forest Policy was declared by the Government of India in 1952, which emphasised ecological and social aspects of forestry and gave only secondary importance to the needs of commerce and industry and also to the revenue collection. The tribals living near forests were discouraged from using forest and forest produce.


    The National Commission on Agriculture in 1976 classified forestlands into (1) protection forests, (2) production forests, and (3) social forests. The commission discussed the needs of the rural population but does not appear to have taken into account the tribals’ and forest-dwellers’ need for minor forest produce which is the major source of livelihood for the tribals. The National Commission on Agriculture speaks of providing employment to adivasis but it ignored the need of the adivasis for forest materials: for thatching roofs, wood for house construction, fruits, flowers and roots which are used as food, or seeds for extracting edible oils.

    For the eight per cent population of India represented by the tribals the forest is the main source of livelihood and the concept of "social forestry" developed by the National Commission on Agriculture (1976) can not meet the needs of the tribals or the poor rural population for fuel, fodder and other minor forest produce. It is a general feeling of the Forest Department that the tribal people destroy the forest through their harmful practices like shifting cultivation and reckless feeling of trees for firewood etc.


    Indian Forest Bill of 1980 shows pro-rich, pro-urban and anti-rural people bias. It spells out a number of prohibited acts in preserved and protected forests. The Bill prescribes harsh punishment and provides wide powers and safeguards to government officials. The tribals who are so much dependent on forest are the worst affected by this Bill as they are always at the mercy of the forest officials.

A Welcome Departure


    The National Policy of 1988 marks a significant departure from its predecessors, most notably in its clear recognition that the primary function of our forest is the maintenance of ecological stability. The policy states that "the principal aim of forest policy must be to ensure environmental stability and ecological balance including atmospheric equilibrium which are vital to sustenance of all life forms, human, animal and plants." The explicit objective of the new policy is for protecting the forest wealth of India, encouraging the productivity of the forest, promoting afforestation on barren lands and conserving the genetic resources of Indian forests". The most significant aspect of the National Forest Policy of 1988 is that it calls for the involvement of the forest-dwellers, tribals and the neighbouring communities of the forests. Joint Forest Management (JFM) is a direct outcome of the 1988 National Forest Policy, which acknowledged unambiguously the dependence of the rural poor on forest resources for survival.

Sustainable Development

    The progressive transformation of economy and society is termed as development. The aim of the new forest policy is obviously to ‘protect and develop forest resources’ to ‘conserve bio-diversity’ to launch massive afforestation and plantation and at the same time to fulfil the needs of the people for fuel wood, fodder and pastures without allowing them to resort to such practices that might lead to soil-erosion, and degradation of forests. The emphasis is clearly on sustainable development. Sustainable development is the new buzz-word in environmental circles and is generally taken to mean "improving the quality of human life within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystem".

    The dominant development world view in the 1950s and 1960s was that the general growth, development and modernisation process inevitably involve ever-increasing levels of consumption and these in turn entailed massive destruction of natural ecological resources. The World Commission on Environment and Development (1983) appointed Mrs Gor Harlem Brundtland, the Prime Minister of Norway, to go into the problem of global crisis and survival potentialities of mankind in context of challenges of development strategies. The concept of sustainable development emerged from the Brundtland report (1987) entitled, "Our Common Future" submitted to UN General Assembly. It defines the concept as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

    ‘Sustainable development’ model has brought environmental concerns at the centre-stage of development debate which was missing earlier. The progressive transformation of economy and society is termed as development. In the new development discourse following the Brundtland report (1987), the ‘sustainability concept has been the key unifying element underlying the need to refashion our development policies and strategies in 1980s and 1990s (Dhanagare, 2002, p. 4; Dhanagare, 1992).

    "It is now generally accepted that ‘human society’ (socio-cultural and economic system), ‘environment’ (bio-sphere/ecology), and ‘science-technology’ are three autonomous, yet co-evolutionary systems. This suggests that they not only interpenetrate and reinforce each other but also that each encounters constraints and impulses that originate in other systems. All three systems thus search for an optimal level to which others could be harnessed or utilised" (Chopra, 1991, cited from Dhanagare, 2000, p.5).

    Sustainable development is therefore a process in which an equilibrium is maintained between utilisation of natural resources and environment. This process has also to maintain an equilibrium in the direction of investments in technological developments and institutional change so that they are in harmony with one another, and can enhance the present as well as the future capabilities of people to meet their needs, aspirations as well as bring improvement in the quality of their life.

    Young (1992:111-112) defined sustainable development in terms of three ‘E’s, they are :

    1. environmental integrity
    2. economic efficiency

(b) equity

    Such a concept means that the right kinds of choices and decisions regarding ‘goals’ and ‘means’ (i.e. objectives and strategies) must be made by people themselves. Thus it suggests that basic freedom of choice, cultural pluralism and relativism must be accepted by the people as the binding principle for sustainable development. Further, the first precondition for such a sustainable development is the relentless effort towards ‘consensus building’ among the people.

Joint Forest Management

Joint Forest Management (JFM) is a direct outcome of the 1988 National Forest Policy. For the last 150 years,23 per cent of the geographical area of the country (329 million hectares), which has been classified as forest lands, has been government controlled. Human made plantations of industrial species were encouraged on forest lands, often by felling and clearing mixed forests. Even after independence this policy continued for some decades until the National Forest Policy gave a new dimension to forest management in 1988. The new thrust of JFM is the outcome of the realisation that without the willing and active participation of communities living in and around forests no programme to regenerate degraded forests would ever succeed.

The June 1990-resolution of the Government of India prescribes only a drastically revised role for the Forest Department. Instead of perpetuating the old ‘policing centred forest protection’ approach, the foresters now need to put the forest-dependent people at the centre of their policies, strategies and action programmes and implement them in an integrated manner. Through JFM, people ought to be made to realise that as users of natural resources, they have an obligation to protect the forest as managers of the wealth of the forests. Sharing of the forest produce equitably is possible only if forest resources are carefully nurtured. That the right to use forest resources is accompanied by the obligation to protect as well as replenish the forest. This approach therefore involves an attitudinal change both among the people and the foresters, who in a spirit of reciprocity must understand each other.

Five Models of Forest Management

    "India’s present development needs require that industry must not be left out while managing the forests development and protection. This is also stressed in the policy documents. Ideally, therefore, the joint forest management should involve people, NGOs, foresters as well as industry so that forest resources are shared equitably and with an ability to sustain. What is suggested here is a combination of models (i), (iv) and (v); so that people’s needs. Environmental protection as well as raw material needs of industry receive equal attention" (Dhanagare, 2000:p.7).

    Dhanagare(2000) has further suggested that for such a blend of models to work, certain minimum conditions must be met by local groups or villagers / village communities with whose cooperation the foresters are expected to manage the forests efficiently. These conditions are:

    1. A viable social unit of organisation (be that a panchayat, or a village community, or an organisation of women /youth;
    2. Organisational norms and procedures ought to be adhered to rigorously as well as voluntarily;
    3. There must be some kind of accountability mechanism and also appraisal system;
    4. The organisation must have ability, will and power to resolve conflicts; and finally
    5. The local groups must enjoy relative autonomy.

    In such a composite JFM model, with conditions specified above, forest officials’ role will have to be that of a facilitator, rather than that of an implementor, that of a partner, rather than an executive. People, NGOs and foresters are equal partners, sharing responsibilities as well as right to make decisions, however, without sub or super ordination, and sharing duties and divisions of labour among the partners.

Conservation of Biodiversity

    The author conducted a survey (during 1993) in a village of Mandar block which lies on to the west of Ranchi-Lohardaga road. Village Hatma was the study village situated at a distance of 34 km west of Ranchi city and falls under the Karge Panchayat of Mandar block on the Mandar-Burmu road. Close to the village there lies a big forest at a distance of about 1.5 km from the village. The village is connected by road with block office. Most part of the road is fit for small vehicles and mostly metalled except some distance close to the village is kaccha road. At the time of the survey a primary government school was noticed in this village, and all the houses are mud walled. This was the situation some 12 years back and much have changed since then, particularly in the communication system and in the field of education at the block level. The total land area of the village is 1151.57 hectare. On the north side at 4 km is the village Murwa, on the south at 2 km is the village Karge. The village Thakurgaon is at 4 km on eastern side of Hatma and at 3 km west us the village Harra.

    The village Hatma is the mixed village and is inhabited by five different communities. The village is dominated by the tribals, mainly by the Munda people. The Mahto is the next higher group numerically in this village. The village Hatma is the divided into three main hamlets or tolas: Hatma (Barki Hatma), Chotki Hatma and Pandnia tola. Barki Hatma or main Hatma covers almost 75 % of the total population of hatma. The Pahan, the religious head of the tribals has his dwelling here.

    According to the data collected from the Block Office (1991 Census) the total family of the village is 92 out of which 91.23% are tribals — among them 81(88.04%) are Mundas, 3 (3.26%) are Oarons, and 2(2.17%) are Lohras. The Mahtos are represented by 4 families (4.35%), while Ansari Muslims are 2 families (2.17%). The total population of the village is 559 persons, out of that 282 are males and 277 are females. The adult members in the village are found to be 73.31% of the total population. Only 18.43% of the total population are literate, while 81.57% are illiterate.

    It was found during the field study that the primary occupation of the village is cultivation (59.39%). Only 3 members of the village are in service, and another 3 members are engaged in other casual works. Many villagers sell forest produce in the weekly hat which is held at Thakurgaon at a distance of 4 km. Another weekly hat is at Burmu about 4.5 km away, and another one at Mandar at a distance of 8 km from Hatma.

    As the forest is close to the Hatma village so for their fuel all the villagers have to depend upon the forest wood. The forest firewood is the only source of energy which enable them to cook their food. More than 50% of the villagers collect firewood from the forest while some villagers bring the firewood from the Mandar hat. Al trees are abundant in and around the forest area. Other important trees are — mango, jackfruit, papal, karam, jamun, koinar,bamboo and mahua tree which are very common trees found in Mandar, and in general throughout the Jharkhand area. Bamboo is very useful material for them for house construction. I was found that maximum number of villagers collect Sal tree logs for their house construction, bari fencing and for erecting machan also. The roof of the houses are also made up of Sal and bamboo logs and khapra tiles.

    There are large number of minor forest produce identified and collected by the villagers who live neat the forest. The minor forest produce may be classified into groups like fruits, seeds, leaves, and medicinal plants.

Koinar, Munga and Mahua flowers are minor forest produce used by the villagers as food items. Among the fruits — jackfruit, mango, jamun, kanoda, kend and tamarin are occasionally collected by the people of Tigoy Ambatoli and Hatma villages from the nearby forest as food items.

    Sal, Kendu and Phutkal leaves are used by the villagers for their domestic consumption as well as many other kinds of sag like Koinar sag, Sarso sag, etc. are taken as vegetables by the villagers of Ambatoli and Hatma. Many types of roots like Sakhin kanda, Sakar kanda and Aru kanda are also used as vegetables by the villagers. These minor food items are useful supplement to the regular diet of the villagers particularly the tribals. As the tribals are living closer to the forested region of Mandar block so they are more knowledgeable about the minor forest produce which they procure from the area around the village and the forested region.

Medicinal Plants

    The forests of Jharkhand abounds in herbs and roots of medicinal importance and only the elderly people among the tribals, that too limited only to a few families in the different tribal groups, are considered as knowledgeable about the use of these medicinal plants. The medicine man of the tribal village is very important person and his knowledge usually remains limited to this family and is passed on orally from the father to the sons, and so on to the next generation onwards.

    In the Hatma forest village we came in contact with one elderly person who is knowledgeable about the medicinal plants found in that area. In general most of the tribal people interviewed stated that they get themselves treated with the traditional system first for all general ailments (stomach trouble, cough and cold, pain, sprain, fever, etc.), as modern medicines are very costly. As the tribal people are very poor so they stick to the traditional methods of treatment generally as far as possible.

    During the course of the field survey in June-August 1993 in the Mandar area twenty-six medicinal plants were identified in the forest areas of Mandar and Burmu block of Jharkhand with the help of an elderly medicine man — Chamara Bhagat of village Sidroll who considered to be very knowledgeable in this aspect by the people of the region. The curative properties of the medicinal plants as identified and informed by him were checked with the reports of Gupta (1974) presented earlier.

    The following plant species were identified and the general method of application as stated by Chamara Bhagat have been presented.

Local Name

Botanical name

Method of application

1. Pajo

Litsea polyantha juss.

The powered bark is applied to relieve pain, bruises on the body and for fractures in animals.

2. Karanj

Pongamia pinnata

Seeds are used externally for skin diseases. Oil form these seeds is used in cutaneous infections, herpes, and scabies; also used in rheumatism. Fresh bark is used internally for bleeding piles.

3. Harsingar

Nyctanthes arbortristes


Leaves usedin fever and rheumatism, fresh juices given in chronic fever. Leave juice mixed with a little sugar is given to children as remedy for intestinal worms.

4. Ber

Zizyphus manritiana


Fruit is considered to purify the blood and help in digestion. Root used as decoction in fever and as a powder applied to old wounds and ulcers.

5. Sindwar

Vitex negundo


Leaves aromatic tonic, dried ones are smocked for relief of headache and catarrh; useful in dispersing swelling of joints from acute rheumatism.

6. Jamun

Syzygium cumini


The fruit is eaten and juice of ripe fruit is made into a vinegar as a stomachic. Seeds are used for treating diabetes. The bark is also used for diarrhoea and dysentery.

7. Sal

Shorea robusta

Resin astringent, detergent, used in dysentery and for fumigation and plasters. Given for weak digestion, gonorrhoea and aphrodisiac.

8. Lajvanti

Mimosa pudica


Decoction of root useful in gravellish complains; leaves and roots used in piles and fistula; leaves rubbed into a paste applied to hydrocele; leaves and stem are used in scorpion sting.

9. Mahua

Madhu indica


Bark used as decoction as astringent and tonic. Flowers yields a spirit which is astringent, tonic, appetizing; regarded as cooling tonic, nutritive, used in coughs in the form of a decoction.

10. Gamhar

Gamelina arborea


Juice of leave demulcent used in gonorrhoea, cough, and to remove foetied discharges and worms. The plant is used for snake-bite and scorpion-sting.

11. Peepal

Ficus religiosa


Bark astringent, used in gonorrhoea, fruit laxative, seeds cooling, leaves and young shoots as purgative, infusion of bark given for scabies.

12. Tendu

Diospyros peregrina


Fruit and stem bark — astringent. Oil of seeds given in diarrhoea and dysentery. Infusion of fruits used in gargle for sore throats. Juice used as application for wounds and ulcers.

13. Neem

Azadirachta indica

The bark is bitter and nearly very part is used medicinally in intermittent fever and a tonic oil from seeds is used in parasitic skin diseases and for dressing foul ulcers. Bark, leaf and seed are also used in snake-bite and scorpion- sting.

14. Bel

Aegle marmelos


Pulp of ripe fruit aromatic, cooling, laxative,. Unripe or half ripe fruit astringent, digestive, stomachic in diarrhoea.

15. Karam

Adine cordifolia

Hook. F.

Bark febrifuge antiseptic, juice is used to kill worms.

16. Bansupli

Not identified*

Bark used in pain.

17. Ghee


Not identified*

Used in stomach pain.

18. Baryari

Sida carpinifolia

Leaves used in skin diseases like mould, also used in piles.

19. Bander


Not identified*

The leaves grinded and made to a paste and is used to relieve headache.

20. Dartotni

Not identified*

Used to stop bleeding, also is a pain killer.



Not identified*

The bark is used in relieving pain of hand, feet, specially of nerve pain.

22. Har-


Not identified*

The bark of Harfarauri is used for body pain. The bark is grounded and made to a paste for the use.

23. Parghiya

Not identified*

The apical leaves are used to relieve headache.

24. Saruchi


Not identified*

Used to relieve tooth pain.

25. Chhatri-


Not identified*

Bark is used to relieve chest pain.

26. Harzor

Cissus quadrangularis

Used for treating bone fracture.


* The botanical names could not be identified by the author.

    The 26 medicinal plants in and around Hatma village were identified by the medicine man of the village Sidrol . The botanical name of some of the plants could not be ascertained, but we hope to do that with the earliest available opportunity. After having identified the important medicinal plants and the location of the plants in the villages in Burmu block, the next phase would be the action oriented programme involving the villagers for the protection and preservation of these plants from the onslaught of rapid urbanisation of the area. Hatma forest needs special attention of the authorities for the protection of the medicinal plants, before the forest gets denuded of trees and plants of medicinal values.

To Save Our Forest is to Work with the People


    As this situation is prevailing in many States of India so a concerted effort should be made for the protection of medicinal plants involving the villagers and the concerned authorities with the lead NGOs and their network supporting the basic infrastructure for the protection of the medicinal plants.

    The medicinal plants must get all the care and protection, and attention from the people in general whether they are city dwellers or villagers. If we are more dependent and confident on the traditional system of medicines (avoiding use of allopathic medicines unless found very essential ) at least for common diseases like cough and cold, muscular pains, sprains, and common fevers, etc. For this the knowledgeable people who are well versed in the art of application of local herbs of medicinal value must be given their due recognition. The local NGOs must take an initiative to bring the medicine man into the centre stage of village health care practices, by not only involving the villagers of the surrounding areas but also the urban people who are living on the fringe of the village. Due and proper recognition and remuneration must be given to the medicine man so that he feels confident in practicing his system of indigenous medicine. Local NGOs must evolve a system of management to bring awareness and popularity of the indigenous system of medicines which have been proved to be very effective in treating various ailments and diseases.

    If Shri Ram Dev Baba of Haridwar can attract thousands of persons who are health seekers and suffering from obesity, gout, diabetes, blood pressure, hypothyroidism, and many other ailments, and most of whom are very rich people and well-educated too have turned to this Yogi for getting themselves cured through a method long recorded in our ancient Hindu system of healthcare practice. Along with physical exercise through asanas or body poses and medication through herbal medicines, this much revered yogic Baba is caring and curing thousands of patients in his multiple ashrams.

    If a yogi can cure many ailments through herbal medicines and asanas then our tribal medicine man can also do wonders in health care practice; if they are sponsored and supported by the local NGOs who are trained in natural resource management of rural and forested areas.

    I hope and wish that ISRAA and similar other non-government organisations of West Bengal would take a lead in this direction to conserve, preserve and sustain the natural resource management of a forested area of Paschim Medinipur of West Bengal. Gradually they should train others and should send this message to other NGOs working beyond the boundaries of Paschim Medinipur. 


  • Chopra, K. 1991. Sustainable Development Some Interpretations and Applications in the Context of Indian Agriculture (an unpublished paper). Institute of Economic Growth: Delhi. (cf. Dhanagare, D. N. 2000).

  • Chakravarty, S. 1989. Development Planning — Indian Experience. Oxford University Press: Delhi.
  • Dash Sharma, P. 1997. Tribals and Forest Management. In: Yojana —Development and Environment, Independence Day ’97 Special Issue: August 1997: 51-53.
  • Dash Sharma, P. and Pravir Kumar Sen 1995. Conservation of Biodiversity in Mandar (Ranchi, Bihar). South Asian Anthropologist, 16(2): 85-94.
  • Dhanagare, D. N. 1992. Sustainable Development, Environment and Social Science in India. IFSSO International Federation of Social Science Organisation (Prague), Newsletter, Nos. 27-28: pp. 38-50.
  • Dhanagare, D. N. 2000. Joint Forest Management: A Study of Uttar Pradesh. 14th G. B. Pant Memorial Lecture, August 24-26, 2000. (pp. 1-106). G. B. Pant Social Science Institute: Allahabad.
  • JFM 1993. Joint Forest Management Update 1993. Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development: New Delhi.
  • Young, M. 1992. Sustainable Investment — The economic Challenge. Impact of Science on Society (Special issue on Environment and Development), vol. 42, no. 2: pp.111-112. cf. Dhanagare, D. N. 2000.

Paper presented at ISRAA seminar held during November 12-14, 2005

Institute of Social Research and Applied Anthropology
BIDISA, P.O. Fulgeria, Dist. Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal-721437