The Green Brigade

The people of Jhakni, a small village four kilometres from Pithoragarh in Uttar Pradesh, with 60 families and extensive terrace farming, have decided to style their own fate. "In 1979 we gave more than two hectares of our land to the forest department for afforestation projects,' says Gopal Singh Mahar of the village. Five years later, unable to re-green the land, the forest department returned it to the villagers.

Realising that the land had been lying fallow, the village decided, in 1991, to grasp the nettle and formed the Jan Kalyan Samiti (People's Welfare Committee) to manage afforestation. The village decided to themselves take care of their natural resources. "This was our land and instead of leaving it fallow we decided to regenerate the forest,' says Singh. Initially, the area was fenced off to keep cattle at bay and a guard was hired to watch over the freshly planted saplings. Useful trees like khair ( Acacia catechu ) were planted. The people look forward to a handsome income from the usufructs in the years to come.

To begin with, the going was not easy for the residents of Jhakni. "People from other villages objected, claiming that trees could not be planted on the land because it was a gauchar (common pasture). They would come during the night and destroy the saplings. In the morning they would leave their cattle to graze in the area. We filed a case against them. The case went on for two and a half years. It drained our financial resources. But we did not give up the fight. Ultimately, we won. We had to save our ecological resources, come what may,' says Singh.

Today, the villagers do not entirely depend on the guard. On holidays, they team up and visit the fenced area, water the trees and apply organic manure. "After all it is like watching your children grow,' says another resident.