At loggerheads

Orissa's forest protection movement, which started in different places at different times, has become so strong that neither do forest officials find it easy to enter the forests protected by communities nor has the government been able to implement its conservation programmes. But the government refuses to acknowledge their efforts. "Where is the community protecting the forest? This is jfm , not cfm ,' principal chief conservator of forest Bhaskar Chandra Mohapatra is said to have told a delegation of village leaders and members of non-governmental organisations ( ngo s) in January this year. The villagers, however, are in no mood to give such arguments a hearing. "There is no jfm . The government has done nothing to protect the forests,' says Manjo Behera, member of Janakpur village fpc . "We oppose the very nomenclature of jfm . I t is cfm ... that is what we have been doing for decades,' says Gorachand Mahato, leader of Budhikhamari village in Mayurbhanj.

"We have regenerated the forest after it was plundered by corrupt forest officials. Where is the question of joint management now?' asks Susil Bhoi, a resident of Jhankarpali, where the movement to protect a degraded reserve forest started six years ago. The communities have agreed to bring more forest areas under their protection, even under government control, but on the condition that the government sheds ownership over the forest and its resources. "The government's initiative has derailed at the start itself because it hesitated to give rights to people who have nurtured the forest,' says Sarthak Pal of O xfam. Now the 10,000 villages, where forest protection measures are being carried out, have even declared regenerated forests on reserve or protected land as community forests.

Introduced in the 1980s, the Swedish International Development Agency ( sida )-funded social forestry project has failed miserably in the state. The forest department was not able to keep its promise of giving the communities a stake in the protected forest. Forest officials are keen to pass on the buck to sida and point out that sida is keen on jfm . However, Owe Andersson, head and counselor, development cooperation section of sida , says, "It is not that sida is interested in jfm only. We acknowledge the people's efforts.' The state's forest officials are using any possible excuse to explain their own failings.

Recently the state government set up a committee to review the state forest policy and draft a new "people-oriented' policy. This step was hailed as the first step towards formalising community institutions. Sadly, the draft submitted to the state government doesn't even mention the communities' efforts. Chief minister Giridhar Gamang acknowledged the communities' rights, but did not commit anything (see interview: " I assure you that people's rights would be protected ').

Interestingly, the member of Legislative Assembly ( mla ) from Nayagarh, Ramakanta Mishra, was ignorant of his own village protecting forests. "If that is the situation, then the people should be given the rights,' he says, adding hastily, "But before that we will have to discuss the issue in the Assembly.'

Ramakanta Mishra's ignorance speaks of the political leadership's attitude towards people's initiatives. "Why politicians are not interested in cfm is very difficult to explain as it defies all sense and logic,' says Neeraj Peter, who has surveyed cfm in Orissa. "Our initiative is to circulate the charter of demands among politicians to generate awareness among them. After that, hopefully they will acknowledge the villagers' efforts,' says Manoj Patnaik of rcdc .

But Balagopal Mishra, a third-time mla and a former member of Parliament feels that politicians should not be involved at all with community efforts. "Every politician knows that issues like forests and water fetch votes. But they don't intend to fulfil a single promise on these issues.'

The villagers feel politicians should not be involved with their activities. "Once politicians are involved, they destroy our organisations. They have done this with panchayat bodies,' says Gorachand Mahato of Mayurbhanj. Explains Laxmidhar Bulia, convenor of ojm , "We have sought their help just to facilitate a legislation granting ownership rights. They need not interfere in villagers' affairs as there is already a time-tested set up to protect and manage resources.'