A model of sustainable protection

VILLAGERS in Lapanga, Sambalpur district, assert they initiated forest protection as long ago as 1936, making Lapanga one of the first villages to do so. The villagers protect about 250 ha of forest, of which 75 ha. are ryoti (private) land, donated for use as a community-run forest. The protection is managed by the Lapanga Gramya Jungle Suraksha Committee, whose executive body consists of 11 members nominated by different hamlets.

The committee principles are:

• One forest guard, paid by the committee, patrols the area regularly.

• Anyone reporting a forest offence receives half the fine imposed. Fines are determined on a case-by-case basis, but have touched Rs 2,000.

• An offender who refuses to pay the fine is barred from using the protected forest for 10 to 15 years. The threat invariably leads to compliance.

• There are no grazing restrictions.

• Cleaning operations are conducted periodically and the material gathered is auctioned in the village.

• Other than timber, there are no restrictions on collection of forest produce.

• There is selective felling of trees.

• Timber extraction, mainly sal, is allowed at highly subsidised rates for genuine needs, such as house - construction and repair and the making of agricultural implements. The limit is two trees per household, but high-value trees, such as sissoo, cannot be cut. Households with zyoti land in protected forest areas pay only half the rate charged to other villagers.

Those wanting subsidised timber, apply to the committee through their pada (hamlet) members, who verify the applicant's need and forward the application to the president. If the president's quick scrutiny is positive, the application is passed on to the secretary, who issues receipts to the applicant and the forest guard-The applicant and the guard then select a tree from those designated by the committee as suitable for felling. When the tree has been felled, its girth is measured and if it is less than the allotted girth, the fee is adjusted. Should persons allotted trees not fell them within a year, they are Teprimanded and penalised.