By: DD Sharma
PONDA (KINNAUR): While Himachal as a whole has been cluelessly wondering how to protect its fast-dwindling forest cover, a small village in the far-off Kinnaur region has silently been practicing forests conservation successfully over the years. The success of the effort lies in the fact that the village panchayat here has taken over the responsibility of tree plantation and forest management, which are primarily considered the tasks of the forest department.
Falling under the Nichar forest range of Kinnaur division under Rampur forest circle, Ponda villagers were once involved in massive illicit felling of trees, which had led to complete destruction and loss of adjacent forest area. Concerned about the situation, the forest range officer of the area had organised a series of meetings with local people and made them aware of the importance of forest conservation, which resulted in change in people’s perception and actions also. Following this, the panchayat willingly owned all functions relating to forest conservation and management, etc.
The panchayat at present has 29 families who are into agriculture, animal husbandry and horticulture. The village is situated at an altitude ranging from 2,500-3,200 meters above mean sea level, with 516 hectares of forest land and 57 hectares of private land. Due to absence of forests, people had to face many difficulties like depleting water resources, soil erosion and soil conservation, etc.
On the advice of the area Range Forest Officer, villagers held a meeting on March 25, 2002 and constituted a forest development committee. This committee resolved to implement the Forest Conservation Act firmly, and further formed some sub-rules for forest conservation like imposition of Rs 550 as fine for illicit felling of each tree. A complete ban was imposed on forest felling and it was decided to impose a penalty of Rs 70 per animal for grazing in the forest areas.
People themselves decided to own the responsibility for forest protection instead of leaving it to the forest department. Although the implementation of these decisions, like imposition of penalties, faced some difficulties in initial stages, yet with the active support from department official, the village now has developed a good forest cover in a short span of three to four years. Two villagers are constantly engaged in forest protection work, and now people from the adjoining villages do not dare to enter their forest for illicit felling and grazing. Many a time, illicit tree fellers have also been handed over to forest authorities for legal action. People have also started cultivating medicinal trees in forest areas .This activity has not only promoted forest conservation but has also provided a means of livelihood to people. The problem of soil erosion has also been contained to an extent. People have realised the real value of forests, and the adjoining panchayats too have learnt a lesson in environment conservation.