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The shrinking green canopy signaled a silent threat to their existence and that of the village. | Unsplash
Khirodhar Mahato is now the chairman of the 11-member local forest conservation committee and also the organizer of the Bokaro district forest conservation committee.
He recalled: “The movement gained momentum in 1981-1982. When we organized to save and rejuvenate forests, it raised awareness and sensitized ordinary people.
His companion, Jodha Mahto, added: “At that time, the dense forests were fading away. Many trees had become stunted, making us realize the seriousness of the situation. We realized that if our forests disappeared, then our fields would also become barren”. , and in turn, our livelihoods would also suffer.”
Unhindered mining and heavy industry put forests at risk
Gulab Chandra, a prominent environmental activist from Bokaro district and host of Damodar Bachao Abhiyan, told 101Reporters: “These forests are adjacent to some of the country’s major power stations and industrial coal production plants, namely the power generation of Bokaro Thermal and coal mining projects of Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) Thus, protecting the biodiversity of forest lands becomes more difficult and necessary.
The Van Raksha Bandhan movement, popularized by prominent environmentalist Mahadev Mahato, has been adopted to safeguard the forests of Pilpilo. | Unsplash
Chandra said that in the 90s, through the Sanjeevani Rath, they started a campaign to distribute saplings and inspired people to plant them. Under the banner of Chotanagpur Central Forest Protection Committee, they also encouraged people to plant trees to celebrate the birth of every girl, thereby reducing female feticide. When the time came, the trees would provide parents with financial benefits when their daughter married. The tree became his “brother and protector” and symbolic rakhis were attached to them. This Van Raksha Bandhan movement, popularized by prominent environmentalist Mahadev Mahato, was adopted to safeguard the Pilpilo forests. The activist’s visit to the village had motivated the people here, who began to tie protective threads on the branches of trees and bushes.
“We undertake once a year to protect the trees and organize a procession in which the women are also involved,” said Pushpa Devi (40) from Kanjakiro.
Meena Devi (30), another villager, said, “We prevent anyone from cutting down trees and make them understand that it will upset the environmental balance. Devi is associated with Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) self-help groups and is the president of the village organization.
The Sakhus of Upar Ghat
Upar Ghat is a sprawling collection of many isolated forests that mostly fall in the Nawadih block area. Until recently, this area was still a stronghold of the Naxalites with many instances of unrest. Although not completely eradicated, their presence is on the decline, with the violence so far on the decline. Nawadih also made headlines when the Bokaro Forestry Division under the Vanvardhan, Reforestation and Land Conservation Program for 2020-2021 planted 5.9 lakh native saplings on 616 hectares of forest land. Other important villages in Upar Ghat are Pilpilo, Kanjakiro and Pipradih villages within the boundaries of Kanjakiro Panchayat. Residents of Kurmi, Adivasi and Turi communities reside in these areas.
The Pipilo forest has more than 150 types of trees. | Unsplash
The Pipilo forest has more than 150 types of trees. Communities in the area benefit from collecting and selling varieties of fruits, green vegetables and mushrooms from the forests in nearby markets.
When 101Reporters visited Pilpilo, Khirodhar proved to be an invaluable guide, providing in-depth information about the land’s flora. “Revered by tribal communities, almost 90% of the trees here are Sakhua. It absorbs water during monsoons and slowly releases it during summers, replenishing groundwater sources. trees would alleviate any future water shortages,” he said, pointing out that Sakhua’s water-holding properties are well known to locals. He said there are many evergreen springs in the Lugu and Parasnath forests adjoining Upar Ghat and attributes this to the abundance of Sakhua trees.
Dr MS Malik, Dean of the Department of Forestry at Birsa Agricultural University, said there have been no studies on Sakhua’s ability to harvest water, but said they are pushing with very less water and are prolific throughout Jharkhand due to favorable acidic soil. “If you dig a pit next to the tree, it retains water and doesn’t dry out,” he said. Sakhua matures for 40-60 years and has medicinal value.
Mahto knows all about the medicinal value of these native trees; it’s attached to a RAM. Oil is produced from the fruit of the Kusum tree, and lacquerware is also made from it. The fruits of the central Kanaud kaur and Sayam tree are edible. The fruit of the Koraiya tree is used to treat diabetes, while the Bandarlore and Rohan trees have medicinal properties. During the monsoons, khukri/khukdi or futka (varieties of mushrooms) are found in the forest, foraged and sold at high prices, almost Rs 400 per kg.
Many trees were felled during the installation of the power line through the Teharwa Forest adjacent to the Pilpilo Forest. | Unsplash
Has constant vigilance
In 2020, many trees were felled during the installation of the power line through Teharwa Forest adjacent to Pilpilo Forest. In addition, the stones for the construction of the motor units came from the forests of Upar Ghat, the extraction of which caused significant damage to the forests, according to Gulab Chandra, the organizer of Damodar Bachao Abhiyan. There was no public consultation on this, Khirodhar Mahto said. This prompted Chandra and local activists to raise awareness against the looting of natural resources and habitats. The incident shook many people.
On condition of anonymity, a former Forestry Department official said that if there are government or private industrial activities within the boundaries of the forest they are likely to cause damage, so as a general rule authorities involved should make arrangements to uproot and transplant trees that are in danger of being destroyed in an alternative area.
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However, no such conservation enterprise has been registered in Pilpilo. He also added that there is also a lot of pressure to open the ecologically threatened areas of Upar Ghat to the tourism sector. Attempts to contact AK Singh, Bokaro’s Divisional Forestry Officer by phone and email were unsuccessful. (IANS/PR)
(Keywords: tribal groups, J’khand, indigenous forests, exploitation, Forest Department)