Villagers in a little known village called Bagaspur in Madhya Pradesh were lured by a lime kiln owner with money and developmental promises in their village if they allowed him to open a lime kiln in the area. The villagers realized that it would lead to the destruction of the reserve forest in their land which is home to approximately 13% of the world’s wild tiger population. They angered the owner with an outright No but saved the forest.
Bagaspur is a village located in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. For the past six years, WWF-India has been working in tandem with the villagers to conserve wildlife in the surrounding Satpura Maikal landscape which is home to almost 13 percent of the world’s tiger population.
The main problem with the area that was recognized by WWF was fast depleting natural resources, deforestation owing to urbanization. They formed a village level Forest Conservation Committee to help sustain the forest.
A few months ago in 2010, a lime kiln owner approached the villagers saying that he would build roads, give them money to develop the village and also built a temple in their village. In return he wanted them to allow him to build a lime kiln in their area. He also informed that he had secured the necessary permission from the forest department to use wood from the reserve forests.
The villagers were not as naïve as the kiln owner thought them to be. They soon did some calculations and realized that while the owner had permission to use about one truck load of wood for his kiln, his actually requirement was 2-3 truck loads in five days. He therefore wanted the villagers to supply the rest of the wood needed illegally!
The villagers were not even ready to part with fallen dead branches of the trees, let alone cut green trees. They refused straight away.
Nagarachi Vishwakarma, Secretary of the Forest Conservation Committee explained the reasons behind the refusal, “First and foremost, we wanted to ensure that no damage was done to the tiger’s habitat. Second, we wanted to protect the source of our fuel wood, which would have been exhausted if the lime kiln had been set up.”
The villagers also stopped some outsiders from felling trees the same night.
The lime kiln owner then approached Girish Patel part of the WWF team’s field office. He too refused the owner’s proposal.
“I felt the villagers had rights over the reserve forest although not for illegal cutting for commercial purpose.” He said.
Getting rejection from both the villagers and the officers the lime kiln owner threatened them with dire consequences, but the brave villagers remained steadfast to their decision and finally the owner had to forget his plans.
The villagers also wrote a letter to the district collector requesting him not to allow such a lime kiln to come up in their village.
Girish adds that if one such lime kiln would have been allowed in the area, more would have come up in future resulting in total loss of the habitat and crucial ecosystem.
As Mr. Sumeri Lal Marathi, President of Bagaspur’s Forest Conservation Committee concluded, “We, the villagers of Bagaspur, refused the proposed lime kiln as increased cutting of wood over the years would have lead to the erosion of the natural resources from the forest on which we all are dependant.”
The tale of the vigilant villagers is the kind of success stories that have to be repeated all across India to ensure that short term gains don’t make us forget about the long term loss we might be leading to by destroying the precious forests and wildlife.
Story source: WWF