It’s a cool place. Cool within quote – neat and clean, 360 degree view, air in the purest form, clear sky and density 0.4/0.5 forest. The panorama has a kaleidoscopic muted spread of colours. Foresters friends know about forest density but other may wonder. Briefly, I can say the canopy cover of tree in the forest is 40/50 per cent, which means dense forest here.
We are comfortably sitting around at the top level of a beautifully designed and constructed Watch Tower in middle of the forest, far from the madding crowd. The cosy floor is equipped with fixed stone table and benches.
Ashok ji with us appropriately words the weather – gulabi thand i.e. early winter when cold does pinches but is enjoyable and pleasant. One can wear warm clothes or can do without them. One can sit in sun or shade, both ways, it’s ok.
I am excited. I am not listening to what friends with me are talking. I am smelling the forest. I take time to capture the visuals in mind first before camera. Dhok is predominate species in the forest. It’s clearly visible all over from the forest canopy – small leaves are drying, turning to reddish-pinkish-brownish, difficult to name one colour. In fact, Dhok canopy does not look like canopy but as if mist is spread over. Different tree species are contributing different colours to panorama, green of course is common, in different hues, but there is rare yellow or greyish touch here and there. Most conspicuous in the drama is white top of the canopy of a temple in middle of tree mass.
I recollect while we have been on way to this region we saw patches of forest terribly degraded so much so that tree species have been so over exploited for wood and fodder and browsed so much by domestic livestock that they are not growing beyond bushes! We are told that there is too much of anthropogenic pressure – that is man as well as his animals. This is much beyond the carrying capacity of the forest and thus we see degradation all around.
Naya Nagar forest block is an oasis in this degraded forest landscape. How come? And that is the why we are also here.
In one word, this is because of Satyanarain Joshi of Ladpura – State Vrish Mitra awardee about a decade ago and recently, Amrita Devi Award of the Forest Department of Rajasthan Government for 2015. Satyanarain is the lead person of Joint Forest Management Committee of Ladpura villagers and local forest department for Naya Nagar Forest Block of Mandalgarh Forest Range of Bhilwara Forest Division of Rajasthan.
There are thousands of Joint Forest Management Committees in the country since the fag end of the last century when this new concept of participation of the local communities in forest management was conceived and introduced. Soon corrupt bureaucracy and greedy locals connived and grabbed the new institutions and ensured virtual failure of the programme. It is a different matter that things looked great on paper with rosy statistics. The degradation of forests continued.
One obvious question comes to my mind. While so many of the JFMCs have failed, how Naya Nagar JFMC has succeeded? I raise this question directly to Satyanarain.
He explains, “My father is now in 90s. He has been a village senior and once a member of the legislative assembly (MLA), but he leads a simple life, spending time at the farm involved with agriculture and animals or in religious and spiritual matters. He heads a famous temple trust, where animal sacrifice has been stopped with his persistent efforts. On top of this, he is very sensitive to forest and wildlife and strives to protect them even going against his own fellow villagers, if necessary. This is what I have inherited. This is what I have seen. This is what I have learned. This is in my blood. This is my ‘Sanskara’.”
Naya Nagar JFMC has been carrying on forestry and protection activities in the forest area with limited financial support of the Forest Department but with keen involvement of the Committee. Over the period of time the support has almost gone dry. Satyanarain says, “We have to keep at least 4 watchmen for a minimum period of four monsoon months to allow seeds to germinate, saplings to develop and the forest to grow and ground water to recharge. I have been carrying on the protection work by managing to collect about one lakh rupees per year from friends and my own pocket for the payment of salary of the watchmen.”
Will any bureaucrat believe, Sanskara has been able to protect 20 sq km of forest with peanuts of private donations!