The Indigenous Communities, Silent Warriors in Protecting Environment on the eve of “World Environment Day”

 By Chitta Ranjan Pani, Bhubaneswar: Today, 5th June 2010 has immense importance across the globe and all section of people, across caste, creed and religion, in their own way ready for celebration of “World Environment Day” to “Enrich not Exploit”, the only living planet in the Celestial system. On this occasion, Shree Narendra Modi, Prime Minister had tweeted: On World Environment Day, we reiterate our pledge to preserve our planet’s rich biodiversity. Let us collectively do whatever possible to ensure the flora and fauna, with whom we share the earth, thrive. May we leave an even better planet for the coming generations?  Many tallest world leaders have also passionately urged to come forward for saving the environment.

In such a precious day, unaware of the importance, tribal households of Dengajhari village of Nayagarh district assembled in the forest to organize “Siali Utsav”, a festival to plant Seeds of Siali Plant (Bauhinia vahili). Siali leaf has a high demand in the cutlery industry due to its biodegradable character and millions of people across the states dependent on it as a source of cash income.

Silent effort to enrich environment:

Tribal Communities of Dengajhari and periphery villages have been organizing this event since decade to increase the density of the species in their forest. They collect the seed before the summer ends from the forest, put the seed in earthen ball (mixture of ant-hill clay, cow dung and cow urine). This dried earthen ball will be broken today and seeds will be taken out and sown inside the forest to germinate. They also offer prayer for healthy growth of the Siali climbers. They all are doing it silently in their own traditional style without knowing, how they are contributing towards enriching the environment. These tribals are also protecting and managing their forest since long without being worried about the legal status of the forest, as they believe, “Ama Jungle Amar”, means forest is ours. They also traditionally manage the water streams, take care of soil erosion, and prevent poaching of wild animals and what not…. But they never claim themselves as environment warriors. All these efforts are giving them the much needed sustenance to run their family. But this time, due to the outbreak of the pandemic Covid 19, they could not able to sell because of shutting down of the weekly market amidst the lockdown.

Figure 2 A tribal lady offering prayer to Siali Vine in Denghajhari, Photo Credit: Bhagyalaxmi Biswal, Vasundhara.

On the other hand, it was not an extraordinary day for Nalini Mahakul, a tribal lady of Netrabahal village, Barkot block, Deogarh district of Odisha. She is in fear of selling her Sal Seed ( Shorea robusta) ,  that she has collected in the scorching heat, the last forest produces before the onset of monsoon.  She is not sure whether she will realize the Minimum Support Price meant for Sal Seed, i.e, Rs 20/- per kg but when it is of protection and management of forest, she is always in forefront and takes leadership role not only in vigilance activities but also in decision making process. She is one of the most active members of the forest protection committee in her village to have watch and ward of the forest as a regular activity.

Symbiotic relationship with Forest & Environment:

Indigenous communities hardly opt for commercial ventures unlike the State’s priority to earn maximum revenue from forest. Forests as a natural resources was never meant to seen as a livelihood factors for the tribal people and other forest dependent communities in pre and post independence era by the state. On the contrary, tribal people, whether they get any economic benefits from forest or not, it hardly matters and of secondary for them, what is primary is the relation that they have with the forest to protect, manage and conserve.

Unlike Dengajhari, there are not less than 12,000 villages (mostly tribal populated) in Odisha, who have symbiotic relationship with forest for their bonfide livelihood. They have been managing around two million hectares of forest out of their own, using their traditional knowledge. Their silent efforts have brought significant changes in the biodiversity conservation, wildlife management, restoration of water bodies, arresting forest fire, checking soil erosion and many more that leads to climate change. But the unfortunate part is non recognition of their contribution as warriors for environment protection in the present regime.

The present approach of the state in terms of natural resource governance and bio-diversity conservation is based on the principles of Conservation & Management Enclaves, negation of rights & livelihood, non-recognition of communities’ traditional knowledge. This approach has dwindled the equilibrium of environment to a greater extent leading to Poverty, Loss of livelihood, disempowerment and alienation of most marginalized community and vulnerability forest & biodiversity.

On the other hand, these communities led initiative exhibit an array of diversity in origin, management systems, institutional arrangements, benefit sharing mechanism and conflict resolution. Community initiatives have led to greater participation and ownership, resulted in well stocked forest and excellent biodiversity and sustainable management of natural resources.

As per 2011 Census, Odisha share 9 % of tribal population in the Country that constitute 22.85 % of the State Population. Odisha has also home to 62 tribal groups (13 are recognized as Primary Vulnerable Tribal Group), the largest and most diverse tribal populations occupying the third position in India.

Need for a collective action:

Amidst the outbreak of Pandemic Covid 19, when global celebration is on the “World Environment Day” on 5th June 2020, we all need to introspect and also acknowledge the contribution made by the indigenous communities. We need a safe habitat to live in where we would have clean air to breathe, pure water to drink and land to live in.


In the recent episode of Mann Ki Baat, last Sunday, Shree Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, had vocal about “World Environment Day”, he had also shared a brief video with his tweet where he talked about how this year’s theme, i.e. biodiversity, is equally pertinent in the current circumstances, referring to the ongoing nationwide COVID-19 lockdown”. “The lockdown, over the last few weeks, may have slowed down the pace of our lives, but it has also given us an opportunity to introspect upon the rich diversity of nature or biodiversity around us,” he said. He also emphasized how much of the avian fauna had disappeared due to sound and air pollution, but now people can once again listen to their melodic chirping in their homes.

Natural resources are limited to meet out greed. This is the high time to use it in a judicious ways and needs long term planning. The main idea behind marking June 5 as World Environment Day is so that we are aware of the basic do’s and don’ts that require for protecting our environment. What we need to believe that through our collective action, we can help to protect ecosystems, as well as positively enriching them, ensuring their success for future generations. Importantly, indigenous people have been stewards to their environment in the past, and we need to see this responsibility protected and reignited for the future. To do this, there is need to addresses long standing insecurity of tenurial and access rights of these indigenous communities thereby ensuring livelihood and food security. Need of the time to reduce alienation of these communities, driven by denial of rights and conservation conflicts. At the same time, state should  enable  and encourage them to go for  effective management of natural resources  by identifying  and managing  any negative environmental impacts, to go further by making positive contributions to their direct environment, and where possible to the surrounding landscape.

About the Author: Chitta Ranjan Pani

Team Leader, Livelihood, Vasundhara, Bhubaneswar,

Coordinator, Minor Forest Produce Sub Group, India

Email: [email protected]




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