Interview transcribed by Pallavi Wardhan
After fighting for two straight years against Government, an adivasi village Lavari, in the Gadchirolli district finally tasted victory by receiving a compensation amount of Rs. 1 crore 11 lakh 26 thousand, for construction of project from Raipur to Wardha. The project which had received forest clearance by Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) in December 2015, required cutting down hundreds of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) tree species, a major source of livelihoods for the adivasi community in Lavari. The village wasn’t against the construction (they had stalled the construction for months) but they were hell-bent on receiving due compensation for the loss in income that would arise from the removal of these trees and use the amount to plant more than double the trees in their forest.
In order to fight effectively, Lavari village formed a Vanhaq Sahniyantran Samiti (Forest Rights Co-Management committee) comprising of seven men and five women. The Sabha team met the members to understand more about this movement.
What encouraged you participate in this kind of struggle?
I am Rahul Helami. I am the chairperson of a Vanhaq Sahniyantran Samiti and I have been actively working in this village to bring people together and to implement programs here. We are looking more at how we need to develop our village on our own because Government does not look into our matters that much. Since there is unemployment all around, we try to analyse how we can employ people (get jobs for people) through village funds. This is one of our important roles.
The ‘tower-war’ has been our recent struggle. We met the officials of tower builders atleast 70 times, held meetings at the collector office three times and around seven-eight times with divisional officers. The process was quiet long and finally we received 1 crore 11 lakh and 26 thousand and the fact that all this was possible due to the struggle and support from all the village people. Whenever we would go out for meetings, the entire village guided us and even donated money to us for travelling and other expenses; whatever we could do is because of the support from our village
What were the difficulties that faced?
Rahul: There were many obstacles in our way. Eg- The project officials tried to amke settlements with us. Initially we were even offered Rs 3 lakh but we did not accept the bribe. the bribe. The second time, they tried giving us 5 lakh each. They asked us to think it through for our family; they questioned us saying ‘you all are fighting for the society but what can you do for you families? You must think about all this’. But we did not pay heed to all this and kept working further. We felt, if our society gets benefited by even Rs 10 through that we can make a difference to our families as well and we are satisfied with just that and thus, this struggle went on for long time. The Government tried to suppress our demands. When the workers had come to cut down the trees, the women in our village hugged the trees tight and told them to cut them down before cutting the trees because we survive and are depended on the forest entirely.
So what next what? How would you spread this struggle in other villages?
Rahul: Now we are targeting Gram Sabha to be set up in other villages to. We will plant more trees, buy more seeds for farming and find ways to provide us drinking water and on education. There’s no alternative to education. Thus, we aim to spend more on education. We will utilise the fund to sponsor the further education (graduation or post-graduation) of girls and boys through gram sabha and we want to increase the forest area. So, mostly the money will be spent on that. We want to implicate the struggle like Lavari village in our neighbouring villages. We would not be satisfied in making just 3-4 such villages but we target to make 100 such villages.
As a woman, what has been your contribution towards this movement?
Jamuna Madavi: I am a gram sabha member. we have been working with everyone together . Women and men have fought this battle together. Every decision has been taken together and it became a success due to the support showed by the entire village. We would like to credit the villagers only for our success.
What role did you play as a gram sabha member?
Somsay: In the beginning, when we established this sabha, we thought to ourselves whether our struggle will yield success! But the entire village stood together and raised funds for the gram sabha secretary to travel out of the village for meeting in their offices and writing letters. Once the paper work was done and the power grid officials came to mark the area where the tower was to built but even that time we stood for each other and fought further. The officials told us that if don’t give them the clearance, the govt will have to face losses. We told them that our livelihood is dependent on the forests and if the Government destroys that, how will we survive? Thus we fought for equal compensation and won.
In 2012, the village received Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights over 536.03 hectares of forest land.