The 21-year-long drive of a group of tribals of Kakrana village has finally borne fruit.
Residents of this nondescript village situated 40 km from Alirajpur, who took up the charge of protecting the forest in their area at their own expense instead of waiting around for government assistance, have managed to turn the near barren forest into a green belt once again.
And they did so through sheer determination and courage in the face of forest mafias, who had all but virtually chopped off the trees from the jungles of Avadhah.
"We started the drive in 1992, when nearly all the trees of Avadhah were cut illegally by those involved in wood smuggling. We realised that if the logging is not timely contained, we will have to suffer as we are totally dependent upon the forest," said Kemat Gewale, resident of the village.
After the concern, came the plan. The residents of the tribal-dominated village started collecting money to save the trees from felling.
The 1000-odd residents of Kakrana appointed a chowkidar (guard) on a monthly salary of R1200 and started a 'Save Forest' drive.
"We held a meeting and decided to save the trees. Subsequently, we started collecting money. In between 1992-2000, we collected R30 per month from each family in the village but later on it was raised to R400 annually," said Indra Singh (32), a private school teacher residing in the village.
Thanks to two decades of constant vigil, the forest has once again turned into a green belt. Taking motivation from the Kakrana experiment, neighbouring villages have also initiated the drive in their areas.
Most of the trees are of Anjan (hardwickia binata) variety and leafs of this tree are the only source of cattle fodder for the tribals.
According to an estimate, there are more than 5,000 trees around the village.
The villagers have also planted hundreds of Neem trees.
Before 1992, the tribals of the village made no attempts to save the trees because they believed that the trees belonged to the forest department and hence they have no rights to interfere in illegal logging but soon they realised that positive intervention is necessary.
The villagers then appointed a chowkidar who looks after jungles, spread in a radius of 4 km.
The chowkidar is assisted by two people from the village, alternatively, for resisting the illegal loggers of the area.
"This jungle is our life. I am guarding it for the last 15 years. I usually work in the morning and evening with two other people who carry bows and arrows. The aim is to save trees for villagers and animals," said Dillu, the 50-year-old guard.
Once a month all the villagers gather and discuss the current situation.
"If we get any information of tree logging the whole village gathers and chases away the loggers," said Dillu.
"The village has set an example in the area. The work done by Kakrana village is remarkable. We are planning to raise the village as a role model," said RS Sikarwar, divisional forest officer (DFO) of Alirajpur.