West Medinipur (West Bengal), May 1, : A forest conservation model that was started in the 80's in a remote village of a West Bengal's District, has become a widely popular mode of conservation motivating about 32,000 residents to join it.
Arabari model which was started in a remote village has found national and international acceptance.
"We have a FPC (Forest Protection Committee) comprising three villages - Charka, Jamira and Amsole with 658 members. It further has an executive committee with 25 members who interact closely with forest department's officials for the preservation and conservation of forests," said Sheikh Abul Kalam, resident of Charka village.
" We cooperate with them to develop the forest cover, collect seeds, we supervise forest activity as a united effort so that all our greenery is protected," he informed.
The Forest Protection Committees also disburses the funds for community development projects.
Besides, lush new plantations alongside mature forests of eucalyptus, Sal or cashew in the region, one can now notice mangroves inside villages or hectares of eucalyptus trees within school grounds.
"So far the felling of trees has taken place six times. Over the past two decades our annual share of income has varied from a minimum of rupees 100,000 to 550,000. From this money, all 658 of us have done development work in the three villages. In Amsole Mouza, we have set up shallow pumps for irrigation. In one FPC area, we have a thousand high school students and have built the school building with FPC money," said Kalam.
The motivating factor, of course, is a rang of benefits that the locals derive from participation in this project.
These villagers get free firewood, labour wages for seasonal forest activities like chopping logs, felling, collecting branches, multiple shoot cutting, thinning, sifting seeds, carriage and nursery pot-filling etc besides a 25 per cent share of the auction of forest produce, from mainly mature trees.
"We guard the forests. We also work in nurseries. Men and women both work. We are in the forests from 7 a.m to 12 p.m. After lunch, we return to work from 2 to 5 p.m. We don't stay at night. Protecting forests gives us benefit. We get forest material for free and we are saving national wealth. We get free firewood for this," said Namita Dubey, a resident of Godapiasal Para village.
In 2006-07 alone, a total of rupees 47.36 million was given to 284 committees in Medinipur, Jhargram, Rupnarayan and Kharagpur ranges. The fund was put to good use.
Villagers use the majority of this income for community purposes like constructing proper roads for their village, schools, provision for drinking water or rural electrification, or the village sanitation programme," said Vinod Yadav, the forest conservator, Western Circle in West Bengal.
"This project has given very positive impact on the social aspect, it has given a positive impact on the ecological aspect and also economic aspect because it has benefited the local people economically too," Yadav said.
"It's like social status, the standard of living of the people, the condition and growth of the forests, total ecological impact is fantastic. Even some of the wildlife has come back. Their population is growing," he added.
Today, several villages have well built primary or high school buildings, roads are being constructed across the district whereby pump houses have been set up in several places for irrigation as well as domestic usage water.
Apart from that primary health centres and community halls have been constructed from the community fund.
The entire exercise is gradually bringing development and prosperity to a hitherto socially and economically backward region mostly inhabited by families belonging to the minority community, scheduled castes and schedule tribes.
Forest officials are buoyant with the success of the model and several plans for support activities like lending of paddy thrashers, setting up of self help groups (SHGs) for cottage industries etc. have now been set rolling.