With the passing of time, Kathari was drained away with water being overdrawn and the forests being cut down. The villagers wanted to see the river running pure and evolved their own rules to resurrect the river water, saved forests in the catchment area of the river and not allowing the water to get poisoned. It worked out well and the river was back running pure.
Noted ecologist and Padma Bhushan award winner Madhav Gadgil appreciated the villagers stating, "There's a sign at the village entrance - 'We have our government in Mumbai-Delhi, We are the Government at Mendha-Lekha'. The area council of tribals that governs the 32 villages possesses unique local wisdom on fish populations. So they prescribe the different fishing methods by which both the fish and the people depending on them can be supported," he told his audience at a lecture called 'Of river, fishes, and poison' in Delhi last week.
Gadgil is advising the Central Government on the forthcoming Biodiversity Act to involve local communities and give them the primary responsibility to conserve biodiversity, a point he repeatedly stressed through the Mendha-Lekha example.
The villagers came up with detailed rules to protect their forests - no encroachment, initiation and implementation of joint forest management practices, the forests to be guarded daily by locals, anyone found cutting trees to be brought to the village and fined, outsiders including the paper industry stopped from commercial extraction in forests, responsibility for the bamboo harvest taken over by locals, a ban on cutting fruit trees and burning wood to prepare fields for cultivation.
The council also banned for three years use of herbal and fish poisons in all 32 villages.
"This exemplifies local level biodiversity management committees under the Biodiversity Act," said Gadgil. The 2002 act proposed a three-tier management structure for biodiversity and natural resources - national, state and local biodiversity management committees (BMC).
According to the act, BMCs are to include all interested stakeholders, local students and teachers and NGO representatives. The group develops a People's Biodiversity Register (PBR) to monitor current trends and the history of the biodiversity in the area. An action plan to conserve biodiversity is prepared on the basis of this.
Gadgil feels that an amalgamation of traditional practices, and modern scientific monitoring, can help people to take care of nature. "The result in Mendha-Lekha was that the community succeeded in reviving the Kathani river, improving the quality of water and accounting for many new fish species. Today 59 of the original 64 fish species are back in the river."