Biodiversity,  Uttarakhand

The importance of Van Panchayats- Why do we protect them

Storyteller- Deepak Pachhai
Village Sarmoli, Munsiari, District Pithoragarh
September 2023

Read this story in Hindi

Photo: Forest Commons of Uttarakhand

This is a story about the Sarmoli- Jainti Van Panchayats whose right holders come from the two revenue villages of Sarmoli and Jainti. This Van Panchayat is located in the Munsiari Block of Pithoragarh District, Uttarakhand.

My childhood was spent playing and romping in these forests. Climbing trees, scouring for wild walnuts, building small dams on streams to make pools and running wild and frolicking to our hearts content. I knew next to nothing about Van Panchayats or that there were any norms and rules to govern them. As I grew older, a slow awareness about our forest commons began to dawn on me.

Photo: Volunteering to plant out Deodar tree saplings in the Sarmoli- Jainti Van Panchayat

Nowadays I see that the people of this mountain state are not really aware of the way Van Panchayats are managed and run. The right holders of the Sarmoli-Jainti Van Panchayat, on the other hand, are highly aware and committed to the conservation and regeneration of their Van Panchayat. Each year, apart from planting trees, protecting and rejuvenating our water sources, we employ a village forest guard for 4 to 5 months to protect the grass slopes in the Van Panchayat. Along with keeping out stray cattle and people who come to steal grass for their livestock, the forest guard also keeps an eye out to prevent stealing of firewood and Ringal (mountain bamboo used to make baskets and stalk rajma vines). These natural resources are used by our villagers for their everyday needs and lives. Grass is bought for winter fodder for our cattle through a village auctioning process. The money thus raised is put into a conservation fund and the same is used to pay for the village forest guard’s salary.

Photo: Women caught stealing grass from the Sarmoli-Jainti Van Panchayat

People caught stealing grass are often apprehended and their cutting tools confiscated by the forest guard. On paying a fine, their sickle and ropes are returned to them. At times when too many stray cattle sneak into the Forest Commons, people from the village go to help the forest guard to drive them out of the Van Panchayat.

Photo: Keeping watch from the lookout on top of the tree

The forest guard patrols the forest of our Van Panchayat without fear as she knows that the villagers are behind her. This video is a glimpse into the world of our forest guard as she walks and protects our forest commons.

Meet the storyteller

Deepak Pachhai
+ posts

Born into the Barpatia schedule tribe community, Deepak is currently pursuing his undergraduate studies in Munsiari, with no desire to live anywhere other than his village Sarmoli, with the snowcapped Panchachuli visible from his bedroom window. He enjoys  a deep connection with nature and is training to become a bird guide so he can carve a name for himself. He loves nothing better than to wander these mountain landscapes, other than maybe football. His status photo is CR7 and Christiano Ronaldo is his hero.


+ posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *