Saplings of fruit-bearing trees at Lugu Pahadi in Naxalite-hit Gomia block of Bokaro. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Bokaro, Dec. 17: Anaconda-II is striking in West Singhbhum’s forests to drive Maoists out. In Bokaro, a forest in its infancy is gently yet firmly trying to yield the same fruits.
Bokaro district forest officials and village panchayat samitis have fielded 18 lakh fruit-bearing saplings as ammo against the unholy nexus of Maoists and land mafia.
The purpose of the four-month-old project across all eight blocks, including Maoist strongholds Kasmar, Petarwar, Gomia, Bermo, Chandrapura and Jaridih is twofold.
One, which is immediate, is to protect government land from becoming the property of land-grabbers, helped by Maoist arm-twisting.
Two, which is long-term, is economic prosperity from the fruits of labour, to be visible only when the mango, jamun, jackfruit and mahua trees grow mature and kusum, ber and palash become breeding grounds for Laccifer lacca or the Indian lac bug.
Officials are making do with poor staff strength — 23 forest guards in place of 56; 17 foresters instead of 24 and six forest range officers instead of eight are posted in Bokaro — but riding high on faith shown by villagers.
Bokaro district forest officer Kumar Arvind Manish told The Telegraph that land-grabbers came up to him claiming forestland as theirs. “They waved forged documents at me. The papers said they were 80-90 years old but when documents were examined they were found to be fake,” he said.
Manish and his colleagues are aware of the underhand nexus between land-grabbers and Maoists — “terror-for-cash” — based on the sound logic that if villagers fear to step on government acres, encroachers get a strong foothold and claim them as private property. Fake papers are only a small part of the process.
“We knew we could stop the mafia and Maoists only if we roped in villagers in a large-scale afforestation drive. So, we embarked on educating people at panchayat and block levels on the real intention of these trouble-mongers,” Manish said.
Villagers slowly understood, he added. That’s when Operation Sapling started this monsoon.
“Forest department provided good quality saplings. Tree-plantation started with the onset of monsoon and continued till November. Villagers showed keen interest in making and keeping their zone green,” he said.
He added that it gave his team great pleasure to see rural people taking over the turf.
“They don’t just plant it and forget it. They protect what they have planted, water the saplings, feed them alluvial soil and manure prepared from goat and cow dung,” he said.
Besides fruit, timber and lac are a priority keeping the region’s economic overhaul in mind.
“It is not a fight with guns and tankers that you win overnight. It is a fight with a green mission that you need to win everyday, with patience. Give us seven to 10 years and see the change,” Manish said.