Ranpur: Where villagers protect forests

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By BIBHUTI BARIK
  • Published 6.12.10
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Bhubaneswar, Dec. 5: The British rulers started degradation of forests when they began laying railway tracks and timber was needed. As the area around Ranpur was a rich source of quality timber, the virgin forests there were their prime targets. After independence, people continued the process to make quick money and hence the degradation of the natural forests began.

But after the early 70s, locals realised their blunder and started guarding the forests with community efforts. Now, after more than three decades, the Ranpur region has rejuvenated again with natural streams, which once saw dry beds due to felling of trees.

Ranpur’s Maninag reserve forest is perhaps one of the best success stories regarding safeguarding a forest through community participation. Villagers guard the nearby patches with ‘lathis’ to ensure that the ecosystem is protected. As a result of the vigil, tigers, which had once disappeared from the area, have reappeared in the Dhani village as reported last year by some of the villagers.

Although, there has been no confirmation of detection of a tiger family by forest department officials, the situation in the area has undergone a massive change for the better.

The forests, which are also traditionally rich in bamboo patches, now attract herds of elephants, sambar, deer, wild boar and several varieties of snakes.

As per legend, the reserve forest is named after the local deity Maninag. In the early days, the deity was worshiped atop the hill, but as many devotees could not climb the stiff path, the goddess ordered the local ruler of Ranpur to construct a temple near the foothill. From that day onwards, goddess Maninag is being worshiped there.

However, legend says that while the head of the snake lies at atop the hill, the body is seen somewhere in the Baisipalli Reserve Forest in a place called ‘sapa pathara’ (snake like stone). On the foot of the hill, there is a temple at a place called Buguda near Daspallah.

Activist Bhagyalaxmi Biswal, who works for Vasundhara — an organisation that works for the conservation of environment — from Ranpur, says, “The area of the Maninag reserve forest is spread over 5,000 acres and the villagers’ effort is the mainstay for the successful conservation process. For example, there is a ‘Mamu Bhanaja Jungle’ (uncle-nephew forest), which is being protected by 10 nearby villages. The Maninag Reserve Forest can be referred to as a model for other forest areas across the state on citing community-forest relationship.’’

“In Ranpur block, around 120 villages have spontaneously taken part for active protection of forests. Dhani Reserve Forest is a unique case of community forest management system,’’ she adds.

A forest official admitted that people’s effort is mainly helping the department in maintaining the greenery and wildlife. The presence of many temples also provides a spiritual power to the protection mechanism for which the locals have started taking a pledge. For instance, the ‘Bisnoi’ tribe of Rajasthan has resolved to safeguard the forests.

Ranpur, the historic town in Nayagarh district, is situated 30km southeast of the district headquarters. It is essentially a temple town with many temples dotting its townscape and presenting a stunning picture of the exquisite temple architecture of medieval times. The major attractions of the small block-level town include Lord Jagannath temple located near the Mandakini river.

“By standing on the temple premises, one could see other shrines with the charming Mainaka and Dhanya ranges forming the backdrop. Shri Yogeshwar, Shri Radha Govind Dev, Maa Maninag and Shri Asurakumari temples are some of the other important temples. Swapneswara Mahadeva temple, Kunja Bihari temple and Hari-Haresvara Mahadeva temple are also well-known spiritual destinations,’’ says forest rights activist Santosh Kumar Parida.

“Asurakumari is a beautiful tourist spot with a famous temple for goddess Asurakumari. It is 18km away from the Nayagarh-Darpanarayapur road. This place is famous for a waterfall. There is a very interesting history about goddess Maa Asurkumari. It is only 7km away from Ranpur town and is well connected with the state highway. It is an excellent picnic spot,’’ Parida adds.

Prasad Dash, an ecologist who works for Vasundhara, says, “Till date, the Ranpur range is known for two completely conflicting traits: on one hand, 100s of households are deriving their income from illegal sale of timber collected from the forests, and on the other many are successfully regenerating and protecting the once-barren natural forests. About 1,200 hectares of forest land of Maa Maninag hill are protected by people of 20 villages, having a combined population of 7,000.”

Apart from the Maninag reserve forest, the Ranpur division has other reserve forests such as Mala reserve forest, Dhani reserve forest and Patharaganda reserve forest.

The ecological features of the area include dense forests of semi-ever green and deciduous types, many streams and waterfalls such as Ashokjharan, Asurakumari and Bandhamunda.

Bandhamunda is famous for Indian bison, sambar and peacock. While Kodalpali is the abode of elephants and peacocks, leopards are commonly found in Patia. Dengajhari and Gunduribadi are famous for forest protection. Similarly, at Haripur under Mala reserve forest, Ashokjharan stream near Godasahi and Kusapala villages help in irrigating 50-60 acres of agricultural land and provide lifeline to thousands of communities.

Wild animals

Leopards, Indian bison, jungle cat, civet cat, fishing cat, leopard cat, Indian mongoose, wolf, jackal, hyena, wild dogs, sloth bear and fox are seen here. Herbivorous animals such as langur, chousingha, sambar, chital, mouse deer, barking deer, wild boar, gaur, nilgais, fruit bats, and rodents such as Malabar giant squirrels, flying squirrels are also common here. People from nearby villages have spotted two tigers with cubs last year in Dhani Reserve Forest.

Birds

The Maninag area is famous for birds such as egrets, owls, babblers, bulbul, blue jay, cuckoos, crows, doves (both spotted and emerald), teals, peacock, jungle fowl, mynas, partridges, peafowl, orioles (both black headed and Eurasian), parakeets, horn bills (both grey and pied hornbills) and brahmany kites. Paradise fly catchers have also been seen here.

Snakes

Snakes such as king cobra, spectacled cobra, vipers, kraits, vine snakes, blind snakes, common bronze back and keel back and cat snakes are found. Prominent among snakes are rock pythons and king cobra.

Traditional healers

Ranpur is famous for ‘vaidyas’ and known for its ayurvedic values in terms of traditional knowledge. An important medicinal plant known as ‘Bhramaramari’ used for leprosy which is very rare in Orissa, is available here and some time people use ‘Sahajamari’ instead of ‘Bhramaramari’ to get relief from the disease. Similarly, another herb ‘Mayurachulia’ is used for curing dysentery.

An important approach of conservation is to get the fuel wood from exotic and invasive weeds like Lantana camera (Naguari in Oriya) and Ageratum conyzoids (Pokasungha in Oriya), which is the unique feature among the people of Maa Maninag Surakshya Sangh to reduce dependency on timbers from forest.