BHUBANESWAR: In Odisha, where tribal communities fight industrialisation, mining and displacement, the Government is trying to win their confidence by protecting the sacred groves, which hold tremendous socio-ethnic value for the indigenous population.
There are about 2,100 sacred groves in the State, as per the latest estimate of Forest and Environment Department of Odisha Government. The Department has, now, decided to prepare management plans for these groves so that these small patches of forests can be developed and conserved.
It has decided to initiate conservation plans for 500 sacred groves during the current financial year. The plan will include plantation activities, access to water and even sheds for tribal communities to congregate. The Department will spend Rs 1 lakh on each of these sacred groves during the year.
“The plan is to cover all the 2100-odd sacred groves with the development and conservation plans by 2019,” sources said.
“A major objective is to strengthen the bond between local communities and nature since forest density is higher around these sacred groves compared to other areas because they guard these patches with pride. Since the tribal communities have an ownership feeling, conservation becomes easier,” the sources added.
The sacred groves in the State are located in hilly regions, mostly in Eastern Ghats where tribal communities and their sub-groups live. Not so long ago, the Dongoria Kondhs raised one of the most-talked about resistance when the Government tried to acquire Niyamgiri Hills for bauxite mining in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts. With the Supreme Court stepping in, the primitive group won the battle as a spree of palli sabhas gave thumbs down to the mining plan for Vedanta Group.
Odisha is home to over 60 tribal communities of which 12 are designated as particularly vulnerable. At least 23 per cent of the State’s population comprises tribal groups. Geographically, over 40 per cent of the State is schedule area.
The Forest Department sources said the sacred grove conservation and management plan will not be confined to just 2,100 groves. “We had conserved about 200 sacred groves last year and will carry out a mapping to locate more such sacred groves in next few years where these plantation and development plans will be continued,” said the sources.