Maldharis and Banni Grassland

News: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered all encroachments to be removed from Gujarat’s Banni grasslands within six months. The court also said the Maldharis (Pastoralists) will continue to hold the right to conserve the community forests in the area, granted to them as per the provisions in Section 3 of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.

Banni Grasslands:

  • Banni grassland is spread over 2,618 kilometres and accounts for almost 45 per cent of the pastures in Gujarat. It comprises 48 hamlets / villages organised into 19 panchayats, with a population of about 40,000. Two ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands, are juxtaposed in Banni. The area is rich in flora and fauna, with 192 species of plants, 262 species of birds, several species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Forest Rights Act 2006:

  • Under the provisions of the Act, forest dwellers cannot be displaced unless the rights settlement process has been completed. Moreover, the Act has a special provision for setting up ‘Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH)’, for the conservation of the species.
  • It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST (Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes) and OTFD (Other Traditional Forest Dwellers).
  • The Act identifies four types of rights:
  • Title rights: It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
  • Use rights: The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas etc.
  • Relief and development rights: To rehabilitate in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
  • Forest management rights: It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting.

Maldharis:

  • Maldharis are a tribal herdsmen community inhabiting Banni. Originally nomads, they came to be known as Maldharis after settling in Junagarh (mainly Gir Forest). The literal meaning of Maldhari is keeper (dhari) of the animal stock (mal). The livestock include sheep, goats, cows, buffalo, and camels. The Gir Forest National Park is home to around 8,400 Maldharis.