Former forest encroachers now conservationists

July 18, 2017 01:15 AM Nagendra Upadhyaya

SURKHET, July 17: Usha Sunar of Bheri Ganga-6 is a forest guard. She spends her days conserving and protecting the floras and fauna of a 26-hectare forest land. “There was a time when we were involved in destructive activities which affected the beauty and resources of the forests but now we have dedicated our minds and souls for its conservation,” she said, adding “It is hard to explain in words, how happy we are after restoring the lost greenery of the forest on our own.”
Earlier, the 26 hectares of forest land of Besare was a settlement with as many houses for years. Most of the forest encroachers were Dalits while some were from the hilly districts. “We lately knew that the forestland was illegally used by some people for residential purpose,” said Hem Raj Bista, a forest official, adding, “Two years ago we started the conservation campaign and cleared the illegal settlements.”
After removing their houses, the District Forest Office (DFO) handed over the responsibility of forest conservation to the encroachers. Only six of the 26 families didn't have their own land for settlement. “We managed shelter for six homeless encroachers while the rest were sent back to their own land,” said Bista. According to him, the forest has turned green all over again, thanks to the former encroachers. Last year, the DFO did built fences around the encroached area and even conducted a forestation program. The locals and political parties, which earlier objected to the decision of the DFO, are now happy with the progress. These days, the locals are widely benefited by the forest.  “The grassland nearby our houses has made it easier for us to rare our cattle,” said Ram Bahadur BK, a local.
Last week, few forest officials and leaders of political parties reached Besare for forest inspection. “The progress made in the forest area within two years is commendable,” said Amrit BC, district vice-chairperson of the CPN-UML. According to him, it was quite a challenge to hand over the responsibility of forest conservation to the former encroachers, but they have set an example for many.

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