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The village can be approached from Pune, which is at a distance of 50 km by road. The village is situated in the eastern offshoots of the Sahyadri mountain ranges (popularly known as the Western Ghats). The terrain in and around the village is undulating. A part of the village boundary overlaps with the taluka boundary of Maval and Mulshi. The village is on a sloping hillside, one side being flanked by a steep cliff. The highest point is about 3000 feet above mean sea level. The village lies in the catchment of the river Pavana and is situated on the banks of the backwaters of Pavana dam. Agricultural fields surround the landscape.
A number of streams flow down the hill slopes, forming the source of water for agriculture and fish that migrate upstream for breeding. The region receives heavy rainfall of around 4300 mm from June to September.
The village shows the following landscape elements: human settlement and temples, agricultural fields, sacred grove along the mountain, a dense vegetation patch of privately owned plots and a patch of sparse vegetation (privately owned plots) which is allotted for cattle grazing and fuelwood requirements.
The grove is a densely wooded forest with more than 80 per cent canopy and can easily be distinguished from the surrounding degraded forest. Such a dense canopy makes the grove the last refuge for the animals like giant squirrel. Among other animals, Ajeevali sacred grove harbours diverse kind of fauna such as Hanuman langur, Malabar giant squirrel, barking deer, wild boar, leopard, porcupine and white-backed vulture, in addition to being home for a variety of other birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles.
The village population consists of a single community, the Kunbi Marathas, with agriculture as the main occupation. The tribal community of Katkaris that is mainly dependent on natural resources is found in the surrounding forests. Katkaris do not have a permanent settlement in the village. There is a small Katkari pada (a small settlement of Katkaris) in the neighboring village of Shilim. Agriculture is the main occupation of the people. Rice is cultivated traditionally here, the ambemohor variety being the speciality of this area. Other varieties of rice cultivated are kolam,saal, jire saal, indrayani, etc. Ragi is also cultivated traditionally on the hill slopes by the cyclic raab (mature and dried Strobilanthes callosus on selected hill slopes is slashed and burnt every seven years and ragi is cultivated). These two main crops are grown using only rainwater. But recently there is a decreasing trend in ragi cultivation, the very strenuous work involved in ragi cultivation being the main reason given by the villagers. Other crops cultivated include wheat, masoor, gram, beans, tur, vegetables, etc. However the other crops are grown on a very small scale due to lack of irrigation facilities.
There has been an increasing trend in the use of inorganic fertilizers for farming, although many farmers are aware about the negative impact of their over-use. It is a usual practice to grow crops and vegetables for personal or domestic use separately using only organic manure, and to use chemical fertilizers for crops grown for sale. The villagers say that organically grown food is tastier than that grown using inorganic fertilizers.
|Year of Formation||-|
Ajeevali has a good semi-evergreen forest patch of 22 acres, a sacred grove traditionally conserved by the local people. A special feature of this grove is the abundance of fish-tail palms from which maadi—a popular local liquor—is extracted commercially. Interestingly, religious belief coupled with this activity of maadi extraction play a crucial role in the conservation of the grove and village economics.
Nearly all the land in the village is privately owned. The sacred grove of Ajeevali is a common property resource owned by the entire village. In recent times, some additional privately owned forests adjoining the grove have been collectively dedicated to the temple by the villagers in the name of the goddess. Uncultivated private land under forest cover on the slopes is being rapidly sold off to people outside the village, usually from the urban elite.
The grove is a dense patch of vegetation of 16 hectares. It has been conserved since ancient times in the name of Goddess Waghjai (the Tiger Goddess). The grove is locally called as Waghjai chi Devraai (the sacred grove of the Tiger Goddess) or the raai (grove). The village community has deep faith in the goddess. The grove has a natural cave in which is situated the idol of the deity: a small stone, painted saffron. There is no construction of any temple or roof over the idol. It is a belief that deities having no roof or temple construction are more fierce and powerful. People visit the grove during special occasions like marriages, festivals, before beginning any important farming activities, etc.
People from Ajeevali recognize the benefits of the grove like the grove acting as aquifer recharge, thus aiding water conservation and supply to the village which has no irrigation facilities and thus is largely dependent on this water for their farms. Some villagers also have knowledge regarding the role of birds and animals like frogs, etc. in pest control on their farms.
Till 1986, any interested villager, and especially those who were politically strong, used to go to the sacred grove to extract maadi. The villagers realized that the benefits were being cornered by a few in the village. A decision was then taken by the village assembly for sarvajanik (community) maadi extraction, where the rights for extracting maadi would be contracted out. Villagers, however, were concerned that contracting people from outside the village for this purpose may affect the sustainability of the process. The extraction rights of the maadi are therefore auctioned to those interested from within the village. Under this system the extraction is still carried out by the same powerful people of the village but the benefits are now shared as a common village fund. The revenue thus generated is used in village welfare and religious activities. As the funds generated by maadi increased, villagers established a system of a well-defined and organized management structure comprising the temple trust, the gram panchayat and the maadi extractor.
|Collective of CCAs||-|
|Decision Making Body||Panchayat|
|Rules and Regulations||-|
|Community activities through the year||-|
The decision-making body in the village is the gram panchayat, which governs the overall administrative and village welfare activities. The second management institution in the village is the temple trust, which governs the activities related to the sacred grove. It works independent of the village gram panchayat. The temple Trust is a committee of 13 villagers, and works as a self-governed organization. It functions with a president, a vice-president, a treasurer and the trustees. It has a pivotal role to play as strong religious taboos are attached to the grove. The trust has the administrative authority regarding management of the grove. Annually, the contract for maadi extraction in the grove is auctioned by the temple trust. The revenue thus generated (Rs 1,50,000 per year) is managed by the trust for village welfare and religious activities.
The current population structure of the palm in the grove could be attributed to its historic and present use. Activities like hunting, grazing and extraction of timber and non-timber forest produce (NTFP) other than maadi have been prevented on religious grounds since ancient times, when the sacred practices must have been established. The pre-existing rules and regulations regarding harvesting of forest produce are now being followed more strictly in the contract system. The contractor has the responsibility of protecting the grove. This has restricted activities such as collection of leaf litter that led to trampling of the saplings and eating of the pith of young palms by the tribal people that led to reduction in the number of palms.
The sap exudates for maadi are collected by cutting off an inflorescent axis of the plant. Those employed (from local tribal communities) for extracting the sap, have a good understanding of the phenology and population structure of the palm. They have also devised methodologies for maximum extraction. According to the villagers who are experienced in maadi extraction, the business of maadi extraction is a profitable one. The economic turnover, summing up two harvesting seasons, was as high as Rs 3,00,000 to 4,00,000. As per the sources, each palm when tapped yields about 200 bottles (150 litres), each worth Rs 15, in one season. Thus the income obtained from one palm amounts to about Rs 3000 per season.
It is well understood that the sacred groves also often serve as a last refuge for many species of flora and fauna. Ajeevali sacred grove too harbours diverse kind of fauna as reported above. A number of wild edible and medicinal plants are commonly found in the grove and its surrounds. Endangered species such as Ceropegia spp. are commonly sighted not only in the grove but also in the other landscape elements in the village. The grove therefore acts as an important wildlife habitat, as a source for recharging local aquifers and helps in soil binding and soil conservation.
|Community Forest Resource Rights (CFR)||-|
|Date of filing CFR claim||-|
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|Land Ownership||Community Owned, Privately Owned|
|Other Recognised Status||-|
|Impact on Livelihoods and Subsistence||-|
|Internal Threats and Challenges||Outmigration|
|External Threats and Challenges||Land ownership or tenure issues, Unwanted development pressures|
In Ajeevali (sacred grove and surrounding area), so far a total of about 250 species of plants have been recorded from the grove and its catchments. These species are distributed across various habitat types such as semi-evergreen forest, moist deciduous and dry deciduous vegetation patches, scrub jungle and grasslands. 75 per cent of the total recorded plant species have utility value. Wild edible plants (about 30 species) recorded from the study area supplement tribal diet during rainy season, e.g., Dioscorea pentaphylla, Meyna laxiflora and Nothapodytes nimmoniana(syn. Mappia foetida), a globally endangered and endemic species, well known for its anti-cancer and anti-HIV properties. The grove gains significance because of the presence of Nothapodytes. The population of this species has declined by 50-80 per cent during last decade from the other parts of Western Ghats owing to clandestine trade. In addition to Nothapodytes, we also recorded 8 species of medicinal value which belong to IUCN threat category, and 4 endemic tree species. Abutilon ranadei, a species believed to be extinct from the Western Ghats region, was also recorded here during this study.
The present study points towards a possibility of continued protection to the sacred grove and the palm species coupled with the religious and economic aspects. The practice of conservation along with commercial linkages at a local level needs to be understood further and studied for its economic, ecological as well as institutional sustainability. There are some issues that currently face this initiative, including:
1. Increased migration of youth to cities like Pune and Mumbai in search of employment, so less people interested in looking after the grove.
2. More and more people finding it difficult to manage their landholdings and are selling it to outsiders for real estate development.
|Data Source||From publicly available sources|
|Year of Study||2004|