Unsafe: under divine protection

  • 29/11/1995

Orans are tracts of village land believed to be protectea by local deities, They are much more than just 'sacred groves; they are the ecological core of the area, supporting a storehouse of biological diversity, both in terms of numbers of individual species and micro-ecologies or communities.

Thick trunks and gnarled roots of uncut kheiri trees are characteristic sights in an oran. Most orans have a very good grass cover. Bordi-ker scrub and khumbat and jai groves are a common sight as well.

Grazing and browsing are not the only ways in which residents of an oran utilise the place. Several crucial resources - wood, mingri, ber, fruits, vegetables, gum, medicinal plants and sewan grass - are available here. The rules and restrictions on cutting and over-harvesting are bolstered by the threat of divine retribution and regulation by traditional village authorities.

The orans face a twin threat today. Erosion of traditional rules of management with increasing pressure of population and decrease in other common lands (fallow and gauchars) have led to increased traffic in the aran. Mostly, however, it is the result of the layering of new systems of authority over the existing traditional structures; putting orans in the hands of the panchayat or the forest department for example, changes the rules for the land enormously. A more immediate threat to the orans comes from their possible allotment as agricultural land or conversion to any government agency.