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Distributing Uniforms to Van Sewaks, Giving Them a Sense of Belonging

DFO of South Betul Forest Division in Madhya Pradesh, Vejaynantham, has provided proper uniform to 320+ Van Sewaks
Indian Masterminds Stories

In a one-of-its-kind initiative in Madhya Pradesh, the District Forest Officer (DFO) of South Betul Forest Division, Mr. Vejaynantham, has recognised the contribution of all Van Sewaks or Chowkidars by providing them with proper uniforms, along with jungle boots, cap, socks and winter jackets. These chowkidars are local people who have been with the department for long, probably longer than any officer. Also, being of that area, they are deeply attached to the forest. Hence, the need to give them a sense of belonging by giving them uniform was long due.

JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT

Under the forest management, there are different layers of people who hold various positions, roles and responsibilities for the protection of the forests. Each beat is headed by a beat guard, each circle is headed by a deputy ranger and each range is headed by a ranger. The District Forest Officer (DFO) manages the whole forest division along with the SDO.

While speaking to Indian Masterminds, IFS officer Vejaynantham explained, “Beat guards have a lot of responsibilities as they have to take care of the allotted forest land in terms of protection, implementation of rules, plantation activity, rescue activities, etc. As it is not a single person’s job or the job of the local villagers, the concept of Joint Forest Management was launched after India got independence.”

IFS officer Vejaynantham with the forest team of South Betul Forest Division

After Independence, the concept of Joint Forest Management (JFM) came into place where forest department in association with the locals take on the responsibility of forest protection. Mr. Vejay said, “Under this, the villagers are given the rights of minor forest produce in the forest but, at the same time, they are given the duty of protection of the forest along with the beat guard.”

Although schemes vary from state to state and are known by different names in different Indian languages, usually a village committee known as the Forest Protection Committee (FPC) and the Forest Department enter into a JFM agreement. Villagers agree to assist in the safeguarding of forest resources through protection from fire, grazing, and illegal harvesting in exchange for non-timber forest products and a share of the revenue from the sale of timber products.

The Van Sewaks act as a buffer between the forest department and local people. As there is less possibility of beat guards and rangers to be present in every situation, these Van Sewaks assist them in every way possible.

THE INITIATIVE

Mr. Vejay said, “Any person in a forest division is posted for not more than 5-8 years. However, these Van Sewaks are the permanent storehouse of knowledge of the forest. They have been working in association with the forest department for the past 10-15 years and have the maximum knowledge about the forest or their beat. Whenever, a new beat guard is appointed, the transfer of knowledge comes from these protection guards.”

The Forest Protection Guard equipped with proper kit

Hence, the forest department through the Forest Protection Committee, offered new uniforms, jungle boots, caps, socks and winter jackets to more than 320 Van Sewaks for the first time ever. Before this, these sewaks used to report to duty as common people, risking their lives without the basic facilities of proper clothes and footwear.

Mr. Vejay said, “This initiative will make the Van Sewaks feel safe, and at the same time, feel pride in the work they do for the forest department. This way, more people will come forward to become Van Sewaks. This step will also help in controlling the forest mafias as seeing the uniformed sewaks will make them afraid, and they will definitely avoid causing harm to a person in uniform.”


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