Ever since the villagers of Poi have become the sentinels of the forest, they have barred the felling of trees, stopped cattle grazing, checked encroachments and prevented forest fires, resulting in increased tree cover and the return of wildlife that include wild boar, deer, jackals, hyena, peacock and many varieties of butterflies.
“At times, deer have been sighted too,” informs villager Narayan Guthere, who farms on his eight-acre plot.
Kalyan is a busy, busy station on the Central Railway line ending at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or VT as it used to be called earlier. Yet in all the hustle and bustle of the teeming thousands who frequent Kalyan station very few would have heard of the hamlet called Poi.
This village’s story is remarkable in that it has maintained the green lungs of Kalyan, quietly and determinedly. In 2000, the people of Poi adopted the forest located in the foothills of Sahyadri Mountain Ranges that is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world in 2000, under Joint Forest Management, based on the National Forest Policy of 1988.
In 1992, the government decided to bring together forest officials and villagers to work towards conservation of environment. Initiated by Harishchandra Daji Sambre, a forest guard who has since retired from work, forest officials of Kalyan-Murbad range held a series of interactions with villagers in 1998.
In these sessions, the villagers learnt about the forest; they learnt that besides being a habitat for mammals, birds and insects, the trees of the forest soaked up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing it in their trunks, roots, leaves, and forest soils, and understood how this helped regulate local climate and prevented soil erosion, thus increasing the soil fertility and helped groundwater recharge. It was a revelation for them.
By the time the villagers adopted the forest and formed the Poi Forest Management and Forest Protection Co-op Society Ltd, the forest had been greatly degraded, especially for firewood. Since then, most villagers in this Taluka have received domestic cooking gas connections and the pressure on the forest has decreased drastically, leading to drop in forest-related offences. Offenders, if any, are let off with a reprimand.
Poi forest, described as a southern tropical moist teak forest, is home to with trees like sheeshum (teak), ain (Indian laurel), dhaora (axlewood), bonda, khair (catechu), moha (Madhuca Indica), palas (Flame of the forest), kahandol (Ghost tree), bibla (Indian Kino Tree) and kadamb. Medicinal plants like gunj (Indian Licorice root,), murud sheng (Indian screw tree), kal-lavi (Malabar Glory Lily), vavding (false black pepper), gulvel (Indian Tinospora), karvand (Bengal Currant) and khajkuhili (Cowhage) are found in plenty. Among the types of grass found here are kusali, bhatani, abondana, kothar and kasar.
Poi stands tall among the 74 villages and 26 tribal habitations in Kalyan taluka for its no-tolerance policy towards alcohol, having banned its sale in its vicinity in the early 80s, motivating the villagers sharing water from the same community well despite the presence of tribal and Dalit families among its residents and laying a 2km long pipeline from Barvi River to bring water to the village, resulting in the villagers taking a second crop following the rice harvest. The beneficiary of scores of rural schemes doled out, both by central and state governments, the village has successfully reversed migration of the locals to the neighbouring cities and satellite towns.
“We would like to introduce eco-tourism in the forest so that others can appreciate our efforts besides the villagers benefitting from it monetarily,” says Ravindra Narayan Ghodvinde, the village’s first graduate and presently the chairman of Kalyan Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee.
Though the Forest Department is open to the idea of introducing eco-tourism activities, Jitendra Ramgaonkar, deputy conservator of forest, feels they need to provide better emoluments to the villagers for the plan to succeed. This is because villagers in Poi, when not farming, engage themselves in odd jobs in the neighbouring cities like Ambernath, Badlapur or Thane and hence clearly need a second source of income. The idea is to allow them to generate it from responsible tourism rather than have to move away.
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