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Van Gujjars emerge as Air Pollution Warriors Buy stubble from Uttarakhand farmers so it doesn’t need to be burnt

18, Nov 2020 | Ameer Hamza

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program and has been written by Ameer Hamza, a young leader of the Van Gujjar community. Van Gujjars are a nomadic community who rear livestock for a living. In this article, Ameer Hamza brings to light how the Van Gujjars help battle air pollution by buying stubble to feed their livestock, thus preventing it from being burnt. 

The work of conservation and preservation of forests has been going on for centuries. For the last few years, the Van Gujjar community has played a symbiotic role in increasing the income of the farmers and preventing air pollution. Earlier, farmers polluted the air by burning stubble, while livestock rearing communities had to gather stubble from every corner of Uttarakhand for feeding animals. But now, ‘Parali’ or stubble is being used by the latter for livestock not only in Uttarakhand, but also in a large part of western Uttar Pradesh.

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The nomadic Van Gujjar community that rears livestock for a living has become a big part of the economy of farmers in Uttarakhand. Previously, farmers in the state were forced to burn paddy straw as it was not used in any way leading to spread of air pollution. Following this, the state and central governments banned stubble burning. This also adversely impacted farmers. To the rescue came the Van Gujjar community- they started feeding straw to their cattle. Initially farmers used to give straw for free but now the Van Gujjar community has become a contributor to a larger economy.

The broader picture

The state of Uttarakhand has a livestock-based Van Gujjar community which maintains its own family by raising cattle and seasonally migrating to different places. This transhumance tribal community migrates to plains and forests of Shivalik hills in the winters and to the Himalayan meadows in summers with thousands of animals to carry out their traditional lifestyle.

The forest department has constantly interfered with their traditional way of living due to which the community had to change the route of migration. Forest department of the state government evicted Van Gujjars by marking forest areas as national parks. With abandoned forest routes, they also had to give up a part of their identity and faith in animal husbandry. Still in the midst of it all, they remained resilient to not give up animal husbandry. Due to lack of enough natural fodder, the Gujjars got in touch with the farmers of the plains where they came across farmers worrying about ‘Parali’.

The Van Gujjar community started using Parali for their livestock from the year 2006-2007

Due to the restrictions on the natural resources of the Van Gujjar community from the year 2007, the Van Gujjars started bringing straw for their animals from nearby areas like Rishikesh, Doiwala, Laldhang, etc., from small farmers. They did so because straw was consumed in limited quantities only by the cattle. In return, farmers used to take cow dung from the Van Gujjars. This is how the barter exchange functioned smoothly.

Gradually, the forest department also prohibited the selling (giving) of cow dung manure from the community’s makeshift camps (dera). This move then forced the community to buy straw for money, unlike earlier as for manure. Gradually, the consumption and so demand of green straw increased as the habit of green leaves and dried straw fodder by the animals showed a rise.

Farmers were approached by the Gujjars around 2010 when they happily agreed to give the stubble for free. Rural areas of Haridwar such as Khanpur, Laksar, Bhagwanpur, Danarpur and Udham Singh Nagar and those areas of western Uttar Pradesh, like Bijnor and Saharanpur districts, which are connected with the state of Uttarakhand were 100 to 150km away from the reach of forest community. As consumption of straw kept rising, farmers started charging. Presently, Van Gujjars buy stubble from all parts of Uttarakhand and parts of western Uttar Pradesh at a rate of Rs 1,000 to 1,500 per bigha.

In conversation with a farmer

Name: Bhuta Singh

Location: Medu Wala Farm, Badapur District, Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh

Interviewer: Please share how your stubble would go waste earlier and how you were forced to burn it.

Farmer Bhuta Singh: Yes, earlier we had to burn stubble. However, the government imposed a ban. Following that, we were compelled to change the crop. We started sowing urad, but it cost a lot. We would be left with nothing. On the other hand, when the Gujjars bought ‘Parali’ from us, we benefitted. Whenever the price of paddy fluctuates, the sale of stubble helps us balance out the discrepancies. Parali has come to be a special by-product of our business that not only acts as a means of income but also gives us freedom from air pollution.

Discussion with a Van Gujjar on the use of Parali by animals

Name: Sharafat Kasana

Resident: Gauhari Range, Kumaon Chaur, Pauri Garhwal

Interviewer: You must be feeding your animals with green leaves from the forest earlier but now you bring straw for them. Tell me something about it.

Sharafat Kasana: Pruning of trees in the forests was banned by the forest department and since then our animals only graze in the forests. This is how we started feeding them straw. Secondly, as residents of the forest, we see ourselves as protectors of the environment. As air pollution was increasing due to stubble burning, we were determined to do our bit and so we used that stubble for animals.

Interviewer: Please share the challenges you face in bringing and buying stubble?

Sharafat Kasana Gujjar: It’s a long story and I have to take my buffaloes for drinking water, but I can tell you in short. We have to travel 100 kilometers to bring the stubble from far away. Near Saharanpur, there is also a tractor getting 1,500 rupees/bigha, but we have to give some bribe. Farmers are increasing the rate of straw day by day, but what to do? We don’t know anything other than animal husbandry plus we’re also not settled. Every year during the winters, I have to collect 1,50,000 rupees for five months. We’re always in debt to the lalaas (people who buy milk).

Conclusion

The Van Gujjar community is saving the state from air pollution. They also contribute to farmers’ incomes. Instead of creating hurdles, the government should provide incentives to the Van Gujjar community for stubble purchase and extend help to do away with corruption in police and forest departments.

 

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