The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered all encroachments to be removed from Gujarat’s Banni grasslands within six months and directed a joint committe to prepare an action plan in a month.
The region’s nomadic pastoralist community, the Maldharis, whose livelihoods are depend on this protected shrub-savanna, welcomed the move.
About Banni Grasslands:
- The word ‘Banni’ comes from Hindi word ‘banai’, meaning made. The land here was formed from the sediments that were deposited by the Indus and other rivers over thousands of years.
- Banni Grasslands Reserve or Banni grasslands form a belt of arid grassland ecosystem on the outer southern edge of the desert of the marshy salt flats of Rann of Kutch in Kutch District, Gujarat State, India. They are currently legally protected under the status as a protected or reserve forest in India
- Banni grassland is spread over 2,618 kilometre and account for almost 45 per cent of the pastures in Gujarat.
- Two ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands, are juxtaposed in Banni. The area is rich in flora and fauna, with 192 species of plants, 262 species of birds, several species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
- Ecologically too, the Banni is a “unique” grassland ecosystem because large parts of it are “inherently saline.
- Banni grasslands, traditionally, were managed following a system of rotational grazing. On May 11 1955, the court notified that the grassland will be a reserve forest.
- In the 1950s, authorities identified salinity ingression from the rann and into the Banni grasslands (caused by the damming of several rivers that used to drain into the Banni and thereby control soil salt levels, according to some literature) as a concern. To arrest this incursion, the state government introduced a mesquite tree from South America, Prosopis juliflora, in 1960. The people of Banni call it the gando baval or “mad babul” now and with good reason. The salt-tolerant and the prolific fruit-bearing plant has flourished
- Mad babul went from occupying just around six percent of the Banni grassland in 1997 to 33 percent in 2009.lThis has transformed a lot of the grassland into woodland, and led to a decline in native flora
- The changes that Prosopis ushered into the Banni are not just ecological. Livestock composition in the Banni has altered drastically due to this invasive tree. Data from the household survey of 2012 reveals that cattle have declined; numbers of the more sturdy Banni buffalo – that can tolerate this thorny tree and digest its pods better – have increased..
- On July 3, 2019, the tribunal ordered to demarcate the boundaries of the Banni grassland and restricted non-forest activities.
- The Maldharis, a pastoral community, have been living in the Banni grasslands of Kutch for centuries and have enjoyed customary grazing rights over the land.
- The directives were welcomed by the Maldhari community who breed Banni Buffaloes, a species endemic to the region.
- The buffaloes are adaptive to Kutch’s hot weather condition and yields 12-18 litres milk a day.
- FRA recognises the traditional rights of the forest dwelling communities over forest resources. It says the scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers who have been dependent on forest resources for their livelihood for 75 years or more up to 2006, have the right to use, protect and manage such forest resources. The Maldharis are not scheduled tribes but they have been living in the Banni grasslands, the second largest grasslands in Asia, for centuries. The erstwhile ruler of Kutch, Maharav Khengarji, had given the land to the Maldharis in the 19th century for grazing.
- The court also said the Maldharis will continue to hold the right to conserve the community forests in the area, granted to them as per the provisions in Section 3 of Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The community, united under Banni Pashu Uchherak Maldhari Sangthan (BPUMS), had filed a case against the rampant encroachment in the ecologically-sensitive grassland in May, 2018. “Banni ko Banni rehne do (Let Banni remain Banni)echoed pastoralists from the Banni grasslands during the virtual hearing.