Residents of Sanguem block of South Goa staged a protest when the Forest department axed their hereditary betel nut trees.
Conservation of trees is essential for human existence. However, with big infrastructure projects, rapidly growing urban landscape, and widening of roads, nature is the first to pay the price in the name of development. In Velle village in Netravali region of Sanguem block of South Goa, over 400 betel nut (supari) trees were cut off by the Forest Department without giving a second thought.
“Our ancestors had planted these supari trees down the mountain inside the forest. We have been maintaining them since then”, pointed out Kushali Gaonkar, a resident of Verlem Village. For more than 30 years the owners of these betel nut plantations have been cultivating trees. They were selling 1.5 quintal of betel nuts every year, and earn upto Rs.20,000 per quintal. The locals in Verlem village were doing this business for more than ten years.
The residents alleged that the cutting of the existing trees which are claimed to be nearly 450 trees was done by the Forest department, without permission or prior notice. People were horrified to find massive, decades-old betel nut trees being cut down, and decided to stage a protest. Former Tribal Welfare Minister, Ramesh Tawadkar stepped forward and met the Chief Minister to set up an inquiry. Along with Ramesh Tawadkar, the Deputy Chief Minister also supported the protest. “There has been a conflict between the locals and the Forest Department. Locals have lost faith in the Forest Department. In order to take up confidence-building measures, we have taken a decision to suspend the concerned Range Forest Officer (RFO) and have set up and inquiry,” said Vijai Sardesai, Deputy Chief Minister of Goa.
While the residents remained skeptical about the whole situation, one of the officials from the forest department, expressed his concerns, and requested the locals of Verlem village, to give them a chance to resolve the issue.
Forest destruction and axing trees pushes the frontline communities and native people out of their livelihood, violating their human rights and land rights.
Support the Community of Verlem village by calling Chief Conservator of Forests office on 0832-2424352.
Video by Community Correspondent Devidas Gaonkar.
Article by Grace Jolliffe, a member of VV Editorial Team.