Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, June 25, 2022

‘Oran’ Sustainable Livelihood & Biodiversity Conservation System in Rajasthan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Rajasthan State, there is usually an overlap between ‘gochar’ or ‘roondhs’ common pasture, and ‘Oran’, the sacred woodland. Various studies suggest that the estimated number of Orans in Rajasthan is 25,000. The area under an Oran can vary from a few square meters to several hundred hectares.

 

 

 

Orans – a source of livelihood for pastoralists communities

 

 

 

The Orans have also served as grazing grounds for pastoralists. A concept that historically evolved as a social mechanism to protect the livelihoods of the economically vulnerable sections of pastoralists i.e. livestock-dependent rural communities by recognizing and securing their right to natural resources for subsistence and livelihood purposes. The community-managed the Orans that traditionally could be found all across India emerged in ancient times as an explicit acknowledgement of the vulnerability of certain groups in a stratified society, who therefore required some mechanisms that guaranteed their basic needs. In contrast with common lands belonging to the village and therefore in the control of power groups, ancient laws dedicated these areas to divinity, thereby ensuring that the entire community had an equal stake in their resources.

 

 

 

The Orans used to be a source of natural wealth like fodder, fuel, timber, berries, roots and herbs. Many species are found both within and outside the Orans and traditional societies use them for a variety of livelihood needs: for example to provide traditional non-timber forest products and subsistence goods to the people; nesting, roosting and foraging sites to the pest-controlling cavity nesting birds and other wild animals; protecting the species that offer sites for beehives and to enhance the availability of honey; developing seedling orchards and seed production areas of ethno-silvicultural species and sustaining the essential ecological processes and life support systems.

 

 

 

The Orans provide vital grazing land for livestock, water, providing minor forest produce, medicinal plants and green cover for the villages they serve. InIndia, more than one million hectares of common land is covered under the Orans. Thus, the Oran play an important role in promoting a flourishing livestock based economy and the growth of livestock rearing communities. Therefore, for them managing the Orans is crucial for their own sustainable development.

 

 

 

There are about 41% of livestock is dependent on the Orans in Barmer district of Rajasthan. In addition to this livestock economy, the Orans also benefit the villages through their water bodies and diversity of trees. According to a survey carried out by KRAPAVIS (Krishi Avam Paristhitiki Vikas Sansthan), it was observed that every Oran has a water body like johad, tank, spring, baori, well etc. Thus the Orans are an important source of water for traditional irrigation systems in the Aravallis, e.g. Bakhtpura village. The main watering source for their livestock population is ‘Johad’ which exists in the Oran.

 

 

 

Many of tree species are found both within and outside the Orans and for traditional societies who use it in a variety of livelihood concerns, managing biodiversity is crucial for their sustainable development. Precisely, floral biodiversity in Orans is very rich, they not only yield several non-timber forest products, they also harbour multiple-use livelihood goods. These are the resources that are traditionally obtained from trees and plants from the Orans.

 

 

 

In the pastoralist community’s view, the Oran serves four main purposes;

 

 

 

Vegetation and grazing grounds for livestock

Watering places for livestock

Resting places for livestock

Medicine in ethno-botanical form

 

 

 

 

Orans serve as a gene pool conservation system

 

 

 

The Orans are repositories of rich biogenetic diversity and venues of local and universal manifestation of aesthetic tradition and socio- secrecies. In the management of the Orans, ecologically valuable species perform key functions in the ecosystem thereby contributing to the support and enhancement of biodiversity. Generally, the species are selected and valued by the local communities for cultural or religious reasons. But currently, at least 3% of the recorded wild flora and a somewhat larger number of wild fauna are on the threatened list in the Alwar area studied. For the last few decades, this area has lost about 70 % of its forests despite the fact that the biological diversity of the area is one of the most significant in India with several thousand species of flora and fauna found in the area.

 

 

 

The species in most of the Orans, namely those located in Thar Desert are Prosopis cineraria, Zizyphus mauritiana and Salvadora, Caparris aphylla. Shrubs include Calotropis procera in Jaisalmer and Zizyphus whereas in the Aravallis the most dominant species in the Orans are Dhok (Anogeissus pendula), Kair (Capparis deciduas), Ber (Zizyphus mauritiana), acacia trees, Khair (Acacia catechu), Hingota (Balanites egyptiaca), abalakanta and Sadahari (a creeper), Neem, Adusa or Bansa, Dhak/ Khakhra (Butea monosperma) in the hills and undulating plains. However, the Orans along the water streams mainly consist of Jamun (Syzygium cuminii). Some Orans support only one species of trees. e.g. in Bherunath-ji-ki-Devbai located in Alwar district, mainly the Dhok (Anogeissus pendula) is found in Talvraksh Devbani is found Arjun (Terminalia arjuna), while Zed and Devla Orans in Southern Rajasthan support Khajjur trees.

 

 

 

Among the finest examples in Alwar district are the ‘Shital Das and ‘Gopal-Das-ki-Deobani’, two different Orans located in two contiguous villages - Rainagir and Pehal respectively of Alwar district in Rajasthan, and situated on a hill slope at a distance of 5 Km from each other. The study records a total of 72 species belonging to different families and genera. About 27 species are reported to be extinct from these groves. Since there is no record of biodiversity in the past, no one can say for sure how many species it has already lost. Rare species like Gugal, Kadam (Anthocaphalus indicus), Dhak (Butea Monosperma) etc. are threatened. This primary forest is composed entirely of trees about 5-10 meters tall with little shrub or herbaceous under growth. The dominating tree species are Dhok (Anogeissus pendula), Kair (Capparis deciduas), Ber (Zizyphus mauritiana), Neem (Azardirachta indica), Peepal (Ficus religiousa), Bargad (Ficus bengalensis), Gular (Ficus glomerata), Salar (Boswellia serrata), Babul (Acacia nilotica), Khair (Acacia catechu), etc.

 

 

 

The Orans preserve the endemic, endangered or threatened species, medicinal plants and wild variety of cultivars found; one of the best examples is “Jiyapota”. A tree species, which is not to be found in Rajasthan other than in ‘Japan-ki-Devbani’, is located in Bera village of Alwar district. One of the studies found that the Orans of Aravallis provide cavity nest-sites for three species of parakeets, seven species of owl, one species of kingfisher, five species of woodpeckers, two species of barbets, two species of mynas and two species of tits. It also offers nest sites for one species of roller, tree creeper and hoopoe.

 

 

 

The Orans are very useful in the maintenance of the species. They are known to be of considerable value for medicinal plants like Adusa or Bansa which are used for cough syrups, while other species such as ber and wild grains are valuable for home consumption and trade. In addition, the Orans could aid scientific research in yielding useful derivatives, which could be used in the pharmaceutical, chemical and food processing industries. Dhuninath kin bani, located on the border of Alwar and Jaipur district, is a good example which supports at least 21 species of root herbs and several species of animals. It has a water pool where several species of fish and water birds reside, and different species of trees include Terminalia arjuna, Anogeissus pendula, Syzygium cuminii, Mangifera indica, Ficus religiosa, Ficus benghalensis, Ficus glomerata etc. Several species of cavity-nesting birds excavate nests. Omkar Gujar, a 70 year old pastoralist from Bakhtpura village knows the therapeutic value of some 20 herbs found in the Orans, for example those that give very fast relief in various diseases. Therefore, many of the plants found on the Orans have medicinal purposes which the villagers use to their full benefit.

 

 

 

Several Orans contribute to perennial water sprigs e,g. Garva-jiki- bani in Alwar district has a big perennial water spring used for irrigation round the year. Similarly, Naraini Mata, Bharthari, Talvraksh etc.. Another example is Gopal-Das-ki-Devbani, which has very old and beautiful architecturally “talab” (rain water harvesting structure). The talab is constructed at a place, which has maximum run-off contributing into it. The topography of the catchment is such that tributaries tend to come together and join the main stream somewhere near the centre of the area and thus water gets collected in the talab. This is important in terms of providing water for irrigation and drinking purposes.

 

 

 

They are often the only surviving areas of mature woodland in otherwise denuded surroundings and provide a refuge for wildlife from the encroaching development of housing, roads, modern agriculture practices and factories.

 

 

 

The fairs and festivals have retained their religious significance. The village community organizes ‘Melas’ at the ‘Oran’ site where they rejuvenate their commitment towards this woodland. In this arrangement, the sanctity of the domain ensures a ready and plentiful availability of an important energy source for the benefit of all. Most of the Melas are generally organized on specific dates, which vary from the Oran to the Oran and are related to some religious or social event of significant importance. Thus the ethnic, cultural, and historical factors also play an important role. In brief, the Orans serve as

 

 

 

  • a refuge for bio-genetic diversity and gene pool conservation
  • repositories of ethno-social codes of relation and regulation vis-a-vis nature
  • venues of local manifestation of aesthetic traditions and religiosity

 

 

 

 

Declination of orans

 

 

 

Despite of all the characteristics, the Orans have declined and shrunk. The Orans in Rajasthan have been neglected and destroyed by modernization and legislation. Also, they are threatened because of increasing pressure from population and livestock. Several encroachments have taken place and worse, the governments have regularized them. The area and legal status of several Orans has not been clearly defined. Forest wealth and prime and water sources/water-harvesting structures, which existed within or adjacent to the Oran lands are depleted, dilapidated and facing extinction. This has happened due to abandoning of the traditional practices of natural resource conservation and management, and more importantly non- people centric government policies and laws play a significant role in this regard. Most of the herbs, which existed in the ‘Orans’, have either become extinct or threatened to become extinct.

 

 

 

Thus, the decline of the Orans began once the forests went out of community control and is attributed to the weakening influence of religion with the spread of modern civilization and legislation. Over a million livestock-dependent people are struggling hard for survival because of the shrinking Orans, their grazing grounds. These pastoralists have either to undertake large-scale migration into adjoining areas or over grazing nearby forest area, which often cause them physical hardship and severe social strain and also lead to conflicts and destruction of vegetation. The decline of forest cover has undoubtedly grave consequences. Denuded of tree cover, tropical lands move quickly towards infertility and erosion.

 

 

 

The Orans currently face various threats like mining, quarrying, encroachment, clear felling, and other depletive factors. Lack of faith in the younger generation is a problem. This situation is similar throughout the country.