(Down to Earth: Conservation)
April 4th: Why India should enact a special law for conserving its sacred groves – https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/forests/why-india-should-enact-a-special-law-for-conserving-its-sacred-groves-82201
- GS-3: Wildlife & Biodiversity
Why India should enact a special law for conserving its sacred groves
Context: India’s sacred groves are being gradually altered due to ever-expanding human populations, pollution and removal of biomass; effective conservation is the need of the hour to maintain their functional values.
What are Sacred Groves?
Sacred groves are patches of natural vegetation preserved by ancient societies on religious and cultural grounds.
- These patches of vegetation are rich in biodiversity and act as habitats of many endangered and threatened plant species.
- A sacred grove usually consists of a dense cover of vegetation including climbers, herbs, shrubs and trees, with the presence of a village deity and is mostly situated near a perennial water source.
- Sacred groves are considered to be symbols of the primitive practice of nature worship and support nature conservation to a great extent.
- These groves are, in general, maintained by rural communities. No governments have been involved in their maintenance so far.
- Many are protected and maintained by the village community by evolving certain taboos and restrictions. Some of the groves are also maintained by individual families.
- In some cases, individual and ancient trees also act as sacred groves, with the idol of a deity under the tree.
- There is a general belief among people that any damage to the sacred grove, harm to any living fauna there or cutting any tree or climber of the grove may cause diseases and failure of agricultural crops.
- Many villages have set apart sanctified land to propitiate the Vanadevadas, or forest spirits. The entire grove is considered sacred in certain areas and worshipped.
It is estimated that India may have about 100,000 such groves. The names of such groves vary depending upon the region and language of our country. They are called with different names in different states:
- Sarna in Bihar
- Dev Van in Himachal Pradesh
- Devarakadu in Karnataka
- Kavu in Kerala
- Dev in Madhya Pradesh
- Devarahati or Devarai in Maharashtra
- Lai Umang in Maharashtra
- Law Kyntang or Asong Khosi in Meghalaya
- Oran in Rajasthan
- Kovil Kadu or Sarpa Kavu in Tamil Nadu
Threats to Sacred Groves
So far, these sacred groves have been protected through social fencing with the involvement of the local community.
- But of late, some groves have been cleared for the construction of buildings and other modernisation works in connection with temple activities.
- Certain sacred groves have been reduced to small patches due to encroachments.
- In some places, old trees have been felled and fruit orchards and fruit gardens have been established.
- The groves are being gradually altered due to the increasing needs of the ever-expanding human population, pollution and removal of biomass.
How to save these groves – The Way Forward
Effective conservation and management practices are thus the need of the hour in order to maintain the groves’ functional values. The groves have great research value in in situ conservation of rare, endangered and threatened plant species.
- It is high time that public awareness is created about the importance of these sacred groves, developmental activities are banned and the felling of trees or removal of any other vegetation is completely stopped.
- This is possible only by way of enacting a special law for the protection and management of sacred groves.
- As the management practices and other rituals vary from state to state, the concerned state governments may promulgate such an act as suitable for the state. The idea should be to protect certain rare, endangered and threatened plant species in the era of global warming and climate change.
NOTE: Sacred groves have been legally protected under ‘community reserves’ in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002.