Let it be Banni

Banni ko Banni Rehne Do (Let it be Banni)
Banni ko Banni Rehne Do (Let it be Banni) is the movement for the management and utilization of the grasslands of Banni. The land of Banni was given to the Maldhari (pastoralist) community by the rulers of Kachchh for livestock grazing approximately 500 years ago, which imposed a ban on agricultural farming and any other private activity apart from grazing; and the people of Banni have been using it as a common property since then.

There are some threats that have come up against maintaining this common property. The Working Plan of Banni prepared by the Forest Department of Kachchh, is one such threat, which states that 20% of the land will be exclusively used for raising Prosopis Juliflora (Ganda Bawal) and that, fencing and plotting of land will be done to raise and control the growth of grasses, which will lead to a division of land in Banni. According to this plan, several small plots or coupes will be fenced in Banni on which grazing will be prohibited for the first five years. The paradox is that, neither the people of Banni, nor the Panchayats in Banni have been consulted while preparing this plan.

Apart from that, some private chemical companies have received permission to set up their plants in areas near Banni from the government and they have illegally encroached in Banni. The people of Banni are demanding that this land be used as a common property for livestock grazing, as they have been using since years and declare Banni as “Special Pastoralists’ Zone” as it is natural grassland and only the pastoralist communities reside there.

For this purpose, the Maldharis have prepared a resolution consisting of nine points. They have started a campaign to spread awareness about the issue in the region and to gain people’s support. The members of the Breeders’ Association went to various villages and campaigned for the cause. They have highlighted their thoughts and decisions on Banni ko Banni Rehne Do in this resolution, which has been approved by the Gram Panchayats of Banni.

After studying the Working Plan of the Forest Department, the pastoralist communities realized that if the plan is implemented as it is, then they will lose their traditional system of animal husbandry and their traditional rights. So they have demanded rethinking on the Working Plan or taking it back. The Banni Breeders’ Association and the Gram Panchayats have written a letter to the Forest Department asking them to consider their demands. It has also been decided that if no positive action is taken on the matter then the Association will approach the court to put a stay on the implementation of the plan.

We have the title deed from the Maharao that bequeaths this land to us. Under the rulership of the Jadejas, there was a system of Grasdhars each administering one of the 23 sub-eco-regions of Kachchh. We have tax receipts as evidence that we historically paid pancheri (grazing tax) to the Grasdhars in exchange for the right to graze our animals in the Banni. After Indian independence in 1947 Kachchh became a part of the Bombay presidency in 1953 and the Banni continued to be used as grassland under the control of the Revenue Department without any allocation of private land holding. But after the Forest Department came out with its Working Plan, we are afraid that our ecologically sustainable way of life that we have practised for centuries will be destroyed, resulting in a breakdown of mutual trust and sharing between the Maldhari communities. In stressful times such as this, our elders have issued a call to the community members and the government, saying ‘Banni ko Banni rehne do’ meaning leave Banni as it was, as a common land for pastoralists and their animals and recognize our customary rights to live and graze our animals in the Banni.

A Maldhari of Banni