Nokha town in Bikaner district of Rajasthan has an air of urgency. Large number of jeeps vying for road space with big trucks and lorries while trains, both long distance and local, hurtle past the barrier at regular interval. From the largest agriculture-based market established by erstwhile king of Bikaner, Maharaja Gangasingh, Nokha has transformed itself to a place known for a fledgling cement industry and small scale units manufacturing blankets and electrical items among other products.
What has also changed with this transformation is the decline in dairy sector of the town. Rawat Ram, who manages a public information centre run by Urmul Jyoti Sansthan for the locals in the market, recalls his childhood when annual cattle fair of Nokha was the biggest draw. “I used to get our cattle to the fair for sale. People from far off places used to descend here and thousands of cows and buffaloes would swarm the open grounds. Today, neither there are open spaces nor the buyers,” he says. The town with a population of around 80,000 has only around 1,000 families rearing the cattle now. Also, most of these cattle rearers are those who have migrated recently from the nearby villages and are staying on the town's periphery.
The diminishing interest in cattle rearing coupled with increasing land prices is having a damaging effect on the 375 hectare of common grazing land with most of it having been encroached upon, earlier by farmers and now by real estate developers. The land rate at Nokha has seen a five time jump in last four years. “Farmers who first encroached upon the common land near their fields are now selling it to the private developers at cheap rates. At several places, plots have been cut and being sold at below the market rate,” says Shivnarayan Jhanwar, a member of the Gauchar Sangharsh Samiti, which has been campaigning to save the common land in Nokha.The samiti has promised to enclose the area with a fence once the encroachments are removed by the administration. However, it's not an easy task. Nokha tehsildar Shyamsunder Singh Rathore says whenever a notice is served, the encroacher gets a court stay claiming possession of the area for decades. Currently, 11 stays are being contested in the court by the administration.
The diminishing interest in cattle rearing coupled with increasing land prices is having a damaging effect on the 375 hectare of common grazing land with most of it having been encroached upon, earlier by farmers and now by real estate developers.
Meanwhile, most of the families which still keep the cattle are either forced to buy fodder or leave out a chunk of their individual fields for growing grass. Many others let the cattle roam freely in the market to feed on the vegetable waste. “It's a pity that the agriculture and dairy sector, which was once the backbone of this town, has now been shadowed by real estate. Had more families been keeping cattle, nobody would have been successful in encroaching upon the common land,” laments Jhanwar. Rathore agrees that there are not many who are concerned about protection of commons. “There is never a support from the community when we go on the spot for removal of encroachments. One of the reasons for such indifference is that the land has traditionally been seen as pasture. With cattle heads gone down residents feel no need for its protection without realising that it's a community resource which can be put to a different use with changing times,” he says.
Around 400 km south of Nokha, Taak village near tourist town of Udaipur is staring at a similar future. Being close to Udaipur, it has attracted number of real estate dealers who are acquiring land and demarcating plots. As the demand for land and construction material, both abundant at hills of Taak, continues to rise, the community fears it will have an adverse impact on 65 hectare of common land. The grazing land is rich in stones which are used in construction and lure of big money may fuel fresh encroachments.
Being close to Udaipur, Taak village has attracted number of real estate dealers who are acquiring land and demarcating plots. As the demand for land and construction material, both abundant at hills of Taak, continues to rise, the community fears it will have an adverse impact on 65 hectare of common land.
Most of the 500 families of Taak village are scheduled tribes dependent on forest produce and livestock rearing for a living. Though there have been conflicts related to protection and sharing of natural resources in the village, consensus has been the unwritten law here. Around 20 years ago, soapstone mining, encroachments and open grazing had turned the area barren and villagers were forced to go to the nearby forest reserve for their daily needs. The resource was, however, not enough. “Lot of neigbouring villages were also dependent on the same forest. Something had to be done to ensure regular supply of grass in the village itself,” recalls Lachhi Ram, whose father Logar Ba was one of the senior citizens who led the movement for change.
With help of a non-profit organisation, the villagers banned soap stone mining, removed encroachments over 5 hectare of grazing land and enclosed the area. Around 25,000 saplings of native trees were planted to ensure soil and water retention. However, it was not easy to keep the area protected. Around five villagers set up machines and started mining in a small patch of land. Instead of forcing the law down their throats, the residents initiated talks which continued for around six months. The mining was temporarily stopped during this period and by the end violators were convinced that larger benefits from the land were more important than individual gains through mining. No fine was imposed against them in keeping with the spirit of negotiations. Likewise, differences over sale of fodder and incursions by outsiders in the protected area were also dealt through parleys only.
However, latest developments have got the community in a tizzy. “A few villagers have sold their fields to builders who are cutting plots and selling them to outsiders. This will certainly impact the traditional work culture and community relations. All this combined with rising cost of land may gradually lead to encroachments on common land,” says Maanki Bai, a member of a women self help group of the village instrumental in protection of pastures.
Just like other parts of the country, Udaipur has seen a boom in real estate with land rates in surrounding areas have risen by 400 per cent in last 6-7 years. Property business is increasingly emerging as a third most lucrative business in the area after mining and tourism. No wonder then that villages like Taak equate real estate as dangerous to their resources as mining.