Watershed Voices… Experiences from the grassroots Mhaswandi Watershed Project

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When the fiery furnaces of nearby charcoal kilns were fed with wood from Mhaswandi’s verdant forests, its residents were happy, cash-rich and grateful to the rich timber merchants who acted as middlemen in the sale. This new source of easy income flowed into their homes, bringing in its wake a legacy these villagers knew nothing about and were even less prepared to meet. It took a handful of years for the forests, the merchants and the money to vanish. The devastation left behind was unprecedented, catastrophic enough to sweep the future of generations into oblivion. Landscape, barren as far as the eye could see earning sources shrivelled up into woefully small ruminants and scrub cattle, which further caused land depredation due to free grazing leading to further soil-loss and poorer productivity.

Devoid of its lush forestland, rich in flora and fauna, the once-thriving village of Mhaswandi could no longer support its populace in terms of livelihood. Desperate, many resorted to working as wage labourers and some migrated to slums in far off Mumbai. For nearly forty long years, those who stayed on at Mhaswandi battled hopelessness and despair, unable to see a way out of the cycle of poverty that now had the village in its grip. Little realizing that they had unwittingly sold their future for a few thousand rupees, they accepted what all had happened as their fate. Deep within them too, was now a conviction that accepting any offers from outsiders was not a wise or safe thing to do.

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