A Model of Community-led Conservation

By H H Mohrmen

Jaiñtia Fishing and Environmental Protection Association (JF&EPA), was established as Jaiñtia Fishing Association in the year 1993. Initially the Associations’ main objective was to protect the rivers particularly those around Jowai town from indiscriminate killing of fishes by unscrupulous elements that used chemicals and explosives to catch the fish. These are no doubt illegal activities but enforcement machineries find it hard to nab the culprits who take advantage of the distance of the place and in the cover of the night to engage in their act.

Because it is a voluntary organisation the JFA’s approach is to start its units in different areas and supported by the community they were able to stop this dastardly act and most of the rivers are now saved from fish poachers now. The other objective of the Association which was established and registered with the government as a society under the Societies Act XX of 1860, is also to protect the upstream of the river Myntdu from unauthorised collection of sand and stones, the encroachment on the banks of the river and the pollution which flows to the river Myntdu which is also a source of drinking water for the people of Jowai.

The Association which was later known as Jaiñtia Fishing and Environment Association (JFEA), Jwai has now grow by leaps and bounds and has altogether 18 units in the entire East and West Jaiñtia hills. The one common goal of the Association is to protect and preserve the bio-diversity in Jaiñtia hills and to protect the Environment and Aquatic lives in all the rivers in Jaiñtia hills. In its 26 years of existence the organisation has rendered its service to achieve the motto – ‘For the Betterment of All.’

The river Myntdu which flows round Jowai town is not only considered a deity by tradition for which people in the traditional religion offer obeisance up to the present bit it is also the only source of water supply for the town. As the population of the town grows, the river is also affected from pollution in the form of solid and liquid waste dumped and discharged by the citizens of the town. To help control the flow of such waste to the source which is located downstream of the Myntdu, the Association in collaboration with different government departments and agencies constructed check dams along the river.

To protect and preserve Myntdu, the Association has constructed 3 check dams along the river. The construction of these dams was funded by the Association, the Rotary Club Jowai, The Jaiiñtia Hills Autonomous District Council, Jowai and the Office of the District Soil Conservation, Jowai. The first dam was constructed just upstream of Mupiah the source of drinking water of the town and  the fund for this project was supported by Rotary International and the association’s own fund. The second dam was constructed at the confluence of Myntdu and Mynkrem and this was supported by the office of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council. For this entire endeavour the Association was awarded the National Water Award by the Ministry of Water Resources and the Central Ground Water Board of the government of India, New Delhi.

In collaboration with the District Administration and the office of the District School Education Officers, the Association has also been able to organise an awareness campaign for the students of Jowai town on the theme ‘Protection and Preservation of biodiversity both flora and fauna in Jaiñtia hills,’ to inculcate in the minds of the young ones of the need to protect our environment. The Association has also planted trees along the river which act like a buffer zone and also help protect the banks of the river. It plans to plant more trees in the future.

Because of the growing population and increasing numbers of households which also pollute the river, the Association is planning to construct other check dams and sewage and water treatment plants at the tip of all the streams which flow from the town to the river Myntdu and the concerned departments have been approached for the different projects.

Last but not the least the major achievements of the JF&EPA is the construction of the Fish Sanctuary at the stretch of the river known as Syntu Ksiar which has attracted more visitors to the area. The Association deliberately selected this spot because of the history which is connected with this section of the river Myntdu. The story of ‘ka Syntu Ksiar’ or the Golden Flower is unique in its way. And ‘ka Madiah kmai-blai’ which is considered to be the beginning of the Jaiñtia rebellion under the leadership of u Kiang Nangbah according to the oral narrative. Both these places have already attracted tourists to the place. But the monument in memory of u Kiang Nangbah and the fish sanctuary which now has thousands of fishes will attract more people.

It began with the signing of the MOU between the JF&EPA with the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council and the project was completed with support from the different government departments which include Meghalaya State Aquatic Mission from the Department of Fisheries, the District   Basin Development Unit, the office of the CEM of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council and the contribution from the funds of the Association. According to R. Rymbui the Superintendent of Fisheries West Jaiñtia hills, he had personally intervened by engaging people to catch Chocolate Masheers from other streams and then put them in this sanctuary. Chocolate mahseer in on the list of endangered fish and he is confident that the JF&EPA will be able to protect these fishes. The sanctuary also houses the local indigenous fishes and also has the Golden mahseer.

On November 22 last, a delegation from Japan led by Toshihide Ando, deputy chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan, which was hosted by the Fisheries Department, the JF&EPA, and the Dorbar Chnong Panaliar, the visitors appreciated the efforts put in by the organisation and were pleased to know that all this was done on a voluntary basis. K N Kumar, IAS who is now Chairman of the Farmers’ Commission and was earlier spearheading this fish sanctuary project said that about 57 of such projects were sanctioned and 53 were very successful all across the state.

Now there is a footpath to make it easier for visitors to visit the sanctuary, go on a stroll and see the fishes. This was constructed with the MLA scheme 2016-17. But protection of the fishes is not a cakewalk. L Paswet the President and N K Lamare, Secretary of the Association said that in spite of the fact that it is a protected area, anti- social elements still take advantage of the night and the distance of the place and engage in nefarious activities. To protect the fishes from the unscrupulous elements and to create more attraction for the fish sanctuary the Association plans to install solar street lights along the stretch of the sanctuary and has approached different departments for the same.

The Association proposes to construct another check dam downstream of Syntu Ksiar at a section called ‘ka Lynter’ and they have approached the District Wildlife Department for this project. This effort made by the JF&EPA is one illustration where community-led conservation is showing results.  The reason for the success of the project is also because it is led by the community. There are many communities which are eager to do the same and this model can be replicated in those areas too. Our rivers can only be protected if the community leads from the front.

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