Jamini Mohan Mahanty is out for a morning walk every day. At 91, he is hale and hearty. A resident of Jharbagda village in Purulia district, West Bengal, Mahanty thanks the "green mountain" in his village for having added some extra years to his life.
(L) A view of the barren mountain in 1996 and (R) a restored landscape as seen in 2006. Mongabay India
Long Walk for Firewood<p>Another major problem that villagers, especially the women faced was the near absence of firewood as there were hardly any trees, "We had to walk for three to four kilometres for firewood and the entire day was lost in the travel. It was also risky and cumbersome for the women to walk for such a long distance carrying the firewood on their heads. Besides, some couldn't afford the money required to buy firewood for fuel," said another villager.</p><p>Villagers realized that turning the mountain green could save them from the torment of inclement weather coupled with water shortage issues. But it was easier said than done as the mountain spread across 376 acres of land and required extensive labour and funds for plantations.</p><p>An NGO involved in nature <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/conservation" rel="noopener noreferrer">conservation</a> came to their rescue. The <u><a href="http://www.tsrd.org/" target="_blank">Tagore Society For Rural Development</a></u> (TSRD), a non-profit engaged in rural work, agreed to do the plantation work on the entire stretch while the community was given the responsibility of maintaining and protecting the green cover. </p><p>"A group of villagers contacted us and told about the problems they were facing. We were overwhelmed by their passion to grow a forest. We then decided to do the plantation," said Prahalad Chandra Mahato, 70, senior employee of the NGO.</p><p>Subsequently, in 1999, a village committee involving 60 members of Jharbagda village of Manbazar-1 block was formed for plantation at a community land of around 300 acres.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNDA1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzAyMjExM30.eh38KZE12HOoOpaIUc6oBdefb06WM3JE0giF--dLWq4/img.jpg?width=980" id="cb439" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dadebea5768c9346fa9800b45e177704" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Committee members representing the villages for plantation on the barren mountain. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
Villagers can now collect dry leaves for fuel from the forest on the Makino Raghunath Mountain. Earlier, they would have to walk long distances to get firewood. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
The Stretch Turned Green Within a Few Years<p>Within a span of a few years, the landscape, starting with five villages started changing. "The first visible sign was the easy availability of firewood for fuel. The dried leaves that fell from the trees were collected by us and used as fuel. It not only saved us from the ordeal of walking for several kilometers but also reduced our expenditure on buying wood for fuel. It encouraged us to protect the forest and shoo out anyone trying to destroy it," said Kalyani Mahanty, 40, a homemaker in Jharbagda.</p><p>The forest also led to an increase in the groundwater level and brought down the constant quarrels among villagers, "The groundwater level that had depleted to 40-50 feet (and went down even more in summers) became normal and was available at 15-20 ft. The easy availability of water brought peace to the village," she added.</p><p>The dense green cover also ensured the presence of biodiversity and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/elephants" target="_self">elephants</a> began to traverse the forest that was once barren, "We first noticed the movement of elephants in 2005. There was a sense of jubilation among villagers. There were also constant sighting of snakes and other animals. Birds are now regular here," said Bikash Mahanty, 40, who resides at the neighbouring Radhamodhobpur village.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNjUzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTI0OTUxOX0.S9eG2GAmbVZI6yhmzwCPauTUEIvlfSCae47Lrt0O2cQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="8554a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f3bc72b3aba749959342680b81c62168" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Makino Raghunath Mountain, a once-barren mountain where plantation took place between 1999 and 2002, restoring its greenery. Mongabay India
Trenches Being Dug to Store Rainwater<p>The state government in collaboration with TSRD is now digging trenches down the mountain to stop the wastage of rainwater and to make the soil nutritious, "The water in the trenches would make the soil nutritious while the overflowing water would be stored in a nearby pond and used for farming. It would also recharge the groundwater," said Badal Maharana, 43, team leader, <u><a href="https://usharmukti.nregawb.in/" target="_blank">Ushar Mukti</a></u> project, TSRD Purulia Unit.</p><p>He further said that around 1.5 feet deep trenches have been dug up in 50 hectares of land after the start of the work last year.</p><p>"The trenches would certainly help in storing the rainwater and would be used for multiple purposes. We are also trying to make it an animal corridor to facilitate their movement but the presence of habitation near the forest is a hurdle to the plan. The efforts of the villagers stand as a classic example of how environment conservation is vital for the survival of every individual," said Niladri Sarkar, Block Development Officer (BDO), Manbazar-1 block in Purulia district.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNDA2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTYwNDg5NX0.H_elNTErtxSE5y_j_8ATWT6x72fppFDmnTzGgEQQp9A/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e943" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8953097e3227af62caf8b1d5aa4fdc0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The overflowing water from trenches would flow into the nearby pond and would be used for farming. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
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Mountains aren't just a sight to behold—they cover 22 percent of the planet's land surface and provide habitat for plants, animals and about 1 billion human beings. The vital landforms also supply critical resources such as fresh water, food and even renewable energy.
By Isabelle Morrison
Public spaces are for everyone, but how we perceive them and interact with them is contextual. Some activists are making their statements on the public canvas all around the world. And it's catching on.