In news- The National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently ordered all encroachments to be removed from Gujarat’s Banni grasslands within six months and directed a joint committee to prepare an action plan in a month.
- The region’s nomadic pastoralist community, the Maldharis, united under Banni Pashu Uchherak Maldhari Sangthan (BPUMS), had filed a case against the rampant encroachment in the ecologically-sensitive grassland in May, 2018.
- The court said that the Maldharis will continue to hold the right to conserve the community forests in the area, granted to them as per the provisions in Section 3 of Forest Rights Act, 2006.
About the grassland-
- It forms a belt of arid grassland ecosystem on the outer southern edge of the desert of the marshy salt flats of Rann of Kutch in Kutch District and accounts for almost 45 per cent of the pastures in Gujarat.
- Two ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands, are juxtaposed in Banni.
- The word ‘Banni’ comes from the Hindi word ‘banai’, meaning made.
- The land here was formed from the sediments that were deposited by the Indus and other rivers over thousands of years.
- On May 11, 1955, the court notified that the grassland will be a reserve forest.
- On July 3, 2019, the NGT ordered to demarcate the boundaries of the Banni grassland and restricted non-forest activities.
- Banni Grasslands Reserve and Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary, both in Kutch, have been classified by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) as the last remaining habitats of the cheetah in India and possible reintroduction sites for the species.
- The grasslands are home to mammals such as the nilgai, chinkara, blackbuck, wild boar, golden jackal, Indian hare, Indian wolf, caracal, Asiatic wildcat, desert fox, Indian wild ass.
- During good rainfall years it forms important staging grounds for migratory birds like flamingos, cranes and resident birds.
- Maldharis are descendants of nomads who periodically came from Pakistan, Rajasthan and other parts of Gujarat, and finally settled in the Banni grasslands.
- Their major communities include Sindhi Sunni Muslims and Vadhas.
- The literal meaning of Maldhari is keeper (dhari) of the animal stock (mal).
- They are notable as the traditional dairymen of the region, and once supplied milk and cheese to the palaces of rajas.
- The majority of the Maldharis in Gir belong to (Charan) minority castes which include Koli, Kathi, Bawa, Meghwal and Makranis.
- The Maldharis of Gir, Alech and Barda have been included among the Scheduled Tribes since 1956, although these castes are not classified as Scheduled Tribes outside the forest areas.
- In some areas, weddings are traditionally held just one day each year, on Krishna Janmashtami, which falls in the midst of the monsoon.
- They have developed a local breed of buffalo called Banni Buffaloes which have strong resilience to the harsh conditions of the Banni.
- The Banni Buffalo was recognized as the 11th breed of buffalo in the country in 2010, the first one to be registered post independence.
- The breed registration process was carried out through the Maldharis themselves.
The buffaloes yield 12-18 litres of milk a day and survives by feeding on the grassland.