No mahua for old women: Mining stops forest collection

Location IconKorba district, Chhattisgarh
This is the seventeenth article in a 26-part series supported by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. This series highlights insights and lessons from key stakeholders shaping India's energy solutions, and explores possible pathways towards an equitable and just transition.

View the entire series here.

a mahua tree in kobra_coal mines
Every part of the tree—flowers, fruits, and seeds—is beneficial to our community. | Picture courtesy: Kumari Rohini

I live in Sarasmal village in Chhattisgarh’s Korba district, where I work as a farm labourer on people’s agricultural fields, but I barely manage to make ends meet.

Sarasmal lies in the hilly part of Chhattisgarh. In 2005, I and others in my village lost our land and forests when they were acquired by a coal mine that was started in our area. Since our primary occupation back then was the collection and sale of mahua and tendu leaves from the forest, we also lost our livelihood.

The mahua tree is harvested twice a year. Every part of the tree—flowers, fruits, and seeds—is beneficial to our community. Women would collect the fruits and flowers and sell them in the market; we also sold the oil that we made from the seeds. Regardless of age, all of us—including an old woman like me—were involved in the mahua business.

Due to excess production, the selling price was quite low. But a combination of the mahua business and farm labour was sufficient to pay for our children’s education and marriage. I too paid for my children’s wedding with the money I made from selling mahua. 

Now, there are only a few trees left in my village. This has increased the price of mahua in the area but has made life more difficult, especially for elderly people. The trees are at an elevation and far away from where we live. To reach them, we need to start early in the morning at 5 or 6 am, and we return late in the night. We need to cross the hill where the mine is located; it is a difficult route that only young people can navigate.

People like me have had to give up our traditional occupation of collecting mahua. Since the mines have taken over agricultural lands, now even farm work is difficult to come by.

Bhagwati Bhagat is an anti-mining activist in Chhattisgarh’s Sarasmal village.

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