The tribal village of Mendha in the panchayat of Lekha (Mendha Lekha) in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra has been at the forefront of self-governance. Their famous slogan is “Dilli Mumbai Amcha Sarkar, Amache Ganavat Amhich Sarkar” (In Delhi and Mumbai is our Government, In our village we ourselves are the Government). From the 1930s itself, the village has been fighting for its rights over its forests. From the mid-1980s, they have been legally managing their forests as a commons, with some remarkable results.
The Gram Sabha (assembly of the villagers) has been taking decisions in a collaborative mode. They have taken over the entire management of their forest, first under the Joint Forest Management scheme. Later, they were the first village to receive Community Forest Rights. Bamboo is now treated as a resource to be harvested judiciously, not clear cut by outside contractors. Similarly, even their quarries have been handed over to village women to run, and they have put in place extraction limits to reduce the damage as well as extend the life of the resource.
One of the most interesting features of the Mendha Lekha experiment has been the creation of a Gram Sabha Fundcreation of a Gram Sabha Fund. The Gram Sabha collects all the profits from the various activities and deposits a certain amount into its fund. The interest on this fund has become a sustainable source of income as well now. This fund is being used judiciously to create income generating opportunities for their educated youth so that they do not migrate to cities in search of work. Most recently, all the private owners of agricultural lands have donated them to the Gram Sabha, making the also into a village commons.
The Mendha Lekha model of village self governance is spreading through the area. Around 1,200 villages are claiming their community forest rights and are moving in the direction of self governance following the trailblazing Mendha Lekha.