Shashanka Sekhar Dash
Before Project Situation:
Devkund is located at the picturesque landscape and are very less unexplored destination from tourism prospective at Mayurbhanj district.
Just before intervention of IGS, Devkund was famous for day picnic. Tourists throng to the destination and enjoy the serene waterfall at the virgin landscape and do the picnic nearby places and by evening, go back to their original destination. Most of the tourists are from nearby areas and inbound in nature. The main period of visit is from mid of December to mid of January every year. Rest of the time except rainy season, there are sporadic footfalls of visitors.
There were local villagers who were helping the tourists in providing logistic support, parking of vehicles during picnic at the destination. During the whole process, some revenues earned by the villager in the form of gate pass for vehicles, allotting picnic spots at the designated field etc.
But, because of heavy inflow of tourists during Dec-Jan months people litters here and there, the plastics, polythene and other decomposed food items. As there are no such mechanism in managing garbage and governance on cleanliness by the local villagers and even the casualness of the visitors, the garbage is one of the biggest issue continues there.
The entire management was in hand of Kundabai Panchayat, on surface. But actually it was managed and being governed by few powerful PRI members and stake of other community members were being relegated to negligible amount. Due to which there was no transparency in terms of revenue earned from the tourism management. Even only a negligible amount of revenue was being transferred to local community. In some cases, even people could not get their due service fee, even after giving services.
How an agency Intervened:
With this background, the district administration seeks IGS support to take this initiative to new heights and establish Devkund as a popular tourism destination to serve the inbound and outbound visitors and established a model of community owned and governed eco-tourism initiative.District administration of Mayurbhanj was keen for the same, as they knew about Manglajodi and its success as a community led eco-tourism initiative.
With that background IGS had started its intervention with local community to develop Devkund as a community owned and governed tourism destination. IGS started the operation with various methodologies. But it was not easy at all to start with. As, when IGS started intervening, then the powerful PRI members, in whose hand, earlier the operation was, felt threatened with respect to their mismanagement of finances and other matters. So a lot of disturbances were created, they did instigate people against this initiative. In two of the incidences, once Sareen was being threatened by a mob of around 50 people with sticks and other weapons in their hands, while conducting a meeting there. In another incidence, Archana, who has been representing IGS there was being hit by, while a chair thrown to her. But it did not stop us to go ahead and we were clear in mind that, once community will be clear about pour intention, they would support this initiative. Our approach was always has been making them capable to take decision regarding the initiative and not IGS will dictating the decision.
A baseline study was being conducted on the onset to understand the context and potential for this initiative. IGS team visited all four villages (Kundabai, Balabhadrapur, NayaRangamatia, UparTaldiha), those were engaged in some manner or other with Devkund tourism and all the Hamlets of those villages in Kundabai GP. During that visit, IGS team had meet all the relevant stake holders like PRI members, local authorities, villagers, youth clubs, farmers clubs, cultural troops and others. After that IGS did facilitate a stakeholder meeting, where all those being invited to share the concept of the project and seeking their open feedback to improve upon what we thought. Next step was to facilitate meeting in all villages and hamlets to make community understand about their role in the initiative and representatives from each village were being chosen by the community to form the executive body and governing body of the Devkund tourism committee to oversee the day to day operation and finances. To make everything transparent, a bank account was being opened and all transactions have been done through that only. Then the committee was being given exposure and being imparted with a number of capacity building trainings, so that they can be confident to run the show, rather than depending on others. Then the committee took the responsibility to share the concept of the project in each village to find out possible service providers. Service providers list was being prepared and a roster of engagement was developed, so that everybody can get a chance to earn, who is willing to provide the tourism service. Those service providers were also being imparted with trainings to build their skill. IGS team has been extending hand holding support to the committee, as and when there is a requirement.
What is the present Situation:-
There is a remarkable difference in terms of community ownership, transparency and financial stability between the initial phase and current phase. Now, the “Ecotourism Group” is registered with Indian Trust deed to make the institutional framework formal. The community level capacity to host the tourism activity has grown manifold. For 65 families it’s an alternative source of incremental income to their respective HHs. Source of revenue has increased from parking and picnic place to Parking, Pindi, picnic place, Children Park, Latrine, shoe stand, shops and others. When IGS had started the intervention there were no ethics to preserve the Mother Nature during the tourism season, but now the Devkund Ecotourism Group facilitated suggested ethical behaviour for the tourists as well as for the members. After 2 PM no vehicle is allowed to the forest now, no plastics zone has been marked, wine and loud music is curbed and picnic is not allowed inside of forests are few of those ethical practises that Devkund Ecotourism committee is facilitating.
Impact: When IGS did start the project, there were lot of issues related to trust level of community on the management group, as accounts was not maintained properly. Nobody knows, what is the exact revenue for a year and what is the amount paid for different activities. One of the biggest impact was in terms of developing transparency around the accounting system and by virtue of that reinstating the trust of community on the newly formed committee. Now in the four villages, from where people are getting engaged with the tourism management, there is an immense level of trust because of the efforts, that’s being carried out to build the trust as well as the transparency. Community of those four villages now own up the initiative and its being recognised as community centric initiative. In all the four village, people today knew the status of income and expenditure at Devkund as the accounts have been audited from last three years consecutively by certified CA and after that the audited statement has been shared with the community in AGB as well as in all the four villages separately. The accounting system allows anybody of that village to check the books of account any day, so that the trust can be there always. The capacity to manage eco-tourism initiative has also been enhanced at the community level as well as the institutional level.
In terms of financial gain, at the end of first year of intervention, the total balance after expenditure was INR 1, 07,939 against that of INR 45,000 reported for the previous year. The revenue since then has grown exponentially to a level of INR 6, 00,000 and now, Devkund Ecotourism Group has a corpus of INR 5, 00,000 after three years of intervention.