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'Let Banni Be' struggle to save the pastoralist livelihood and Banni grasslands, Gujarat, India

The Maldharis (pastoralists) of Banni are fighting to preserve their historical rights over the Banni grassland commons, their traditional livelihoods and their indigenous cattle.


450 years ago, Maldharis (pastoralists) became the official custodian of the second largest semi-arid grassland in Asia, the Banni Grasslands of Kachchh district in Gujarat.  The grassland was bequeathed as commons to the nomadic pastoralists by the then king Maharao under the condition that no agriculture will be practiced in the region and the grassland will be governed as commons and not as private property. Since then the 2500 sq km grassland has been home to over 48 hamlets with a population of about 17000 people with 90% Muslims and 10% Hindu living together in solidarity and on the principle of mutual sharing of resources.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:'Let Banni Be' struggle to save the pastoralist livelihood and Banni grasslands, Gujarat, India
State or province:Gujarat
Location of conflict:Kachchh
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Chemical industries
Invasive species
Specific commodities:Tourism services
Live Animals
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

When the Banni grasslands were declared as 'protected forests' in 1955 the existing settlements rights of the Maldharis as community owners of the Grassland were not formally recognized. The confusion regarding the status of Banni between the Revenue Department and the Forest Department as a protected forest became a threat to the sustenance of Banni grassland and Maldharis accordingly, leading to issues related to land ownership conflicts.

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Project area:260,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:Around 17000 people
Start of the conflict:01/01/1955
Relevant government actors:Forest Department and Revenue Department of Government of Gujarat; Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change of Government of India
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Banni Panchayat Parishad; Banni Pashu Uccherak Maldhari Sanghathan (Banni Breeders Association); Sahjeevan; RAMBLE (Research And Monitoring in the Banni Landscape); ATREE
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
National egos, Maldhari traditional community
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsInvasive species dominating grasslands
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsDiseases of people and livestock due to water pollution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsCultural problems related to exposure to outside world
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Strengthened collective identity, de facto assertion of collective rights, possible official recognition of 'forest' rights over grasslands
Development of alternatives:In response to these conflicts, Maldharis have formed Banni Panchayat Parishad and Banni Pashu Uccherak Maldhari Sanghathan (Banni Breeders Association) to address issues related to land rights of the Maldharis, ensuring communal status of the Banni grasslands, decisions regarding certification and marketing of milk of Banni buffalo and Kankrej cattle. These associations state that the Maldharis collectively own animal genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge regarding breeding, ethno-veterinary practices, therefore, government should involve Maldharis in all the decision making regarding Banni. They insist that these associations should be consulted and prior informed consent should be taken whenever decisions are taken by external parties. In cases that the Maldharis grant access to the animal genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge, the Maldharis should have right to negotiate a benefit sharing agreement based on mutually agreed terms. Maldharis have developed their own patches where the invasive Prosopis juliflora has been eliminated; they propose that Government should also use Maldhari’s methods to ensure sustenance of the grasslands and their livelihoods.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Even though FRA rights have been claimed they have not been recognized yet. Also, the grassland will be constantly under threat from new industries and other developmental activities from bordering regions. Tourism, though lucrative for the region could become an ecological hazard unless seriously regulated and re-orineted towards community participation and benefit. There are also signs of new communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims due to influence from outside Kachchh, which could affect the long standing solidarity between the two religious groups in the region. Loss of traditional knowledge about breeding, grass varieties, seasonal adaptations could have impact on the future generations. Apart from the economic aspect of the pastoralists livelihood, there is also a need to revive the respect and value for such lifestyles for people to pursue such livelihoods.
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Biological Diversity Act of 2002 and Biological Diversity Rules of 2004
[click to view]

Forest Conservation Act, 1980
[click to view]

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 and Forest Rights Act 2008
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The Biological Community Protocol of Maldharis of Banni
[click to view]

Analysis of livelihood structure of pastoralists in Banni grassland in Kachchh district of Gujarat in India
[click to view]

Let it be Banni, Understanding and Sustaining Pastoral Livelihoods of Banni
[click to view]

Case Study: Role of women in claiming Community rights under FRA-2006 in Kutch District of Gujarat

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[click to view]

The grass is greener here.
[click to view]

Research and Monitoring in the Banni Landscape
[click to view]

Other documents

Banni Buffaloes, Kankrej cows and a Maldhari in the Banni Grasslands
[click to view]

Maldhari Resolution
[click to view]

Maldhari Association Meeting on Forest Rights Act
[click to view]

Maldharis on their way to a destination with their camels in Banni
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Radhika Mulay, Kalpavriksh
Last update15/12/2017
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