Journal of Threatened Taxa | | 26 May 2021 | 13(6): 18647–18650


ISSN 0974-7907 (Online) | ISSN 0974-7893 (Print)

#6421 | Received 16 July 2020 |  Finally accepted 29 April 2021



A unique archetype of conservation in Himachal Pradesh, western Himalaya, India


Rupali Sharma 1 , Monika Sharma 2 , Manisha Mathela 3 , Himanshu Bargali 4  & Amit Kumar 5


1–5 Wildlife Institute of India, Chandrabani, Post Box # 18, Dehradun, Uttarakhand 248002, India.

1, 2, 3, 4,

5 (corresponding author)




Editor: Anonymity requested.   Date of publication: 26 May 2021 (online & print)


Citation: Sharma, R., M. Sharma, M. Mathela, H. Bargali & A. Kumar (2021). A unique archetype of conservation in Himachal Pradesh, western Himalaya, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 13(6): 18647–18650.


Copyright: © Sharma et al. 2021. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.  JoTT allows unrestricted use, reproduction, and distribution of this article in any medium by providing adequate credit to the author(s) and the source of publication.


Funding: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF).


Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests.


Acknowledgements: The authors are thankful to the Director and Dean, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun for institutional support.  United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility are acknowledged for funding for funding the SECURE Himalaya project and Himachal Pradesh Forest Department for continuous field support and encouragements.



Abstract: Owing to numerous emerging threats to biodiversity, its conservation has been of paramount importance in today’s world.  Interestingly, many modern practices have been followed globally for the conservation of natural resources, yet traditional conservation practices that could set an excellent example need to be explored worldwide.  Keeping this in view, the current communication aims to highlight a unique conservation method that has been practiced in the remote and cold-arid region of the state of Himachal Pradesh in the western Himalaya.  Locally known as ‘Praja Mandal’, this indigenous system of conservation needs to be addressed and adopted nationwide  with an eye towards a sustainable ecosystem.


Keywords: Conservation, Himalaya, Praja Mandal, sacred grove, traditional knowledge.




The Himalaya, a massive biodiversity hotspot supplying ample ecosystem services, is one of the active and youngest mountain ranges in the world (Roy & Purohit 2018).  Covering a vast area of >2500km long and 80–300 km wide amidst five countries, India shares 12 states with 95 districts, eventually known as the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).  The region is quite rich in endemic and threatened flora and fauna such as Panthera uncia (Snow Leopard), Moschus moschiferus (Musk Deer), Pinus gerardiana (Chilgoza), Betula utilis (Bhojpatra), Aconitum heterophyllum (Atis), and Nardostachys jatamansi (Jatamansi) (Singh & Kumar 2017).  Conservation of biodiversity holds importance for the steady flow of ecosystem services as well as for ecological balance.  Notably, in order to conserve these natural resources, native knowledge has been of paramount importance to land productivity, food security, and ensuring environmental conservation (Sillitoe 2017).  It acts as a bridge between culture and nature, so as to aid the process of conservation and management of biological resources (Reimerson 2013; Potts 2017).  These time-honored ideas with a deep understanding of protecting natural resources are primitive and transfer from one generation to another.

Several developed countries have been practicing many forest policies and conservation programs for the preservation of their natural resources,, on the other hand, some developing countries have documented their traditional practices for sustainable environment conservation (Ens et al. 2015; Aya & Waswa 2016).  For instance, sustainable management of forests by Cordillera communities in Philippines has continued to thrive with their limited resources and habitat whilst following their cultural practices of conservation (Camacho et al. 2015).  Therefore, blending indigenous and modern practices will be a boon for conserving resources (Reniko et al. 2018).  Concerning this, Mavhura & Mushure (2019) also suggested documentation of indigenous practices and mainstreaming in the teaching and learning pedagogy.

In India, especially IHR, limited studies have been undertaken and reported conserving biodiversity through traditional practices.   An excellent example of conservation of medicinal plants was reported in the sacred groves of Manipur where rare species are preserved that are already extirpated in the locality (Khumbongmayum et al. 2005).  Similarly, the sacred land of Tholung, Silkkim has put forward a perfect example of analogy between culture and ecosystem (Arora 2006).  In Uttarakhand too, taboos and sacred grooves act as a tool for biodiversity management through people’s participation (Anthwal et al. 2010; Kumar et al. 2013).  Furthermore, in Himachal Pradesh (HP), traditional practices and local cultural beliefs play a significant role in the sustainable conservation of the ecosystem and its services (Kandari et al. 2014).  In HP, a few areas such as Shivbadi (Una), Murari, and Naina Devi (Mandi) have been studied in terms of ethno-botany and ethno-medicine of sacred groves (Jaryan et al. 2010; Sharma et al. 2015).   Although, HP is known to have the largest number of ca. 5,000 sacred groves in the country (Kandari et al. 2014), there is poor documentation of indigenous conservation practices and the floristic and faunistic composition of known sacred groves.  The current communication aims to highlight a unique and indigenous archetype, popularly known as ‘Praja Mandal’ in the Pangi Valley (32.1916–33.2183 0N and 75.75–77.059 0E) of HP in the western Himalaya, India (Image 1).  The valley mainly lies in the rain shadow or cold-arid zone with scanty rainfall (<800mm) and relatively high snowfall.  Covering a total area of 1,601km2 with 16 village councils (locally known as panchayat) and 60 villages inhabited by Pangwals and Bhots (local communities), the valley has 18,868 human population (GOI 2011).  Praja’ means community and ‘Mandal’ is federation and it exists solely in the Pangi Valley of HP.  This local practice of conservation has been successful in protecting the wild resource base of not only medicinal and aromatic plants, but also managing the resources such as timber fuelwood, fodder, and non-wood forest products by designating a forest or community forest as a separate conservation unit.  Depending on the number of villages included in a village council (Panchayat), there can be more than one Praja in a council.  During British rule, Praja Mandal was a part of the Indian Independence movement in the 1920s where the people fought for their democracy and similar rights against the princely states and British administrators.  Presently, however, the concept of Praja Mandal has been directed towards conservation of local biodiversity (Image 2).

Locally known as the Praja Mandal, it is entirely governed by a village council with one member from each family.  Owing  entirely to a community-based approach, decisions on  matters such as conservation of natural resources and social issues are of prime importance in this archetype.  Furthermore, the local inhabitants in a Praja Mandal have their rights as well as limitations to the conservation ethos of biological resources.  In order to prevent exploitation as well as sustainable management of the community forests, the forested area confined to a particular village are closed for a defined number of years with a set of rules framed by the Praja Mandal.  As per the community rules and regulations, no legal jurisdiction is required as the Praja Mandal through its council penalizes the offenders.  Boycotting violators from their regular rights is a major penalty in this system along with a deposit of tangible goods.  A Praja Mandal includes ‘pradhan’ (village head), ‘up-pradhan’ (sub-head), cashier, secretary, ‘chad’ & ‘batwar (messengers), and ‘swar’ or ‘bhoti’ (cook) in its hierarchy.  The penalty is determined case by case basis such as INR 5,000–10,000, 40kg ‘atta’ (whole wheat flour), 10kg ‘ghee’ (clarified butter), and a goat for cutting a tree or harvesting medicinal plants from their community land.  Additionally, taboos also play a vital role in the conservation practices of locals; for instance, Betula utilis forests around monasteries have been conserved in such a way that even collection of fallen barks and twigs is not permitted.  Although, this unique practice has remained intact in community forests of Pangi Valley in western Himalaya, it needs to be promoted and practiced for the sustainable utilization of wild resources in other regions of the country and set an example worldwide.


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