Narhari Pandurang Bagrao

Wildlife Service Awards (2009)

For protecting the wildlife and forests of Shahapur, Maharashtra, for restoring degraded forests with the help of villagers and enabling wildlife to return.

Narhari Bagarao represents the rock foundation upon which all the ambitious wildlife and biodiversity initiatives of conservationists, administrators, scientists and nature lovers are built. Not for him the spotlight of national attention, nor that of local media. Instead he works quietly with villagers in Maharashtra’s Shahapur Forest Division, in the Washind Taluka of the Thane District. A Forester, 49-year-old Bagrao was witness to the relentless degradation of the wildernesses of the Maharashtra. The sight of barren farmlands and the water woes of six villages – Bhagdal, Kalgaon, Dahivali, Thile, Bavghar and Lenad so disturbed him in 1991 that he swore to work to restore both the forest and the lives of the hard-pressed villagers. With patience, he won their support and cooperation and slowly cattle grazing and wood cutting came to a halt. He convinced his superiors to launch several community-based forest regeneration schemes. Delighted villagers watched as a large swatch of 1,700 hectares of uncultivable wasteland was miraculously transformed into lush forest. Predictably, wild species returned. Fifteen years on, apart from chital, wild pig, barking deer, hyenas and leopards, the most hopeful sign of the ecological restoration of the region is the rebirth of once dry springs. This has injected much-needed money into the community and has prompted other villages from far and near to ask for the ‘Bagrao Formula’ to be applied to their areas too. No one ever calculated the amount of carbon Bagrao helped to sequester through his work, but one thing is sure, in an era of climate change, the Bagrao Formula, if implemented effectively, will change the very face of India, indeed the world.