Every morning, on my way to a village, I pass groups of women walking to the forest. If Poombarai falls on the route, a large group of about 15 – 20 women always stop me and invite me for tea and now I make sure to take some biscuits with me. Collecting firewood is almost always done by women in fairly large groups. In one of the tea meetings, I was told that a gaur had attacked a woman while collecting firewood about 2 years ago and she had succumbed to her injuries a few days later. Large groups provide safety from animals in the forest. The spot where I usually meet them in the morning is about 45 minutes to 1 hour walk from Poombarai town and from there it is easily about an hour to where they collect firewood from. Every day these women walk about 3 – 4 hours and half that distance is with 35 – 40kgs on their heads. Most of the women in this group collect firewood for their own consumption, but a few women collect to sell as well. A typical ‘katta’ (bundle of wood weighing about 35 to 40kgs)will fetch about rs 200 – 250. They tell me that they leave their homes at 9 in the morning and come back at about 2 in the afternoon. This is better than the full day’s work if they were working as agriculture labourers in others fields where the same amount of money is paid for more work.
Firewood is the biggest source of cooking fuel in the villages in the Palani Hills. More than 70 percent of households surveyed depend solely on firewood for their daily cooking requirements and only less than 16 percent say they use other options like gas and induction stoves. A household with upto 4 people on an average use 6 kattas ( approximately 200kgs) a month, 5 to 8 people use 7.5 kattas ( approximately 260kgs) a month and 9 – 12 people use more than 9 kattas(315 kgs) a month. There for each household on an average uses anywhere between 200 – 300 kgs of firewood every month.
In the upper Palanis, in addition to cooking, firewood is used as heating at night in cold winter months. Also, Garlic is an important crop in the upper Palanis. Firewood is also used to produce smoke to cure the garlic. These dependencies are not seen in the lower and the middle Palanis. The most preferred wood for the upper Palanis is wattle and eucalyptus. Although most dried wood is collected, these are preferred. Lantana and silk cotton are more common source of firewood in the lower and the middle hills.
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.