Every morning, people from various villages – most of them from Adivasi and Dalit communities – come to Manikpur railway junction in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh. They come by shared jeeps and auto-rickshaws, or by bicycles, from villages in a 100-kilometre radius. Carrying hundreds of bundles of firewood – each weighing between 20 and 50 kilos – from the Patha forests on border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Selling these in nearby markets is a stable source of income for the families. Though laws related to the preservation of trees debar tree-cutting, the local communities who depend on selling firewood have little or no productive land. Their only other regular source of income is daily wages at construction sites in nearby towns.
They take the bundles of wood – mainly of the tendu and palash tree –by passenger trains from Manikpur, from Karwi (around 30 kilometres from Manikpur), or from Shankargarh, around 80 kilometres away, to various towns along the train route to Allahabad.
At the end of the day, they earn between Rs. 150-300, depending on the dryness and quality of the firewood, and the season's demand for fuel.
No names have been used in this story because the firewood-sellers didn’t want to be named.