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Two Andhra villages get bamboo rights

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Author(s): M Suchitra
Date:Mar 18, 2013

The gram panchayat can earn up to Rs 1 crore a year, says Jairam Ramesh

After Mendha-Lekha in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district and Jamguda in Odisha, two tribal villages in the forests of Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam district received community rights for harvesting and issuing transit pass for bamboo under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). In a function held on March 17 at G K Veethi, a Schedule Five tribal area, the Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh officially handed over the rights to the Daddugula and Munasarapalli villages councils.

Ever since bamboo was given the status of a minor forest produce (MFP) in the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers [Recognition of Forest Rights] Act), there has been a campaign for its selling rights — something which the forest department has resisted. The Act, which seeks to redress a historical injustice to Adivasis, apart from entitling them to land ownership, also gives communities rights to collect, use and sell bamboo as an MFP. But even after enacting this Act, the forest-dwelling tribal communities have been facing hardships at the hands of forest officials. 

“Everything was controlled by the forest department and transit passes were issued by the officials. Tribal people found it very hard to exercise their rights under the Act,” said Ramesh, addressing the meeting attended by the Central Tribal Affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy. He said this would not only empower the tribal villages but help them earn more revenue from bamboo transaction. According to the minister, the gram panchyats were earning Rs 50,000 earlier from the forest department, while having the rights to issue transit passes would help the gram panchayat earn up to Rs 1 crore a year. 

Ramesh said the recognition of the right of the gram sabha to sell and issue transport passes for bamboo within their community was a historic step. This means the villagers can sell the bamboo in their community forest area and issue passes so the material can be legally transported. Although the forest department feels that it is losing control and that giving rights to the gram sabha could be disastrous, Ramesh clarified that there was no need to change any rules to give rights to the gram sabha. If the forest department did not allow this, then people could file cases, he said.

The ministers pointed out that wherever there was mining in tribal areas, tribals stood to lose, which indirectly encouraged Maoist extremism. Ramesh urged the state to impose a 20-year moratorium on bauxite mining while Deo pointed out that mining in Schedule Five tribal areas is unconstitutional. But the chief minister avoided giving any commitment on cancellation of permits for bauxite mining.

In Andhra Pradesh, bamboo covers about 9,883 sq km. It is distributed extensively in Adilabad, Khammam, Mahabubnagar, East Godavari, West Godavari, Visakhapatnam and Kurnool districts. Small patches of bamboo forests are also found in Srikakulam, Warangal, Prakasham and Chittor districts. Handing over the rights to the community is a historic mment for the state,” said Reddy. 

Even as the chief minister reiterated the state government’s commitment to the development of the tribal communities, the Central ministers asked the Andhra Pradesh government not to go ahead with the proposed bauxite mining in the tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district. The ministers asked the state government to cancel the memorandum of understanding (MoU) it has signed with two private companies- Jindal Southwest Holding Limited and AnRak.

The ministers pointed out that wherever there was mining in tribal areas, tribals stood to lose, which indirectly encouraged Maoist extremism. Ramesh urged the state to impose a 20-year moratorium on bauxite mining while Deo pointed out that mining in Schedule Five tribal areas is unconstitutional. But the chief minister avoided giving any commitment on cancellation of permits for bauxite mining.

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