Taking a decisive step against the Andhra Pradesh (AP) government's order to lease forest lands to industries, the Vana Suraksha Samitis (VSSs) -- village-level forest user groups that protect and regenerate degraded forests -- along with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in forest conservation have formed the Forum Against Privatisation of Forests. The forum will fight for the withdrawal of the government order of September 2000 that gives industries access to forest land for plantation and other agro-forestry activities (see 'Seeking reliance' Down To Earth , Vol 9 No 8; September 15, 2000).
To start with, the forum members will hold district-wide demonstrations and will raise the issues at the district developments' review committee that is a district level development body. The demonstration would cover all the districts of the state.
The AP NGOs Committee on Joint Forest Management (JFM), a federation of state NGOs working for the JFM programme, initiated the forum after having extensive dialogue with the VSSs. Meanwhile, the state forest department reacting to this protest move has admitted that no detailed discussions were held on the controversial government order with VSS members and NGOs. Requesting a positive approach to the issue, it accused the NGOs of blocking money flow to the JFM programme. The state government justifies involvement of the industry in JFM programme citing resource crunch as the reason.
The state government has been supporting move to hand over forest to industry for plantation and agro-forestry activities. A committee set up by the Union ministry of environment and forests in 1997-98, to look into the possibilities of leasing out degraded forest land to industry, vehemently opposed such move and suggested farm forestry instead.