Congratulations, it is an eye opener to other states that are thinking of such schemes.
In Hyderabad, the government...
Thanks. You have raised a very pertinent issue. My family is a great lover of Makhana and we use it in different ways. Slowly...
MINOR forest produce. To tribals anywhere,
they form the demarcating line between
plentiful food and persistent hunger. But
present government policies are pushing
more for commercial exploitation of the
forests and monoculture plantations. It is
hardly surprising, therefore, that today the
struggles of adivasi (tribal) movements all
over the country is focussing on their rights
over these produce, called MFPs. The Ekta Parishad, a coalition
of several groups working in different parts of Madhya
Pradesh, is involved in one such movement.
The Parishad recently organised a dharna (sit-in demonstration) of adivasis - protesting the state government's forest policy - in front of the collector's office in Bilaspur district. Their slogan: Jul, jungle, jarneen, yeh ho hamare adhin("We want control over our land, forests and water").
Madhya Pradesh has one-third of India's forest area. The
adivasis comprise 18.8 per dent of the state's population.
Depletion of forests over the years has hit them hard. Etwari,
of Bendawal village in Lormi tehsi4 Bilaspur, fumes, "Howcan
we survive? Half the villagers have no land. Earlier, we could
earn our livelihood throughout the year by selling mouhalayan
patta (broomsticks), made from chir grass, or bamboo utensils. But the raw materials have been taken away and people
MFPs also give them medicinal herbs for treating minor ailments: harm and behra for treating common cough; or chirour
for treating malaria, for example. The fact that treatment in a
dawakhana (dispensary) is a luxury makes these of paramount
interest to the adivasis. Dhaktibai of Katami village says, "The
sarkari (government) doctor charges us fees. Most often, we
have to buy medicines from outside. Who has the money? We
either use home remedies, or just wait for thr
illness to subside."
Prices for most MFPs have increased only
marginally in recent times (tendu, or tobacco
leaves being the possible exception). The
mouhalayan patta market is still domam
by middlemen. "We get about Its 3-3-M
the most for every kg of leaves. Someto
we just manage Re I," says one adivan. lk
local trader from the Kanha reserve, who I have
been in this business for the last 20 year
confessed that his profit margin is anything between Rs 2 to Rs
4.50 per kg. By the time the stuff reaches the Andhra Pradesh
market, it sells for nothing less than Rs 8 per kg, he says.
The Madhya Pradesh Minor Forest Produce Corporation
(MPMFPC), Bhopal, claims that it will soon bring other MFPS
besides tendu, harra, special categories of gum, and sal see
(which are controlled by it) under a monopoly purch@
scheme to cut out the middlemen. V R Khare, chief
Of MPMFPC, says, " Tendu is collected by the cooperative society
eties formed in 1989. People are getting a fair amount
money selling these leaves. We want to put a stop to the
exploitation of adivasis by the middlemen."
The Fkta Parishad activists are far from happy about the
functioning of the cooperative societies. Keshavram Shourd
secretary of Prayog, one of the affiliates of the Parishad says.
"These cooperative societies have been forced on the People
They are not built up through people's initiatives. They are
called 'sarkari societies'. Payments are very irregular".
Baswantibehan of Jamnahi village says, "The payments are
often delayed by up to 20-25 days. In thekedari (business
through middlemen), at least we received payments daily". In
fact, some villagers complain that they havn't received
ments for even last year's sales. Khare agrees:
is happening is very bad. The only solution is for It
people to become conscious of their rights and fight
for them. After all, the person distributing the money
is from their own village". He adds, "We do not know
about the scale of the problem. We may decide to
survey 10-15 societies".
Members of the Ekta Parishad say that increasing
stratification amongst the adiva5iS makes it difficult
to organise them. "The Baiga community is the most exploited of the lot, while the Gonds consider them
selves more advanced, and are settled agriculturist
one organiser explains.
"But the Baigas in Bilaspur district are being
helped to get organised and fight for their right
says Reshmi, an activist. The struggle of the Baigas of
Ghameri village has already inspired many others.
While conditions in the degraded forest areas, to which the
adivasis have access, continue to be abysmal, confusion is
compounding the crisis in the areas notified as national parks
or wildlife sanctuaries (referred to collectively as 'protected
areas', or PAS). Achanakmar, a wildlife sanctuary in Bilaspur
has Dot undergone final notification for prohibition. Atul
Srivastava, district forest officer and in-charge of this sanctuary, says emphatically, "The ban on collecting MFPs has been
lifted only in the case of rendu leaves in the areas which have
not undergone final notification". But, R C Sharma, chief conservator of forests (wildlife), states, "The ban has been lifted
on all MRS in such areas."
This confusion also prevails among the lower forest officials, leading to the harrassmerit of local adivasis. As Etwari
says, "We fear the forest department very much. We are questioned even if we bring out small dry twigs from the jungle for
Adivasis living in the notified PAS face worse crises. Kariba
National Park in Mandia district is regarded as one of the best
maintained PAS. The lush green forest speaks of a successful
conservation effort - too successful for the good of the adivasis. With Kanha's territorial forests severely degraded, the adivasis are left with few options.
A forest ranger in Kariba says, "Collection is strictly prohibited here. However, practically speaking, total prohibition
is not possible. So people enter the forests, We take action,
depending upon the nature of the offence committed. Any
injury to the wildlife invites immediate arrests."
It would seem the department is generous with MFPS,
though strict about fauna. But this is hogwash, the adivasis say.
Says Shuklal of Shijora village, "Our axes arc confiscated by
the forest guards, and released only after we pay them some
money, rice, chicken or liquor". Besides, the strictures against
injuring wildlife means that adivasis have to suffer silently
when wild animals frequently trample their standing crops.
And the government doesn't even have any policy for compensations.
While forest officials allege that the degradation of
Kanha's territorial forests is due to indiscriminate felling by
the adivasis, the villagers point to commercial felling. In fact,
one official, requesting anonymity, concurs: "The forests are
cut down for commercial purposes. This should be stopped."
The proposed ecodevelopment plans for providing the
adivasis with alternative biomass, fodder and livelihood
opportunities are yet to take off. Jagdish Chandra, assistant
director of Kariba, says, "The surveys for the ecodevelopment
plans have been completed. We will be implementing them
next year." R C Sharma adds, "We hope to start MFP-based
smaUscale industries in cooperation with the MPMFPC, which
will provide the marketing support."
The only ray of hope lies in the World Bank (WB) financing
joint forest management programmes (IFM) in the entire entire states
Forest officials have suddenly found it fashionable to show a
positive attitude towards the concept. Most of them have
formed forest protection committees. Atul Srivastava says
"Surveys have already been completed in Bilaspur and we have
formed protection committees. A pilot project funded by the
WB will be taken up in Bilaspur. Our aim is forest development
with village development".
Clearly, regeneration of the system of forest produce as a
common resource will only be possible if JFM takes deeper
roots amongst officials. But though fashionable as a slogan in
their unguarded moments, officials reveal their deep contempt towards adivasis. A Mandla forest officer, speaking
about jFm, lets slip: "These adivasis are like rats, )
know .. they hoard things like fuelwood in their houses. They
have no respect for the forests. You can control them only
through inducing fear in them." As Ekta Parishad activists
point out, "The attitude of the forest officers, who look upon
the adivasis as 'chars' (knaves) has to change." There can be no
JFM Without that.