Detailed accounts of revenue earned from each village forest should be made public, says activist
In a first of its kind move, Maharashtra's forest department has decided to pay ten villages in the state their share of benefits under the Joint Forest Management (JFM) scheme. A total of Rs 74,51,063 will be paid to eight villages in Gadchiroli district and two in Gondia district, states a letter dated May 24, 2012, written by the state joint secretary of forests to the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF). The amount is to be paid out of the 7 per cent forest development cess that is deducted from the income from forest produce.
Talking to Down To Earth, Pravin Pardeshi, principal secretary of Maharashtra forest department, says this long-awaited step was held up because of the state government’s April 2003 government resolution on JFM, which allows for payment of entitlements to villages only after a 10-year waiting period. He says the selection of these ten villages is a first step, which will be followed in stages by similar payments to more JFM villages in the state. Explaining the manner of payment, Pardeshi said that since these are old payments, there is no head under which to make them. Hence it was decided to pay the money out of the forest cess. “It is a district-level development fund for forests, and JFM committees which help protect forests have the first claim on it,” he says.
Forest rights groups in the state have welcomed the move, but point out shortcomings in the decision. Forest rights activist Mohan Hirabai Hiralal says the letter does not give detailed year-wise and produce-wise break-up of the revenue earned from each village forest. “It is not enough to give money to villages—there should be transparency in records and gram sabhas should be appraised of how the exact amounts to be given to them have been arrived at, and their approval should be taken.” He also demanded that the detailed accounts should be put up on the Department’s website for the general public.
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