Bamboo rights: Maharashtra gives priority to paper mill over Forest Rights Act

Chief Minister Prithvi Raj Chavan says agreement with Ballarpur Industries predates the Act

By Aparna Pallavi
Last Updated: Thursday 17 September 2015


What is more important? A government legislation or a lease agreement between government and a private company? Well, for the Maharashtra government, it is the agreement that is inviolable if it predates a Central government legislation. At least that is what one can make out from a letter written by the Maharashtra chief minister in response to Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh’s letter, directing that gram sabhas (village councils) be given bamboo harvesting rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

In the letter, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has said that there could be “legal complications” in granting customary rights over bamboo to gram sabhas. This is because the “agreement with BILT (Ballarpur Industries Limited) predates FRA as it is in force since 1947 and was renewed in 2004-05.” The letter further suggests that community forest rights (CFR) over bamboo cannot be granted till the agreement is cancelled. 

Ballarpur Industries is India's largest paper manufacturing company and has been harvesting bamboo from forests to which villages in Gadchiroli have been given community rights. The chief minister's letter is silent on whether government intends to cancel the agreement which is valid till 2013-14, or at least not renew it beyond that date.

To remove all legal complications, the letter further proposes to amend the defunct Maharashtra Transfer of Ownership of Minor Forest Produce in the Scheduled Areas and Maharashtra Minor Forest Produce (Regulation of Trade) (Amendment) Act that came into effect in 1997, by including bamboo, tendu and apta leaves, in the list of minor forest produce under the Act. This last proposed amendment, however, has been pending since October 2010.

Evading the matter of community forest rights issue, the letter proposes to give all minor forest produce rights to joint forest management committees (JFMCs).
Forest rights activist Mohan Hirabai Hiralal says the Maharashtra government stand is erroneous because FRA clearly states in Section 7 of Chapter III that land granted under forest rights will be deemed free of all encumbrances and procedural requirements.

Going by this criteria, Ballarpur Industries' lease already stands legally cancelled in CFR areas—both where rights have been granted and are yet to be granted. Also the legislation clearly states that its provisions remain valid notwithstanding any other law for the time being in force.

Regarding the proposal to transfer rights to JFMCs rather than gram sabhas, Hiralal says that JFM is applicable only in areas where CFR has not been granted, and government must respect the entity of the gram sabha as defined in FRA. He also demands  that the proposed amendments to the Maharashtra Minor Forest Produce Act and Section 28 of Indian Forest Act should be displayed on the forest department’s website and people’s consent should be taken before finalising the same.

Forest rights activist Madhu Sarin has said that the forest department’s clear intention is to retain its hegemony over forests through JFM committees and the Indian Forest Act by ignoring the community forest resource rights recognised under FRA.

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  • This may be considered a

    This may be considered a casual letter to the author, Aparna PALLAVI, or whosoever concerned, not a comment. Please do not treat it anyway else.

    Quote from article: "The chief minister's letter is silent on whether government intends to cancel the agreement which is valid till 2013-14, or at least not renew it beyond that date."

    Is there any possibility to know about the current status of any activity that might be following up on the state govt.'s movement vis-a-vis the "agreement" with BILT referred to in the article.

    I understand the expressed stance and contention of
    activists, Mohan Hirabai Hiralal and Madhu Sarin.

    I must confess my lack of both detailed study as well as experience on the ground regarding this field/issue.
    But, my interest in paper as a material medium in art/craft & social communication made me take notice of a recent development in Japan around 100% domestic bamboo paper products, as also even paper products made from 100% domestically sourced & sustainably harvested bamboo (thinned bamboo). Such a development is a sort of PPA (public-private alliance) wherein local citizens' bodies and private companies come together in jointly managing and harvesting bamboo groves/forests that is then supplied to papermaking companies which make & sell under an exclusive 100% domestic bamboo paper certified label/mark. Other paper craft & printing companies go on to make & sell an exclusive range of paper products under the same label/mark.

    Now, i am aware that the situation (socio-economic-politico-legal) is different to that in Gadchiroli, as also to that in other parts of India and the world. Also, that there is a healthy apprehension as regards using bamboo as source material for industrial papermaking, especially when the source region is grappling with problems regarding forest management, harversting, biodiversity conservation, labour & other human-environment issues. This apart from those related to the legal & technological framework of paper, pulp & print industry for a given region/country.

    Yet, in case there are to be found & implemented solutions to the various aspects of this whole issue, as also to some kind of processual & consensual activity bringing together the various parties involved over a period of time of continual negotiation, the idea of a "100% Gadchiroli-Sourced & Sustainably-Harvested Bamboo Paper" with peoples' participation & PPA to ensure fair & equitable sharing and resourcing, would go a long way in contributing to visibility, awareness, ethical consumption, and participatory governance with regards the various dimensions to this issue. Most of all, it would consolidate the peoples' pride in place, hometown, country, while making even far-flung consumer-citizen-participant/s to take interest in and be proactively engaged in the issues concerning the said region, the peoples and its/their shared biocultural diversity.

    It's time we begun by saying...."I have a dream..." I hope and wish to walk onwards...

    BTW, is there any developments on the front of media taking up the issue of the "agreement" between BILT and the state govt., now that we'll soon turn the leaf to year-2014?
    Is there any agenda for the DTE team and the activists on ground to once again take up the issue and highlight upon it to build up public opinion & sensitivity?

    I hail from Nagpur and have been in Japan for a decade now, pursuing research in my field (that is mostly historical) so as to compile & submit the doctoral thesis.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply