Activists say forest department trying to dilute Forest Rights Act
THE Maharashtra forest department has proposed including bamboo under minor forest produce (MFP). While the department touts the initiative as a step towards giving ownership of bamboo to gram sabhas under the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, forest rights activists say it is an attempt to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
Since two villages in Gadchiroli district won community rights under FRA to collect and sell MFP, more villages have applied for such rights. As a result conflict over harvest and sale of bamboo, included as MFP under FRA, has gone up. The department now wants to include bamboo in the list of MFPs under another Act—the 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 to support PESA. “The Act gives the rights for procurement and sale of forest produce to tribal development corporation, and not to gram sabhas,” said Mohan Hirabai Hiralal of Vrikshamitra, a nonprofit.
He asked why the department is amending the other Act when FRA, that overrides all other forest legislation, has already included bamboo in the MFP. He also alleged the current proposal is misguiding the government by saying that bamboo is included in the timber category, placed under the department control, in the Indian Forest Act 1927.
“The Act defines bamboo only as forest produce,” he said. The proposal mentions the department will lose about Rs 5 crore a year on bamboo by transferring ownership to gram sabhas. It proposes the department should harvest bamboo and provide it to gram sabhas and families and recover the harvesting and transport cost from them.
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