Tribals and forest dwellers don’t need to obtain transit passes to cart away the produce; minimum support price scheme for MFPs to be in place by January 2013
The Union tribal affairs ministry has issued a set of guidelines aimed at ensuring better implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 which gives forest dwellers and tribal people the right to collect and trade in minor forest produce (MFP) like tendu leaves and bamboo. The new guidelines state that forest dwellers no longer need to get transit passes for carrying MFP, including bamboo, outside the forest. The movement of all MFPs should be exempted from the purview of transit rules of state governments, state the guidelines issued on July 12.
Though FRA recognises the rights of the forest dwellers over forest resources which they have traditionally been using, the implementation of the Act has been obstructed by state forest departments that are unwilling to cede control over forest resources, a major source of revenue for the departments. At many places where communities have been granted community forest rights, forest departments have refused to issue transit passes needed under state laws to transport the produce outside the forest for trading. The most recent incident was reported from Kalahandi where the area member of Parliament was not allowed by the forest department to carry away the few bamboo poles he had purchased from a village that has been conferred community forest rights.
“Even a transit permit from gram sabha should not be required. Imposition of any fee, charges or royalties on the processing, value addition, marketing of MFP, collected individually or collectively by the cooperatives and federations of the rights holders, would also be ultra vires of the Act (FRA),” say the guidelines. The ministry also announced that the much talked about minimum support price (MSP) scheme for MFPs will be in place from January next year. Under this scheme, the government will provide minimum support price for 13 important MFPs, including tendu leaves and bamboo, to ensure that forest dwellers get proper value for the MFPs they collect.
The implementation of FRA started in January 2008. But even four years after its implementation, it has failed to benefit most of the forest dwellers. Till May 31, more than 50 per cent of the claims filed by the forest dwellers for rights under FRA were rejected by the authorities. To make the Act effective, the ministry has now revised its rules by incorporating at least 60 changes in them. The revised law will be placed before Parliament in the upcoming monsoon season. As an interim measure, the guidelines for better implementation of the Act have been issued to the states.
The move has come exactly one year after V Kishore Chandra Deo took over as the Union tribal affairs minister. In January last year, a joint committee of the ministry of tribal affairs and the ministry of environment and forests, and the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council had recommended several changes in the Act. But they were shelved by the then tribal affairs minister. Deo, however, said most of the recommendations of the high-level bodies have been accepted by the ministry.
The guidelines have suggested specific measures for the states to modify the process of recognition of individual and community rights, implementation of provisions related to MFPs and to make sure that the forest dwellers are not forcefully relocated. The guidelines say the sub divisional level committee or the district level committee, formed under the Act to process forest rights claims, should not reject any claim recommended by the gram sabha, without giving reasons in writing and should not insist upon any particular form of evidence for consideration of a claim. No claim should be rejected without giving opportunity to the claimant to present his case against the rejection.
The monopoly of the forest corporations in the trade of MFP should be done away with, say the guidelines. The state governments should ensure that the forest rights relating to protection, regeneration or conservation or management of any community forest resource, which forest dwellers might have traditionally been doing, are recognised in all villages. In case no community forest resource rights are recognised in a village, the reasons for the same should be recorded, say the guidelines.
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