Published: Wednesday 31 August 2011

What bamboo costs

imageBallarpur Industries Limited

Ms.Sunita Narain, Editor
Down To Earth Magazine,
Society for Environmental Communications,
41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area,
New Delhi-110062


This is with reference to an article titled 'Betrayal via Bamboo' published in Down to Earth, -16-30 June 2011 issue. The article has distorted the facts regarding availability, extraction and silvicultural management of bamboo in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts of Maharashtra, which are covered under agreement between BILT and the Government of Maharashtra to allow BILT to enter upon the bamboo forest areas to extract and remove bamboo for the purpose of manufacturing pulp and paper at its mill in Ballarshah (Maharashtra).

The author of the article had a discussion with me and a record note of discussion was sent to her by BILT management. The record note clearly mentions that the author did not ask questions on larger and more important aspects of bamboo operations carried by BILT. On the contrary, she has drawn distorted conclusions quoting some NGOs/groups to cast aspersions on BILT's activities in the area.

Through this rejoinder BILT wants to refute the aspersions cast on its activity of bamboo working and intends to provide a proper understanding of its activities of bamboo working as well as silvicultural management and production aspects of bamboo forests. We also wish to show how the impacts and outcome differ when the same bamboo forests are used for extraction of industrial bamboo cuts vis-a-vis long bamboo.

We would like to set the records straight:

  1. The said bamboo forest areas are managed by the Forest Department as per working plan prescriptions: BILT is only authorised to carry out bamboo extraction/working during October to May of each bamboo working season in accordance with working plan prescriptions and under strict supervision and control of the Forest Department.
  2. For the last fifty years, BILT has been working in the area and extracting bamboo by strictly following the management plan prescriptions approved by the State Government as well as Central Government. This has enabled conservation, management and production of bamboo forests for last five decades.
  3. In the process, BILT generates more than 1.5 million mandays employment in remote areas of Chandrapur and Gadchiroli.
  4. The article lacks a proper understanding of silvicultural management aspects of bamboo forests and the extraction process. The article completely ignores the market differentiators relating to industrial bamboo cuts extracted by BILT for pulp manufacturing and long bamboo extracted by contractors for use mainly in structural applications. Any comparison has to be on apple to apple basis. What BILT is paying as royalty of Rs.1500/MT is for industrial bamboo cuts and what private contractors are paying is for long bamboo.Both types of bamboo being extracted from a bamboo felling series differ in following ways:

    • As per working plan prescriptions, industrial bamboo cuts are extracted from felling series having three year cycle; in a felling year all one year old as well as part of two/three year bamboo culms are retained, ensuring that only mature / more than three year old bamboo culms are extracted. It also ensures that all crooked, dead and diseased bamboo are extracted, ensuring healthy growth of the bamboo clump.
    • Industrial bamboo cuts have a minimum length of 1m whereas long bamboos have a minimum length of 5m. Long bamboo cuts are also restricted by a minimum diameter of at least 5-7 cm, besides a requirement for bamboo to be straight. What it means is that bamboos below 5m length and are crooked/dead/diseased are not extracted by the contractor as this does not have any market value for him. This is not the case in extraction of industrial cuts by BILT as we extract and consume bamboo of minimum 1m length including those of lower diameter ranges as well as those which are not straight. Accordingly, if a particular felling series of industrial bamboo cuts is used for long bamboo only, its production in qty / MT will approximately be only 30% on account of length, diameter and straightness issues of the crop as explained above.
    • It is clear that extraction of long bamboo leaves behind bamboos that are crooked, diseased and have smaller diameter and length. Since this is not sustainable - and to compensate for less quantity extracted - contractors may resort to cutting/extraction of one or two year old bamboos, which is strictly prohibited by the Government's working plan.
    • While setting up pulp and paper manufacturing unit in Ballarpur, Government had entered in to an agreement for assured supply raw material/bamboo to the BILT from nearby forests, and royalty of supplied bamboo is governed by the Maharashtra Supply of Forest Produce by Government Act, 1982 and to be decided by the market value of related forest produce.
    • Any comparison in royalty as well as market value has to be done in the context of aforementioned points. Accordingly, comparing royalty of industrial bamboo cuts of Rs.1500/MT with that of long bamboo (having a reduced product quantity of 30% from a felling series) is not justifiable.

  5. It is wrong to say that BILT controls 68% of bamboo areas of the state. As per its agreement with the Maharashtra Government, BILT is authorised to enter upon the related bamboo forests in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts during bamboo working season (October-May), for bamboo extraction/working on payment of Government royalty and Forest Development Fee. This is in accordance with the Forest Department's working plan prescriptions as approved by the State Government and Central Government. This lease agreement is also in a broader perspective of the company setting up a pulp and paper manufacturing unit in Maharashtra and generating more than 1.5 million mandays per annum though its bamboo working operations.
  6. BILT does not control those bamboo forest areas. On the contrary, these areas are very much under the Forest Department's control as for its management and regulatory functions are concerned.
  7. BILT does not get subsidy from Government in terms of bamboo leased areas as alleged in the article. With today's royalty rate of Rs.1500/MT, the mill landed cost of extracted bamboo from leased areas is more than Rs.4000/MT. This is much higher than the mill landed cost (Rs.3200/MT) of wood that is purchased from different states. BILT uses bamboos rather than wood despite the higher cost because it is sustainable for the local communities in terms of employment and livelihood generation. All the same, it is important to note that BILT is using bamboo only to the extent of 10% of its raw material mix/requirement. (In 2007-08, this figure was -35%) With reduced availability/working of bamboo, we have improved our systems to consume more wood and less bamboo.
  8. From 2007-10, the Forest Department's earnings from bamboo supplied to BILT have been lower not on account of the royalty rate, but because less bamboo was extracted. In 2008-09, no bamboo working order was received; in 2009-10, the bamboo working order was received in May 2010 and the company could operate for only one month; in 2010­11, BILT received the bamboo working order in April 2011, allowing only two months of work.
  9. Nistar bamboo is supplied by BILT in accordance to the demand made by the Forest Department. BILT's role in the supply of nistar bamboo is limited to the extent that it is dependent on timely demand received from the Forest Department and the available bamboo working season with BILT, It is, therefore, unfair to blame the company for low supply of Nistar.
  10. The article states that the Forest Department's assessment of bamboo availability in Chandrapur and Gadchiroli is 0.2 million MT/annum. This data is based on old records. Subsequently, gregarious flowering in many areas have led to a decline in availability of bamboo, which is not more than 0.13 million MT/annum.
  11. Company role in supply of nistar bamboo quantity is constrained by the fact that it timely demand is received from Forest Department and full bamboo working season with us, as explained in above para and putting the blame on company, for less supply of nistar bamboo, is not justified
  12. It is pertinent to note that BILT has constructed - and maintains - more than 4000 km of forest roads which are used by the local communities/villages located in remote parts of the districts. BILT also provides medical facilities and food grains to the bamboo workers, apart from the production related working wage which is more that NREGA wage provided by the Government in that area.

You would appreciate the fact that such news may lead to unnecessary market speculation, which can be detrimental to the company

We, therefore, request you to publish our rejoinder to clarify our position.

With regards,

Suneel Pandey
V Vice Rresident- Raw materials
Ballarpur Industries Limited (BILT)
First India Place, Tower-C
Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, Gurgaon, Haryana

Author replies

By Aparna Pallavi

The letter accuses me of distorting facts, and argues that I have not asked questions on ‘important aspects’ of BILT’s bamboo activities. But the fact is that I had asked questions on issues relating to the article’s subject. Pande has brought up the issue of silviculture of bamboo in this letter, which subject he had ample scope to mention in the interview, when I asked him about costs. But he did not do so. He was focusing on the company’s efforts to reduce bamboo consumption and its efforts to procure bamboo from private growers, which are both not relevant to the contract between BILT and the Maharashtra government, which was the subject of my article. Later he sent me a note, but that too does not contain any reference to bamboo silviculture practices.

The letter makes a number of points to which my reply is as follows:

1, 2, 3: There is nothing in my article which contradicts these points.

4 a, b and c : These facts are corroborated neither by the department nor contractors nor the Mendha Lekha gram sabha, which has recently extracted its own bamboo. Anyone working the forest is required to strictly follow the department working plan, and one of the most important clauses in bamboo is to remove all culms ready for harvest. Department officials have told me this on many occasions including detailed discussions while working on this story. Though officials have mentioned apprehensions about gram sabhas, I emphasise that there is categorically no mention of working by contractors causing losses to bamboo productivity due to improper extraction.

In my communication with contractors, they said they fell all sizes and thicknesses of bamboo, and they are used not just for structural purposes but other purposes as well. In Gadchiroli I have come across a private contractor’s depot where sorting of bamboos of all lengths and thicknesses was going on. I saw a man storing bamboos that were three feet long and less than two cm in diameter. for sale to tomato cultivators as supports for the vines. Also, they said they are required to extract all bamboos ready for extraction. Mendha Lekha village was given similar instructions by the department while felling its own bamboo this year. So I do not think the 30 per cent less productivity figure is accurate.

The letter also accuses private contractors of felling young bamboo culms, which is patently unfair in the absence of evidence, and considering the fact that BILT has been accused of the same offense by village gram sabhas – I have mentioned the same in my article.

Lastly, Mr Pandey had ample scope during the interview to mention these facts to me, which he didn’t.

4 d: Not relevant to my article.

4e : Ref my reply to 4 a,b and c above.

5,6 : This objection is based purely on a point of linguistic usage. In the context in which the word ‘control’ is used it is very clear that the word has been used, once in terms of extraction rights under the lease, and a second time in terms of controlling the bamboo felling work on which the local people are dependent for a livelihood.

7: All points mentioned about bamboo cost that BILT is incurring are already mentioned in my article. BILT is definitely getting a subsidy despite the raised cost because private contractors, who are paying a higher royalty, also have to incur extraction and transport costs which are the reasons quoted by BILT for the rise in costs. The point about reducing bamboo consumption is not relevant to my article.

8: Bamboo extraction by BILT has been low only since 2008-09. But BILT’s share in department’s royalty – on a per-ton basis was low even earlier, as shown by my figures of 2006-07 and 2007-08. I would have liked to quote figures since 2000, but department did not provide them to me on time.

9,11 : The article does not blame BILT for not supplying nistaar bamboo – rather it blames the department for compromising nistaar needs and not demanding all the nistaar bamboo due to it from BILT.

Also, during the interview, Mr Pandey told me that BILT does not use long bamboo, and all the long bamboo extracted by it automatically goes to the department as nistaar. This letter does not corroborate that point. Also, locals working for BILT said that they are required to fell all bamboo—long and short – into smaller industrial cuts, which cannot be used for nistaar. So should I be treating his earlier statement as a deliberate effort at misinformation?

10 : This figure was given to me by department officials, so if it is wrong, it is their lookout. And it does not have anything to do with BILT and its lease.

12 : Road construction was one of the costs mentioned by Mr Pandey in conversation with me as a price rise factor. So if the Rs 4,000 per ton includes the road building costs, as he says, then why should it be seen as an extra. Also, BILT is making roads because it needs them itself. Villagers are only incidentally benefited. As for labour payment, villagers have not corroborated the claim regarding medical facilities and food –grains, and have accused BILT of paying an exploitative wage. And the wage given by BILT should be compared to the bamboo felling wage given by other agencies, not with NREGA – which comparison is unfavourable to BILT.

imageLand V Life

The editorial “POSCO: take land but give life” (July 1-15, 2011) can be considered a seminal paper on land acquisitions for development projects. The life of the progeny of those who gave their lands for such projects is no good today, though their elders were considered flush with money. Little did they know that after losing their land, they will have to spend money on everything which earlier used to be free of cost—air, water, firewood, timber, fodder, honey, lac and medicinal herbs. Their social relations have also been shattered because of scattering of families.

We revere Mahatma Gandhi and have given him the title Father of the Nation. We print his portrait on currency notes. But we have drifted away from his teachings. The Gandhian thought has been reduced to a subject taught for the administrative services examinations. Those who pass such exams, consign the thought to dust bins as soon as they occupy positions in the government’s administration.

India is a big market, which is why multinationals are making a beeline to enter India. As the editorial aptly says, in days to come a respectful life has to be assured in lieu of land.

L R Sharma
Sundernagar, Himachal Pradesh

imageInvolve Community

The article “Climate notes” (May 16-31, 2011) suggests using observations of local communities to devise greenhouse gas mitigation strategies on regional scales. The key to mitigation starts with the local community.

If one needs to understand the impacts of desertification, it is imperative to understand and document the climate change impacts experienced and observed by the people living in desert regions, dovetail them with scientific observations and then proceed towards a mitigation plan.

Aditi Phansalkar

Dragged To Death

The death of Swami Nigamanand while on a fast to protest sand mining in Uttarakhand is a matter of great concern (‘A swami and sand mafia’, July 1-15, 2011). Rather than being punished, the people responsible for his death, mining contractors, government officials and his associates of Matri Sadan ashram in Haridwar, remain unaffected. Why Nigamanand was the only one to fast? Had it been a collective protest by the ashram, all the swamis would have fasted. The country should stand together to stop such method of agitation where an individual is dragged to death. The government should ban fasts unto death.

Renu Aggarwal

imageEthical Is The Word

I agree that a robust drug discovery programme requires phase trials (‘Ethics on trial’, June 16-30, 2011). But they should follow the safety measures and guidelines. Just like the Ahmedabad case highlighted in the cover story, it was widely reported in 2001 that the Thiruvananthapuram-based Regional Cancer Centre was conducting unethical clinical trials on poor cancer patients in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in the US. The patients were being used as guinea pigs to test M4N, a drug banned in the US. It is imperative that all the practices related to a drug trial conform to international norms. Another point is to educate the volunteers.

Beena Kadakkuzha

Make Room For Animals

It is sad to observe that villages in Madhya Pradesh are opposing a state plan to notify their forest Katthiwada as a wildlife sanctuary (‘Age of dissent’, June 1-15, 2011). Katthiwada was rich in wildlife in the beginning of the 20th century. But extensive hunting ruined it. The remaining animals are facing extinction because humans do not want to leave the forests. Where will the animals live, if not in a sanctuary?

B M T Rajeev
IFS (Retired)


The article “Dam at fault” (July 16-31, 2011) mentions that the proposed dam on the Kalu river in Thane district, Maharashtra, “will submerge five villages and partially displace six others. It will also inundate about 2,000 hectares (ha) of forestland, including a reserve and a community forest.” The area is incorrect. The dam will inundate 2,100 ha, which includes about 1,000 ha forestland and the remaining 1,100 ha occupied by 17 villages.

We regret the error.

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