Maharashtra forest department backtracks on forest fire guidelines

To relax rules to lure tendu contractors

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Friday 10 February 2012

Within days of declaring that the auction of tendu units will be cancelled in case of forest fires, the Maharashtra state forest department has decided to relax the rules. The move came after angry tendu contractors boycotted the auctions of the units. At the auctions held at the department’s office in Nagpur on January 30 not a single tender was received. 

The department has now decided to hold a meeting with the state secretary for forests Praveen Pardeshi and decide on the rules. It will then hold a fresh auction at the end of February. “Relaxation in rules has been necessitated after the total boycott of the auction process. This means a wage loss to the tune of Rs 600 crore for five lakh tendu collection labourers in the state,” says Ramanuj Chaudhary, assistant principal chief conservator of forests.  He adds, even if we decide to hand over the process of tendu collection to gram panchayats, it will at least take a year’s time.

Detailing about the relaxation that the department is keen on, Chaudhary says that instead of cancelling the auction in case of fire, a thorough investigation will be launched. “The contract will only be cancelled if the tendu contractor is found guilty of causing the fire,” he adds.

Meanwhile, noted forest rights activist Mohan Hirabai Hiralal says the entire operation was hogwash. “Gram sabhas can take up the tendu collection work even now if government provides a guarantee that the leaf collected will be purchased. Slackening the rules only shows lack of political will to hold contractors accountable”.

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