Maharashtra villages granted community forest rights to print own bamboo permits

Flawed forestland titles to be re-examined, says top forest official

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Saturday 10 March 2012

Villages in Maharashtra felling their own bamboo under community forest rights (CFR) will now be able to print their own transport permits instead of having to get them issued against payment from the forest department. Village residents granted CFR under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) need these permits to cart forest produce out of the forest to the markets. Formats for printing transport permit books will be provided to villages by the department.

This decision was taken at a meeting at Gadchiroli between local people, forest rights activists and Maharashtra state principal secretary for forests, Praveen Pardeshi, on March 9. Another significant decision taken at the meeting relates to working plans of the forest department which often run contrary to the wishes of the local forest dwellers. To prevent conflicts, working plans will now be formulated with the participation of local people. Other decisions taken at the meeting include those regarding strengthening of joint forest management (JFM) committees, providing mechanisms for fixing minimum support price for minor forest produce and providing technical support to villages having CFR. It was also decided that all government contracts over forestland—bamboo extraction contract of the Ballarpur Paper Mill in Gadchiroli, for instance—will be cancelled in areas where CFR has been conferred.

Implementation of these decisions will be started with immediate effect, Pardeshi told Down To Earth.

A long-standing demand for review of CFR claims and removal of conditions imposed on them against the spirit of the FRA (see ‘Forest department’s cheat act’), was also accepted during this meeting, informed Satish Gogulwar of the non-profit Amhi Amchya Arogyasathi. “The proposal is to form a committee comprising a revenue official, a forest official and representatives from NGOs, which will examine claims, remove unfair clauses, and issue fresh, corrected claim papers,” said he.

While the decisions were welcomed by forest dwellers and forest rights activists, the latter felt that more should be done to ensure proper implementation of CFR provisions. “While it is good that measures are being taken to ensure that gram sabhas (village assemblies) can access their rights under CFR, it is also necessary to understand that villages are also vulnerable to pressure,” says Keshav Gurnule of the non-profit Srushti, based in Kurkheda tehsil, Gadchiroli. “We demanded that in case a village is felt to be under pressure, the case must be investigated by the district collector.”

Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, veteran forest rights activist, said that cancelling leases and agreements on CFR land is not enough, and that villages must be compensated for the material extracted under these agreements.

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