SOCIAL activist Anna Hazare has written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seeking her support for the ‘village forest’ scheme of Maharashtra and requesting her to prevail over party leaders Ahmed Patel and Mani Shankar Aiyar for putting out statements against the scheme.
Village forest is a 2014 scheme of the Maharashtra government that offers gram sabhas rights over forests under provisions of the 1927 Indian Forest Act (FRA). The scheme is governed by Village Forest Rules (VFRs) framed under the Act. It is being opposed by the votaries of Community Forest Rights (CFRs) offered under FRA of 2006 and by the Panchayat Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act on the ground VFRs mandatorily have the Forest Department as a stakeholder in the management of forests. They say this is an attempt to regain control over forests that have been offered for exclusive management to gram sabhas by FRA and PESA.
The Forest Departments counters the charges, saying the rules clearly lay down that they will not be applicable to gram sabhas that opt for CFRs under FRA or are entitled for PESA benefits and, as such, are not infringing on the two other community forest management actions. Pointing out that his own Ralegan Sidhhi and social activist Popatrao Pawa’s Hivrebazar have opted for village forest among over 100 such villages, Hazare has said in his letter, “Instead of criticising the scheme, Patel and Aiyar should actually visit some villages benefiting from the scheme.”
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Hazare further says, “The scheme gives villages a very good option to manage their own forests and benefit from its resources.”
He points out that Ralegan Sidhhi has benefitted immensely with the forest providing substantial fodder that has led to increase in milk production from 300 litres 20 years ago to over 5,000 litres today.
The VFRs have been caught in a stir with the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MOTA) opposing it since the last about two years ever since they were notified in 2014. Even Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Nitin Gadkari have thrown their lot behind the scheme, asking MOTA to drop its opposition. MOTA has finally reconciled to VFRs and has dropped its opposition, recently.