Village panchayats with a track record of managing forests will be given a larger role on World Environment Day on Thursday (June 5). At least 50 panchayats (village local bodies) will be bestowed more powers under the ‘Gram Van’ scheme, in the first phase.
The Forest Department has issued a new set of rules, the Indian Forests (Maharashtra) Regulation of Assignment, Management and Cancellation of Village Forests) Rules, 2014 applicable to forest reserves to empower panchayats to manage protected forests.
The government resolution notifying the scheme was issued on May 20. On Thursday, state Environment Minister Patangrao Kadam and Anna Hazare, who has been fighting for socio-political reforms, will launch the scheme at Hivre Bazaar in Ahmednagar, Hazare’s home district.
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The gram sabha will elect a forest committee to prepare a detailed management plan with technical support from the forest department. Apart from harvest of major and minor forest produce, the committee will be empowered to levy fines on those who fell trees or encroach forest land.
Praveen Singh Pardeshi, Principal Secretary, Forests, said forests will be assigned to panchayats that had, in the last decade, prevented encroachment, fires, grazing and tree felling and ensured a positive rate of regeneration. Until now, forests were managed by joint forest management committees (JFMCs) in territorial forest areas and eco-development committees (EDCs) in wildlife areas. JFMCs included forest officials and villagers. Based on how effectively villages managed forests, the state will hand over areas to panchayats, Pardeshi said.
There are 12,000 JFMCs and initially at least 50 ideal villages will be shortlisted. “We want to involve locals in managing forest wealth following the principle laid down by Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom who advocated collective self-governance,” Sunil Limaye, Chief Conservator of Forests, Pune said. The government plantation and protection programmes will be executed by village forest committees and incentives given to villages that prevent forest fires and protected plantations, he added.
Extraction of forest produce like tendu and apta leaves and bamboo, will be in accordance with the micro plan approved by the department. The powers, jurisdiction and functions for transaction of business shall be according to Village Panchayat Act, Limaye said.