All community forests in Pune district would now come under the scanner of the state forest department, and officials have been vested with powers to access the tribal community’s forests by defining them as ‘village forests’.
The state government would now be able to put these regulations on more than 10,000 village forests (excluding those in Schedule V designated areas). According to the forest department, nearly three million hectares of forest land would now come under its purview and Pune district too has its share of tribal forest land.
“This would mean that the state government would get to decide how tribals sell forest produce and what revenues they can get from it. The department would have the powers to completely monitor this and ensure that it meets the standards set by the state,’’ said senior officials.
The government’s new regulations would help the forest department retain complete management control over such community forests in villages. The tribal affairs ministry, after repeatedly informing the state and other central government departments that the regulations were illegal and unconstitutional, had to agree on the decision.
The state has 16,600 villages with forest land in their territories. Under the Act, the government can claim community ownership in each of these villages. According to the new rules, nearly 7,000 villages had formally put forth claims for community forestlands under the Act, of which nearly 4,000 were accepted and 1,900 rejected.
The tribal affairs ministry had earlier warned that identification and settlement of community rights of tribals was in a nascent stage across the country, and the state should not impose its own system till all the rights of the people were settled.