December 28, 2017 12:59:38 am
Ending a week-long stalemate, Rajya Sabha passed two Bills Wednesday — one that amended the Indian Forest Act to exclude bamboo from the definition of “tree” and one for setting up an Indian Institute of Petroleum and Energy (IIPE).
The Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill was opposed by the Congress, CPI, CPM, Biju Janata Dal, BSP and Samajwadi Party on the ground that it would benefit the private sector. Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan argued that excluding bamboo from the definition of “tree” in the Indian Forest Act of 1927 will encourage cultivation of bamboo in non-forest areas and decrease dependence on imports.
Opposition parties also questioned an ordinance effecting a change in the Act weeks before the winter session. Subbarami Reddy (Congress) moved a statutory resolution disapproving the ordinance, but withdrew it later. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said, “The increase in cultivation [bamboo in non-forest areas] will be at the cost of forest areas. This is not pro-tribal or pro-poor. This will only benefit private entities like paper mills.”
The environment minister replied, “I am really shocked to see that they [Ramesh and CPI’s D Raja] cannot see how the poor will benefit with the passage of this bill.” The proposed amendment, he said, would enable farmers, especially those in the Northeast, to cultivate bamboo in non-forest areas and sell it without harassment from the forest department. The change, he added, was part of NDA government’s plan to double farmers’ income by 2022.
As for why the government brought in an ordinance without waiting for Parliament to debate the bill, he said, “It [amendment] took us 90 years… It was long awaited… We cannot allow tribals and poor farmers to suffer.” The bill was passed by a voice vote even as the Congress, dissatisfied with the minister’s justification for an ordinance, staged a walkout along with Samajwadi Party and BJD members.
The bill for the IIPE in Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, was supported by members cutting across all party lines. The IIPE is envisioned as an institute imparting quality education and conducting advanced research in the field of conventional hydrocarbons. In his reply, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the government is fulfilling its commitment made during the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
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