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Green alarm over bid to allow business in forest wealth

Then it commercially exploited the bamboo to earn over Rs 1 crore.

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Nagpur |
August 24, 2012 3:53:31 am

A move that proposes to allow forest dwellers to commercially exploit minor forest produce,which includes bamboo,has worried activists and the forest administration,especially after what happened at Mendha-Lekha,the Gadchiroli village that had pioneered the nationwide forest rights movement.

Last year,the village won a battle to have bamboo declared an MFP,giving villagers community rights to it. Then it commercially exploited the bamboo to earn over Rs 1 crore. Environmentalists and Maharashtra’s forest department said this violated the Forest Rights Act (FRA),which allows use of MFPs sustenance of a village’s needs but does not provide for commercial sale. Also,they argued,the Act allows only head-load,bicycles and handcarts for transportation — which presumes it is to be used for sustenance — but the village used trucks.

Now,the Ministry of Tribal Affairs proposes to allow not only commercial exploitation of MFP but also various means of transportation. On July 19,the MoTA issued draft amendment rules to the FRA replacing the word “sustenance” with “livelihood”. The draft also allows sale of “surplus” produce.

“The preamble to the Act clearly mentions ‘sustainable use’. The use of ‘surplus” is against the preamble and should be removed,” a senior forest official told The Indian Express. The Act defines “sustainable use” as “use of components of biological diversity in such manner and at such rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of the biological diversity…”

The original rules provide only for “gatherer or community”; the draft proposes to allow “gatherers’ co-operatives or associations or federations”.

Activists fear this would “open the door for rich and influential people and would create adverse situation for genuinely needy persons”. Activists Bittu Sehgal,Debi Goenka and others have written to the MoTA pointing out that the original rules didn’t provide for sale. “While surplus produce cultivated on the land allotted to the forest-dwellers should be allowed,sale of forest produce shouldn’t be permitted,” the activists have said.

RULE BY RULE

Sustenance/livelihood

The Act: “Bona fide livelihood needs” means fulfilment of sustenance needs of self and family through production or sale of produce resulting from self-cultivation of forest land as provided…

Draft amendment: “Bona fide livelihood needs” means fulfilment of livelihood needs of self and family through exercise of all the rights specified in [sub-section and includes sale of surplus produce arising out of exercise of such rights.

Transportation

The Act: “Disposal of minor forest produce” shall include transportation in forest area through head-load,bicycles and handcarts for use of such products or sale by the gatherer or community for livelihood.

Draft amendment: Mode of transport be changed to “appropriate means of transport”. Also substitution of “gatherers and community” with “gatherers or their co-operatives or associations or federations for livelihood.

Resource rights

2008: Mentions “community forest rights”,not “community forest resource rights”.

Draft amendment: Ensure certified copy of record of community forest resource rights and title as specified [new annexure,is provided to gram sabha or community.

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