The Environment ministry has cited a law passed by the British to curb rights of tribals to reject a move aimed at financially empowering those living in forests.
An inter-ministerial committee to suggest changes in two laws governing tribal areas, The Forest Rights Act and Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, wanted bamboo to be categorized as minor forest produce.
As per the law, tribals and forest dwellers can access minor forest produce. Bamboo, a major forest resource, was defined as timber, thus making its harvesting an illegal activity as per law.
“Many poor tribals had been put in jails for doing something which had been their traditional practice,” said National Advisory Council member N C Saxena at a recent workshop organized by Centre for Science and Environment.
The committee, a part of the government’s effort to improve the financial resources of tribals, suggested amendments in laws so that tribals can earn good money by selling bamboo for producing paper.
It was suggested that if bamboo is defined as minor forest produce it could be enlisted under the community rights in Forest Rights Act, thereby benefiting a large number of poor tribal population. Since FRA was implemented in 2008, only a few hundred claims over minor forest produce have been accepted.
Environment ministry rejected the proposal saying the Indian Forest Act of 1927 defines bamboo as timber. The law was brought to suppress uprisings in tribal areas and take away traditional their rights. “The forest are regulated by the 1927 Act and as per it bamboo is a major forest produce over which only the government has right,” a ministry official said, while explaining the reasons for rejecting the move.
The ministry decision has irked many forest right activists, who claim that the ministry wants to continue with colonial regime in Indian forests. The MoEF view could be a big impediment in the UPA-2 efforts to make tribals, especially in Naxal affected areas, as part of inclusive economic growth. For this, a change in the mining laws allowing tribals 26 per cent stake in profit of mining companies is being finalized.
For other non-timber forest produce, the environment ministry has asked state governments to declare minimum support price to protect forest dwellers from exploitation by intermediaries.