Mendha Lekha, a tiny hamlet with a population of 450 Gond tribals will be the first village in the country to be granted transit passes to manage and harvest bamboo by Union forest minister Jairam Ramesh, this Wednesday.
Ramesh will visit Gadchiroli with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to launch the initiative of declaring bamboo as a minor forest produce under Forest Right Act, thereby giving tribals right to manage this forest resource.
This is also Chavan’s first visit to the naxal-affected district.
On Monday, Chavan took a review meeting of the forest department to discuss pending issues of the Vidarbha region such as promoting wildlife tourism here and reclassification of shrubs as forests land.
He also issued directives to ensure that steps are taken to implement bamboo as a minor forest produce before the Gadchiroli visit.
“Certain conditions have to be met under the Act to ensure transit passes are given to the gram sabha such as drawing up of management plans for commercial extraction of bamboo and notifying area where bamboo can be harvested. We have now given directives to local officials to ensure that to institutionalise this change,” said Anna Dani, state forest secretary.
There had been complaints from the village that forest officials had not been willing to issue transit passes or transfer rights to harvest bamboo to its gram sabha.
Ramesh had written to Chavan on March 21 asking him to announce bamboo as minor forest produce, entailing steps by the state forest department to hand over transit passes to the gram sabhas here.
Chavan also wants Ramesh’s ministry to issue guidelines on eco tourism to develop tourism facilities in Vidarbha’s 13 tiger reserves including Tadoba, Melghat and Nagzira.
The forest department had earlier consulted with Karnataka’s Jungle Lodges to prepare a plan to promote wildlife tourism but this has not taken off so far since there is no clarity from the Centre over how far can commercial activities like resorts be built in the forest areas.
Ramesh told the Hindustan Times on Monday: “This is small step forward in changing forest management model in the country.”
“For long, forests in the country have been managed as if tribals are enemies of the forests. This has to change. They should be made partners in forest regeneration. Forest department has an important role to play in anti-naxal strategy,’’ he added.