BHOPAL:Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of the Forest Department of Madhya Pradesh has grossly undermined the letter and spirit of the Forest Conservation Act, Forest Rights Act and Wildlife Protection Act and written to all Chief Conservators of Forest and the DFOs ordering them to identify degraded forest land falling within their jurisdiction for private investment.
There are three Acts – FCA, Forest Rights Act, and Wildlife Protection Act – that must be amended before the Madhya Pradesh Government can go ahead with its latest initiative to parcel out degraded forest land to the private sector.
Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act of 2019 imposes restriction on the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purpose without the prior approval of the Central Government. Section 2 (iii) restricts assigning of any forest land or any portion thereof by way of lease or otherwise to any private person or to any authority, corporation, agency or any other organisation not owned, managed or controlled by Government. Obviously taking into consideration Section 2 of FCA, the PCCF Madhya Pradesh has categorically stated that the process of inviting private investment will be initiated after approval from the Government of India. As far as approval from GoI is concerned, the big question is whether it will be blanket approval to parcel out for investment forest land classified as degraded area in Madhya Pradesh or the approval would be sought on a case by case basis. If the State Government goes for a blanket permission from the Central Government and succeeds in getting it at one go that would amount to complete violation of the letter and spirit of FCA
The FCA defines “non-forest purpose” as the breaking up or clearing of any forest land or portion thereof for a) the cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing plants, horticultural crops or medicinal plants; b) any purpose other than reafforestation.
It is also mandatory for the Central Government to constitute a Committee to advise the Government with regard to the grant of approval under Section 2. This clearly means that there are checks and balances and every proposal for private sector involvement will have to be considered on merit by this committee and its advice will have a bearing when it comes to the Centre granting or not granting approval under Section 2 of FCA.
Coming to the Forest Rights Act, villagers have community rights over forests and many have individual rights to till the forest land, this will come in the way of any arrangement with private organisations.
Then we have the issue of protection of wildlife and their habitat in forest land owned by any private agency. These issues directly linked to Wildlife Protection Act will have to be addressed and tackled before the State Government can think of moving ahead on this path on a fast pace.
Madhya Pradesh PCCF Rajesh Shrivastava, in a letter on Tuesday 20 October 2020, has brought on record that under the Working Plan, out of total notified area of 94689 sq km in Madhya Pradesh, leaving aside the area managed by the Forest Development Corporation, about 37420 sq km is classified as degraded area. The letter underscores the need to reforest the degraded areas in order to enhance livelihoods of local communities and to mitigate the effects of climate change and to increase the flow of water to achieve the goal of sustainable operation of ecological services such as water cycle. Considering the positive role of private investment in bringing in capital, the PCCF has highlighted the importance of new technical and managerial skills for the improvement of the forest areas. According to him, there is a consensus at the State Government level to invite private investment to achieve the goal of increasing productivity of these areas.
The present attempt of the State government, the PCCF has stated, “is aimed at inviting capital, new technical and managerial skills in the forestry sector through private investment to improve degraded forests and also increasing employment opportunities for local communities in the short term and to strengthen livelihoods based on natural resources in the long term. By providing local products in place of imported raw materials to wood based industries.”
Further, the PCCF has said “this would help in achieving the goal of “self-reliant India” through sustainablle management of ecosystems and green cover. This would in turn help in achieving the targets set for the country for mitigation of climate change impacts through carbon sequestration”.
This is not the first time that the political masters and the goverment of the day have set their eyes on forest land. Blatant action was taken in this direction even earlier.
After reading the letter of the PCCF, one wonders why the Indian Forest Service is needed any more. If the forest officers have lost their skills and relevance, this service needs to be disbanded – Comment from a retired PCCF, Madhya Pradesh
MP State Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2030 proposes PPP model of outsourced funding option for restoration of degraded forests, but the present Office Memo issued by Head of Forest Force does not take care of interests of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) which is ultra vires with the statutory provisions of The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 Sec 3, 7, 23.b, 24.2, 43 and relevant rules under MP Biodiversity Rules and Central Regulations 2014. In forested areas, MP Government, by an amendment had given the responsibility of BMCs to Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs). But the OM issued by HoFF does not attend the issue of BMCs and their statutory powers over Acess to Bioresources on such Protected Forests that may be leased out to private individuals/organisations under PPP model. The ppp model may be ok to restore the degraded forest ecosystems, but under CBD and BD Act Nagoya protocol Fair and Equitable Sharing aspects and Section 43 rights of BMCs needs to be protected. Madhya Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (MPSBB) needs to initiate the issue immediately.
It’s for the government to see that International treaties are honoured under article 51 of the Constitution. If the proposal is executed as it looks, then Panchayat Act, PESA and sovereign rights of people on Biodiversity and Bioresources shall get negated.
Before the State government takes such a drastic decision, public consultation and public hearings are must, because we are not clear how the Ecorestoration issues are going to be attended. What will be the role and responsibilities of JFMC-cum-BMCs, MP Forest Department, Governments (State and Central), and Private Operators. – Comment from a retired PCCF, Madhya Pradesh
Kerala has been devastated by the worst floods in nearly a century. At least 350 people have died while 100,000 others have been rescued or evacuated. The impact of flooding can be gauged from the fact that during this monsoon, 35 of the 42 dams in the state had been opened for the first time and the impact was felt across all 14 revenue districts of Kerala.
In the aftermath of the Kerala floods, reams and reams of newsprint would be printed and a lot would be written by experts to keep the people informed about different aspects of the Kerala floods. There would be an endless debate on TV between environmentalists and the crusaders for social justice on the flood fury in “God’s own country”. But the long story can be cut short and one does not have to go very far to seek what’s at the root of the present crisis. One only has to access the report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) chaired by Madhav Gadgil. The report sums up the situation comprehensively by pointing out that the encroachment and occupation of forest land in Wayanad and other areas with abundant forest and wasteland by a large population that migrated from southern Kerala in the second half of the last century is a major contributory factor.
The entire nation and the world is witness to the Kerala disaster. The factors responsible for the floods are not restricted to Kerala alone. The floods have caused havoc in Kerala mainly due to the geographical characteristics of this State located on the slopes and the undulating surfaces of the Western Ghats. There are 44 rivers in Kerala. Forty-one of these originate in the Western Ghats. When there was heavy rain, too much water flowed into the rivers in too short a time due to the extremely fragile ecology and because of the reduced carrying capacity of rivers as a result of excessive silting, Kerala had to go through the worst rain-fed disaster.
People in general are not realizing that the ecological stability is going down at a drastic pace in other parts of the country as well. It is a major cause for concern, the way large forest area has got degraded in so many parts of the country. A case in point is the central Indian Highlands or the Vindhya-Satpura-Maikal landscape that forms a gigantic watershed and charges not only the Narmada and its tributaries but also the rivers in at least 10 States. In the process, when our forests that hold water when it rains and releases it gradually to charge our rives and ground water, are threatened by encroachment and biotic pressure, we have flash floods and then drought conditions with rivers running dry most of the year.
In recent years, about 1.91 crore Acres of forest land has been distributed till December 2017 under individual and community forest rights (CFR) with the enforcement of the Forest Rights Act in India. According to the Yield estimates, each Acre of forest land that has been distributed under FRA, has had about 35 to 40 trees, depending upon the site quality.
Government of India figures show that about 2,88,000 sq. Kms. degraded forest land is available in the country and the draft National Forest Policy has indicated the option of opening of degraded forest areas to the plantation industry.
The present budget allocation to forestry allocation is approximately Rs. 3,000 Crore, including State Plans, Central Plan, CAMPA, Wildlife Sector, Externally Aided Projects. If the 2,88,000 sq. Kms. of degraded forest land that has not been afforested for decades was to be brought under forestry activity, it would require additional budget of more than Rs. 6 lakh crore.
When asked to comment on the status of forests and their management, Ravindra Nath Saxena, IFS (Retd), a former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests remarked: “The working plan prescriptions are not being implemented in the “essence and spirit”; so is the case with non-implementation of soil moisture conservation measures”.
Reflecting on a recent trip to Mussoorie and Dhanolty (altitude 8100 – 8200 feet above MSL), Saxena said, there he saw large-scale drying (may not be leading to death) of Oaks (Quercus alba, Q. delibata and one more species) and adverse impact on Deodar and associated forest species. The entire landscape has dried down with great moisture stress. “Even I saw some tributaries of Holy Ganges drying down at Rishikesh. The situation is becoming grim day by day. There are warning signals in many forms but we humans are not ready to perceive those signals and act in a wise manner”, he opined.
In terms of solution, Saxena’s advice is that the country should adopt a policy of “Production Forests” by allocating 10% of forest area, say 62,000 sq. kms. This high productivity area could be worked through public sector, private sector and joint-sector companies. To begin with about 50,000 to 60,000 hectares of degraded forest land can be considered for allocation, he said.
This activity will generate massive, consistent employment to rural communities. Also enhance grass and forage production in the country, leading to the development of dairy and animal husbandry sectors.
Patanjali Jha, Principal Commissioner Income Tax at Bhopal, a 1986 batch Indian Revenue Service Officer and alumnus of Delhi School of Economics, is a visionary, who is deeply concerned about the fragile environment. He says the clock is ticking and it is an emergency. If we do not wake up to the threat posed by modern agricultural practices that involve reckless tilling, excessive use of pesticides, hybrid seeds, and chemical fertilisers, we are bound to be doomed, he said on a grim note adding agriculture in its modern form cannot be sustained in terms of economy of production without meeting the galloping demand for irrigation and electricity, besides public subsidy and government support in the form of minimum support price. More and more farmers, including marginal farmers, who were following the traditonal rain-fed single crop pattern are now being sucked in. They are being encouraged to follow modern agricultural practices revolving around rabi, kharif and cash crops. The emerging pattern is adding to the phenomenon that’s damaging the soil quality, besides there are all other associated drawbacks. Also, what’s being produced, by and large, by the farm sector and consumed by the people is threatening human health in geometric proportions.
As an answer to the whole gamut of problems associated with modern agricultural practices, Patanjali has adopted vertical farming on his farm near the Narmada river at Khalghat in Madhya Pradesh.
At Vanya, his farm, Patanjali has gone in for ultra-high density with native trees surrounded by vetiver grass. His mantra is “let’s go vertical”. What’s typical about his vertical farm is that it is a multi-layered, multi-species farming system, charatcterised by tree crops, including Moringa, Mango, Tamarind, Amla, Papaya, Banana. Ber (Indian jujube), Guava, Indian Gooseberry and a variety of flowering plants like Pink Pepper that flowers twice in a year and this ensures bees have food for the entire year. Explaining more about the layout of the vertical farm, Patanjali said the first layer has Neem tree as wind breaker, in the second layer is Moringa and fruit bearing trees like Lemon and guava, the third layer has Vetiver and Pigeon Pea (Toor Dal) and the fourth layer comprises of Turmeric and Aloe Vera
The tall Moringa trees stand out at Vanya. They allow sunlight to filter and pass through its leaves. Moringa provides nutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need in ample measure. Once the shade of these trees increases, the Vetiver undergrowth is removed when it grows tall for another forest, and the vacated area is replaced with Yam (Suran or elephant foot) that grows under the shade. It fixes Nitrogen in the soil and also has the potential to fix human health.
Yam, if eaten as chokha (a popular dish from Bihar), one would never get cancer. It is both prevention and cure against cancer as it has niacin, ruffage etc. It can particularly contribute to preventing colon, breast, and ovarian cancer. Yam builds the immune system and is tonic for liver and a blood thinner. Besides, it turns the human body alkaline, claims Patanjali adding one can get strips online for checking the body type to find out whether one is acidic or alkaline before and after one starts eating chokha. Chokha is mashed yam boiled and mixed with black mustard, lots of lemon juice, ginger and whatever else one may want.
Patanjali is in a mission mode. He suggests regular intake of guduchi, turmeric with pepper and Raw moringa, honey and yam for perfect health and a robust immune system. These should come from no-till vertical farms, he categorically emphasises.
Vertical farming or Rishi Kheti, according to Patanjali, can change farmers’ situation and also protect the mother earth. With ethanol thrown in and money saved on pesticides and the huge subsidy especially on chemical fertilisers, there can be a sea change and the alternative farming practice would help in empowering the farmers and generating employment both in the vertical farms and allied sectors.
When the forests in the catchment of our rivers are getting destroyed or depleted at a rapid pace, Patanjali’s message is that vertical farms are the only solution. His recipe is simple, even if 10,000 people in each country, especially countries like India, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia go for vertical farms, 20 acres on an average, it would lead to drastic drop in temperature ranging anywhere between 5 to 10 degrees in those areas as the Sun’s rays would get absorbed by the grass and other vegetation instead of bouncing back into the atmosphere. In this setting, Vetiver would also help in a major way by recharging ground water and so there would be plenty of water. The bountiful crop from “no-till agriculture” would add to the well being and improvement in the quality of life of not only the farmers but people across the board. The health benefits would be immense, reducing the cost of health care, both at the macro and micro level. The cascading effect of all this will benefit human kind and go a long way towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or the Global Goals, Patanjali emphasises.
Subrat Kumar Nayak and Hemant Kumar Sahoo
The present case study with a comparative analysis of two Tribal Villages – one Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) village and another Schedule Tribe (ST) dominated village – reveals that the Government of Odisha in India has placed more emphasis on time-bound implementation and targeted spending of welfare schemes and programmes even though it is obvious that this approach has failed to deliver results, The true effectiveness of most of the schemes and programmes focusing on tribal development is still poorly understood. If the state government fails to understand what development for these tribals means and keeps on spending money on a “top to bottom” approach based on other people’s notion of development, both the taxpayer, and society as a whole will continue to pay for ineffective and inefficient programmes and also the bilateral and multilateral funding would go waste and the targeted community would remain deprived and marginalized.
In the present era of rapid economic development, successive governments in India have placed priority on ‘economic growth and social justice’. India has followed a mixed economy model after Independence and a central role has been assigned to the state’s planning machinery for resource allocation across sectors. The stated primary objectives of the planning process have been economic growth, social justice and self-reliance. The Five-Year Plans initiated since 1951 provided the basic framework for the economic development strategies of the country.
India, a democratic and secular nation, is committed to the development and welfare of the tribals, in this pursuit several tribal development programmes have been undertaken from time to time entailing enormous human, financial and material resources. However the planner overlooked the unique features of each tribal community and imposed common and stereotype programmes and welfare schemes for their socio-economic transformations which leads to failure of the tribal development to achieve the desired objectives.
India’s tribal population is officially registered according to their distinct cultural and ethnic features called Scheduled Tribes (STs). The STs, with a population of 104.3 million as per 2011 Census constitutes approximately 8.6% of India’s population, STs have traditionally been concentrated in areas characterised mainly with forests, hills, and undulating inaccessible areas. Out of the total ST population, approximately 2.6 million (2.5 per cent) belong to “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups” (PVTGs). This classification is reserved for the most disadvantages of all the ST communities. There are 75 identified PTGs spread across 17 States and Union Territories in India.
Odisha is home to 62 STs including 13 PVTGs. The PVTGs are Concentrated in the Eastern Ghats and the Northern Plateau which accounts to almost three-fourth of the States ST population. For the economic and social development of the PVTG population, with the support of Government of India, the State has established 17 Micro-Project Agency (MPA) Areas.
Odisha continues to be one of the poorest states in India with high incidence of poverty and low indices of human development, at 33% the head count poverty in Odisha in 2011-12 was fourth highest in India. STs are among the poorest, followed by SCs. Poverty also has a regional imprints, with the hilly districts encompassing the Eastern Ghats, the Northern Plateau and the central tablelands, together form home to over 92% of Odisha’s STs, who are the poorest compared to the population in the fertile coastal districts.
One of the core objectives, as stated earlier, is to achieve social justice, which is only possible by improvement in social outcomes; yet for the Odisha Government, expenditure on tribal development – the real value of outcomes – is rarely considered or even understood.
Recently the Odisha government has decided to launch a special scheme – ‘Odisha PVTG Empowerment & Livelihood Improvement Programme (OPELIP) – with an investment of Rs 795 crore, proposed to be jointly funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Odisha Government. It is projected that this programme would benefit around 62,000 PVTG households. It is scaling of the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP) and it is for the first time that an external development partner has been invited to work in PVTG area in Odisha. Question arises why the Odisha Government is taking loan from IFAD when there is a very strong constitutional provision that guarantees full financial support for tribal affairs, that too as a charge on the consolidated fund of India, and also keeping in view the fact that there is surfeit of financial resources and this gets established by the failure on the part of the State SC & ST Development Department to spend the sanctioned amount though different agencies.
Even if the state Government is determined to go for loan before demonstrating the ability to spend the sanctioned and budgeted amount on the development of the most sensitive communities in Odisha, the state Government needs to clearly articulate the outcomes with a clear understanding of the wide diversity of cultures, system of self-governance and culturally linked livelihood system of the tribal groups. Based on this insight, the government needs to develop the internal capability to understand the complexity of these 13 PVTGs. This is essential to enable timely and accurate measurement of both the outcomes targeted to be delivered and the cost to be incurred keeping in view the tribal cultural integration with nature and forest.
Case study findings
A recent visit to one of the remote villages in Kandhamal District of Odisha reveals that the community having rights over their customary forest were self-sustained and economically independent and not in need of any such welfare schemes before they were deprived by forest department and forced to stop their traditional agricultural practices inside their customary forest which converted the community into labourers depending on government schemes from self-sufficient food producers.
Understanding the tribal economy
For centuries, the demand for food, energy and any other household needs of Kutiakandhs and Desiakandhs of Kandhamal district of Odisha has been met completely by customary farming practices coupled with hunting, fishing, and gathering. Traditional slash and burn community farming was providing the main food items for different age groups of these communities. The important food crops that have been cultivated since long are millets, pulses and some oil seeds with ritual crops like tobacco for day to day need of food and sedatives.
Our analysis is based on two parameters in order to compare the economic changes in these two Kandh dominant villages (Desughati-Kutiakandha and Madikhole-Desiakandha) of Kandhamal districts in the current study. Those from the Madikhole and Desughati Kandha community are basically hunters and gatherers and practice shifting cultivation. Their way of life and livelihood has been influenced by existing factors mainly includes, subsistence economy (non-monetary economy completely relies on natural resources), market based economy (driven by supply and demand), Government and non-government welfare schemes (mostly politically influenced and designed based on other people notion of development) that has been strategically implemented. Further the development is analysed segregating into three phases such as pre-Indian Forest Act phase (before 1927), Post IFA phase (before 2006) and present status after enactment of the Forest Rights Act.
Since time immemorial human beings have always been looking towards forest biodiversity, to use them as food, shelter and other agricultural purposes. Community member of both the villages narrated their past economic status and lifestyle with the present situation.
Before 1927 they practiced mixed cropping of millets, pulses, oilseed and tuberous plants with few fruit bearing plants and trees in and around the community habitations without any legal restriction as this area was also declared as a backward tract. Their rotational farming practices have been sustainable both with regard to maintaining biodiversity as well providing food, fibres, dyes, medicines, ritual crops with proper use of community land and resources. In this way they were able to sustain their livelihood and also strike a balance vis-a-vis social values and ethos with due respect to community based knowledge system and their culture. In addition to their requirement, they were enriched with traditional knowledge and skill which is vital for their socio-ecological management and development.
During 1928-2006, communities integrated cultural practices and traditional knowledge system was hugely affected by draconian Forest laws, its implementing department and other developmental government schemes/programmes. That has greatly influenced their lifestyle and livilihood. Madikhole, the traditional cropping practice is gradually decreases over this period and finally put to an end.Further their dependency over forest land and resources is intentionally and sometimes directly restricted. Like for example the forest policy acknowledges the symbiotic relation between the tribal and the forest. But the forest act clearly prohibits carrying of ‘tangia’ (axe). Which is a weapon of defence and not offence and no one can move in the forest without some weapon of defence or the other. In this period due to loss of their habitat and tenurial security they become labourer which makes them completely dependent on government schemes and programmes, which taken them away from their subsistence economy.
In Desughati, the KutiaKandha community who believe in their age old culture and nature based life. Although their mode of dependency also influenced by government schemes/programme and Forest laws and implementing departmentintervention to some extent but due to their remoteness and cultural integrity they are still able to maintain their cultural sanctity and traditional livelihood practices. Their economy is completely based on the surrounding biodiversity and other natural resources especially on slash and burn cultivation (Gudiachasa) which they practice on rotational basis on patches culturally named as “Padars” [a geo-cultural landscape marked by one or more dongars or hills, and presided over by the Dharani Pennu (earth goddess)], the KutiaKondha of Desughati traditionally hold rights over 14 such padars which constitute their clan territory.
People in Madikhole have asserted their right under FRA after recognition of their individual forest rights (IFRs) and community forest resource right (CFR).Now they are managing their forest according to their traditional way of management in order to maintain biodiversity as well as livelihood security integrating culture and their traditional practices. Gramsabha based village development process initiated by the MadikholeGramsabha and Community Forest Resource Conservation and Management Committee (CFR-CMC) formed under section 4(1) e of FRA.Convergence of all Government and non-Government. programmes are taking place with prior consent of the Gramsabha.
During this period the Kutiakondha Community has also initiated the habitat rights claim making process starting with consultation with the traditional leaders in collaboration with Kandhamal District Level Committee (DLC) there are about 168 habitations/settlements of Kutiakondha across the 7 GPs under Tumudibandha block , after the consultation the process begins with Desughati Gramsabah (Kutiakandha) by mapping their clan territories comprising of 14 “Padars”and resources, integrating their culture, economy, ecology and livelihood practices. FRA raised a hope of this community to secure rights, protect, conserve and manage their habitat from any unsustainable alteration.
Market based economy
Current economic development trend is indeed debatable on the basis of past, present and future of these two communities way of life. These two communities living close to nature are never considering as a part of the mainstream development, the formulation of developmental action plans are never discussed with them before implementation. In addition, the influence of market based economy made them to involve in resources extractive mode rather in sustainable harvest mode. So called destructive market influenced economy is threats to the biodiversity, community culture and also leading to conflicts at different level. For example the Madhikhole community who are initially consume wild mushroom for its high nutritional values now they are selling it in the market. The community is also now exposed to various productive farming process using chemicals and fertilizers instead of their traditional organic farming but the community at Desughati still practicing traditional agricultural and also not very much influenced by market based economy.
At the same time national developmental programme raises expectations which has its own limitation and target based implementation. Simultaneously market induced way of life makes their life miserable and increases their dependency over money. In the Madikhole village presently community is being pushed to involve in a range of activities like daily wage, utilization of land for mango orchard, domesticating hybrid goat and cultivating hybrid vegetable and so on. In the same time in DesughatiKutia communities less influenced and still depends on their traditional farming of millets, pulses, and oilseeds and indigenous tubers to meet their subsistence needs. Their culture and way of life is less affected by the development programmes but the current threats like non recognition of their habitat rights, teak plantation in their agriculture land and harassing them with forest offence cases.Again without understanding their culture and way of living, knowledge and skill many of these programmes are being planned and implemented which leads to further distress.
A way forward
The State Government should understand that the PVTGs are becoming increasingly vulnerable not because of the remoteness of location which deprived them from the benefits of the general programmes neither it is due to their less interest to negotiate and cope with the consequences of their involuntary integration with the mainstream economy, society, and cultural and political system but it is because of the loss of their customary habitats and non-recognition of their rights and livelihood resources which sustain them.This is leading to hunger/starvation, malnutrition and ill-health and erosion of tradition occupation, which is threatening their very survival, therefore the first objectives of all the developmental programmes must be on recognition of the rights of PVTGs to their land and habitat, and Forest Rights Act provides the scope for recognition of such category of rights enumerated under section 3(1)(e) of the Act. All the developmental programmes need to be integrated and implemented in a phased process with a common objective and understanding and also after taking the pre prior consent of the community,starting with as mentioned above recognition of rights over their customary habitat then followed by community approach to conservation cum development respecting their cultural ethos, values and traditional practices which must be tribal wise and need based. If this become possible then definitely their will a holistic and equitable development across the sections irrespective of various region and people.
1. Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017): Social Sector: Volume III
2. Recommendations of the National Advisory Council on “Development Challenges Specific to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)”
3. “Unbroken History of Broken History” by Dr. B. D. Sharma
4. Singh. K.S (1982) Transformation of Tribal Society: Integration Vs Assimilation Economic and Political weekly Vol XVI No.33 Aug 14th P.1312-20
If we take a closer look at the forest cover, its density, regeneration capacity, and the potential of the catchment areas to hold rainwater and release it gradually into the rivers to make them perennial, we will find that we have traveled the long road to destruction in just a couple of decades in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh where successive governments have done everything under their command to destroy vast forest areas. Those in power talk of the livelihood needs of the rapidly growing population of forest dwellers and other villagers but obviously what motivates them the most is the vote bank politics so essential to remain riveted to the seats of power.
Many senior serving forest officers in Madhya Pradesh are describing 4 June 2015 as a Black Day for ecology, green cover and forests as on this day the State Government issued two extraordinary gazette notifications to bring in force the “Madhya Pradesh Protected Forest Rules, 2015” (Under these rules “Protected area” has the same meaning as assigned to it under The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972) and the “Madhya Pradesh Village Forest Rules, 2015”. These rules will sound the death knell for forests and the already threatened wildlife.
In its first order in the famous Godavarman case in 1996, the Supreme Court defined the word “forest” in applying the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of 1980. Prior to this some state governments were applying the term only to “Reserve Forests” and with this limited interpretation, they found the route to “de-reserve” other protected forests for commercial or industrial use.
In 1996, the Supreme Court applied the dictionary meaning to the word forest implying any forest, irrespective of ownership, would be subject to provisions of the Forest Conservation act which specifies that no state government can allow the use of any forest land for any non-forestry purpose without prior approval from the Central Government. The new Rules introduced by the State Government, which are contrary to the letter and spirit of the 1996 Supreme Court order, would open the floodgate for forest destruction.
Under the Madhya Pradesh Protected Forest Rules enforced this month by the State Government, the district collectors have been given the powers to attach a Protected Forest to any village. As per the new dispensation, the Collector is authorised to attach any Protected Forest or a part of it, not lying within any urban area or a Protected Area to a village. Obviously to lend credibility and give the impression that checks and balances are inbuilt in the newly introduced system, it has been specified that the attachment of the Protected Forest will be done by the Collector in consultation with the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) and in accordance with the orders issued by the Government. The State Government has come up with these Rules by suppressing the earlier notification of February 2, 2005 using powers under Section 32 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
The Protected Forest Rules mandate that the “Gram Sabha” (village general body) shall constitute a Gram Van Samiti (village forest committee) for the purpose of managing the protected forest attached to that village and the responsibility would include the protection and development of the protected forest. A significant power that has been vested in this committee is that with the approval of the Government, the village forest committees will be able to enter into an agreement with a company or a body corporate, owned, managed and controlled by the Government or engaged in a manufacturing activity for which any forest produce is a raw material, to share any forest produce’from that protected forest attached to it as consideration for the investment made by that company or body corporate towards the development of that Protected Forest.
These Rules also permit Villagers to graze their cattle in Protected Forest attached to a village. The village forest committees have also been given the power to permit grazing by cattle from other villages on payment of a fee to be charged for grazing in the attached protected forest. The villagers will also be able to obtain, either free of charge or on payment to the village forest committee their “nistar and paidawar” requirements from the attached Protected Forest. The expression “Nistar requirements” and “Paidawar requirements” mean the Nistar and Paidawar, required for the purpose of bonafide domestic consumption and livelihood needs. These would include timber of unreserved trees, dry fallen wood not fit for timber, dry bamboos and green bamboos, grasses other than Rusa, Khus or Sabai grass, thorns other than those of Khair and Kardhai, leaves, excluding tendu leaves, bark of un-reserved trees. Nistar would also include minor minerals, surface boulders, murum, sand, chhui and clay for works permitted under the rules within the same village for dwelling purposes. “Paidawar” means and includes all edible roots, fruits and flowers, naturally exuded gum, except the gum from Kullu trees, honey and wax.
To address the issue of protection and conservation, it is specified under the newly introduced rules that the District Planning Committee shall in consultation with Divisional Forest Officer, will fix rates payable to the village forest committee for timber and fuel wood for Nistar, including occupational, Nistar removed from attached protected forests. It has also been specified that an officer not below the rank of Range Officer shall from time to time in consultation with the Gram Van Samiti specify the area from which the nistar is to be obtained each year and the villagers shall obtain their nistar only from such areas.
Under the new Rules, the clearing and breaking up of land for cultivation or any other purpose is prohibited in protected forest attached to the village but the exception has been granted for schools, dispensary, hospital, angannwadi, drinking water supply and water pipeline, Construction of village ponds, water and rainwater harvesting structures, minor irrigation canal, and water distribution channels, construction and maintenance of roads and installation of photovoltaic power generating systems. One can only imagine what the Protected Forests would be reduced to once construction and building activity for developing these facilities are taken up across the state.
The State Government had enacted an Act in 1964 and took over the trade in Tendu Leaves. In order to give more benefits to forest dwellers in collection and trade of Tendu Leaves, the Madhya Pradesh State Minor Forest Produce (Trading & Development) Co-operative Federation Limited was formed in 1984. In 1988, the State Government decided to involve cooperative societies in the trade of Tendu Leaves. For this, a three tier Co-operative structure was designed. M.P.State Minor Forest Produce Federation was placed at the apex level of this structure. At the primary level, Primary Forest Produce Co-operative Societies were constituted. At the secondary level, District Forest Produce Co-operative Unions were formed. The average annual production of Tendu Leaves in Madhya Pradesh is around 25 lakh standard bags, which is nearly 25% of the total Tendu Leaves production of the country.
Looking to the huge profit margin of 1989 season the State Government distributed Rs. 150 crores as incentive wages to the Tendu leaf pluckers out of the profit of 1989 season. Keeping in tune with the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution, the State Government decided to pass on all the net income from the trade of minor forest produce to the societies.
The State Government also brought into force the Madhya Pradesh Lok Vaniki Rules in 2002 under the Madhya Pradesh Lok Vaniki Adhiniyam (People’s Forestry Act) to allow the management of “tree-clad” private and revenue areas, by the landowners, the village Panchayat or the Gram Sabha. Since there was no proper demarcation between the private and government land, people could encroach the government land and resort to large-scale illegal felling. With many corrupt and unscrupulous patwaris on their side, they were also able to convert the government forests to private forests and deplete it.
Under the national forest policy of 1988, participation of local people was envisaged as necessary for conservation and development of forests. On June 1, 1990, the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests had directed all the State Governments that tribals and other communities living in and around forests have their first rights on the forest produce. Subsequently, the State Government paved the way for people’s participation in forest protection and management.
The previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government had got the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill cleared in Parliament and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also called the Forest Rights Act was brought in force on 31 December 2007 to vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land to the Scheduled Tribes residing in forest areas ignoring strong objections that were raised by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) at the outset. Notwithstanding the claim by supporters of this Act that it has helped in addressing the “historical injustice” committed against forest dwellers, foresters are unanimous in their assertion that this one Act has lead to massive forest destruction.
When contacted, a cross-section of State forest department officers presented an absolutely bleak picture. A forest officer at the Additional Principle Chief Conservator of Forest level recalled how as a DFO he could see sudden decline and lack of performance in terms of afforestation when the Forest committees of the villagers were involved to manage the forests in the early 90s of the 20th Century. He also drew attention to the complete absence of forest guards from beat duty once the villagers took up their role as members of the forest committees. Today with so much cash flowing directly to the villagers through the forest department, most of the official working hours of the forest rangers are spent in collecting and presenting cheques and ensuring the payments reach the workers and beneficiaries. This one exercise leaves them with hardly any time to carry out their routine rounds of the forest, what to talk of conservation and protection activities, another forest officer pointed out adding the forest staff at the cutting edge level is also engaged almost full time in tendu leaf collection activity rather than afforestation and regular forestry work at a crucial time just before the arrival of monsoon . He also put a question mark on the role of the district Collectors by stating that a probe across districts regarding the outcome and also the number and frequency of the forest potection Task Force meetings supposed to be held at the district level would expose huge chinks and reveal what kind of priority the collectors are attaching to forest and forestry related works.