Ma­ha­rash­tra vil­lage faces heat for felling bam­boos in its for­est

For­est depart­ment reg­is­ters of­fence against a gram sabha for felling bam­boo clus­ters

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - APARNA PALLAVI

YET AN­OTHER vil­lage in Ma­ha­rash­tra is fac­ing the brunt of the for­est depart­ment’s re­fusal to recog­nise gram sabha’s de­ci­sion- mak­ing rights un­der Com­mu­nity For­est Rights ( CFR) claim. CFR is a pro­vi­sion un­der the For­est Rights Act that em­pow­ers a vil­lage gram sabha to man­age its forests.

The res­i­dents of Pach­gaon vil­lage in Chan­dra­pur district, who felled some bam­boo clumps last year af­ter de­cid­ing it at the gram sabha, are be­ing bul­lied by the for­est depart­ment to ad­mit that they are at a fault. At an ar­bi­tra­tion meet­ing on May 8, 2014, be­fore the Chan­dra­pur district col­lec­tor, for­est depart­ment of­fi­cials in­sisted the res­i­dents com­mit­ted a crime and that they should re­turn the bam­boos or pay a fine equiv­a­lent to their value. The res­i­dents have now been asked to frame a re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions. The res­i­dents say they plan to con­test the de­mand of the for­est of­fi­cials.

A day be­fore the ar­bi­tra­tion, for­est depart­ment of­fi­cials tried to seize the felled bam­boos in the vil­lage. They stopped af­ter district col­lec­tor Deepak Mhaisekar in­ter­vened.

The for­est of­fi­cials claim the res­i­dents vi­o­lated the for­est work­ing plan by de­stroy­ing bam­boo clumps dur­ing bam­boo felling in CFR area, but res­i­dents say the bam­boo felling was es­sen­tial as there were too many bam­boo bushes in the area. Bam­boo bushes ideally need to be thinned ev­ery three years and the bam­boo bushes that bear flow­ers need to be felled to al­low re­gen­er­a­tion.

Pach­gaon res­i­dent Ma­hadeo Tekam says the vil­lage re­ceived CFR claim in 2012, and in De­cem­ber 2013, the gram sabha de­cided to un­der­take bam­boo felling on a 15 ha stretch of for­est where felling had not been done in 25 years. “The bam­boo stretch had be­come very dense and con­gested, so we de­cided to re­move some bam­boo clumps al­to­gether, leav­ing a min­i­mum dis­tance of three me­tres be­tween the clumps to fa­cil­i­tate re­gen­er­a­tion,” says Tekam.

Res­i­dents say 76,000 long-bam­boos were felled, out of which 35,600 bam­boos have been sold. They al­lege the prob­lem with the for­est depart­ment started last De­cem­ber when the lo­cal Chief Con­ser­va­tor of Forests ( CCF), San­jay Thakre, wanted to carry out an in­spec­tion of the for­est. They say Thakre got up­set when he was asked to make an en­try in the reg­is­ter main­tained by the gram sabha to mon­i­tor the people go­ing into the vil­lage for­est. “He told us that the for­est be­longed to the depart­ment and that he did not need to fol­low any rules,” says res­i­dent Ga­janan Thamke.

Af­ter his visit, Thakre reg­is­tered a case of for­est of­fence against the vil­lage for re­mov­ing the bam­boo clumps.

“Of the 3,607 bam­boo clumps in the area, 1,060 were com­pletely re­moved by the vil­lagers which is a vi­o­la­tion of bam­boo felling norms,” says Ga­janan Hire, deputy con­ser­va­tor of forests. The seiz­ing oper­a­tion, he says, was un­der­taken on an or­der of the CCF is­sued on May 6, 2014. While Hire main­tains the res­i­dents should not have de­stroyed the bam­boo clumps, he ad­mits felling had not been car­ried out in the for­est for a long time be­cause the stretch was not in­cluded in the bam­boo work­ing cir­cles un­der the cur­rent work­ing plan.

Res­i­dents say that they are fully aware that sil­vi­cul­tural prac­tices pro­hibit re­moval of bam­boo clumps, but it had to be done be­cause the for­est depart­ment had failed to carry out reg­u­lar felling and thin­ning of the clumps, which is nec­es­sary for re­gen­er­a­tion.

Thamke says the for­est depart­ment has stopped is­su­ing fresh tran­sit pass­books to the res­i­dents for trans­port­ing the bam­boos be­cause of the al­leged of­fence. “We are not able to sell our re­main­ing bam­boo, which is hold­ing up much needed in­come for the vil­lagers,” says he. Pach­gaon res­i­dents de­pend on for­est pro­duce for liveli­hood.

Mhaisekar told Down To Earth that the mat­ter will be sorted out soon and that it will not ham­per the process of is­su­ing CFR claims in the district. Chan­dra­pur has only seven to eight CFR claims, which is sub­stan­tially lower than that of neigh­bour­ing tribal districts such as Gad­chi­roli and Gon­dia.

COUR­TESY: GRAM SABHA, PACH­GAON

For­est of­fi­cials have stopped is­su­ing tran­sit pass­books to Pach­gaon res­i­dents

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