Forest development corporations fell rich forests to raise plantations, undermining people's rights and biodiversity. It's time India introduced guidelines to assess their impacts
WITH COMPLETE disregard for people’s rights, the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (fdcm) felled thousands of trees in Brahmapuri forest division early this year. It felled the trees despite protests by the residents of 22 villages located in and around the forest. fdcm did stop felling in June after the monsoon arrived. But by then, it had already cleared 385 hectares (ha) of the old-growth forest to raise teak wood plantations. As a mark of protest, the residents refused to provide labour for planting teak, and fdcm had to hire labour from other districts.
Forest development corporations (fdcs) have been set up since the 1970s in 19 states with the objective of increasing yield from forests through forestry programmes. As per fdcm’s Working Plan for 2015-16, it was to fell 690 ha in Brahmapuri forest, or 210,000 trees, and plant 1.55 million teak trees on the cleared patch. What irked the residents is the mindless felling of healthy trees in old-growth mixed forests of Brahmapuri, and the high-handedness with which fdcm was implementing the plan.
Communities in these villages, which fall in Gadchiroli district, claim that they have traditionally depended on the Brahmapuri forests for food and livelihood, and thus have community rights over the forest resources. At least 12 villages have filed community forest resource (cfr) rights claims under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Some had filed the cfr claims way back in 2011. But the forest department allotted forestland to fdcm without settling their cfr claims. And fdcm started felling trees with scant regard for gram sabha resolutions against its activities. (See ‘Rights undermined’.)
The community’s biggest concern is that replacing natural forests with commercial plantations will severely affect their livelihood and destroy the region’s ecosystem.
Felling activities by Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd in Brahmapuri forest division