Robbed of food and forest
People in the protesting villages say they had never seen such tree felling before. As a general practice, the forest department removes only dead and dying trees. But fdcm cut down everything on the 385 ha forest patch, barring a few trees, they say.
As per its guideline, fdcm retains 40 trees of fruit bearing and superior species, such as sandalwood and khair (Acacia catechu) in a hectare of forest. This means as long as 40 such trees are retained in a hectare, all other trees can be removed indiscriminately.
When asked whether the felling by fdcm is justified, P S Rajput, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Brahmapuri forest division, said, “forests need to be clear-felled for teak plantation as the tree requires ample sunlight. Besides, our objective is to convert low-value forests into high value ones.” Value, in this case, is measured purely in terms of revenue generation.
However, the forests deemed as “low value” by fdcm are actually old growth and often dense with mixed tree species like (Artocarpus hirsutus), (Anogeissus latifolia), (Pterocarpus marsupium), (Dalbergia sissoo), (Acacia catechu), (Diospyros melanoxylon), (Emblica officinalis) and
(Terminalia bellirica). These species are part of an ecosystem that provides a range of ecological services other than being a source of sustenance and livelihood for communities. For forest-dependent people, the rich ecosystem provides medicines, food, building materials and non-timber forest produce, but teak plantations would rob them of their livelihood sources.
Bhaskar Dadmal, secretary of the Van Sahniyantran Samiti of Sawalkheda village, explains citing the utilities of tree
Its fruits are eaten by birds and mammals, seeds are used to make oil and the residues are fed to livestock.
flowers can fetch 45,000 annually on an average, Dadmal says. On the other hand, he explains, a full-grown teak tree may provide a one-time revenue of around
1 lakh, and that too only at the time of harvest, 60 years later. Worse, the community is not entitled to the benefits from the harvested teak. fdcm, which has monopoly over the plantations, works on Maharashtra Forest Development Corporation carries out forestry activities by subverting people's rights over forest resources
villages in and around Brahmapuri forest division are governed under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), where gram sabhas have the right to manage forest resources. Empowered by this right, Vihirgaon gram sabha in 2011 filed Community Forest Resource rights claims over 312 ha of forests in its customary village boundary. But it received title deed over 252.56 ha. While the gram sabha's appeal to review the title deed is pending with the State Level Monitoring Committee, the forest department in 2014 allotted the remaining area to the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd Sawalkheda village had filed CFR claims over two forest compartments that lie in its traditional boundary. While it received title deeds for one compartment, the forest department allotted the other compartment to FDCM. The story is similar for other villages, including Shirpur, Yerandi, Mortola and Karadi, who allege that the forest department undermined their CFR rights to lease out a large chunk of the dense forest to FDCM. Dongargaon and Pathargota villages had filed claims over two compartments. Both the compartments were leased out to FDCM without settling the claims. Hiraman Mukunda Garate, deputy sarpanch of Dongargaon, filed a public interest petition in April 2016 in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. Initially, the court ruled in the favour of the communities but later vacated its order and transferred the case to the National Green Tribunal in Pune.
Besides, requires that no activity in the traditional boundary of a village can be carried without the consent of gram sabha. But did not inform the gram sabhas before felling trees in Brahmapuri forests, let alone seek their consent. In fact, In a letter to the tehsildar of Kurkheda, FDCM stated that the protesting villages, including Sawalkheda and Shirpur, are not governed under Activists say claim is false. To assert their rights, Sawalkheda residents in April 2016 confiscated wood cutting machines of and lodged a police complaint against it. Instead of recognising the rights of the gram sabha, the police made Sawalkheda residents write a declaration that they would not disrupt the corporation's activities in the future.
k$Q\ category of forest or land that supports the livelihood of people should not undergo a change without the consent of people dependent on it,y says Neema Pathak Broome of Pune-based environmental action group, Kalpavriksh. Rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 are already recognised on land where CFR claims have been filed. kThe forest department should not have allotted the land to any other agency until the claims were settled. In areas, nobody can override gram sabha's power to manage their forest resources,y she adds. the principle of creating employment but not sharing the benefits with the people. So even though the community can find employment by working as labourers at the time of planting and harvesting, they doubt whether the loss of forest-based livelihood can ever be compensated by plantation-based livelihood.
To find a middle ground, the community had offered degraded forestland within the traditional boundaries of their gram sabhas, but fdcm turned down the offer saying the land is not suitable for teak plantation.
“fdcm is using chemicals in the plantation. Will this not affect soil quality?” asks Bhimrao Lingayat, president of the forest rights committee of Vihirgaon village. “The Brahmapuri forests are home to several bird and wildlife species, and at least 125 species of medicinal plants. Won’t the felling affect their diversity and the region’s water level?”