Rights un­der­mined

Down to Earth - - FOREST -

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?”

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