A tribal village in Gadchiroli Maharashtra that has pioneered the community management of forest land and produce, this week added a new feather in its cap — it became the first village in the country to earn a massive Rs 1 crore revenue from bamboo sales, carried out through a transparent and independent tendering process.The revenue, according to the gram sabha of Mendha-Lekha village, is nearly 150 per cent more than what the forest department raised in a neighbouring village recently.
This is the most heartening news I have heard in quite some time.
Tribals had Forest Rights before the 1927 Indian Forest Act was brought in by the British to facilitate exploitation of forests in India.
There was a huge tribal uprising led by Mahatma Gandhi in Central India extending from Gondwana to Chota Nagpur in the early 30s which led to hundreds of tribals being killed in police firing.
We became Independent in 1947 but unfortunately the Tribal Rights over forest was not restored to them. This has been one of the major irritant among the tribals in this region. If you morph this area on Naxalite affected area it is almost co terminus. Minor forest produce has been given to them earlier and through Forest Rights Act initiated by Sonia Gandhi, bamboo produce has also been transferred to them. The news above is a result of this.
It is high time we restored the Forest Rights to the tribals and forest dwellers by bringing a new Indian Forest Act in which all forest produce MFP (minor forest produce), bamboo and timber is given back to them. But with a few riders.
Management of the forest would be done under the supervision and guidance of the forest Officials but the revenue earned would go to the tribals and forest dwellers. State governments may lose some revenue which can be shared by the state government and GOI.
I have always felt we are doing a great harm by regularizing forest encroachments. Instead of giving them land which usually is a not so fertile marginal land they should be given all the forest produce.
This would not only give them huge economic benefits but would also wean them away from left wing extremism. It would also be an incentive for them to protect forest.
I am sure we would be able to give them justice after all these years of deprivation and exploitation.