I cannot but imagine hundreds of people reeling under extreme cold conditions with no shelter. This is a typical picture in those villages including ‘Malana’ in Kulllu district, which is for various reasons including that of producing the best quality of cannabis sativum in the country. The entire village of Malana got burnt and now the people are left with no shelter, thanks to the anti people forest policy and outlook of the state government and the ‘hyper active’ role of our ‘Hon’ble High Court’ of Himachal Pradesh. With a single bench blanket ban interim order, over 60 lakh people living in over 12,15,580 families (2001 census) cannot enter forest, which they own and have been protecting since centuries.
Their age old right called the ‘TD’ rights (Timber Distribution) stands snatched by this court injunction in June 2007′. Not just that, the TD which the kisans used to get, one tree in a period of 5 years has been put on hold, even their rights for medicinal plants, fuel, fodder, grass etc., all have been kept aside at one go.
What is a TD right?
As they say the class determines the right that flows in a particular period. Similarly, the people of the hills had absolute right over the forests till 1886. The Britishers initially restricted the right of the people and drafted a policy known as the Indian Forest Law in 1878. After the promulgation of this act, the management of forests instead, by the people and for their domestic use shifted and transformed into commercial use. This was primarily done to meet the growing demand of Railways in the country. The forests were demarcated and various settlements were brought out to restrict the rights of the people. One such settlement figures in the infamous Anderson report. Anderson prepared the plan for settlement of forest rights for Kullu and Kangra. Along with this there were different areas under the princely states and various forms of settlements were brought out accordingly. Then there were Waziwullar rights which highlighted the rights with respect to fodder, fuel, grazing rights, wood for agricultural implements, grass and also rights for other non timber products like fruits, flowers, medicinal herbs etc. So, the ‘TD’ comprised of the distribution of timber mainly for the construction of houses and also for the burning of corpse. In a period of 5 years under the process of silviculture (art and science of raising trees), a tree timber was provided to the kisans for the construction/maintenance of houses. The ‘TD’ right is a wider term, where the rights just mentioned above also find a place.
Another very interesting fact is that after the formation of the state in 1971 and then subsequently the coming into existence of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, this right of the kisans remained intact. There is another revealing picture of the state that shows the necessity of this right to the people. Out of the total, an area of 55673 square kilometers is under the forest terminology, 25.7% i.e. 14,353 sq kms is where jungles exist. And 67% of the total area of the state comes under the Forests. The people have just 10% of the land for carrying out agricultural operations. Hence, forest land is part and parcel of daily livelihood of the people of the state and especially kisans.
Meanwhile, the state government under pressure from people drafted the state forest policy in 2005 (www.hpforest.nic.in). This policy could have worked in a direction to reduce somewhat the hardships faced by the people. But in the meantime our over concerned NGOs, individuals and the High Court ganged up and has put a blanket ban on the age old right of the people.
Argument ! The TD right being misused!
Yes, there is no doubt, the TD i.e. the distribution of timber was being misused. There was and still persists a strong nexus that operates in a mafia form in between the timber merchants, government officials, bureaucrats and the politicians. But on this premise the basic right of the people cannot be snatched. Even democracy is being misused by a few but can that amount to abolishing of democracy altogether? When there is fire in the jungle it is the people surrounding the forest that shoulder the daunting task to diffuse the forest fire. Now, not only the people are finding it extremely difficult to erect their houses, even to burn a corpse invites the wrath of forest officials on several occasions.
The spree of cutting of trees has in fact increased with the new phase of development in the state. Innumerable trees are being cut for the construction of hydel projects and constructions of highways. When it is a case of Jay Pee or such other group, without much hindrance the assent is accorded be it Wangtoo Karcham-1000 MW hydel project or the Baspa project. Not just that, even the statutory provision of providing allocation for compulsory afforestation under the Catchments Area Treatment (CAT) plan is not being implemented and with easy bribery the entire money gets either diverted or unused. Similarly, the ensuing cement plants at Darla and Malokhar in Solan districts, SunderNagar and Chamba will vanish large tracts of forest land, but this does not effect either the bureaucracy, the government or our benevolent ‘Hon’ble High Court’.
To provide TD rights is a great loss to the fragile eco structure and hence should be banned is their argument, the huge loss caused due to the rampant unchecked unbridled construction of hydel projects and such others is not a worry for them.
The people of the state under various heads started mobilizations at various levels ranging from tehsil, blocks to the state. The Himachal Kisan Sabha (HKS) has been a pioneer in that. A state level convention was organized on 27th June, 08, then block level demonstrations were held along with submission of memoranda addressed to the Chief Minister of the state. This took place in almost 40 block centers out of 77 odd ones. Then from there, further a call was given for a massive signature campaign with mass sit in demonstration on September 1st, 08. This memorandum was addressed to the Chief Justice of the High Court. The HKS has further decided to mobilize the people and to militantly enter forests en masse for fuel, fodder, grass and lopping of wood etc.
There have been protests even from the not so organized groups like a committee formed to struggle in Nurpur in Kangra district. Also some NGOs and individuals have raised the issue of TD rights.
Government continues to hoodwink the people
The government has submitted a draft of a policy pertaining to TD rights to the High Court. Though the draft has not been made public, but what could be gathered from the newspapers reports, the draft remains marred with government’s inept understanding regarding the whole issue of TD rights. For example, timber now according to the draft would be provided once in 30 years that too from a forest Corporation depot. The price of such timber may also remain beyond the purview of the common man.
Renewed attack in the form of Carbon credits
On the one hand the government is not prepared to provide the people with their legitimate rights in the forests, on the other they are prepared to virtually sell the forests to big multinational companies under the carbon credits. Though at the national level much concern is expressed about the gains of carbon credits, Quote “- India is leading developing nations in carbon credits, expecting over 2.27 billion US dollars by selling certified emissions reduction units (CER) from approximately 300 Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, according to the country’s ministry of environment and forests. But as CDM consultants cite low CER rates, non-enforcement of rich nations’ renewable energy investment commitments in poor nations, lack of transparency in the CDM quantification process and several other irregularities in the CDM market.” Unquote. (ENVIRONMENT-INDIA: Sale of Carbon Credits Rise, Amid Complaints By Keya Acharya)
Similarly as one of the pioneer Forest official of the state states, the government has failed to work out the ‘cost benefit analyses with respect to carbon credits. Even, as he says, if we grow grass and sell it may pay more than the carbon credits. This is further supplemented by a case study in Karnataka. A Carbon Neutral company had contracted Women for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Gudibanda in Karnataka state to plant 10,000 mango trees in villages. Four years later, village women complain they received neither sufficient saplings nor money and had no water in their arid fields anyway.
Henceforth, what kind of forest must be developed according to the needs of the people is the correct approach that has to be propounded.
Therefore, the struggle for TD rights is not just for timber, for the forest produce etc., it also pertains to a correct comprehensive forest policy in the background.
Former deputy mayor Shimla.
National convenor, NCU, National Coalition for Inclusive & Sustainable Urbanisation.