Himalaya Niti Abhiyan Oppose Himachal Draft Timber Distribution Rules

The new rules would only worsen the forest conditions – Him Niti Abhiyan

Shimla: Himalay Niti Abhiyan (HNA), a campaign of movements and individuals advocating for sustainable development policies in the Himalayas, has raised strong reservations against the changes being proposed through the Draft Timber Distribution Rules, 2009 by the State Forest Department.

Terming the proposed changes as impractical, misdirected, anti-people and anti-forests, the campaign contends that they are in no way going to solve the problems considering which the High Court had suspended these rights two years back. On the contrary, the proposed changes are going to make the forest management task of the forest department even more difficult and also go against the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. They should be opened up for wider public debate before finalization.

There are many contentious issues within the draft rules. According to them, an APL family shall have to shell out 30 percent of the market value of the timber while a BPL beneficiary shall have to pay 10 percent. Both these amounts work out to be Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 18,000 respectively which people in the state would be unwilling to pay considering that these benefits were being availed by them almost free of cost till now.

Additionally, the rules propose that the wood shall be made available to the beneficiaries only at designated depots in converted form that too only when the requisite amount of wood is silviculturally available in the local forests. While, the Abhiyan has welcomed the decision to sanction a fixed quantity of wood to the beneficiaries, neither the proposed cost nor the proposal to make timber available at depots is practical.

The steep increase in cost may not be acceptable to the people and this might aggravate the illicit felling problem in the forests considering the fact that the Forest Department was already not able to control it in the absence of cooperation from the people said Ranjit Singh Negi of HNA.

The proposed contentious provisions in the rules are going to give the people a feeling that the Forest Department is trying to increase its control over forests, a factor that has been largely responsible for the alienation of the forest users from their forests and the consequent loss of forest property due to illegal activities.

The government need not apply such high cost for timber as it is only making available the trees that dispensable as per the forestry norms, said Kulbhushan Upmanyu of the Abhiyan. Besides this, the government is already trying to enhance its revenues by seeking credits from the central government for preserving the green cover, which can be sustained only with people’s cooperation.

The biggest flaw in the proposed mechanism for the sanction of timber is that it is almost the same as the ineffective and, at times, corrupt one that existed before.

It would have been better if the government had proposed a decentralized and transparent system implementable at the village level for, deciding the silvicultural availibilty, deciding the beneficiaries, assessment of their need and monitoring of proper usage of the sanctioned timber.

Guman Singh of the Abhiyan said that while formulating the current prescription the government has totally ignored the tenets of Joint Forest Management and the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 which empower the Gram Sabhas for the management, protection and control of local forests. Through incorporating democratic mechanisms, a feeling of ownership can be inculcated amongst the forest users and they can become partners in the conservation and propagation of forests.

The abhiyan and its associate Lok Vigyan Kendra have submitted to the Forest department a mechanism to achieve these objectives and reduce the hardships faced by the Forest Department during the sanction of timber.

The Abhiyan proposes that while 10 % of the market cost may be charged from the income tax payers, the rest should be made to pay only the cost of conversion of the timber and that too at the local prevailing rates and not the rates of the HP Forest Corporation. The provisioning of timber at depots should be resorted to only where the site specificities made it practical.

The way in which the government frames policies without any inputs from the members of the public working on relevant issues is much to blame for the lack of pragmatism in the design of these rules.

The Forest Department’s territorial acquisitionary mindset is also responsible for the current proposal, a factor that has already caused much loss of forest resources due to alienation of the people from protecting their forests.

There is a need for the proposed rules to be opened up for public debate in order to formulate a prescription to bring about a win-win result, said Upmanyu. The Abhiyan proposes that whatever mechanism is finally put in place should be subject to constant and independent monitoring and review so that improvements can be incorporated in it from time to time.

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