MSP for minor forest produce: 15 years too late

Govt continues to violate law

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | April 4, 2011



At first look, the attempt by both the planning commission and the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to press for fixing the minimum support price (MSP) for “minor forest produce” seems a timely and appropriate step to empower the tribals.

But both seem to have missed the simple fact that they have been violating the law of the land for 15 long years.

The Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act bestowed “the ownership of the minor forest produce” to the tribals way back in 1996.
Even while preparing and releasing its Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for 60 Maoist-affected districts in 2010 (a little less than Rs 15,000 crore), the planning commission conveniently forgot to deal with the minor forest produce.

The irony is that the planning commission itself had calculated at the time that the ownership of the minor forest produce to the tribals mean Rs 50,000 crore a year for them.

If the government were to follow the law and hand over the minor forest produce the tribals would be richer by Rs 50,000 crore.
There is little hope that even the present exercise of fixing the MSP will come to fruition anytime soon.
Recall environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s letter to the chief ministers on March 21, 2011. He said: “I am now writing to you on a related issue of declaring and treating bamboo as Minor Forest Produce.”

Ramesh hasn’t read the law. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 defines “minor forest produce” as: ““minor forest produce includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers, and the like”.

Bamboo, at least since 2006, is a minor forest produce. But Ramesh went on to say in his letter that the state government and forest departments would now ensure, among other things: a) Gram Sabha will issue transit passes for bamboo b)Gram Sabha will decide extraction level of bamboo and c) All revenue generated from bamboo (where FRA has not been implemented) will be shared with the local communities.
Had Ramesh read FRA of 2006 and PESA of 1996, his language would have been different. He would have passed the “ownership” of bamboo to the tribals. He didn’t even mention “ownership”.

And that is because his ministry has been denying this right to the tribals for the past 15 years.  Forget bamboo, ownership of none of the other items as FRA listed out - brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers – have been passed on.

For the record, bamboo remained defined as a “tree” and not falling in the list of minor forest produce in the books of Ramesh and his predecessors for ages.

Of course, the state governments are equally to be blamed.

But this public display of activism by the planning commission and Jairam Ramesh is more for publicity purpose.

There is another crucial resource from which the tribals should be benefitting but have denied. It relates to “minor minerals”.

PESA of 1996 provided that “the recommendations of the Gram Sabha or the Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be made mandatory prior to grant of prospecting licence or mining lease for minor minerals in the Scheduled Areas”.
The obvious objective is that the tribals should benefit. The planning commission hasn’t calculated the annual trade in minor minerals but safely assume it to be more than that of minor forest produce, which would mean at least another Rs 50,000 crore a year.

How exactly the tribals benefit from extraction of minor minerals (like mining of sand and pebbles, stones, chips, even limestone etc) should have been worked out by now. Should there be a 50-50 share of revenue between the tribal communities and the government? Or should it be some other formula? Fifteen years is a long time.

It only goes to establish that the government continues to be the biggest exploiter of the tribals (don’t forget, the government has displaced and destitute thousands of tribals by handing over their land to private companies through out the country). The Maoists, in turn, are exploiting the situation to achieve their goal – an armed overthrow of the government.


 

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