Nitin Sethi-NEW DELHI: The tribal affairs ministry has overcome hurdles put up by rigid forest regulations. The ministry has ensured that tribals can not only extract minor forest produce such as bamboo, tubers, leaves, medicinal plants and resins, but also store, transport, process and sell them. The change of rules to the Forest Rights Act (FRA) has effectively given tribals the chance to get a much larger pie of the Rs 50,000-crore annual trade of minor forest produce.
Over the years, the steady opposition by the forest bureaucracy had denied tribals’ access to the minor forest produce trade.
For example, even when tribals were allowed to cut bamboo they were not allowed to transport it by anything save a bicycle or a cart. Forest departments across states often interpreted their ‘bona-fide livelihood needs’ that translated to tribals could cut what they needed for their personal consumption but not trade in the goods even in local markets, while large volumes of the produce were sold across the country by traders and business people.
Now, the tribal affairs ministry has redefined ‘bonafide livelihood needs’ under the FRA to include sale of minor forest produce extracted by tribals and other forest dwellers beyond their personal use. The rules also clarify that tribals can store and transport the goods without a hindrance.
Union tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo, sources in the ministry said, took a personal initiative to ensure that the new rules to back the intent of UPA’s flagship law for tribals come through despite objections from some lobbies.
Another system of control that forest departments used to block tribals from getting a bigger share of the minor forest produce trade was transport permits. The amended rules stipulate that tribals won’t be required to pay a fee or any charge for such transport regulations.
The changes have been made ahead of the government launching a minimum support price regime for minor forest produce along the lines of the sop provided for farmers for some crops. In tune with the reforms, environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan, too, had recently amended the forest regulations to define bamboo as a grass and not a tree, consequently classifying it as a minor forest produce that tribals would be able to harvest.