Jairam Ramesh, India’s ‘activist’ environment minister, will flag off the first harvesting of bamboo by villagers on 27th under a new law that removes the plant from the list of restricted category.
Ramesh has, over the past several days, sent letters to state chief ministers clarifying that bamboo was a grass and not a tree and must be considered a ‘non-timber’ forest produce.
Timber is almost impossible to move without fullfilling a large amount of paperwork, while non-timber and minor forest produce, such as honey and fruits, can be more easily collected and move out.
Under India’s laws, timber, whether found in forests or on private property, needs some level of sanction to be cut and traded.
The first harvesting of bamboo under the new law will take place at Mendha Lekha village in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district.
The harvesting will be done by villagers exercising their ‘community rights’ under the new law.
“The Indian Forest Act had over time categorised bamboo as timber, which meant the forest department had the monopoly over it. Those who grew bamboo in their backyard could not harvest or sell this productive grass without a number of permissions from the forest department,” Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Science and Environment had recently said, welcoming the new law.
The move is expected to address the crippling shortage of raw material for paper production.
“Now industry can source this from small landholders or villagers with community forest rights… this buyer-seller relationship will put money directly in the hands of people, reducing need for development assistance… Growing trees can be a business for growth,” she had added.
Under the old law in most states, a tree owner needs a transit pass to cut bamboo. To get the transit pass a tree owner would have to obtain revenue records and then apply to the collector or the forest department for permission to cut.
It would take up to 10 different departmental permissions and many visits to headquarters. So the way out is to find a well connected contractor who can pay his way through the system and facilitate the transaction.
“In all this, the person who grows the tree gets shortchanged. There is no incentive to use trees or grass as an income-generating activity. Nobody grows trees. The environment loses,” she had pointed out.