More than a hundred Gram Sabhas are set to give an ultimatum that they will exercise their rights as vested in the Forest Right Act, 2006
Dozens of Gram Sabhas in Odisha’s Kalahandi district are preparing for a showdown with the Forest Department over the transportation of minor forest produce (MFP), including tendu leaves and bamboo.
More than a hundred Gram Sabhas are set to give an ultimatum to the Forest Department that they will exercise their rights as vested in the Forest Right Act, 2006 (FRA), and issue transit passes on their own from May 1.
The Forest Department has for long been denying transit passes, instead stating that the Gram Sabhas can only collect MFP for its use and that there is no provision for them to sell it for commercial purposes or to transport it with transit permits.
Frustrated over repeated denials of permission, villagers recently moved the Kalahandi district administration with a RTI (Right to Information) application to know if Gram Sabhas have legal authority under the FRA to issue transit permits for the transportation of MFP. To this query, the District Welfare Officer informed Gram Sabhas that they have the right to issue transit passes.
More than 250 Gram Sabhas in the Kalahandi district have been given the right to community forest resources (CFR) under the FRA.
“Although the RTI reply settled the issue that Gram Sabhas have right to issue transit passes, the law is not clear as to who can print the transit pass. On February 28, we had convened a special meeting where representatives of different Gram Sabhas said they would start printing and issuing the transit pass,” said Dasarathi Behera, member of the Kalahandi Jangal Surakhya Manch.
As a first step, 100 out of 250 CFR right-holders would exercise their power, Mr. Behera said.
On March 3, 2013, residents of the Jamguda village in Kalahandi were given official permission to sell MFP like bamboo and tendu leaves. The then Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had handed over the transit passbook to then Union Tribal Affairs Minister V. Kishore Deo, Odisha Revenue Minister Surya Narayan Patra and Member of Parliament Bhakta Charan Das, who became the first buyers of a truckload of bamboo for ₹3,000 in the little-known village of Jamguda.
In fact, Kalahandi is the only district in Odisha where nine Gram Sabhas are enjoying community rights to harvest and sell forest produce. The Forest Department allegedly thwarts demands for similar rights by villagers who critically depend on forest produce for their livelihood.
The Gram Sabhas of Pipadi, Gundurupi, Dumerbahal, Rajendrapur, Borguda, Dhamanpur and Komalbari will be at the forefront of challenging the Forest Department’s authority from May1, when the season for collecting tendu leaves begins.