Shimla: The new Timber Distribution (TD) policy framed by the government of Himachal Pradesh has invited flak of the Himalaya Niti Campaign for being a failure on the front of incorporation of public’s views and tenets of Joint Forest Management.
One of the biggest points for contention expressed by the activists of the campaign is ‘giving central role to the forest guards’ under the new TD policy for the identification of beneficiaries and distribution of sleepers. “With too many pressures bearing upon the guards, while the honest forest guards would have face the anger of the dissatisfied people, the unscrupulous ones could resort to corruption to decide the beneficiaries”, fears the frontline activist of the Himalaya Niti Kulbhushan Upmanyu. He further adds that it would have been better if the government had proposed a decentralized and transparent system operational at the village level for an individual’s need assessment and deciding the beneficiaries, the silvicultural availibilty and monitoring of proper usage of sanctioned timber.
The views have been expressed in a joint statement issued by the campaign activists, including Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Guman Singh and Rahul Saxena. They have raised several questions over various elements in the new TD policy like difference in prices of sleepers for Above Poverty Line (APL) and Below Poverty Line (BPL) and the basis of need-assessment of a family for its eligibility to get TD rights.
As per the proposed changes under the new policy the cost of a sleeper for a BPL family would be Rs. 400 and for an APL family would be Rs. 1200. Timber from dead or dry trees would be preferred for distribution and silvicultural availabitlity would only be considered later. It is also proposed to provide timber to a household once in 30 years for house construction and once in 15 years for repairs.
Himalya Neeti Campaign has suggested that instead, the cost per sleeper for the BPL families should only include the cost of conversion into sleepers and the initial cost of application – which should not exceed Rs. 150. The cost of a sleeper for an APL family should not be more than one and a half times that for the BPL families.
“The proposed changes are misdirected, anti-people and are in no way going to solve the problems considering which the High Court had suspended these rights”, said Upmanyu. Rather these provisions would make timber situation worse.
The new policy has a provision under which a son would only be eligible to get timber benefits only after his father is not alive. Rahul Saxena contends, “What if the father remains alive till the age of 90? When the government already proposes to put riders in the form of sanction of wood once in 30 years and silvicultural availability, putting such conditions is only going to push the people to resort to get the wood they need through illegal means but also render the provision redundant”. Any further alienation of the people from the forests would result in increase in illegal felling of trees rather putting a stop to it, which would be impossible for the under staffed Forest Department to control.
The activists have called for conscious inclusion of provision of constant and independent monitoring and review of the policy. The policy has been filed before the Himachal Pradesh High Court for its consideration.