TD Rights: Himachali villager left in the cold


By: Tikender Singh Panwar

I cannot but imagine hundreds of people reeling under extreme cold conditions with no shelter. This is a typical picture in villages across Himachal, their story summed up in the tragedy of ‘Malana’ in Kullu district. The entire Malana village, said to be the oldest democracy in the region, got burnt during the last winters and now the people there have been left with no shelter, thanks to the anti-people forest policy and outlook of the state government and the unending legal battle over timber distribution (TD) rights.
After the Himachal Pradesh High Court imposed a blanket ban on felling of trees through its interim order in June 2007, over 60 lakh people living in nearly 12,15,580 families (2001 census) were barred from entering the forests to claim their age-old rights called the ‘TD’ rights (Timber Distribution). Not just this, the timber which farmers used to get as per the existing TD rights – one tree in a period of five years – has been put on hold, and even their rights over medicinal plants, fuel, fodder, grass, etc, all have been kept aside at one go.

What is a TD right?
People living in the hills across India had absolute right over the forests till 1886, which means they could use these forests for any use. The British initially restricted this right of the people and drafted a policy known as the Indian Forest Law in 1878. After the promulgation of this Act, the management of forests, instead by the people and for their domestic use, shifted and was transformed to suit commercial use. This was primarily done to meet the growing demand of Railways in the country. The forests were demarcated and various settlements were brought out to restrict the rights of the people. One such settlement figures in the infamous Anderson Report. Anderson prepared the plan for settlement of forest rights for Kullu and Kangra. Along with this there were different areas under the princely states and various forms of settlements were brought out accordingly. Then there were Waziwullar Rights which highlighted the rights with respect to fodder, fuel, grazing rights, wood for agricultural implements, grass and also rights for other non-timber products like fruits, flowers, medicinal herbs, etc. So, the ‘TD’ rights comprised distribution of timber, mainly for construction of houses and also for burning of corpse.

In a period of five years under the process of silviculture (art and science of raising trees), timber from a tree was provided to farmers for construction or maintenance of houses. The ‘TD’ right is a wider term, where the rights just mentioned above also find a place.  Another very interesting fact is that after the formation of the state in 1971 and then subsequently the coming into existence of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, this right of the farmers remained intact. There is another revealing picture of the state that shows the necessity of this right to the people. Out of the total geographical area of the state, an area of 55,673 square kilometers is under the forest terminology, 25.7% i.e. 14,353 sq kms is where jungles exist. And a total of 67% of the total area of the state comes under the forests. The people have just 10% of the land for carrying out agricultural operations. Hence, forest land is part and parcel of daily livelihood of the people of the state and especially farmers.

Meanwhile, the state government under pressure from people drafted the State Forest Policy in 2005. ( This policy could have worked in a direction to reduce somewhat the hardships faced by the people. But in the meantime a blanket ban came down on the age-old right of the people over forests.

Argument ! The TD right being misused!
Yes, there is no doubt that distribution of timber was being misused. There was and still persists a strong nexus that operates in a mafia form between the timber merchants, government officials, bureaucrats and the politicians. But on this premise the basic right of the people cannot be snatched. Even democracy is being misused by a few but can that amount to abolishing of democracy altogether? When there is fire in the jungle it is the people surrounding the forest that shoulder the daunting task to diffuse the forest fire. Now, not only the people are finding it extremely difficult to erect their houses, even to burn a corpse invites the wrath of forest officials on several occasions.

The spree in cutting of trees has in fact increased with the new phase of development in the state. Innumerable trees are being cut for construction of hydel projects. When it is a case of Jay Pee or such other groups, without much hindrance the assent is accorded by the government, be it Wangtoo Karcham-1000 MW hydel project or the Baspa project. Not just that, even the statutory provision of providing allocation for compulsory afforestation under the Catchments Area Treatment (CAT ) plan is not being implemented and with easy bribery the entire money gets either diverted or unused.

Similarly, the ensuing cement plants at Darla and Malokhar in Solan districts, Sundernagar and Chamba will vanish large tracts of forest land, but this does not affect either the bureaucracy, the government or the legal system. Similar is the case of Jakhu ropeway being implemented in Shimla, in which over 40 trees have been permitted to be cut officially and unofficially the loss might be bigger. To provide TD rights is a great loss to the fragile eco-structure and hence should be banned is their argument; the huge loss caused due to the rampant unchecked unbridled construction of hydel projects and such others is not a worry for them.

The struggle
The people of the state under various heads started mobilizations at various levels ranging from tehsil, blocks to the state. The Himachal Kisan Sabha (HKS) has been a pioneer in that. A state-level convention was organized on June 27, 2008, where the block-level demonstrations were held along with submission of memoranda addressed to the Chief Minister of the state. This took place in almost 40 block centers out of 77 odd ones. From there, further a call was given for a massive signature campaign with mass ‘sit-in demonstrations’ on September 1, 2008. This memorandum was addressed to the Chief Justice of the High Court. The HKS has further decided to mobilize the people and to militantly enter forests en-masse for fuel, fodder, grass and lopping of wood etc. There have been protests even from the not-so-organized groups like a committee formed to struggle in Nurpur in Kangra district. Also, some NGOs like Himalya Neeti Campaign and individuals have raised the issue of TD rights.

Government continues to hoodwink the people
The government has submitted a draft of a policy pertaining to TD rights to the High Court. Though the draft has not been made public, what could be gathered from the newspaper reports the draft remains marred with government’s inept understanding regarding the whole issue of TD rights. For example, timber now according to the draft would be provided once in 30 years that too from a Forest Corporation depot. The price of such timber may also remain beyond the purview of the common man.
Renewed attack in the form of Carbon credits

On the one hand the government is not prepared to provide the people with their legitimate rights in the forests, on the other they are prepared to virtually sell the forests to big multinational companies under the carbon credits. The following quote gives an idea about pitfalls in the carbon credits mechanism: “India is leading developing nations in carbon credits, expecting over 2.27 billion US dollars by selling certified emissions reduction units (CER) from approximately 300 Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, according to the country’s ministry of environment and forests. But as CDM consultants cite low CER rates, non-enforcement of rich nations’ renewable energy investment commitments in poor nations, lack of transparency in the CDM quantification process and several other irregularities in the CDM market.” Unquote.   (ENVIRONMENT-INDIA: Sale of Carbon Credits Rise, Amid Complaints
By Keya Acharya)

Similarly, the state government has failed to work out the ‘cost benefit analyses with respect to carbon credits. Even, as he says, if we grow grass and sell it may pay more than the carbon credits. This is further supplemented by a case study in Karnataka. A Carbon Neutral company had contracted Women for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Gudibanda in Karnataka state to plant 10,000 mango trees in villages. Four years later, village women complain they received neither sufficient saplings not money and had no water in their arid fields anyway.

Henceforth what kind of forest must be developed according to the needs of the people is the correct approach that has to be propounded. Therefore, the struggle for TD rights is not just for timber, for the forest produce, etc, it also pertains to a correct comprehensive forest policy in the background.

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  1. Hello Tikki Bhaiya,

    World is small place; hmm finally got to you.

    Dunno much about TD rights; The article really gave a good insight into what it means.

    Hope the goverment wakes up for the better. I also hope the TD is granted its misuse whould be checked, by having advanced survilliance systems and hrasher punishment should be handed to gulity. The judicial system has to work promptly

    Very nice read!!!!!

  2. Renowned freedom fighter and a true socialist, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia had clearly stated that the elite group of society having political/money/muscle power will always try to drive the nation according to their needs and suitability. The same is very true in case of TD rights’ abolition in Himachal Pradesh. Developed world always tried to create carbon sink in the developing world. We were convinced very easily with petty grants. Our politicians and officers are always very enthusiastic for these “projects” for the reasons best known to them.

    To prohibit the genuine rights of natives was seen as the easiest and exemplary step. Even our judicial system preferred to advocate bio-diversity and ecological balance theory as this one sided approach was preached in a country where original and scientific thinking is still at developing stage. This entire nexus do not have any plan to increase the density of existing forest wealth. Nor did they try to eliminate the illegal activities.

    If we measure the annual demand of the natives for all forest products, it turns out to be perfectly sustainable. It is only the commercial exploitation of forest wealth by the forest/land mafias, which is reducing the forest cover as well as the forest density. How these incidents are wiped from our memories can better be understood by the cases like Theog, where hundreds of Cedar trees were axed by some mafias last year. The perfect nexus between the same classes of people as mentioned by Dr. Lohia will keep on protecting each other.

    As of late, the concept of carbon credit is advocated by the economists of the third world internationally, but it is still very far from their dream of perfect compensation. Unlike Latin American and African countries, in India, we are still to materialize such accounts.

    {Please Note: One of my research articles on forest biomass, utilization and production dynamics has recently appeared in a Springer Verlag journal “Journal of Forestry Research”, {Vol 19 (3)} that attempts to discuss these issues scientifically. Interested readers can mail to me, if they want to read the full article}

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