For the first time in the independent India, tribals on Thursday got a licence to harvest and trade bamboo as a minor forest produce to improve their livelihood. A transit pass book to harvest and transport bamboo was given to tribals of Mendha Lekha village in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra after Environment minister Jairam Ramesh threatened to take disciplinary action.

“If transit pass is not given, legal action would be taken against officials,” he warned and emphasised that the power to issue transit passes for bamboo must be retained by gram sabha. Till Wednesday, the forest department was not willing to handover the transit book saying it was an exclusive right of the forest department under the Indian Forest Act (IFA).

Ramesh said the Forest Rights Act supersedes this provision of the IFA. After the warning, the department handed over the transit permit passbook to local community leader Devaji Tofa. The passes are needed to take bamboo out of the village and sell it in the market.

Mendha Lekha was one of the two villages in the country to win community rights over their forests in December 2009 under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, which gives tribal and forest dwellers the right to gather and sell minor forest produce, including bamboo, in the market.

Sudha Pillai, member secretary of Planning Commission termed the day as “historic” as injustice done to tribals in 1857 by the British was undone. “It is liberation for tribals similar to what India got after Mahatma Gandhi’s anti salt march,” she said, in presence of Ramesh and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Controlled by the forest department, bamboo business is worth Rs 5,000 crore in India. If Lekha’s achievement is replicated elsewhere it can change lives of millions of tribals.

Source: Hindustan Times