Analysis: Various Issues Related to Minor Forest Produce (MFP)
- What is Minor Forest Produce?
- Who owns Minor Forest Produce?
- Conflicts between Indian Forest Act (IFA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA)
- A.K.Sharma Committee on ‘Minor Forest Produce’
- Minor Forest Produce and PESA
- Bamboo as a Minor Forest Produce
- T Haque Committee
- Recent decision on Minimum Support Prices for Minor Forest Produce
What is Minor Forest Produce?
The forest products can be generally divided into two parts viz. Major Forest Produce and Minor Forest Products. The Major Forest Products comprise Pulpwood, Sandalwood, Social Forestry that incudes Fuel and Timber. The Minor Forest Products include the items such as tamarind, curry leaf, Tendu Patta, gallnut, Cane, Soapnut, tree moss and now Bamboo also. MFP have significant social and economic value for tribal communities as they not only provide essential food, medicines and other consumption items but also cash income.
Who owns Minor Forest Produce?
In India, many states such as Gujarat, Maharastra, and Rajasthan have given liberty to the tribals for collection of the minor forest products. In states like Tamil Nadu, collection of Minor Forest Produce is leased out to scheduled caste and scheduled tribes Cooperatives societies such as LAMPS at a concessional rate of 10% less than the price fixed under the Tamil Nadu Forest Department Code. Kerala has also given right to collect Minor Forest Produce at concessional rates.
Government of India has assigned the ownership of minor forest produce to the people living in and around forests for the purpose of collection, processing, trade and marketing through national level legislation named as the Scheduled tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest rights) Act, 2006. This will help the forest dependent people to improve their economy, and will also enhance contribution of forests towards achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Conflicts between Indian Forest Act (IFA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA)
There are two acts viz. Indian Forest Act (IFA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA) which come in conflict over the definition of Minor Forest Produce. IFA was enacted in 1927 and the section 68 of this act deals with the power to compound offences. Since there is an ambiguity of definition of the “Minor Forest Produce” on these two acts, this particular section has led to harassment of the tribals by the forest officers. Previously the Government had said that it was going to amend the Section 68 of the Indian Forest Act (IFA) 1927 and the main purpose of this amendment is to end the harassment of tribals and ordinary people by local forest officials. Amendment to the Indian Forest Act 1927 was approved recently. It was necessary because forest officers implicated tribal in false cases to harass them went into the forest act raised the limit to which fines for relatively minor offences can be compounded from 50 rupees to 1000 rupees. It can put an end to the encroachments on forest properties which harm the interests of tribal’s.
The current issue is that the definitions of MFP in the IFA need to be aligned with the definition given in the FRA. Lack of alignment leads to denial of access to MFP on the ground. Further, ownership of the Gram Sabha, particularly with respect to high value MFP like bamboo and tendu, needs to be ensured. Sensitization of Forest Department officials in this regard also becomes essential.
A.K.Sharma Committee on ‘Minor Forest Produce’
Two ministries need collaboration in strengthening the Minor Forest Produce regime in India. These are Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Ministry of Environment & Forests. Ministry of Panchayati Raj had constituted a Sub-Committee chaired by Shri A.K.Sharma on ‘Minor Forest Produce’ and the report and recommendation of this Committee was forwarded to the PESA States. Ministry of Panchayati Raj has requested the Ministry of Environment & Forest to take necessary steps for operationalising the relevant recommendations on the following recommendation of the MFP Committee set up by it to look in to the issues related with the ownership of the Gram Sabha, fair prices, institutional mechanism, value addition, etc. and suggest remedial measures including Ownership, Price fixation, Value addition and Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP)
Minor Forest Produce and PESA
Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) authorizes the States give the Gram Sabhas power to regulate and restrict the following:
- sale/consumption of liquor
- ownership of minor forest produce
- power to prevent alienation of land and restore alienated land
- power to manage village markets, control money lending to STs
- power to manage village markets, control money lending to STs and Mandatory executive functions to approve plans of the Village Panchayats, identify beneficiaries for schemes, issue certificates of utilization of funds.
It is ironical that 60 per cent of India’s forest area is in 180 districts of the country which have a very substantial tribal population and 250 million people depend on forests for their daily livelihood. 75% of MFP comes from 6 States of MP, Chhattisgarh, AP, Orissa, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, the States affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). Earlier the planning commission had also asked stressed to implement Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 sincerely to allow the tribals their natural right over the minor forest produce.
Bamboo as a Minor Forest Produce
Bamboo was recognized as a Minor Forest Produce way back in 2006, now its selling rights have been given to villages Bamboo was given the status of a minor forest produce (MFP) in the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers [Recognition of Forest Rights] Act). After that there has been a campaign for its selling rights . The Act, which seeks to redress a historical injustice to Adivasis, apart from entitling them to land ownership, also gives communities rights to collect, use and sell bamboo as an MFP.
T Haque Committee
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj had constituted a Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. T. Haque to look into different aspects of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) management in fifth schedule areas which has recommended for fixation of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for 14 MFPs in its final report. These are Tamarind, Mahuwa flower, Mahuwa seed, Tendu leaf, Bamboo, Sal Seed, Myrobalan, Chironji, Lac, Gum karaya, Honey, Seeds of Karanja, Neem and Puwad. To operationalize the MSP for selected MFPs, the Planning Commission has suggested for Central Price Fixation Commission for MFP as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. All primary collectors including tribal and people living in and around the forests involved in the MFP collection will be benefitted.
Recent decision on Minimum Support Prices for Minor Forest Produce
In the first week of June 2012, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA)’s plan to introduce a Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism for 13 items of minor forest produce (MFP) has been approved by the Planning Commission. An MSP Commission is also to be set up by January 2013. MFP Commission will be an autonomous body under the MoTA. Some people have tagged this MSP plan for Minor Forest Produce as next MGNREGA as it has the potential to transform the lives of 100 million forest dwellers, a majority of whom are tribals and whose livelihoods depend on the collection and marketing of MFPs. The proposal comes after recommendations of two committees, one headed by agricultural economist T. Haque and another by Planning Commission member secretary Sudha Pillai.
- The T Haque committee estimated that the value of the 13 major MFPs at the first purchase point is worth about Rs. 3,600 crore annually, of which tendu and bamboo alone account for Rs. 2000 crore.
- The MFPs that will be covered by the scheme will be tendu, bamboo, mahua flower, mahua seeds, sal leaves, sal seeds, lac, chironji, wild honey, myrobalan, tamarind, gums and karanj.
- The scheme will help provide better prices to the MFP gatherers, who now receive a pittance, exploited as they are by local traders and other vested interests; it will also ensure sustainable harvesting of MFPs.
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