ENVIS Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

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Gram sabha empowered to manage forest resources

Hindustan Times,  New Delhi 23rd March 2011

The Central government empowered gram sabha, a body of a village population, to manage forest resources and protect tribal rights through two decisions on Tuesday but the forest right activists termed them as “insufficient” to end harassment. In the first decision, the Union Cabinet decided to amend the Indian Forest Rights Act, 1927 to allow gram sabha’s participation in determining whether a particular person has committed an under offence under the law.

As of now, the power is vested with the forest department officials with gram sabha having no role to play.

The Cabinet also decided to empower the state government to compound over 90 % of existing offenders booked under the Act to reduce the harassment of the forest dwellers. The government has also increased fine for committing an offence in forest areas from Rs50 to Rs10,000.

“The changes will widen the scope of the offences that can be compounded but it not enough. What we need is not easier compounding of offences but a revision of the offences themselves,” said Shankar Gopalakrishnan of NGO network Campaign for Survival and Dignity.

In the second decision, environment minister Jairam Ramesh asked state governments to direct forest departments to treat bamboo as minor forest produce, as first reported by HT.

The gram sabha has been designated as a body to regulate the business in areas where community rights of tribals or forest dwellers have been notified.

That is the problem as only 20,000 community rights have been notified.Ramesh also empowered the gram sabha to issue transit permit for bamboo grown on non-forest and private lands, rather than the forest department.