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Monday, January 16, 2012

Forest Conservation Act biggest impediment to development

Dehradun, January 16
Forest-predominant Uttarakhand has its own set of challenges when it comes to development. The stringent Forest Conservation Act, human causalities in man-animal conflicts and day-to-day destruction of agriculture by wildlife animals, particularly simians and elephants, has catapulted these issues into major poll plank in the state Assembly elections.
The Forest Conservation Act has drawn a deep wedge in the generations-old forest-human relationship in the state. Hill folks no more feel free in collecting fuel wood and fodder as per their necessity after the implementation of the Act. Their right over the forest produce no more exists. The Act has also been the biggest impediment to the development works. Many proposed plans for the construction of roads in the hills cannot see the light of day due to the delay in the forest clearances from the Union Forest Ministry. Even an inch of forestland cannot be used for any non-forestry purposes till it gets a clearance from the ministry. The issue of re-carpeting of Kandi Marg that criss-crosses the Jim Corbett National Park is in a lurch for long as it involves a protected area. This road is a lifeline for a large number of villages and links the Garhwal and Kumaon regions within the state’s geographical limits.
It was only a few months ago that residents of the Dhanaulti region staged protest at the state forest headquarters in Dehradun, asking the state to immediately take up the road construction work with the Union Environment and Forest Ministry. The Uttarakhand BJP blames the Centre for the delay. “While the Centre has been harassing the state in the name of conservation, the state is seldom compensated for protecting the Himalayan forests,” argues Trivendra Singh Rawat, a Cabinet Minister in the Khanduri government.
However, Uttarakhand Congress spokesperson Surendra Kumar asserts that it was wrong to put blame on the Centre for the delay in the implementation of the development schemes citing the Forest Conservation Act as a hurdle. He said there was no coordination between the State Revenue Department and the Forest Department and that was the main reason of the delay in the Union Environment and Forest Ministry’s approval of the forest clearances for the development works.
On the other hand, the BJP had, from the beginning, laid much emphasis on strengthening of the van panchayats, which are around 12,000 in numbers. The BJP knew that a large population in the hill areas of the state was linked to these van panchayats for earning their livelihood. A big convention of van panchayats under the aegis of the state Forest Department was held at the Rangers College ground three months ago with an overt aim to work out the electoral success for the BJP in the elections through these panchayats. Significantly, former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had taken keen interest in joining issues with forestry to explore electoral gains for the party.
Significantly, the state Congress manifesto for the Assembly elections released on Friday has promised doubling the number of van panchayats in the state, hinting the importance of these van panchayats.
The restoration of the traditional rights has also been promised by the Congress. More importantly, the manifesto also promises at bringing the state’s 25 per cent of land, which includes land not in the revenue records and also the reserve-forest land, outside the purview of the state Forest Department. There is no doubt that forestry in the state will determine the course of the state’s future in the days to come. After defence, forest services have certainly been very close to Uttarakhandis as the nomenclature “Ranger Sahab” is still used as a word of honour among village folks.

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