Nation Other News 03 Aug 2017 Kerala: Forest depar ...

Kerala: Forest department takes away tribals’ rights to cut trees

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | R AYYAPAN
Published Aug 3, 2017, 7:08 am IST
Updated Aug 3, 2017, 7:08 am IST
It was in March, 1993 that title deed holders and scheduled caste were granted the right to cut and use 11 varieties of trees inside forest. However, following complaints of widespread felling, the right to cut ‘anjili’ and ‘plavu’ was withdrawn in May.
 It was in March, 1993 that title deed holders and scheduled caste were granted the right to cut and use 11 varieties of trees inside forest. However, following complaints of widespread felling, the right to cut ‘anjili’ and ‘plavu’ was withdrawn in May.

Thiruvananthapuram: The forest department has withdrawn the unconditional rights tribals and other forest dwellers enjoyed to cut down trees in forest lands in their possession. Ironically, the department has invoked the Forest Rights Act to deny tribals the right to cut down trees inside forest patches for which they have title deeds.

The department’s ban follows a petition filed in the high court by the additional advocate general. The advocate general had argued (in February this year) that under section 5 of the Forest Rights Act, tribals had the obligation to ensure that their habitats were not destroyed in any form, and also that their biodiversity was preserved. “We have found that an alarmingly large number of forest tracts are being cleared in the name of forest rights to cultivate rubber. This is an instance of tribals themselves violating an Act created to protect them,” a top forest department official said. 

The ban is on the cutting down of evergreen ‘anjili’ and jackfruit trees, two varieties forest dwellers depend on for their furniture and other needs.

It is not as if tribals will be prohibited from felling trees. They will be allowed, but only after satisfying severe conditions. 

If earlier any ‘anjili’ or 'plavu' could be felled, now the department has insisted that trees with a girth below 7.5 centimetres cannot be touched. And if the timber is for constructing houses, the applicant, unlike before, will have to produce a building permit from the panchayat. And if a tree has to be cut for reasons other than construction, say for medical or marriage purposes, it will be decided by a four-member committee headed by the range officer. 

What's more, a person granted the sanction to cut trees, whether for house or other purposes, can approach the committee for timber only five years later. And for every tree felled, the person will have to plant two.

“It is not tribals who will be affected by the decision as they don’t normally fell such trees. This will prevent those who have managed to secure title deeds through foul means from cutting down trees indiscriminately,” said Tony Thomas of One Earth One Life who is fighting cases against the felling of trees in forest land in Idukki district.

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