Maharashtra’s Tribal Development Department is helping 18 villages in three districts to use the Forest Rights Act to exercise their control over tendu leaves
Eighteen villages in the Gadchiroli, Gondia and Amravati districts of Maharashtra have decided to collectively exercise their rights over tendu leaves this season under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
Under the FRA, gram sabhas have a right of ownership, access to collect, use, sale and dispose of minor produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries.
The Act also recognises tendu and bamboo as minor forest produce. While the rights over bamboo got recognised, tendu was caught in the decisions of the government. However, considering the fact that the FRA has already granted them the rights, the gram sabhas of these 18 villages asked the State’s Forest Department to assist them technically in the process of disposal of tendu leaves.
These villages are Kukadi, Dongartamashi, Mahatola, Mendha, Wadegaon, Kurundi Mal, Narotichak, Tembhachak, Chambharda, Maregaon. Kurundi Chak and Moushichak in Gadchiroli; Dhamadhitola, Mehatkheda, Tumdikasa and Chipota in Gondia; Payvihir and Upatkheda in Amravati.
All the villages had floated e-tenders with the support of the Forest Department and some NGOs but no bids were received. The sulking contractor who earned money from the tendu leaves by paying a meagre amount for the labour to the villagers, decided to boycott the villages.
The government stepped in at this stage with its Tribal Development Department (TDD) deciding to stand by the villages. The TDD decided to purchase tendu leaves from these villages at the rate of Rs. 3,500 per standard bag of tendu leaves, informed the representatives from all these villages at a recent press conference.
“We have already collected 980 standard bags of tendu leaves and the estimated collection will be around 3,000 bags,” said Girdhar Tumare, in-charge of the gram sabha committee of Chambharda.
“Until now, middlemen would buy tendu leaves and sell it in the market paying a meagre amount as labour cost to the villagers. The villagers are not labourers, they are the owners now,” said Dilip Gade of Vidarbha Nature Conservation Society (VNCS).
“The fund received from tendu leaves will be utilised to pay members of the gram sabha their collection charges as well as to promote profit sharing within the members. The administrative charges derived by the gram sabha will be ploughed back into development of village forest and biodiversity,” informed Ramlal Kale, in-charge of Payvihir village committee on tendu leaves.
Purnima Upadhyay of voluntary organisation Khoj Melghat said, “This is historical for the fact the gram sabhas spread across three districts have organised themselves to establish their rights and collectively move forward in the process of regeneration, conservation management and sustainable use of their natural resources. This is the first effort of its kind in the entire nation after the enactment of the FRA.”
This is the first time villagers are exercising their rights over tendu. Last year, Mendha Lekha village in Gadchiroli district became the first village in the country to exercise its community right to harvest bamboo under the Forest Rights Act, said Ms. Upadhyay.