Notching another first in the country, the Maharashtra government has decided to give gram sabhas with community forest rights (CFR) in Gadchiroli and Gondia districts in Vidarbha the right to collect, use, sell, store and process tendu leaves from this season. The leaves are mainly used to make beedis. The move has been debated since a year, and on Monday a decision to grant these rights was agreed to in principle after a high level meeting with the chief secretary, Pravin Pardeshi, principal secretary, forests, told The Hindu.

In April, 2011, Maharashtra was the first to give the Mendha Lekha gram sabha in Gadchiroli the rights to collect, transport and sell bamboo, setting a trend. The village earned nearly Rs one crore in sales in a year’s time and allotted 50 per cent of the amount for its development fund. Mendha has community forest rights over 1800 hectares and had fought long and hard for the rights to be given to the people of the village.

For tendu leaves, 74 gram sabhas in Gadchiroli district and 16 in Gondia district will be eligible and a draft notification to this effect has been sent to the law and judiciary department. A final notification is expected in 15 days, Mr. Pardeshi said. The gram sabhas can also auction the tendu leaves if they so desire. However, each of the gram sabhas will have to pass a resolution accepting these rights of collecting, selling or using the tendu leaves, he said.

In addition the government will provide linkages with bankers if the gram sabhas require capital. The forest department has been placing strict conditions for the tendu auction in non CFR areas and even for the gram sabhas it has stipulated that no forest fires must take place in the areas under the tendu leaves. The department said at the time of plucking the tendu leaves, fire is deliberately set off to encourage the growth of young shoots and leaves which are ideal for plucking. To discourage this, the forest department has since a year been insisting on strict fire conditions.

Tendu leaves auction conducted from January onwards will remain a monopoly of the government in other areas and auction notices have already been issued inviting bids from various associations for the leaves.

However, this year’s auction like last year has been stuck over the conditions imposed by the forest department on fires. Jayesh Patel, of the Gondia Beedi Leaves Contractors Association said that the forest department had once again put strict conditions on the bids, making bidding impossible. According to them, if a forest fire occurs in the unit up for auction, the bidders will lose upto 60 per cent of the bid. Since this condition was unacceptable, there was a lukewarm response for the tendu auction.

However, Mr Pardeshi said there were several bids and the auction was taking place.

In Gadchiroli, there are 1.45 lakh adivasi card holders who collect tendu leaves and in Maharashtra, 4.5 lakh. The workers also get a bonus every year on the leaf collection.

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