Experts in the Bamboo industry have welcomed the initiative of Forests and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on ending monopoly of the forest department on bamboo trade in the country and making it available to tribals.
“This could be the beginning. But the ideal situation for developing bamboo processing industry would be when bamboo is freed completely from the draconian laws restricting its plantation and transportation,” Pratap Goswami, a bamboo consultant, told PTI.
Mr. Ramesh recently wrote to all State chief ministers to direct their State forest officers to treat bamboo as a minor produce.
The Forest Rights Act in 2006 defined bamboo as minor forest produce but forest officials refused to deal with it accordingly and instead held a monopoly control on the trade.
Mr. Goswami said that activists in Maharashtra have been waging a struggle against the forest department’s control on bamboo for long.
“Despite all efforts the State government has not come out with the much-needed bamboo policy to compliment the twin national missions on bamboo and its applications floated by the Union government to promote use of bamboo as alternative to forest timber,” he said.
Mr. Goswami, who has been assigned a special task as bamboo consultant by the Government, believes that the Union Minister has made this announcement to facilitate ‘Nistar’ rights of tribals and “to make it easier for traditional tribal craftsmen using bamboo, special powers could be given to gram sabhas to issue transport permits,” he said.
Describing the initiative as “positive” Mr. Goswami said insensitive forest officials deprived tribals of raw material that could help them earn a living.
“Bamboo is left decaying in depots and released to ’burads’ (craftsmen) only when it is useless,” he said hoping that now things would change soon.
But the real difference can be made only when bamboo that is ‘grass’, is de-classified from the forest laws which accords it the status of ‘tree’, the consultant said.
Even the Supreme Court in a judgement has exempted bamboo from the forest department’s restrictive laws. But several States are reluctant to open up the bamboo industry mainly because strong lobby of forest officials have vested interests in retaining the control regime, said a bamboo technologist on the condition of anonymity.
After China, India is the second largest producer of bamboo. But while China has taken giant strides in its exploitation commercially, we are wasting the golden opportunity.
At least, bamboo grown in private plantations (of a different species compared to those naturally found in forests) should be spared from all controls, Mr. Goswami said.
Only then it would be accepted as an alternative to crops like cotton by farmers in Vidarbha who are driven to suicide when traditional cash crops fail. Once private plantations succeed, bamboo processing industry with a potential of Rs 2,000 crore economy could flourish, he said.
Processed bamboos is an eco-friendly product and goes a long way in saving forests from where timber is felled recklessly for human needs.