Aizawl, Jul 30 : The Mizoram environment and forest department has raked up a controversy by banning collection and sale of bamboo shoots under the Forest Conservation Act, 1985, in clear violation of the forest rights act.
The department issued the notification in May after which indigenous people, who earn a meagre livelihood from the seasonal harvest, have been repeatedly harassed across the state.
Matters came to a head at the Saturday haat in Serchip district when forest officials and members of the Young Mizo Association confiscated and destroyed bamboo shoots being sold by indigenous people, who eke out a living by harvesting the shoots by hand from the jungle. The trade is disorganised but sustains many families.
The state government had passed the forests rights act — Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 — in 2009 and notified it in 2010. It gives the indigenous people rights over their land and minor forest produce.
Section 2(i) of the act defines the term “minor forest produce” to include “all non-timber produce of plant origin, including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lacquer, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the like”.
“There is no confusion here about the definition of minor forest produce and the rights of tribal people to use what they own,” a government official said.
“It was the government that had commercialised bamboo shoots by selling these to mahals for Cachar paper mill. The Mizoram Food and Allied Industries Corporation Ltd (MiFCo) also sells the shoots on a large scale. Why isn’t this stopped first instead of harassing the poor, who have been using it as a food item and a source of livelihood since time immemorial?” another official asked.
Some also see a political conspiracy, as the state elections are round the corner. Serchip is in the constituency of chief minister Lalthanhawla, who has already invited the ire of people by making false promises.
“Unless the Centre has enacted fresh laws, which we know nothing about yet, this (forests rights act) stands. So why is the forest department officials obtusely refusing to follow the tribal law?” one of them asked.
With the controversy landing on her doorstep, Serchip deputy commissioner Juhi Mukherjee has called an official meeting this week to get the situation clarified.