Himachal streamlines timber distribution policy

Shimla, A new policy by the Himachal Pradesh government to allot trees, instead of timber or wood, at subsidized rates for constructing or repairing houses has streamlined the process in the state, an official said.

Under the amended rules, Rs.500 per cubic metre standing volume is being charged for deodar and Rs.250 per cubic metre for other species.

"But those right holders who suffered from natural calamities like flash-floods or fire are being given timber free of cost," a government spokesperson told IANS.

A right holder is one who has recorded traditional rights in the forest settlement records for grant of timber for construction, repair and addition or alteration of a house for personal use.

To benefit the right holders, who have been barred to axe the trees in the forests, the government notified the amended Himachal Pradesh Forest (Timber Distribution to the Right Holders) Rules on Dec 26 last year.

Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri told IANS that a new timber distribution policy has been implemented under which an old system of supplying standing trees to the right holders has been re-introduced.

As per the earlier policy, he said, the forest department used to allot timber to the right holders. But due to lack of funds, the forest department was unable to convert trees into timber, resulting in a delay in its distribution.

As per the new rules, no timber distribution will be provided for 10 years to those right holders who have sold trees yielding timber for construction of houses from their private land holding.

In case the right holder has a land holding which qualifies him for grant of timber at more than one place, he can be granted timber at both places but the rates of the trees will be doubled at the second place, said the spokesperson.

Timber distribution is also not being granted in cases where the land owner has purchased the land after obtaining permission from the government under section 118 of the Tenancy and Land Reforms Act of 1972.

Under the policy, timber is only being granted to the head of the family as per the panchayat records for the construction, repair and addition or alteration of house and cowshed to be used only for domestic purposes.

The timber is not granted if trees for the purpose are not available "silviculturally" in the forest, in which the right holders have rights for extraction.

However, timber can be given from other forests at 50 percent of market rate of trees, provided the right holders of those forests have no objection.

There is also a provision to debar the right holder from the right.

The timber distribution shall be suspended for 16 years in case the right holder misutilised the timber.

The spokesperson said that earlier there was a provision to grant trees in converted form but now trees are being allotted in unconverted form.

Trees are being given from salvage (fallen or dry standing) but if salvage trees are not available then only "silviculturally" green trees will be given to the right holders, he added.

For constructing a house, the grant of timber distribution is once in 15 years and for repair work it is once in five years.

The sufferers of natural calamities and fire incidents will not be given timber distribution more than seven cubic metre, the maximum limit.

Forest officials said earlier there was provision to grant trees in converted form from the government depots. Now the trees are being allotted in unconverted form.

Gopal Chand, a villager in Chopal tehsil of Shimla district, said the timber distribution policy framed by the BJP regime was complicated as it virtually denied villagers their traditional rights.

According to a report published by the Forest Survey of India, the net worth of the forest in Himachal Pradesh is around Rs.40,860 crore.

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