Kathmandu, December 5
The government has prepared a new forest bill that proposes to curtail the rights of Community Forest User Groups, although its forest strategy states that it would gradually hand over national forests to community users. CFUGs have been using their rights in the community forest since 1993.
The draft bill proposes that CFUGs cannot sell extra forest products from their preserved forests without seeking the government’s permission. Under existing laws, CFUGs can sell forest products, independently fix price of products and use products for their use.
Local governments and community forest users, however, have opposed the government’s proposal to curtail CFUGs’ rights. Mayor of Tulsipur Sub-metropolitan City Ghanashyam Pandey said the bill was prepared by bureaucrats who were proponents of unitary system. He told THT that the bill’s provisions were not in conformity with federalism. “The bill was drafted without consulting the political leadership,” he added.
He said bureaucrats incorporated provisions that would give space to unscrupulous officers to embezzle government money and commit irregularities. “If this bill is enacted into law, it will only benefit bureaucrats,” Pandey said. According to him, the bill contained regressive provisions.
Federation of Community Forestry Users-Nepal members met lawmakers and parliamentary panels to get ‘faulty provisions’ removed from the bill. FECOFUN Chairperson Bharati Kumari Pathak said the bill’s provisions that curtailed community forest users’ rights should be removed. “The bill intends to centralise powers in the federal government without trying to share them with provincial and local governments. It reflects the government’s unitary mindset. It is against the constitution’s spirit because all three tiers of government – federal, provincial and local – have rights over forest resources,” she told THT.
Forest expert Shambhu Dangal told THT: “The federal government should have consulted provincial and local governments before preparing the draft. Socio-economic conditions have changed and communities can commercialise their forest products. The bill has to give more powers to community forest users for their benefit.”
Former director general of the forest department Bijaya Raj Poudel said that the community forest users’ rights should not be curtailed in the bill. “Forests will not be preserved if community users don’t benefit from forest products,” he added.
Under Secretary of the Ministry of Forest and Environment Binod Devkota, however, claimed that the government had not proposed to curtail CFUGs’ rights. He said the fixing of price of community forest products would be determined by a separate forest rule. Devkota said provincial and local governments could enact their own forest laws using this bill as umbrella law. He said the bill proposed to invest 50 per cent forest income into poverty alleviation programmes.
According to the forest department, about 35 per cent of the population of Nepal is involved in community forestry management programmes. A total of 19,361 CFUGs have been formed and 1,813,478 hectares of national forests have been handed over to communities. The forest department said 2,461,549 households were benefitting from community forests.
‘It will only benefit bureaucrats’
A version of this article appears in print on December 06, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.