Taking back forests from its community users is curtailing their rights, activistsThe new forest bill retains the controversial provision that can retract community forest from user groups
Community forest promoters have accused the government of infringing on community’s rights to protect and govern forest resources through the new Forest Bill which has been already tabled in Parliament.
Community forest user groups associated with the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN)—the umbrella organisation of 22,226 forest user groups—have criticised the provision in the bill that says community forests can be taken back from the local community, saying such provision will deprive the community of ownership of forests haphazardly.
“The overall bill looks satisfactory but it looks tilted towards restricting rights of the community forest users group. Snatching back the forest from its community users is one such example,” said FECOFUN chairperson Bharati Kumari Pathak.
The provision has been in the previous Forest Act-1993 as well. The act said District Forest Officer may decide to cancel the registration of such user groups and take back the forest from its users if they failed to operate as per their work plan and causes significant adverse effect to the environment. The community forest user groups had hoped that that unfair provision would be correct in the new draft bill.
The law, however, mentions that such forest user groups should be given reasonable time for submitting its clarification before the decision to cancel the registration and take back the forest is made.
“This has been a longstanding issue we have been raising about. The community forest users have voiced their concerns for a long time. Even this time, we had expressed our displeasure with the proposed bill and they had said they would make required changes,” Pathak told the Post. “But the newly tabled bill looks quite similar to the previous one.”
Community forestry has been a successful conservation story for the country. The role of community forest in protecting and expanding country’s green cover, wildlife and biodiversity have earned the global recognition for the country.
The community forest activists claim withdrawing forest from its users groups, which has toiled hard to rear the forest and contribute in recovering country’s greenery and increasing natural resources, is unfair to them.
“Taking back forest from its original protector is not only unfair but also a faulty provision,” said Pathak.
“For example, if an official from the Forest Ministry makes any mistake then the whole ministry will not be scrapped. Likewise, if an official from the community forest users group is involved in any irregularities then action should be taken against the particular person. Hundreds of families who are dependent on these should not be made to pay the price.”
A total of 22,266 community forest user groups, which bring together 297,871 families, associated with FECOFUN have been conserving 2,236,270 hectares of forest in almost all the districts of the country.
The draft bill was forwarded to the respective parliamentary community for further discussion on Monday.