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Deliberate Attempt to weaken Forest Produce scheme? Slow and certain moves to attack incomes and rights of forest dwellers

01, Dec 2018 | Sushmita

For the longest time, the lobby of contractors, bureaucrats, forest department officials and other traders have kept local forest dwellers away from their own work of labour, namely Minor Forest Produce or MFPs, giving them only wages for the work they would do to collect and process forest produce. The profit would inevitably be scooped away by this nexus, which has compelled the forest dwellers, mainly Adivasis to live a life of deprivation.

Things seemed to be changing for the better when the Forest Rights Act, (FRA) 2006 rendered this long standing practice illegal and recognised the right of forest dwellers to own, manage and sell minor forest produce. An estimated 100 million forest dwellers depend on MFP for food, shelter, medicines and cash income. However the forest dwellers in most part of country didn’t have MFP rights except some parts in Maharashtra and Odisha till as late as 2013-14.

CJP is committed to the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) in its entirety. Our consistent work on its various elements namely aiding the process of filing claims, highlighting atrocities on human rights defenders and other advocacy measures have led to small victories. We are keen now, on highlighting the impact of having a good MSP for MFPs on the forest dwelling communities. This article will be followed by series of in-depth articles on forest produce.

In the name of protecting Adivasis from the flux in the market and exploitative traders, state governments have almost monopolised over the trade of many of these forest produce and forest dwellers have struggled to win over their rights to trade in the produce.

It is in this context that the scheme “Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce through Minimum Support Price and development of Value chain for MFP”, Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Minor Forest Produce (MFP) was brought in 2013-14 by the UPA government.

Forest Produce Market in Chhatisgarh. By Sushmita

The scheme was designed as a safety net for improvement of livelihood of MFP gatherers, by providing them fair price for the MFPs that they collected. It aimed at significantly changing the financial condition of forest dwelling communities living in precarious conditions especially due to the rapid depletion of forest cover and usage of forests for more commercial usage. As per the then functional Planning Commission, MFPs were accounted for 20 to 40 percent of the income of the forest dwelling communities.

Every year, MSP will be decided on the basis of production, market value, value addition and the labour cost. The gatherers will be free to sell other non-nationalised MFPs in the open market if they get a better price. If the market price goes down, the government agencies will procure the MFP on the MSP. Profit made by the procuring agency, if any, will be ploughed back to the gatherers while loss in the trade will be absorbed by the government.

However, in the past four years, especially since the current government came into power, the scheme has seen several fluctuations. In 2016 MSPs of several items were slashed in the blink of an eye, without proper R & D. In 2017 when MSP for some of the MFPs was increased, it came with a set of guidelines, which again proved that in all of it, the end beneficiaries namely the forest dwellers, would eventually be at a loss. Moreover, the guidelines didn’t introduce any mechanism through which the state governments could be held accountable. The guidelines also make it necessary for communities to take extensive surveys, which are hard to undertake even for university students. In the absence of such surveys, it is possible that the forest departments may lament that no appropriate plans exist. All the moves by the government have been made to ensure that eventually the livelihoods of forest dwellers sees a slow and steady corrosion.

 

Key features of the scheme Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce through Minimum Support Price and development of Value chain for MFP

  • State Governments will be responsible for implementation, supervision and monitoring of the scheme by constituting state level coordination and monitoring committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretaries and district level coordination and monitoring committee headed by District Collector for monitoring the scheme at the state and local level.
  • Each State shall designate a State Nodal Department (SND) which will be responsible for implementing and monitoring the scheme in the State. SND shall preferably be the Tribal Development Department.
  • Each State shall also designate State Agency(ies) (SA) for undertaking procurement of MFP under the Scheme.
  • Each State shall submit their Annual Action Plan for procurement of MFPs under MSP scheme by 31stof Jan every year.
  • Ministry of Tribal Affairs in association and TRIFED will monitor the performance of designated state agencies and review it periodically.
  • TRIFED will establish a trade information system for broadcasting daily prices through web and web enabled SMSes. Such information will be collected and forwarded to the TRIFED by market correspondents.
  • TRIFED would scrutinize the accounts of the State Agencies.

 

Commodities covered

Minimum Support Price Scheme covers all non-nationalized / non-monopolized MFPs from the 12 main identified MFPs namely,

  1. Tendu
  2. Bamboo
  3. Mahua Seed
  4. Lac
  5. Myrobalan
  6. Gums (Gum Karaya)
  7. Sal Leaf
  8. Chironjee
  9. Tamarind
  10. Karanj Seed
  11. Sal Seed
  12. Wild Honey
  13. Kusum Seed
  14. Neem Seed
  15. Puwad Seed / Chakramard
  16. Baheda
  17. Hill Broom Grass
  18. Shikakai
  19. Guggul (exudate)
  20. Bael (dried and without crust)
  21. Nagarmotha
  22. Palash Kesuda (Flower)
  23. Shatavari (dried)
  24. Madhunashini
  25. Kalmegh
  26. Tamarind (de-seeded).

Courtesy: Vikaspedia

A Tendu fruit. By Sushmita

The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 gave these communities some rights over the forest produce that they were dependent on.

 

The Rule 16 of the Forest Rights Act Amendment Rules clearly instruct the state machinery to provide hand-holding support to tribal and other forest-dependent communities to strengthen their  forest-based livelihood and get remunerative price out of it.

Under Section 2(i), the Act defines ‘minor forest produces’ by including all non-timber forest produce of plant origin like bamboo, brushwood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots and tubers. Section 3 (1)(c) ensures collection and marketing of forest produces.

The Act again defines that community should have ownership rights over MFP, access to collect, use and dispose the produce that has been traditionally collected within or outside the village boundaries.

 

Politics of Budget allocations for MFPs

When the scheme started, the share of budget between Central and State government was 75:25. It started with a sum of Rs. 967.28 crore as Central Government share and Rs. 249.50 crore as the states’ share on 2013. However, over the years, funds have continuously dwindled. While on the one hand the budgetary allocation for the scheme which was meant to “develop value chain of MFP” went down, during the same period, the money allocated for “Mechanism of Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) through MSP went up. The later allocation was made into a separate category called, “Institutional Support for Development and Marketing of Tribal Product” by the time the budget for 2015-2016 was presented.

Over the successive years, in 2014-2015, 317 crores was allocated for this scheme; 307 crores in 2015-2016; 158 crores in 2016 – 2017; and only 100 crores in 2017 – 2018. Even more striking, only three crores was actually spent in 2016 – 2017 – effectively finishing off this scheme.

Though the money for developing organic MFP chains has gone down, the money for developing institutions has gone up, in turn promoting and introducing private players and traders in the system. On the other hand, the prices of some MFPs were drastically reduced on October 31, 2016 apparently due to lobbying and pressure from few market industries. The latest guidelines (issued in 2017) in MFPs even empower the state to completely stop the scheme. Clause 3.1 states that “State is also at liberty to suspend the process of procurement or not to do procurement of MFP at all.”

 

Reality check

Various reports and data available indicate to the fact that the progress of the scheme has been very slow.

In 2015, 16 states of Chhattisgarh (Rs. 38.99 crore) and Jharkhand (Rs. 4.73 crore) had done procurement exceeding Rs. One crore. Odisha did procurement of Rs. 9.5 million and Maharashtra did procurement of Rs. 3.1 million. In 2017, 18, Chhattisgarh did procurement Rs. 25.28 crore and Odisha that of Rs. 1.63 crore.

Expenditure of on the scheme has been less than one third of the total allocation.

Through the revised guidelines in 2017, the Ministry of Tribal affairs (MoTA) took the decision to increase prices of key MFPs like Lac (Rangini and Kusumi), Chironjee pods with seeds, Sal seed and Sal leaves. However, it excluded Palash flower (wet variety, whose price was reduced along with 13 other MFPs on October 31, 2016), whose MSP had been fixed at Rs 8 per kg. The reason stated for not increasing the MSP is the lack of shelf life and very few takers.  For the remaining 13 new MFPs introduced last year, the prices announced on October 31, 2016 will remain valid till further revision.

The revised rates as per October 2016 had dealt a severe blow to the MSP for MFPs.

The guidelines issued by the government in 2017, provided almost a 10 percent hike since prices had already been lowered for the forest produce in 2016. However, a condition was put that any losses incurred in the process would be borne solely by the state government.

Name of MFPPrevious MSP(Rs/KG)Revised MSP(Rs/Kg) on 31st of October 2016Change in Percentage New Revised Price (Rs/Kg) % of hike 
Lac (Rangini)230100-57%13030%
Lac (Kusumi)320150-53%16711%
Chironjee Pods with Seeds10060-40%9355%
Myrobalan118-27%80
Tamarind with Seed2218-18%180
Karanj Seed2118-14%180
Mahuwa Seed2220-9%200
Gum Karaya1081080%1080
Sal Seed10100%1220
Sal Leaves21210%2414
Honey13215014%1500

Table: Down To Earth

Rate list of MSP for MFPs (November, 2017)
S. NoName of MFPRevised MSP ( Rs / Kg)
1Tamarind (with seeds)18/-
2Wild Honey150/-
3Gum Karaya108/-
4Karanj seed18/-
5Sal Seed12/-
6Mahua Seed20/-
7Sal Leaves24/-
8Chironji Pods with Seeds93/-
9Myrabolan8/-
10 (A)Rangeeni Lac130/-
10 ( B)Kusumi Lac167/-
11Kusum Seed10/-
12Neem Seed12/-
13Puwad Seed ( Chakramard)8/-
14Baheda15/-
15Hill Broom Grass10/-
16Shikakai30/-
17Guggul ( exudates)700/-
18Bael ( dried and without crust)15/-
19Nagarmotha25/-
20Shatavari ( dried)40/-
21Madhunashini35/-
22Kalmegh15/-
23Tamarind ( de-seeded)40/-

Source: Down To Earth

Process without explanation

The changes in the MSP have been largely without much explanation or any logical reasoning. As per analysts, for the guidelines issued in 2017, “The ministry seems to accept its inefficiency in getting clarity on newly added 14 MFPs and its market in the country in a more scientific basis. It was found dependent on an external agency’s recommendations and approvals when it comes to revisiting the prices again.” In fact, the prices fixed for the newly added 14 MFPs do not go in line with the current market demand. For instance, the Hill Broom Grass is Rs 10 per kg. It is much lower than the prevailing market price in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The local market price of Hill Broom is between Rs 30 Rs 40 and even more in the off season

Despite considerable time since the guidelines, as per reports “there is still not prescribed Fair Average Quality (FAQ) parameter developed for 14 MFP by TRIFED.” This lacuna has ensured that the state procurement agencies don’t procure these MFPs from the gatherers.

The discriminatory attitude towards the Tribals and OTFDs is apparent here as the attitude towards agricultural produce is different. This makes it clear that the government does not really care about the Forest dwelling communities, more so, that it has least understanding about the sustenance and livelihood of these communities.

Way ahead

The MSP for MFPs scheme has immense potential for the growth and development of the forest dwelling communities. The scheme requires careful thought, research and development, political will for implementation and not setbacks. However, the revised guidelines have had a reverse impact. States need to play an active role and not remain a mere spectator. The procurement remains neglected, while the government before elections announced that it intends to increase the MSPs by 40-60 % despite the code of conduct being in force. All this indicates that the lives of forest dwelling communities mean least to the government, except during polls when a sudden realization about the existence of these communities in states such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, Odisha strikes it.

*Feature Image by Uttam Ghosh, Rediff.com

Related:

New MSP for Kharif crops: Historic or Histrionics?

Adivasis and Forest Dwellers Get a Raw Deal

Rights of Farmers, Agricultural Labourers and Forest Workers in India

 

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