Comments on ‘‘Bamboo is not a Tree’’

Some comments on ‘‘Bamboo is not a Tree’’by Raman Swamy (Frontier Weekly, Vol. 50, No.31, Feb 4 - 10, 2018)

Sandeep Banerjee

The British left a legacy of their ‘enclosure’ in India and one of their such acts was expropriating the commoners by grabbing the commons, declaring the commons, for example forests, as ‘state property’ and protecting the state property for the benefit of the common usage of the top echelon of the society through a friendly state machinery. In these ‘liberal’ days the state is the state is showing that it is no more interested in maintaining its colonial rights, but now they are opening up the commons directly to the business, most blatantly displayed in case of selling mining rights. As Raman Swami pointed (“Why did the Centre draw on its Emergency Powers to pass a decree on November 23, 2017 barely a month before a formal Amendment Bill was in any case due to be tabled in both Houses?”), there might be some evil plans behind the bamboo-ordinance which we are yet to know; otherwise this haste is difficult to explain. Certainly, it is not a relatively innocuous debate as whether tomato is a vegetable or fruit that took place in the USA more than a century ago, though all debates like this actually means there is a lot of economics involved it, not the science of botany.

The govt said that they are changing the Act only for Bamboo produced in non-forest land, but this means that more than 170 million tonnes of bamboo that grows in forest areas will still be under govt control in contrast to the 10.2 million tonnes grown outside the forest area that will now be open to all. If the no-forest areas were the sole concern, the govt already had cleared the way. Just after coming to power this ministry has cleared ‘Draft Guidelines for Liberalising Felling and Transit Regime for Tree Species grown on Non-forest/Private Land’ on 11.07.2014[1]. And Jairam Ramesh may take some credit because the committee to draw up recommendation was set up in the previous regime (Report of the Committee constituted to study the regulatory regime regarding felling and transit regulations for tree species grown on private land reg, 27.12.2012[2]) Business Standard reported it with headline “Centre eases rules for trees on private land”[3]  on 28-07-14.

“Even after the amendment, how are they going to distinguish bamboo from non-forest and forest areas?” was a question aptly put by a bamboo-entrepreneur from Guwahati[4]. Perhaps there lies the ‘magic’ or trick. Last April we had a “Green Gold Bamboo Summit” in Guwahati inaugurated by the CM there. Additional Chief Secretary in his speech said, "Twenty years back, most of the plywood industries were based in the state but they were closed down as tree felling was banned by the Supreme Court. Bamboo-based plywood will lead to a revival of this industry. We are targeting three-digit growth of bamboo wood industries in the next four years.[5] ”

The name Green Gold is not insignificant. When the ENVIS centre on Forestry published “Bamboos in India” in 2015[6] the Director of Forest research Institute wrote the forward for it where it was mentioned that “In view of its increasing commercial utility, it is more appropriate to refer bamboo as ‘Green Gold’ rather than ‘Poor Man's Timber’. In the present scenario, bamboo plays a significant role in well being of human society due to its immense contributions towards generation of livelihood for millions of people.”

Besides, on 22-11-2017 we find a press release from Numaligarh Refinery Limited stating “On the side-lines of the visit of His Excellency, the President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind to Manipur, NRL today (22-11-17) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Govt. of  Manipur to source Bamboo for its upcoming Bio-Refinery at Numaligarh, Assam. The MoU was signed between Mr. Bruno Ekka, Sr.CGM(Mktg. & BD) NRL and Mr. Sambhu Singh, Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, Govt. of Manipur  in presence of Hon'ble Chief Minister of Manipur, Shri N Biren Singh and MD (I/C) NRL Mr. S.K.Barua during the course of the 1st  NE Development Summit being held in Imphal. [7] ” There were plenty of talks in the statement as to how communities will be empowered, how communities will profit by primary processing, but finally it is “Bio Refinery is designed to produce 49,000 tonnes of bio ethanol annually with co-production of furfural and acetic acid from locally available non-food bio-mass feedstock utilizing FormicobioTM technology from M/s Chempolis Oy, Finland.”

POST SCRIPT: We often hear about Gadchiroli, the tribal district (actually less than 50% of the populace are tribal), how its villagers turned ‘crorepati’ by getting rights over ‘Minor Forest Produce’ bamboos. Though this crorepati tag is an exaggeration (“According to official data, 69 villages in Gadchiroli earned over Rs 28 crore from harvest and sale of bamboo in 2015-16” [8] wrote Vivek Deshpande in Indian Express, 10-11-2016) some villages, only a small number of villages there indeed received some amount of money that was unthought-of previously. It has produced a local petit-capitalism with local little bourgeoisie (“One of Padaboria’s beneficiaries is Dayaram Pada, whose family earned Rs 1.5 lakh from bamboo-harvesting last year and who has just invested Rs 8.5 lakh in a heavy-duty tractor along with a dozer for levelling fields. He has already made a down payment of Rs 3.5 lakh and the rest would be paid in equal half-yearly instalments of Rs 75,000 to Mahindra Finance, a rural non-banking financial company that has a branch at Gadchiroli. Pada has purchased the machine to rent it out for use in fields of other farmers, both in his own and nearby villages.[9] ” – says the same report). Motor bikes, cell phones and TV sales soared. Noted Gandhian activist Mohan Hirabai Hiralal was happy seeing the people themselves getting benefitted, but he cautioned “Already, there are villages where holding of gram sabha meetings to pass resolutions for bamboo sales and transparent auctions are being bypassed. In some, the purchasing contractors are dealing directly with village coterie[10] ”.  Gold, yellow or green whatever adjective it gets, is inherently nefarious due to the way the society uses it, as a store of value and etc as Marx described. To expect fairness we need to hoodwink ourselves.

4. Everyone’s cheering bamboo’s no longer a tree in India, except in the northeast, SWAPNA MERLIN 25 November, 2017, The Print

9. ibid

10. Ibid

Vol. 50, No.31, Feb 4 - 10, 2018

Sandeep Banerjee