Legal rights to harvest
Major sources of timber in India are:
- Forest Development Corporations (FDCs): FDCs are state owned legally registered entities. The FDC harvest the forest areas through a long-term MoU with State Forest Department.
- State Forest Divisions (SFD): A forest Division is a territorially well-defined administrative unit of the state forest departments and the government owned forests. The divisions manage the forests through approved Working Plans*. The commercial harvesting of the trees/forest products is generally entrusted to state FDCs.
- Individual Tree Owners: Growing trees on farmlands has been an integral part of the traditional agriculture practices in India. The farm owners may be growing the trees as block plantations, windbreaks and shelterbelts or as bund/boundary planting.
- Private Plantations: Timber may also be grown on private plantations by individuals/corporate entities either alone or as an intercrop. There are practices of cultivation of tree crops as intercrops in coffee and tea fields etc.
Working Plans - The Working Plan is a document that details the management of forests of a territorial division in all aspects such as forest protection and conservation, wildlife management and resource harvest etc. Each SFD maintains the forest as per the working plan approved by the Govt. Of India. The working plan is revised/updated periodically every 10 years.
The legal rights to harvesting follows different procedures for the forest area harvesting and private landowners/plantations harvesting. In the government owned forests, state forest department does the harvesting through FDCs or contractors (outsource) and issues harvest permits for the same. The harvesting is done in compliance or as per the permissible limits mentioned in the working plans (in compliance with existing laws)
Note: Green felling is banned in India. Only the dead and decaying, matured plants are removed from the forests. Such felling is prescribed in the working plan and forest department has the right for felling or harvesting activities.
The harvesting rights considers the following components:
1. Land tenure and use rights
The legality for the government land tenure is available through government notifications. The information related to that can be verified from the forest departments and depots. In some cases, the land and use right may be shared between different entities (department and locals) and the same is recorded in the form of declaration/Govt order and further included in the Management plan (e.g. unclassed forests).
The land ownership for the private areas can be verified through village panchayat head or revenue officer. The land tenure and use rights evidence is a necessity for obtaining the harvesting permits. In India, each state has its own separate laws relating to land usage rights and ownership of agricultural lands.
The concession rights of the private owned companies in the government owned forest lands has been discontinued, following FCA 1980 & supreme court orders on Godavarman vs Union of India case.
2. Management and harvesting planning
There are several national and state level policies; however, as the Constitution of India empowered Indian state governments to enact rules regulating various aspects of forest management, laws and rules differ from state to state. Different states have different restrictions on felling of wood/timber raised on private land, based upon area, intended use and species.
All forests are managed under the prescriptions of a Working Plan prepared for a period of 10 years, according to the National Working Plan Code (2014) on the basis of principles of sustainable forest management and recognized practices.
No forest management practices can be carried out in government forests without the approved Working Plan (as per supreme court) and no harvesting can be done in any forest area without an approved Working Plan. The harvest is carried out either by government forest department or corporation or contractors appointed by the department as per the working plan.
The National Working Plan Code defines the content of a Working Plan and the topics that should be covered, such as objectives, organizational structure, preparation of maps, monitoring and reporting, harvesting and exploitation up to compartment level. The MoEFCC is the authority that approves the Working Plan of a state forest department. The supreme court committee oversees the implementation of the working plan prescriptions.
Special attention is paid to forest dependent communities concerns. Joint Forest Management (JFM) is such a programme, wherein responsibilities, authority and usufructs are shared between the village community/ forest user group and the forest department. At present around 24.6 mha of forests are managed under JFM model in India. (Source: Joint Forest Management, ENVIS RP on Forestry and Forest Related Livelihoods)
No working plans are applicable/required for the private plantations for harvesting and maintenance.
3. Harvest permits
Government owned forests (Reserved Forests, Protected Forests etc): The process and criteria of issuing harvest permits is specified in respective state harvesting rules and the rules are applied by respective SFDs.
Private Plantations: Harvesting permission for defined or non-exempted species need a harvest permit granted by Government forest officers (Divisional Forest Officers or Deputy Conservators of Forests) or local elected representatives (panchayat) for common lands.