India — NAGPUR: The state government may tendu collection rights to gram panchayats if tendu contractors fail to submit any tenders for the same. Over 400-450 tendu contractors from Vidarbha and neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh on Monday boycotted the tender process of forest department to sell 463 tendu units in Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Nagpur, Yavatmal, Amravati, Aurangabad, Dhule, Nashik and Thane.
The contractors are opposing the condition that puts onus of forest fires in their units on the purchaser. “If fire spreads beyond one hectare in a tendu unit that has been sold to the bidder/licensee in any auction, the said auction will be cancelled immediately and no compensation will be paid to the licencee. His earnest money deposit ( EMD) will also be forfeited,” said Ramanuj Choudhary, additional principal chief conservator of forests ( APCCF) for NTFP, monitoring and evaluation.
“We are opposed to this condition. The tendu season overlaps with mahua flowers and forest fires are also caused by mahua collectors. We cannot be singled out for fires,” said Jayeshkumar Patel, president of Gondia Beedi Leaves Contractors Association, who was leading the contractors at Van Bhavan where the tenders were being accepted on Monday. Tenders will also be accepted on February 6 and 9.
On October 11, 2011, TOI was first to report quoting principal secretary (forests) Praveen Pardeshi that henceforth contractors will face the the music if forests bearing tendu units were set afire. Forest fires are often blamed on tendu collectors who value the tender leaves on new shoots that emerge on trees after a fire.
Sources in government said plans were afoot to allot tendu units to village panchayats if contractors continued their boycott. However, Pardeshi said if a fire occurred in tendu units run by a panchayat, same rules would be applicable.
He added the damage due to forest fires was huge and irreversible. “It’s the responsibility of contractors and stakeholders to protect forests if they are getting money from it. If they don’t, there is no point. Tendu is not a life-saving product, we can do without it,” he said.
The flip side is though government would not lose if tendu leaves’ auction does not take place, the local tribals would be deprived of income. The government distributes around Rs 150 crore to 5 lakh tendu collectors in the state as wages and bonus.
Choudhary stated that last year the government distributed around Rs 70 crore towards wages and another Rs 75 crore towards bonus to tendu collectors. The senior official defended the policy. “If contractors are making profits from tendu, why can’t they take the responsibility of protecting forests,” he asked. He added there was a plan to collect over 7.16 lakh standard bags this year from sale of 463 units.