Indigenous Knowledge and Customary Law in Natural Resource Management

Nepal: Act amendment soon to curb deforestation

Meant to keep forest user groups in check

March 11, 2012 Ramesh Prasad Bhusal 

KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation is giving final touches to a draft designed to amend the Forest Act 1993. After fine-tuning the draft, the ministry will forward it to the Parliament for its final approval.

This is the second time in as many years that the ministry has prepared a proposal to amend the act to cut down on local user groups' powers 'in a bid to rein in deforestation'.

“Back in 2010, then minister Bhanubhakta Joshi, a member of the Madhav Kumar Nepal Cabinet, withdrew the bill, saying that a new proposal will be brought to address the concerns of stakeholders. We have almost completed the bill and will soon forward it,” said Ram Prasad Lamsal, spokesperson for the forest ministry.

Joshi's amendment proposal had drawn flak from community forest users, who, as per the Act, have the authority to fix price and sell timber on their own.

Furthermore, the existing law gives autonomy to community forests and power to decide on the quantity of timber to be harvested.

The government had said the aim was to put an end to commercialisation of forests. However, community forest representatives, including Federation of Community Forests Users and civil society organisations, said any move to curtail the rights of the communities would be unacceptable.

“We will fight for our rights if the government tries to trample on them again,” said Thakur Bhandari, member of the executive committee of the federation.

Officials said the ministry had no option but to prepare a draft amendment after the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Means, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the Prime Minister’s Office wrote to it to amend the law to put an end to rampant deforestation.

Navin Ghimire, secretary at the forest ministry, said the new proposal addresses some concerns of forest user groups. For instance, the earlier bill had proposed an increment on tax on money received from timber sales from existing 15 per cent to 40 per cent. However, the new bill does not hike the tax rate but puts a limit on the quantity of timber that can be harvested in a year.

The ministry has also proposed relieving district forest officers from the responsibility of regulating timber use and trade, citing their involvement in irregularities.

“This will help manage forests better. Forest users need not worry,” spokesperson Lamsal said.

Source: The Himalayan Times