People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 30

August 03 , 2008


People Fight To Get Their Rights Back

Tikender Singh Panwar

HUNDREDS of kisans thronged the block headquarters in Himachal Pradesh to submit their memoranda addressed to the chief minister demanding the restoration of Timber Distribution ('TD') rights.

This programme held at the behest of the Himachal Kisan Sabha on July 23, 2008 attracted large number of farmers in the state. Protest demonstrations were held prior to the submission of memorandums. Strong protest rallies were held at Mashobra, Rohru, Basantpur, Rampur in Shimla district, Kandaghat, Dharampur, Arki and Solan in Solan district, Nauradhar and Nahan in Sirmour district, Amb in Una district, Bhota in Hamirpur district, Bhedu Mahadev, Panchrukhi, Nagrota Bagwan, Dharamshalla and Dehra blocks in Kangra district, Jhanjheli, Balichowki, JogenderNagar, Karsog and Sundernagar in Mandi district, Sainj, Pattlikuhl and Prini in Kullu district.

The Kisan Sabha has further decided to organise a signature campaign on this issue, which will be submitted to the chief justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court on September 1. The 'TD' rights were snatched away from the farmers through the interim order by the high court itself . The court had passed an interim order in July 2006 thereby banning the use of 'TD' rights altogether.

What is a

'TD' right?

This is a right which was awarded by the British government during the late 19th century when the demand of timber increased in the country due to use of logs for the laying of railways. The management policy of timber was framed in this context. In 1878 the Indian Forest Law was enacted. Earlier the people i.e. forest dwellers and kisans used to use the forest produce all by  themselves and used  to manage it. But after the commercial use of the forests, this right was restricted and the 'TD' rights were enshrined in 1886. Since then the 'TD' rights continued. Under these rights the people used to:

  1.  Get timber for house construction. A tree of pine/ deodar etc used to be given in 5 years at a nominal cost.
  2.  People were allowed to graze their animals and though the grasslands were that of the forest department, rights of grazers were recorded and continued.
  3.  Fodder leaves from the forest were allowed to be cut.
  4.  Wood for fuel, dry and dead trees were allowed for use.
  5.  Wood for agricultural equipments like plough, making of bamboo baskets etc was allowed.
  6.  Grass from forest land also fell into the 'TD' rights category.

Apart from this certain non 'TD'  produce was also allowed, namely:

  1.  Fruits and flowers with quality of medicinal value.
  2.  Edible mushroom
  3.  Medicinal plants, roots and bark of trees for various kinds of activities. For example cannabis sativa commonly known as 'Charas' , which has very high intoxication level and the leaves are banned under the NDPS Act, but the stem has a very high fibre content that is used to make ropes and even local shoes.

After the nationalisation of forests, the rights got further restricted, but were at least continued in a squeezed manner.

In 2006, a PIL was filed by some NGO and on the pretext of misuse of 'TD' rights, the HP High court granted an interim stay on these rights. What it practically meant was a complete ban resulting in severe hardships for the people of the state. Here it is pertinent to recall that 66.6 per cent of the total land in the state of Himachal Pradesh belongs to the Forest department. Because of this, there is a large dependence of the people on forests. Also because of the large area, many contradictions have developed. There are instances where the entire village of 'Malana' got burnt in a fire but the people are unable to reconstruct their houses as they are not allowed the 'TD' any more.

Similarly at many instances where the corpse was being burnt, the forest officials came to the site of the funeral for registering a case as the wood used was from forest land. Scores  of instances where the sickles of the kisans are being snatched for their entry into forest land are occurring almost daily.

It is in such a background that the Himachal Kisan Sabha has decided to make this an issue in the state. Initially a state level convention was held on June 27, 2008 at Shimla. It was on this day that protest actions call was given for July 23. Understanding the gravity of the  problem and the ire of the people, the Kisan Sabha further gave a call for the submission of memorandums along with protest demonstrations for September 1.