Ordinance will give new life to Bamboo Mission

A man stacks bamboo sticks inside a godown in Mumbai on August 10. Photo: Reuters
The Centre’s issuing of an ordinance last month to change the forest laws to exempt bamboo grown in non-forest or private land from transit and felling permits would give a needed impetus to the decade-old National Bamboo Mission (since renamed National Agro-forestry and Bamboo Mission).

It could also open the door for liberalising the felling and transit regime for other tree varieties grown on non-forest or private land.

Forest rights activists say the step is inadequate, since it won’t benefit forest dwellers. However, it has given the wood and paper industry some reason for optimism. 

“This will give comfort to the pulp and paper industry for sustainability. It will increase the raw material pool and availability, while boosting farmers’ income,” said J P Narain, chief executive at Century Paper. 

The Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (Ipma), while welcoming the ordinance as a right step to creating more rural jobs and demand for bamboo, has  cautioned that only a handful of paper mills still use bamboo as a raw material, since it requires more of chemicals in the pulping process and has higher silica content than other species. 

“Therefore, though the direct impact of this change on the paper industry might not be much, the efforts undertaken by mills to promote agro or farm forestry should get an impetus, as it will encourage farmers to also grow bamboo on degraded land,” said Ipma.

It added that, while the state-level regulatory regime was eased somewhat a few years before, inter-state permits are still required, which it hoped the Centre would convince the states to alter.

According to the Bamboo Mission website, around 24 per cent of all consumption of the product in India is for scaffolding. The paper industry is the second biggest consumer, at 20 per cent.

Officials in the central government say they’ve begun working to revitalise the National Agro-forestry and Bamboo Mission, also making it a coordinating agency between various ministries. This is actually similar to the original NBM mandate; however, according to a Parliament reply in July, annual allocation under the mission has been going down and utilisation has been unsatisfactory.

In 2016-17 and part of 2017-18, funds were released under the Mission only for maintenance of plantations done the previous year.

“After declassifying bamboo grown in non-forest areas as trees, there are plans to promote cultivation in a big way on barren lands, river and road sides, and alongside railway tracts, so that  import of timber and allied products like pulp, paper and furniture goes down,” agricultural economist and NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand told Business Standard.

He said bamboo, with its high carbon sequestration property, was excellent for the environment and ecology. On the argument that the ordinance will benefit industries far more than tribals or forest dwellers or might even be detrimental to their interests if prices fall sharply, Chand asked why bamboo grown in the plains or private land be subjected to same felling and transportation restrictions as that grown on forest land. 

India’s current annual demand is estimated at 28 million tonnes. It has 19 per cent share of the world’s area under bamboo cultivation, though its market share in the sector is only six per cent. In 2015, the country imported about 18 million cubic metres of timber and allied products, worth Rs 43,000 crore.

The government, say sources, is also trying to ease the guidelines on felling and transit of several other varieties trees grown on non-forest or private land. The ministry of environment and forests has been lobbying for this with states. Rajasthan and Maharashtra have taken some action on this in recent months.

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