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28 December 1999

To the Editor:

We found the issue on "Non-wood forest products and income generation" (Unasylva Vol. 50, No. 198) of great interest and value. However, there are few discrepancies in the article entitled "Joint forest management in India and the impact of state control over non-wood forest products".

The article has taken note of non-wood forest product (NWFP) activities up to 1996 only. In fact much has happened since then which has been completely ignored. Most notably, the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution and consequent enactment by National Parliament of the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, which provides for endowment of ownership of minor forest produce to village-level institutions, constitutes a watershed in evolving a sustainable pro-people and proactive framework for management of NWFPs.

In Table 2, the collection of tendu leaves per year for the period 1981 to 1988 has been given as 6 million to 7 million standard bags. In fact, the average collection during this period was 5.31 million standard bags. It was only in the year 1988-1989 that the collection reached 7 million standard bags. This was the last year of the lump-sum royalty basis when contractors were allowed to collect any amount of leaves.

In the same table, the collection per year for the period 1989 to 1996 has been given as 4 million standard bags. The analysis should not have stopped at 1996. The period following 1996 is very relevant in that the proactive measures initiated in this regard have started yielding a number of positive results. The collection in the year 1999 was 4.93 million standard bags. Thus, it has almost reached the level of average collection for the period 1981 to 1988. With more and more decision-making power being delegated to the village level, this is bound to show more improvement.

In Table 4 under the stated objective "Ensuring fair wages through prompt and just payments", the author reports that in Madhya Pradesh payments are delayed and inadequate. These statements do not seem to be justified by the facts. Regarding the timeliness of payments, the primary societies have been involved in the payment of wages and at most places weekly payments have been ensured. Almost all the wages are paid by the end of June every year, i.e. within 15 days from the close of the collection period. With the involvement of people's organizations, any delay or irregularity is promptly brought to notice and taken care of. Regarding the adequacy of the payments, wages have increased almost fivefold since 1988, from 85 rupees (Rs) per standard bag in 1988 to Rs 400 in 1999. The total disbursed in collection wages has increased from Rs 613 million in 1988 to almost Rs 2 000 million in 1999. In addition, the decision of the state government to transfer all the net profit to village-level institutions and to pay 50 percent of this net profit to collectors of tendu leaves will result in about Rs 500 million in additional collection wages. With 20 percent of this net profit being used for development of the resources, most of the points raised in Table 4 under the subheading "Sustainable forest management" would be taken care of.

Dr R.C. Sharma
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Managing Director
Madhya Pradesh Minor Forest Produce Federation
Bhopal, India

1 February 2000

Dear Editor:

In his piece on the implications of devolution for participatory forestry in Scotland (Unasylva Vol 50, No. 199) Andrew Inglis provides much food for thought. However, there were some areas that require further comment.

It certainly is true to say that the decision to maintain the Forestry Commission as a cross-border public body was regarded as a victory. However, the victory was widely shared by environmental and industry NG0s, by traditional stakeholders and by community forest interests in Scotland, England and Wales. The general view was that the Forestry Commission itself has a cadre of experience and professionalism which would be lost if broken into three. The decision was also taken on efficiency grounds to avoid the triplication of core administrative, technical and policy support resources.

It is not right to suggest that the new Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs Committee was handed a forestry strategy as a fait accompli. Rather, the Forestry Commission was asked by the Minister for Forests in Scotland, before devolution, to commence a process which would enable the Scottish Parliament to develop a forestry strategy. All that happened before devolution was the release of an initial consultation paper seeking ideas to start a process of inclusive discussion involving local and national seminars. Consultation on the draft strategy itself will begin shortly, when the draft is presented to the Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs Committee in March. The Scottish Executive is on the record as welcoming the preliminary work and has encouraged the consultation process.

The author has misunderstood the position relating to the powers of the Forestry Commission. Before devolution the Board of Commissioners had certain powers relating to grant giving, regulation and forest management, but the Board has always been subject to the direction of ministers for forestry of which there were three, representing England, Scotland and Wales in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Devolution means that the ministerial powers are now in the hands of the new devolved parliaments and can be exercised separately in each country.

When I said there may be some issues where United Kingdom forest policy might prevail over the new parliaments I was referring primarily to the international sphere where the United Kingdom is the sovereign entity. Although there are mechanisms for the Parliament of the United Kingdom to consult with the countries that make up the United Kingdom, on dealings with Europe or on international agreements such as conventions on climate change, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) or World Heritage conventions, then it will ultimately be the Parliament of the United Kingdom that will be responsible as the sovereign parliament. This explains why the role of lead minister has reverted back to the Minister for Forestry in England; he is the minister in the sovereign parliament. In addition, forest research, plant health and quarantine and registration of forest reproductive material will continue to be financed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

There have been considerable changes in structure to devolve policy and ministerial support to the chief conservators in each country. We aimed to do this in a seamless way that would not interfere with the smooth delivery of our services to forest owners and community interests on the ground. This was the context of my quoted comment that I did "not think the changes in structure would be very noticeable". The ultimate test of the new structure is whether it delivers strategies and policies that reflect the needs of each country, not whether changes in structure are noticeable.

Finally, the author misunderstood a comment I made about the Forestry Commission taking the opportunity to remove conservative thinking from key positions. This was not a result of devolution but occurred some four years ago when the Forestry Commission, in common with many other government departments, had a major retrenchment programme, losing a significant proportion of people aged 50 and over. Although we initially struggled to fill the gaps in knowledge and wisdom we are now benefiting from new ideas and energy in our management team which have enabled us to respond quickly to the demands of devolution.

Yours faithfully,

David J. Bills
Director General
Forestry Commission
Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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