This chapter provides information on regulation of forest resources in Bhutan in the broader context of other laws affecting forest resources. It also provides information on past informal regulations through which local social institutions maintained natural resources in Bhutan.
The National Assembly (Tshogdu), the authority to enact laws, was created in 1953 by His Majesty, the third King of Bhutan (Mehra, 1974, and Rose, 1977). It enacted the Forest Act, 1969, Land Act, 1978 and Livestock Act, 1980. The National Assembly repealed the Forest Act, 1969 and enacted a new act the Forest and Nature Conservation Act,1995". Prior to such legislations the local social institutions controlled the use of forest resources. The legislations have basically altered the forest property right regime in Bhutan.
Land Act of 1978 dealt with tenure rights over agricultural land. It provides for legitimacy for the inheritance of land and protects the tenure rights to property. Registration or recording of land with the government by an individual gives credibility to property rights and acknowledges the rights of the individual farmer over land that he had traditionally cultivated. The same law also changed in-kind tax payments to cash.
The Land Act also provides legal status to grazing land (tshamdo) and forests maintained for leaf manure (sokshing). The Land Act defines tshamdo as land "used for grazing cattle" and "such land can neither be allotted nor sold" but can be requisitioned by the government in time of necessity without paying for it. It defines sokshing as forest used for leaf litter, fodder and manure and the owner has not right over the standing trees and land over which Sokshing has been established. It exempts such types of non-commercial land use from state tax.
The main purpose of this act is to protect animal resource from disease and to develop and improve hygienic utilization of animal resources. The emphasis is mostly on administrative control over the movement of domestic animals in times of disease outbreaks. The act does not deal with issues related to forest resources and pastures. However, the Land Act grants rights to the pasture owners and does not impose any restrictions on cattle grazing in the forests so long as the pasture owner is consulted.
The Pasture Policy of 1996 deals with issues related to forests. This policy has had a profound positive impact on forests, especially on natural regeneration and reduction in the cost of protection of plantations.
The Forest Act, 1969 substantially changed natural resource property rights and provided substantial power to forest officials to protect, manage and control access to the forests. It defined "forest" as "any land under forests in which no person has acquired a permanent, hereditary and transferable right of use and occupancy" and gave the status of reserved forest to all forest land. At the same time it appropriated many areas used as village and community forests as government property.
The act also provided, for the first time, strong penalties such as imprisonment for forest offences. It stated that "Whereas the requirement of timber for bonafide domestic consumption of the local people shall be continued to be provided for from private land or Reserved Forest on payment of royalty as fixed by His Majesty's Government from time to time, His Majesty's Government reserves the right to the absolute ownership of trees, timber and other forest produce on private land. A Forest Officer or any officer so empowered by His Majesty's Government may make these trees available. Sale or barter of such timber is strictly prohibited and violation of this will make the offender liable to imprisonment which may extend to one month or with fine upto Nu.100/ or with both".
In 1995, the National Assembly repealed the Forest Act, 1969 and expanded its content to enact a new act, the "Forest and Nature Conservation Act, 1995" addressing changed social and economic needs of society. An important objective of the new act is to ensure an adequate supply of basic forest products to meet the needs of the population with due recognition of the multiple responsibilities for forest resources and their sustainable management and use. The basic principle of using the law to protect forests from local people has been maintained.
The revised definition of `forest' under the new act reads: "Forest means any land and water body, whether or not under vegetative cover, in which no person has acquired a permanent and transferable right of use and occupancy, whether such land is located inside or outside the forest boundary pillars, and includes land registered in a person's name as tsamdog (grazing land) or sokshing (woodlot for collection of leaf litter). The new act recognizes community forests and deals in detail regarding their creation and management. The new act also provides for the protection of flora and fauna and categorizes their status. It lists twenty-three wild animals and seven plants as totally protected species.
The new act provides special legal protection to forests from fires. It provides that every village head shall organize fire watcher teams to put out forest fires and every person, to the maximum extent possible, shall help put out any forest fires and identify those who have caused the forest fire. If the culprit is apprehended he will be punishable under Section 10 (b) of this act. If the culprit is not apprehended the relevant village community will be required to re-plant and maintain the area under the supervision of the Department, as per the rules framed by the Ministry.
The Act of 1995 clearly lays down regulations for the extraction of firewood. An individual has to procure a firewood permit (free of charge) on the basis of the recommendation of the gup and dzongda for procuring firewood either from private or government forest areas. The policy of the government is to encourage the local people to use trees of inferior quality, or ones that are dead or dying, as firewood and this instruction is noted on the permit. A forest official must mark these trees before they can be cut as firewood. The use of unmarked wood/timber is considered an offence and carries penalties. However, with limited staff it is difficult for the forest organization to detect illegal (without permit) harvesting of firewood.
The Ministry of Agriculture also framed Private Forest Rules and Community Forest Rules under the new act. The main purpose of the Private Forest Rules is to encourage local people to grow firewood and construction timber for their own use and as a source of cash income. The private forest is defined as "trees and wild plants planted or sprouted naturally on the following registered private land categories within the 25-acre ceiling: kamzhing, tshesa, pangzhing, tseri, and including marginal lands; provided that the cadastral survey has confirmed ownership with respect to that land, and which have been registered." However, "private forest" excludes trees and wild plants on chhuzhing and on those categories of registered private land outside the 25-acre ceiling, such as khima, ngul thok dumra, tsadrog, sokshing, chilgi, dumra, and pakshing zhing. Registration of private forest can be done through the gup, dzongkhag administration and the Forest Department. No permission is required to harvest plants except those listed as "endangered" by the Forest Department. The owner has to produce documentary evidence to transport forest products from his private forest to another place to facilitate checking for theft of government forest products.
Under the community forest rules a group of at least ten households willing to establish, control and manage a forest area as a community forest in accordance with these rules can form a community forest management group (CFMG). The CFMG is authorized under the rules to control the management of the community forest in accordance with the management plan prepared by the CFMG and approved by the dzongkhag administration on the recommendation of the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO). The management plan needs to contain maps of the boundary and various compartments, management objectives, descriptions of forest types and species, an assessment of the forest condition and an inventory of the forest areas. It is often difficult for local people to provide such information for a management plan. Rules provide for no royalty for the bonafide use of forest products from the community forest by the CFMG members. However, if the forest products are sold to outsiders they are then subject to taxation.
Understanding local resource management institutions such as the reesup (village forest guard) is useful in understanding how problems are dealt with at the local level. Little or no research in this field has been done (Wangchuk, 1998) expect work on local institutions dealing with the use of pastures by Ura (1993) and Gyamthso (1996).
Traditionally, the mang (community/village) through the institution of the reesup (village forest guard) managed most of the forests in the area of the village. The mang used to appoint the reesup on an annual or biannual basis. The village elders decided the duties and responsibilities of the reesup. The reesup was delegated the authority to ensure that everyone had adequate firewood and construction timber and empowered with the responsibility to enforce reedum (prohibition of forestry activities, including extraction of bamboo and grazing during the summer, i.e. June-October) in the communities (Wangchuk, 1998).
The Forest Act of 1969, replaced the institution of reesup with forest officials appointed by the government, but in practice most of the customary rights and sanctions continued because the government did not have adequate personnel to implement the provisions of the Forest Act.
The institution of reesup was officially revived in 1985, when the forestry organization realized that the reesups could play a key role in providing local knowledge and information, interpreting the concept of sustainable forest management, and developing useful institutional links with the local people in managing the forests. The responsibilities of reesup now include explaining government policies, rules and regulations regarding sustainable forest management to local people, encouraging local people to abide by government rules and regulations and assisting local forest officials to detect forest offenders (Wangchuk, 1998).
The Forest Department of Bhutan does not have the capacity to fully enforce the Forest and Nature Conservation Act, 1995 due lack of personnel, information and resources. This has reduced the credibility of the government at the local level and promoted illegal appropriation of forest resources by local communities. The government, therefore, desires greater participation by local communities in the planning, management and control of forest resources.
Government presence is needed both in rural areas because of the proximity forests from the villages and in urban areas due to the presence of markets where much of the illegally appropriated forest products are exchanged. A country-wide analysis of 256 offences by reveals that most offences were committed in rural areas (60 percent), followed by urban areas (27 percent) and the urban enclaves and satellite towns (13 percent). About 63 percent of the illegal felling offences by farmers were limited to cases where they had permits but did not wait for the Forest Department to mark the trees (Wangchuk, 1998). Fig 23 indicates the composition of these offences on government lands.
(Source: Wangchuk, 1998)
Fig. 23. Composition of offences
The differential in government-set timber prices for rural, domestic and commercial purposes has led to some illegal use and transportation of forest products. Timber contractors were mainly responsible for such offences (44 percent) followed by farmers (25 percent), urban residents (17 percent) and other individuals (14 percent) percent (Wangchuk, 1998).
About 70 percent of the poaching offences relate to poaching of musk deer due to the high market price. For example, 10 gms of bile of the musk deer fetches about Nu. 5,000 (120 US$) and the international price is at least US$ 500 per 10 gram. The remote and harsh environment in which such species live makes law enforcement difficult and expensive.
Bhutan has enacted many laws, including the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of 1995, to conserve forest resources. This has changed the structure of forest property rights. The assumption of forest ownership by the state through legislation has adversely affected the efficiency and sustainability of the local customs and institutions. The Forest Department does not have the capacity to fully enforce the Forest and Nature Conservation Act due lack of personnel, information and resources. Most illegal offences are limited to rural areas and relate to poaching and illicit feeling of trees. To fill this gap the government is reviving old social institutions and promoting them to better enforce rules and regulations through local support and knowledge.