Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill to exclude bamboo from the definition of tree under the Indian Forest Act, claiming it would improve the earnings of tribals and dwellers living around forests.
The Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill, which was adopted by the Lok Sabha on December 20, was passed by a voice vote in the Rajya Sabha, amid a walk-out by member of the Congress, Biju Janta Dal and the Samajwadi Party.
The opposition parties protested its passage saying the bill was being passed in a hurry without proper consultations with stakeholders and the states. Besides, they alleged it would favour the industrialists. Replying to a short debate, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Harsh Vardhan said the bill to amend the 1927 Indian Forest Act would benefit the tribals, forest dweller and farmers as their income would increase.
The bill permits felling and transit of bamboo grown in non-forest areas. However, bamboo grown on forest lands would continue to be classified as tree and would be guided by the existing legal restrictions.
"I am really shocked to see that you (opposition ) cant see the benefit of tribals and poor farmers who are going to benefit after the bill is passed," he told the House amid protest from the opposition members.
Attacking the opposition which repeatedly questioned the government taking ordinance route, Vardhan said the process to make the bill a reality was going on for a long time and the government could no longer see tribals suffer in the country.
"It took us 90 years to do it. It was long awaited in India. We cannot allow tribals and poor farmers of the country to suffer," he said.
On the opposition charge that states were not consulted, the minister said that 26 states and union territories had responded on the bill while 24 of them had supported it.
Vardhan said the bill would not only increase rural income but also help in increasing green cover across the country.
Bamboo, the minister said, was used extensively in a variety of applications such as furnishing, yarn, pulp and paper, handicrafts, decoration and musical instruments.
Earlier while moving the bill for passage, Vardhan said the major objective of the amendment was to promote the cultivation of bamboo in non-forest areas and improve farmers income, keeping in mind the Governments "ambitious" target of doubling farmers income by 2022.
The Minister observed that after the amendment, all the legal and regulatory hardships faced by the farmers and other individuals will be removed.
Dissatisfied with his reply, Congress, SP and BJD members staged a walkout from the Rajya Sabha.
Participating in the debate, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had opposed the bill terming it as "very misleading" and one which would work against the interests of tribals in the long run.
After the minister's reply, Ramesh, a former Union Environment Minister, said it was most unsatisfactory on all counts and walked out of the House. He was followed by his other party members.
Ramesh questioned the "urgency" of promulgating the ordinance when Parliament was in session, alleging that the government was bringing the amendment to benefit private players and taking away the control of the forest areas from the Gram Sabhas. The Congress leader alleged that the bill was "trampling upon the rights of the Gram Sabha, which are enshrined in the Indian Forest Act".
Several opposition members including D Raja(CPI), Pradeep Tamta (Congress), Viplove Thakur (Congress) also opposed the bill.