New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday approved amendment in the Indian Forest Act (IFA),1927, which will exempt bamboo grown in non-forest areas from the requirement of a permit.

The government believes the step will not only encourage bamboo plantation but will also contribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022.

Bamboo grown in forest areas shall continue to be governed by the Forest Conservation (FC) Act, 1980.

India has the largest area under bamboo in the world.

According to a senior official of the Union environment ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “The action on the issue started after it was flagged by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) earlier this year."

The government believes that “over the years the full potential of the sector has not been utilized due to the problems being faced by the cultivators like restrictive regulatory regime, requirement of permission for felling, transit and processing, export restrictions, royalty and transit fee on the products etc."

Thus the central government felt the need to amend the IFA as bamboo—though taxonomically grass—is treated as tree under the Act and, therefore, attracts the requirement of transit permit under section 41 even if it is grown on private land.

Interestingly, over the years, many states have exempted transit and felling for various species of bamboo giving partial relief to farmers. However, inter-state movement of bamboo still required permit.

The amendment approved by the Cabinet will allow free movement of bamboo and would generate the demand for raw material leading to planting of bamboo trees on non-forest land, provide employment and encourage growth of small and medium industries in the villages and smaller towns and reduce dependence on imports.

The government has already made several other relaxations in the bamboo sector. For instance, the export of products made from bamboo, except Bamboo Charcoal, bamboo pulp and unprocessed bamboo shoots has also been made free.

Experts welcomed the move but cautioned for proper implementation.

“It’s a welcome step provided it is done with safeguards otherwise it can be misused. What is required is careful implementation of the provisions wherein the concerned gram sabha is authorised to grant transit permit for such bamboo outside forest areas," said Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate in the Supreme Court of India.

Bamboo provides ecological, economical and livelihood opportunity to a large number of farmers. It has traditionally been used by people and farmers living in and around forests for housing needs, food security and handicrafts, among other things.

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