Environmentalists urge caution over relaxing sandalwood rules
Conservationists have welcomed the government’s move to relax rigid rules governing the cultivation of sandalwood, but have sought a regulatory regime to ensure big companies don’t profit at the expense of farmers.
Under current rules, a farmer has no control over the felling, transportation and marketing of sandalwood even if it has grown on his land. First, the farmer must wait for certification of land and tree ownership by the tax department, after which the deputy conservator of forests will give permission to cut down.
After felling, the Forest Service will transport and market the sandalwood and provide 90% of the selling price to the farmer.
Read also : Karnataka Cabinet Relaxes Sandalwood Sales
The government recently announced an amendment to introduce a flexible regime allowing farmers to sell the trees on the open market. Although the new rules have yet to be announced, conservationists urged caution, noting that a regulatory regime would still be needed to prevent the exploitation of farmers.
Retired IFS officer and former environment secretary AN Yellappa Reddy said the government should underpin the relaxation with rules to ensure farmers and not big business benefit from the relaxations.
“We called for reforms a long time ago. Since sandalwood can grow alongside other crops, the relaxations will help farmers, especially those who find it difficult to grow regular crops. However, the government should introduce a clause prohibiting large corporations from taking over large tracts of land for cultivation, as such a move will be counterproductive and will impact crop diversity and biodiversity,” he said.
Noting that the government has made it easier for companies to acquire farmland by introducing new laws, he said the government should come up with a clear rule to separate the two relaxations.
Another retired IFS officer said that even under existing rules, sandalwood was smuggled to factory centers in northern and northwestern India.
“I have urged the Forestry Department, the Forestry Secretary and the Institute of Wood Science and Technology to take precautionary measures,” he said.
Karnataka, once the capital of sandalwood production, is lagging behind with farmers reluctant to cultivate the tree.
Last year, the state produced about 18 tons of sandalwood. The government wants to double production in the near future.
Relaxing with the riders: dept
Forest department officials, however, clarified that the liberal regime does not mean the removal of all rules.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Resource Management), PC Ray, said the amendment was aimed at improving the comfort of farmers, without losing control of the resource itself.
“The permit system is not revoked, only relaxed. For example, clearance from the tax authorities will take place automatically, if the land and the tree are reflected in the farmer’s RTC records. If the tree is on concession land, the revenue department will step in for verification. The felling and transport permits are already under Sakala. It will be further streamlined,” he said.
He said the biggest reform was in the classification and marketing of sandalwood.
“The classification of sandalwood will be reduced from 18 to six categories,” he said.