What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
My initiative saved thousands of trees from illegal felling by exposing misuse of forest rights in Uttarakhand.
Before Indian Forest Service looked after forests and wildlife, villagers protected them from forest fires and other calamities and in return grazed their cattle, lopped trees for fodder and collected dry wood for fuel. They had ‘hak hakook’ rights to certain amount of wood (only dry & uprooted trees) each year for their traditional uses like building houses, making ploughs, marriage ceremonies and cremation of dead etc. These rights were formalized during British rule.
Now this is misused. The timber mafia obtained permission for cutting thousands of trees in the pretext of ‘Hak Hakook’. The smugglers cut many more trees than the sanctioned number usually far away from the villages making it unviable for the villagers to transport the wood to their villages. Moreover, the rules for transit and transportation of wood being very cumbersome made it impossible for the poor simple villagers to get the permission easily.
• The wood was cut in market required sizes. The marginal villagers had no clue. The village ‘pradhans’ made applications on their behalf and gave to Forest officials for a consideration.
• After sanctioning, the applications were sold to the mafia. Today, only the 'timber mafia' have access to the wood derived from hak hakook. The poor villagers who actually need the wood never get it and are too scared to speak up.
• More trees were axed than the permitted number and the stumps set on fire to hide evidence. Even green trees were felled. Even Sal (Shorea Robusta) trees which cannot be grown in nurseries were cut. This was in connivance with Forest officials and not surprisingly the police (as the trucks transporting the wood passed through check-posts).
• Forest Department denied any illegal felling. The Central Government enquiry corroborated the facts mentioned by me.
• The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of Supreme Court after hearing my objections and assured to make the system transparent and the officials accountable. But they refused to punish the involved officials. Nor have they allowed an investigation by a Central Agency.
None were prepared to take on the timber mafia. I decided to intervene through the innovative process of PILs. Democracy does not mean a powerful legislature, executive and judiciary. It means an empowered people. I will show how it happens.
I want Indian Forest Service officials to be punished and accountable in case of misuse. I will raise this issue in the final hearing of the Supreme Court.
Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.
Dabral an MBA gave up a senior executive position twenty years back to fight for people’s causes. He challenged the formidable timber mafia through PILs in Supreme Court.
In the Tehri Dam transmission line he saved 85 % of the 90000 trees sanctioned for felling by the government for construction of the transmission line. A ‘Chipko’ style movement drove away the forest contractors. The politician-bureaucrat-mafia nexus of timber mafia weakened the movement by weaning away the poor, needy locals and greedy selfish politicians with threats, bribes and petty contracts. Dabral was offered Rs. 10 million in exchange of silence. When bribes failed, death threats started. He personally argued his case in Supreme Court against a battery of senior advocates representing various government departments. Eventually, Central Empowered Committee of Supreme Court restricted the felling of the trees and saved 85% of the sanctioned 90000 trees. Now for all transmission line construction in the country, tree felling is not allowed on the entire ‘right of way’. It is only allowed under the conductors and the area where towers are constructed.
Through other PILs he:-
• Stopped the felling of Deodar (Cider) trees by Forest Department in Tarakeshwr, a unique micro-eco-system and Government withdrew the contract.
• Tried to make laws so that contractors do not roll the excavated earth down the slopes of the fragile mountains. Eventually, the timber lobby which gets permission of cut trees on the route of the road also manages to cut all the trees below the road.
• After nearly a fourth of the 800 elephants died in a decade in Uttarakhand Himalayas, Dabral filed a PIL after which the incidence of elephant deaths and tree felling in the sanctuary has reduced considerably.
• Unscientific resin tapping by contractors resulted to irreparable damage to pine trees. Oozing resin droplets ignite during forest fires. The bio-mass burns in a few minutes but the resin droplets create a cavity in the trunk. Eventually the tree collapses. Forest Mafia removes it. Higher incidence of forest fires have become an annual feature since 1987. It allows forest officials to record that the trees planted get destroyed by forest fires. Dabral seeks a ban on tapping of resin in the pine forests to save the environment of the Himalayas.
• Dabral has exposed the misuse of the system of ‘Hak Hakook’
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