Till today, bamboos are included under legal definition of tree under provisions of Chapter-1 of the Orissa Forest Act 1972. Not only the Orissa Forest Act, but also other State forest laws of India, including the Indian Forest Act 1927, define the species as tree.
Such very legal definition of tree creates problems for transiting and bonafied use of such materials by the growers in the own lands. The bamboo itself is known as poor man’s timber. Similarly, the palm (Tal) is widely used in construction of mud houses in rural areas like bamboos. The people in rural areas grow these species widely in their home lands, agricultural fields, tank bunds and vacant areas.
As the produce is annually required for house building, house repairing and agricultural purposes, besides domestic appliances, it remains in high demand. Virtually, the growers of bamboos and palms face a lot of troubles to cut and remove these produces for their bonafide causes. When in transit, the growers of these produce are mostly harassed by the people of the Forest department.
The writer is a retired forest officer and served nearly four decades in the State Forest Department and served in prominent bamboo forest divisions of the State. There are only two types of bamboo forests seen in the State. One, hill bamboo forests, which is known as Salia bamboo forests and two, Daba bamboo.
The later one is thorny bamboo and generally comes in the plain areas and wet lands such as Nala and river banks, especially in fertile lands of valley and deep silt deposits. The volume of a single bamboo of “Kanta Baunsa” or thorny bamboo is ten times of the weight of Salia bamboo.
The whole body of the bamboo is thorny. The thorns are noticed generally on the position of each node. This is a solid bamboo. These two types of bamboos are commonly found commercially in the State forest.
Once upon a time specially during pre-merger and post merger period of States and estates, the bamboos of all forest divisions of the State were supplied to paper mills like Brajraj Nagar Paper Mill, JK Paper Mills, Rayagoda and Titagarh paper Mills etc. for production of paper pulps. The bamboos were then the best raw materials for manufacture of papers. When the technologies were not advanced for manufacture of best papers, the bamboos and Sabai grass were only raw-materials then for manufacture of paper pulps.
Subsequently, the timbers of eucalyptus took the places of bamboo and Sabai grass. Now, all types of timbers are utilized for manufacture of paper pulp.
Besides bamboos being leased out to State paper mills, the bamboos were also supplied to the local tenants for their bonafide domestic uses on payment of nominal royalties. In some princely States and estates, the royalties were also collected as annual cess by the local Forest Department and Revenue Department in different names and practices.
Now these practices are not in vogue; because the bamboos in the forest of the State are drastically degraded and thinned due to unscientific management of the bamboo forests like the annual forest fire, illicit felling and removal of the same. No scientific cultural operations are also carried out for revival of the bamboo forests of the State.
There are several races of artisans throughout the country, who manufacture different types of household properties of bamboos for sale and their livelihood entirely depends on such practices. The paper mills were once encouraged the rural people for cultivation of bamboos and eucalyptus for their purposes through the villagers.
Now such demands of paper mills of the State do not entertain. Only one paper mill, JK Paper Mill is functioning now in the State, which depends on all types of woods for manufacture of paper pulp. The company is learnt to be getting raw materials from outside the State also. Another setback of natural bamboo forests is that the hill bamboos or the Salia bamboos in every 10 to 12 years flower gregariously and die en masse.
There is also chance of wild fire in bamboo forests during summer. So intensive care is needed to save bamboo forests from fire. Similarly, after flowering of bamboo, the matured seeds gather in the forest floor like carpet and germinate during rains like several extensive paddy fields of the lands and need protection from grazing and fire for renewals. Such kind of biological behaviour of the species restricts the continuous supply of green bamboos to the bamboo markets, because bamboo species need 3 to 4 years or even 5 to 6 years for continuous commercial supply of green bamboos.
The biological behaviour of hill bamboo forests needs intensive culture like agricultural fields of Kharif crops. The bamboo itself belongs to family of rice and needs culture and care like paddy fields. It is not only in the case of Odisha alone, but such type of biological and silvicultural problems also happen throughout the country and tropical Asia. So the density of bamboo forests in our State and country is dwindling very fast.
The writer is a man of coastal belt of Odisha and the grower of “Sundarkania” bamboo or country bamboo of the State. In coastal tracts, every household is a bamboo grower of Sundarkania.
The financial growth of rural India depends on various items like bamboo and handicrafts. The State Government and the Union Government should work hard to give financial supports to local artisans and handicraft families to survive and sustain with their traditional practices.
It is very much welcomed that the Government of India is very soon going to remove legal restrictions over bamboo in general. A Bill in this context was also passed in the Parliament and very soon the Bill is going to be transformed into a law.
Henceforth, bamboo would not be treated as timber. In general the bamboo traders and harvesters in rural areas are poor and illiterate who are generally victimised by the cunning forest employees. The Government of India realized the problems of the bamboo transit at right time. Moreover, the bamboo clumps or the bushes are very good “carbon-sinks”.
Forest is a State subject. The State Government should ease the legal problems in transactions of timbers, bamboos, palms and other forest products. In most of the cases the laws are misinterpreted deliberately for raising incomes of unscrupulous forest employees.
(The writer is an environmentalist and former forest officer)