Villagers hit as govt fails to renew licence

May 03, 2017

The Kathmandu Post, Basanta Pratap Singh, 3rd May 2017, Bajhang

More than 1,500 households in remote Bajhang district have been barred from using community forest resources such as herbs after the government refrained from renewing their forest licence. The livelihoods of this vulnerable segment of the population have been affected.

Five community forests in the region have not been renewed by the government due to the second amendment on Environment Protection Regulation in 2007, which affected their Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Licences of community forests situated in village councils of Kailash, Gadaray, Kotdewal, Rilu and Hemantawada haven’t been renewed. Until the government extends permission or renews licence of permitted forest land, locals cannot make use of forest resources.

For beneficiaries of the forest, they said that the clear-cut provision of forest handover stated in the rule had been misinterpreted by District Forest Office (DFO). “We have been barred from utilising forest resources. There is no such provision in the rule that bars us from taking forest resources,” said Deji Jung Singh, president of Shree Binayak Community Forest.

According to Umesh Jethara of Daya Community Forest, the main occupation of people living in the region is the trading of herbs and that the position taken by the government has made it difficult for them to collect herbs or harvest wood. “We don’t have any other option. The land we have is not suitable for cultivation. We are solely dependent on trading of herbs,” Jethara said adding that local administration has turned a deaf ear to their plight.

Ashok Kumar Shrestha, officer at DFO informed the Post that the administration was aware about the issues, but powerless to make any move against the government’s rule.  He informed that the issue had been taken to the Department of Forest and the Ministry. The resulting meeting stated that IEE or EIA needed to be undertaken first. “This is why we haven’t been able to renew their licence,” Shrestha said.

The region of Bajhang has exported herbs worth Rs400 million in the current fiscal year. Demand for such medicinal herbs are rife in India and China as well.

The herb yarsagumba, popularly known as Himalayan Viagra, is its top export. Bajhang shipped out 296 kg of yarsagumba valued at Rs390 million, according to the District Forest Office. Yarsagumba fetches up to Rs1.3 million per kg. Similarly, 2,200 kg of pashbed, 200 kg of sugandhwal, 200 kg of bojo, 30 kg of kankadsilo, 40 kg of bhrigiraj and 41 kg of gujargano were exported from the district, the office said.

Earlier, there used to be a huge demand for herbs like rittha, wild mushroom, bish jara, chiraito, tejpat and gooseberry, among others. However, demand for these medicinal herbs has slowed.