Punjab govt asks panchayats to turn common land into groves - Hindustan Times
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Punjab govt asks panchayats to turn common land into groves

Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By, Chandigarh
Feb 18, 2017 11:12 AM IST

In a major policy decision, the Punjab government has asked village panchayats across the state to use one-third of the village common land (shamlat land) for planting trees. The state has around 1.5 lakh acres of village common land, a large part of which is used for cultivation.

In a major policy decision, the Punjab government has asked village panchayats across the state to use one-third of the village common land (shamlat land) for planting trees. The state has around 1.5 lakh acres of village common land, a large part of which is used for cultivation.

The state has around 1.5 lakh acres of village common land, a large part of which is used for cultivation.(HT File Photo)
The state has around 1.5 lakh acres of village common land, a large part of which is used for cultivation.(HT File Photo)

The policy notified on February 13 by the department of rural development and panchayats states that villages which have more than 10 acres of common land should use at least one-third of it for growing long-rotation, fruit-bearing or medicinal trees. The panchayats have been asked to procure saplings from the department of forest, Punjab Agricultural University or any other government agency.

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The plantation would also generate employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The policy will be applicable to both “shamlat deh” (common land) and “jumla mustarkan malkan” (belonging to individuals but used for common purposes).

The plantation on the village common land will be exempted from the provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The policy adds that every panchayat will have to send half yearly reports to the department through the district development and panchayat officer (DDPO) regarding the status and condition of plantations.

Though the policy is silent if it is bindings on all panchayats, principal secretary SR Ladhar, who is behind drafting this policy, said the panchayats will have to move individual resolutions in order to start implementing it. The panchayats which have less than 10 acres need not follow the policy, he added.

“The aim is to increase the green cover in the state. Of the 1.5 lakh acres of common land in the state, if one-third is under tree cover, it will check declining ground table and also protect environment,” said Ladhar. The policy, however, does not answer the question how these trees will be used after they are fully grown. “The panchayats can sell the wood and earn money for common use,” he added.

Punjab will be the second state in the country to encourage tree plantation on village common land. A similar effort was started in Gujarat in the 1980s but it met with only limited success. In Gujarat, two schemes were introduced in 1980. In the first, the forest department asked village panchayats to allow it to plant fruit trees and fodder on at least four hectares of village land called “woodlots”. In return, villagers were allowed access to these lands for fruit and fodder collection besides a 50% share of the net profit when the trees were cut. However, the scheme did well partially as villagers were concerned that the government would permanently appropriate the land given for planting.

In the other scheme, villages are encouraged to establish and manage their own plantations with technical assistance from the forest department. These “self-help woodlots” too did not elicit much of a response even though the panchayat had complete control of the plantation.

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