Yes, there is no doubt that the distribution of timber was being misused. There was and still persists a strong nexus that operates in a mafia form between the timber merchants, government officials, bureaucrats and the politicians. But on this premise the basic right of the people cannot be snatched. When there is fire in the jungle it is the people surrounding the forest that shoulder the daunting task of diffusing the forest fire.
There had been THREE general points of contention regarding TD rights:
1. The TD right allowed local villagers to get free trees to help them build and repair their homes. This has created envy and resentment among people who did not enjoy this right and had to procure wood at commercial rates instead.
2. Influential persons of the state, in connivance with corrupt forest, revenue and police department officials, were misusing the TD rights. Hence, instead of building houses from wood procured under TD rights for the villagers, it was finding its way into furniture factories.
3. Incompetence of the forest department officials. It has been widely felt for a long time that there has been unsatisfactory supervision of the forests or the department’s officials connived with smugglers in felling trees for timber.
The Court Order
In 2006, a PIL was filed in the HP High Court regarding the misuse of TD Rights. A local resident, Ratanjeet Singh, had complained that influential persons of the state, in connivance with corrupt forest, revenue and police department officials, were misusing the TD rights. Instead of building houses from wood procured under TD rights for the villagers, it was finding its way into furniture factories and even smuggled out of the state through rivers.
The court directed the HP government not to allow felling of trees under the timber TD rights. However, the court made it clear that it didn’t intend to extinguish the traditional TD rights but certain interim directions should be passed to avoid its misuse.
Regardless of the intention of the court, the sudden ban put the poor locals to severe hardships and created furious uproar from the very people for whom the rights were granted at the first place.