Until 1886, people living in the hills across India had absolute right over the forests, which provided them most of their needs including the much-needed timber for building their houses. The British restricted the right of the people and drafted a policy known as the Indian Forest Law in 1878. This was primarily done to meet the growing demand of wood logs for the Railway sleepers in the country. After the promulgation of this Act, the management of forests was taken away from the hands of the people and the focus was shifted to suit commercial interests of the British. It also restricted people’s right to timber through the timber distribution (TD) rights.
It is interesting to note that throughout the trajectory of evolution of Himachal Pradesh as a state from 1948 to 1954 to 56 to 66 and finally to 1971 when a complete statehood was granted, the TD right remained intact. Even the subsequent promulgation of The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 did not take away this right of the farmers.
However, in 2006 a high court order, based on the complaints of misuse of TD rights, put an end to this historical privilege of the local people. The state government came up with new policy that has not exactly enthused the ordinary people, who say it is not in favor of the poor.
Now under the new policy, timber for household usages will be allotted to the right holders — families living in the vicinity of the state’s forests — from the depots of the Forest Corporation at subsided rates. Earlier, such families were allotted trees in the forests to meet their domestic needs, including construction of houses.