Punjab Cabinet’s Green Signal to Free up Licence on Wood Panel Industries, PPMA to Challenge in Court

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The Punjab Cabinet, under the Chairmanship of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, on July 30, 2019 approved The Punjab Forest Produce Transit Rules, 2018, and the 'The Punjab Regulation of Wood Based Industries Rules, 2019', to boost agro forestry activities in the state. The new rules have been formulated in the light of various advisories / guidelines issued by the Government of India from time to time, as per the changed scenario of the Timber Transit Regine for various timber species.

According to a spokesperson of the Chief Minister Office, Kullu, Kangra, Gurdaspur Forest Produce (and Routes) Rules, 1965 were notified in the year 1965, which were applicable to Kullu and Kangra Districts and Pathankot Tehsil of Gurdaspur District of undivided Punjab. Thus, it became necessary to promulgate new rules, keeping in view the present territory of state of Punjab.

The main features of the new rules include exemption of Bamboos grown on private lands from the purview of Timber Transit Regine. Agro forestry species such as Populus spp., Eucalyptus spp. Drek, Mulberry, Subabul, Silver Oak, Malabar Neem, Khejri, Indian Willow, Gamari have also been exempted from the purview of Timber Transit regime, as this provision was not there in previous rules.

The release issued by the Government says, “In agriculture dominated state like Punjab, where many farmers are growing bamboos on their private land and selling them outside the state. Subsequently, such farmers have been facing the problem in smooth inter-state movement of bamboos. Thus, keeping this consideration, a provision has been made in the new rules wherein the farmers, if they desire so, they can obtain an inter State/Pan India Permit from the concerned Divisional Forest Officer for the hassle-free movement of bamboos across the state.”

In another decision, the Cabinet has cleared ‘The Punjab Regulation of Wood Based Industries Rules, 2019’ to give impetus to agro-forestry and promote diversification of agriculture, besides ensuring socio-economic benefits to the farmers.

Under the new rules, no new licensed wood based unit would be granted license within 1 kilometre aerial distance from notified government block forests, protected areas, protected forests and un-classed forests in the state, except if it is located within a notified industrial estate/ park or municipal areas.

The Rules prescribe 1 Km aerial distance from the nearest forest other than the protected forests along roads, canals, drains and railway lines etc. as compared to the GOI guidelines, which prescribed the limit of 10km aerial distance. Any Wood Based Industry (WBI) located within a notified industrial estate/park does is not, however, applicable for this limit of 1km distance and WBIs using agro-forestry species would also not apply this limit of even the prescribed one kilometre aerial distance.

Setting up of WBI using wood of agro-forestry species would have a significant positive impact on promoting agro-forestry tree cover and open up a vista of livelihood options for farmers. A green fee Rs. 10 per cubic metre will be levied on the wood based units, which is to be used for new plantations under the agroforestry in the state in order to safeguard the interests of the farmers, ensure sustained wood supply to the industries and also enhance the tree cover in the state, the spokesperson added.

It may be recalled that ‘The Punjab Regulation of Saw Mills, Veneer and Plywood Industries Rules-2006’ were in force to regulate wood based industries in the state. The Wood based units were regularised under these rules keeping in view the availability of wood in the state. Under the new rules, wood based units using agro-forestry species like; Poplar, Eucalyptus, Drek, Mulberry, Subabul, Silver Oak, Neem, Khejri, Indian Willow and Gamari do not require license but only require registration with Forest Department.

On the other hand Punjab Plywood Manufacturers Association (PPMA) has threatened to move to Supreme Court against the new rule of Punjab Cabinet which has given exemption of licenses for establishing new saw mills and plywood factories in the state. This has been announced by the association in a press conference conducted at Sarabha Nagar market just next day to the cabinet decision held on July 30, 2019. The association officials said that they are already facing shortage of wood in the state, and the government by allowing the
establishment of new industry would destroy the existing plywood industry in the state. They also asked the government to stop supply of wood to other states and tighten the grip around illegal plywood units.

Inderjit Singh Sohal, President, PPMA said that the prices of Poplar have reached to Rs 1000/- shooting up by over 100% in one and half years. If new units are allowed to establish in the state then it will also lead illegal deforestation.” Vice-president Gurpreet Kataria said there are around 160 industrial units in the state and out of those around 25 have already shut their doors due to shortage of wood in the past.

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