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Nepal’s forest communities launch a nationwide campaign to protest new national and provincial forest laws
Rights and Resources Initiative

New draft regulations and provincial acts deprive communities of access and ownership rights to their forests, often in the name of conservation or industrial development.

22 .02. 2022  
5 minutes read
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Several forest regulations recently introduced by Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Environment are raising serious human rights concerns among the country’s local forest communities. These provisions, currently under cabinet review, are geared to become part of Nepal’s Forest Act. But local forest communities say they are in direct contrast to the Act’s spirit and violate their rights as envisioned in Nepal’s constitution.

In addition, new forest laws introduced by provincial governments are also disrupting community forestry, including some that convert community forest lands into protected areas under the guise of conservation. The communities have also been struggling with over taxation of their forest-based businesses, and restrictions on the sale of forest products essential to their survival.

Nepal has long been hailed as a global leader in the devolution of forest rights, allowing 22,000 community forestry user groups (CFUGs), who represent about 40% of its population, to govern 34% of the country’s forests.

 

Having forest tenure has helped these communities improve their livelihoods through sustainable businesses as well as strengthening the rights and political participation of local women. The recent regulations put all these successes at risk.

RRI Partner, the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), is demanding that the central and provincial governments immediately remove the new provisions that threaten community forest rights. A set of demands shared by FECOFUN last week includes ceasing the expansion of protected areas, repealing an unjust triple taxation structure on communities, and removal of restrictions imposed on the sale of certain forest products.

FECOFUN has mobilized its massive national network to engage in a series of peaceful protests outside federal, provincial and district government offices, which will continue until these demands are met. The campaign will also publicize research on Nepal’s forest communities’ contributions to sustainable forestry and conservation, and highlight incidents of human rights violations by government and conservation authorities.

 

Photo credit: FECOFUN Facebook page. Feb. 1- 22, 2022.

Below is a summary of the campaign’s demands:

1. Article 18 (1) of Nepal’s Forest Act 2076 allows community forest user groups (CFUGs) to freely determine the price and sale of their forest products. However, Rule 23 of the new draft Forest Regulation 2078 requires that the groups provide 50% of their timber to the District Forest Production Supply. We request that this provision be repealed as it is in direct conflict with the constitution.

2. Repeal all new institutional structures created through regulations on issues that were not envisaged under the Forest Act. Currently, there exist at least 15 such institutional structures (e.g., the District Forest Products Supply Committee). These institutions have been placed at the district level, which is not envisaged by the constitution and reduces the constitutional rights of district coordination committees. They also create added financial burdens on the federal and provincial governments and curtail the provincial governments’ constitutional rights.

3. Sections 18 and 34 of Forest Act 2076 allow CFUGs to operate forest enterprises and tourism programs as specified in the Community Forest Operational Plan. However, the new regulations only allow forest enterprises to operate if the communities prepare a separate business plan for the local forest office to approve. We request this provision be repealed as it increases administrative burden on communities and also creates a jurisdictional dispute between the Industrial Office and the Forest Office.

4. For distributing timber outside the community forest, the Forest Act allows stamping of the timber by the CFUGs officially registered by the Forest Office. However, the draft regulation (Rule 50) requires that stamping of the timber be only done by the Forest Office, ignoring the authority granted to the CFUGs. We request to repeal this provision as the double stamping creates unnecessary administrative burden on the communities.

5. Repeal the following burdensome and impractical provisions introduced by the draft Forest Regulations: 1) Requiring a permit from the Forest Office each time when collecting forest products to distribute internally to households within the CFUGs; 2) requiring CFUGs to obtain consent from the Provincial Ministry, Forest Directory and District Disaster Management Committee for collection of fallen timber; and 3) requiring CFUGs to revise their community forest operational plans each time they collect timber from fallen trees.

6. Article 43 of Forest Act 2076 only allows collection of specific minerals such as gold, silver, copper, and iron and raw materials used for national priority development and approved by the Board for Foreign Investment. However, Rule 105 and 106 of the draft Forest Regulation 2078 allows extraction of all kinds of minerals from the forest area for all purposes. We request these provisions be immediately repealed.

7. Article 44 of Forest Act 2076 provides for management of environmental services as per the communities’ forest management operational plan. However, Rule 110 of the draft Forest Regulation allows only a Division Forest Officer to manage environmental services. This provision directly violates forest communities’ constitutional rights and must be repealed.

8. Repeal the following provincial forest regulations: 1) Requiring that CFUGs pay up to 25% tax on forest products required by government agencies or government-operated industries (violates Article 60 (1) of the Forest Act); 2) allowing expansion of protected areas in community forests; and 3) imposing restrictions on communities’ forest activities unless they have express permission from government authorities.

9. In contrary to the spirit of the constitution and Nepal’s commitment at the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, the federal and provincial governments have recently declared several new designated protected areas. These parks, reserves, buffer zones, environment protection areas and forest protection areas are being created on lands managed by CFUGs. They are also leading to destruction of community forests that have been historically protected and sustainably harvested by local communities. We request that the government bring an immediate stop to these activities.

10. Finally, across the country, government officials continue to block community forest users’ collection, utilization and distribution of forest products under various pretexts. They are also hindering the renewal of community forest operational plans and exerting undue pressure on communities to cut down natural forest trees to comply with government and private interests. We request that the government put an immediate end to these activities and ensure that CFUGs are able to safely collect their forest products as per their community forest operational plans and fundamental legal rights.

We will continue to update this page with new developments in this campaign.

For questions about the campaign, please contact Bharati Pathak. To learn more about FECOFUN’s advocacy work in Nepal, visit their website

 

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