Union MSME Minister Nitin Gadkari on Friday said the environment and forest ministry's policies are "outdated" and "should be thrown away" as they inhibit the growth of the bamboo industry in India.
Gadkari, who also handles the road transport and highways portfolio, blamed the policies of the forest and environment ministry for the lack of desire among the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for not planting trees along the highways because felling those for road widening becomes very difficult.
"The policies of forest and environment ministry are totally outdated and should be thrown away. Sitting in buildings, they don't allow for touching bamboos for cutting for 25 years," Gadkari said, speaking at an online seminar organized by Konkan Bamboo and Cane Development Center.
Recounting his interactions with the officials, Gadkari said he once asked someone if bamboo is a tree or a grass. When told that it is the latter, he sought to know the reasons as to why the same cannot be cut.
"The attitude and approach of the forest and environment ministry is wrong. We are not able to protect the environment, nor are we able to develop the economy because of it," Gadkari said, stressing that he has also told Prime Minister Narendra Modi about this impediment.
The Union Government in 2017 amended the Indian Forest Act through which bamboo was classified as a grass and it ceased to be a tree. However, bamboo grown in forest areas continues to be under the provision of forest laws.
On the highways front, Gadkari said the ministry of environment and forests does not allow cutting of trees for road expansion activities, which acts as a disincentive for planting those.
"Our people are not willing to plant trees at all. They say planting trees creates problems with the forest department. This is 'murkhata' (foolishnesss)! Once we acquire land, we plant trees and then we plan to raze those for widening, the permission should be given," Gadkari said.
He said there is no attention paid if the land is kept barren next to the highway, but the moment bamboo or some tree is planted, it is declared as a forest which makes road widening difficult.
In the comments that come amidst trouble in relations with China, Gadkari said India's northern neighbour has been able to create a success story out of bamboo and rued that we have not been able to do the same despite having the Rs 1,300-crore bamboo mission.
A senior government official, however, said that despite the announcement of the mission, budgetary allocations have not been sufficient over the last three years and specified that FY2019 budget had a provision of Rs 300 crore for the mission, which halved to Rs 150 crore in FY2020 and has been brought down further to Rs 110 crore in FY2021.
Gadkari conceded that efforts to popularise bamboo have not been met with the desired success, and added that the grass holds great potential for upliftment of farmers who can switch to it from a commercial perspective.
He said the grass can also be helpful from a socio-economic upliftment perspective in the 115 aspirational districts of the country.
Meanwhile, Gadkari reiterated that there are problems with excess foodstocks and godowns are full with stuff which will last for three years and specified that stock is lying in the open in Haryana and Punjab which risks getting rotten.
The minister also reiterated his concerns with minimum support prices, stating that the prices are way above the local and international market prices in the case of wheat, sugar and rice.
How many items will the government buy? Where will it store? Rather than that, we can do diversification of agriculture towards energy and power which has marketability, he said, hinting at the process of producing ethanol from food grains.