Trees are our only livelihood

  • 30/12/2004

You were the president of the Nongstoin unit of the Khasi Students Union (KSU) when the Supreme Court placed its December 1996 stricture on tree-felling in Meghalaya. And you were against tree-felling.
ksu 's stand was that logging was rampant: there was absolutely no control over tree felling. ksu also found that most of the felling was by non-tribals who took tribal land on lease for logging. ksu filed a pil to stop this tree-cutting. I was totally against tree-felling.

What do you do now?
Since 2001, I make charcoal from the wood cut from my 6 square kilometre (km) private forest and sell it to local traders, and sometimes to industrial units at Burnihat 200 km away.

This clashes with your earlier stance.
West Khasi hills is the biggest district in Meghalaya. People here own large forested areas, with all the right to enjoy benefits. Our main occupation is cutting trees. In the old days, we used to cut trees and practise agriculture. Then, when the timber trade began, all of us had our own businesses. The court then passed its strictures. Now, we were left with no other means of livelihood, and so went back to tree-cutting and agriculture. The industrial sprawl at Burnihut provided a potential to start the charcoal business, at a time we did not have options to meet livelihood needs.

What if government bans this trade?
We will go back to shifting cultivation. We only know how to cut trees.

How did you learn to make charcoal?
Some people from Nongstoin, Mukarwat and Mairang (townships) came and taught us how to make charcoal, in early 2000.

How much do you earn?
If the trader collects from the forest he pays Rs 75-80 for 35 kilogrammes (kg) of charcoal, of which Rs 50 goes to the worker who makes this charcoal. If I go to Burnihut to sell the same, it gets purchased for Rs 3,800-4,500 for a tonne. And if I carry a truck-load of charcoal

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