A bill to exclude bamboo from the definition of 'tree' under the Indian Forest Act was passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday amid a protest by opposition members against the promulgation of an ordinance on the matter in November.
Piloting the bill to amend the Indian Forest Act, 1927, in the lower house, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Harsh Vardhan said the changes in law would encourage bamboo plantation by farmers.
The bill permits felling and transit of bamboo grown in non-forest areas, he said, adding that it would help improve the rural economy.
He clarified that bamboo grown on forest lands would continue to be classified as tree and would be guided by restrictions as per the law.
The bill, which will replace the ordinance promulgated by the President on November 23, seeks to exempt bamboos grown on non-forest areas from the requirement of permit for felling or transit under the Forest Act.
Observing that bamboo taxonomically is grass, the minister regretted that it took 90 years for the government to correct that anomaly.
"Had the legislative changes been made earlier, it would have benefited the country's economy," he said, adding the law hindered the growth of the bamboo industry.
India imports bamboo despite being its second largest producer after China and this is the reason for bringing the amendment, he said, adding that the ordinance was not promulgated in a hurry and that it had been in the making since 2013.
On account of the definitional anomaly, the state of objects and reasons of the amendment bill said, farmers have been "facing hardships in getting the permits for felling and transit of bamboos within the State and also for outside the State..."
Harsh Vardhan also made a case for strengthening the bamboo mission to help the people associated with the industry.
Bamboo, the minister added, also found mention in 'Arthasharta' and was described as green gold as well as poor man's timber.
India, he added, was the second largest producer of bamboo after China having as many as 136 varieties of the agriculture produce.
Bamboo, the minister said, is used extensively in variety of applications such as furnishing, yarn, pulp and paper, handicrafts, decoration, musical instruments, etc.
Several opposition members including N K Premachandran (RSP) and Aparupa Poddar (Trinamool Congress) objected to the promulgation of the ordinance, saying it amounted to bypassing Parliament.
Premachandran wanted to know what urgency prompted the government to bring an ordinance on November 23, weeks before the winter session of Parliament.
To a question as to how many states have supported the amendment, the minister said 23 states have supported the changes.
The government is in talks with Rajasthan, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala to convince them about the benefits of the legislative changes, he said.
Among the members who participated in the debate included P D Rai (SDF), Sunil Kumar Singh (BJP), Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav (RJD), Konda Vishweshwar Reddy (TRS), Tathagata Satpathy (BJD) and Pappu Yadav (RJD).