Nepal squeezes forest users

the community forest user groups (cfugs) of Nepal will now be required to cough up a steep 40 per cent fee on their total income from sale of forest products. The Nepal government brought in the levy through an ordinance promulgated on July 18.

It goes against the grain of a March 28 Supreme Court order that had quashed the government's decision to slap a similar tax on the cfugs of the Terai-Churiya range. The drastic measure also runs contrary to the tone of the country's recently unveiled budget, which talks about providing financial assistance to the communities to start forest product-based industries.

The cfugs are understandably distressed. "This is ridiculous,' exclaims Dilraj Khanal, legal adviser of the Federation of Community Forest Users, Nepal (fecofun), an umbrella organisation of cfugs. "We are left with only two options: launching a ruthless campaign, or challenging the provision in the court of law,' points out Khanal.

The origin of the controversy can be traced back to May 2000, when the government imposed a stiff charge on the incomes of the Terai-Churiya communities (belonging to the plains and foothills). fecofun had then moved the Supreme Court. The apex court ruled in the cfugs' favour, observing that the decision contravened the provisions of the Forest Act 1993 and Forest Regulations. It also noted that no tax could be introduced without a legal provision. Consequently not only have the authorities imposed the 40 per cent