During the Keshubhai Patel regime in 2001, the State Forest Department had mooted a proposal to disband the activities of GSFDC in view of the heavy losses the Corporation had been incurring for the past several years since its inception in 1976. However, when Narendra Modi took over as Chief Minister later that year, he did not endorse the proposal and directed the department to make concerted efforts to revive it.
In June 2002, the government picked up senior IFS official A K Sharma as the Managing Director of the Corporation and entrusted him with the task of transforming the government body into a profit-making unit. Six years on, Sharma has proved equal to the challenge.
“Before I took over as the MD, the Corporation had been in the red, incurring heavy losses. In 2001-02, the Corporation suffered losses of over Rs 38 lakh as against its total turnover of Rs 8.06 crore in that year. At present, the Corporation's total turnover has reached Rs 29.16 crore, and is all set to earn the profits of about Rs 2.50 crore,” Sharma said. And to further boost its finances, the Corporation has sent a proposal to the government, suggesting the management and development of the sprawling Banni grassland in Kutch which has the potential of producing high-quality wood-charcoal from Prosopis Juliflora (or Gando Bawal in local parlance) trees worth over Rs 250 crore per annum.
“We have suggested to the government to hand over the management and development of the entire Banni grassland area (2,500 sq kms), the largest in the country, to the Corporation. If that happens, we would be able to generate income of over Rs 250 crore annually from the charcoal trade. Though the Banni land belongs to the government and is a protected forest, the cutting and conversion of Gando Bawal into charcoal here has no official sanction. If the proposal is approved, it would give a great boost to the Corporation,” Sharma told The Indian Express on Thursday.
At present, local Banni people are producing charcoal unscientifically. The GSFDC purchases charcoal from them and markets the product in several States like Haryana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, where ceramics and tiles and chemical industries, and even filtration plants use this product in abundance. Before the Corporation entered this business, private traders used to exploit local Banni people and purchase charcoal at a lower price – just Rs 70 per quintal. Now, local poor charcoal producers get about Rs 450 per quintal. The Corporation had last year earned Rs 5.25 crore from charcoal trading.
The GSFDC is the government's sole agent to trade in minor forest produce to free poor tribals from the clutches of private traders. Recently, the Corporation has expanded its activity into production and marketing of ayurvedic medicines, wood working and honey. The integrated wood working unit (Vanil Udhyog) located in the Navsari district of South Gujarat which provides employment to about 250 tribal artisans engaged in manufacturing wooden furniture. The GSFDC generated income of over Rs 11 crore through this unit last year.