The Indian Forest Department celebrated its centenary in 1961. A publication brought out by the Forest Research Institute in this connection declared that, 'Scientific forestry in India is a hundred years old' *. Regarding the general history of Indian forests prior to this period, it stated:
'The forest extended over most of the country, when the original inhabitants lived mostly as denizens of the forest. With the practice of agriculture came shifting cultivation and gradual destruction of the forests for food and pasture. Even after the advent of the British, in the early days of the establishment of their rule, the accessible forests suffered due to large scale fallings of valuable timber trees. It is only when doubts began to arise whether the timber requirements of the Navy and the Empire would continue to be available without interruption and to the full extent, that the British began to realize that the forests were not so inexhaustible as they were earlier thought to be ... With the initiative taken by Connolly, Collector of Malabar in 1842, to form teak plantations, came the beginning of scientific plantations, came the beginning or scientific forestry in India. The first regular conservator of Forests was appointed in Bombay in 1847 and in Madras in 1856. The foundations of organized forestry were surely and firmly laid when the Government of India appointed Sir Dietrich Brandis as the first Inspector General of Forests of India in the year 1864.
So much for the 'official' prehistory of 'scientific forestry' in India; now, what exactly is 'scientific forestry' ? In his foreword to the volume cited above, V. S. Rao the then Inspector General of forests describes the major changes that occurred at the time of the emergence of 'scientific forestry' as follows : 'It was during the seventh decade of the 19th century that forest policy, legislation, demarcation and conservancy made big strides. The following extract from the report of the National Commission on Agriculture, Vol. IX (1976), gives a more detailed picture of this transition to 'scientific forestry':
'In this country, scientific forestry commenced in the early sixties of the last century, when Forest Departments were created in the various British provinces. The first task that devolved on forest officers was to inspect tree-clad lands and all hilly regions, and then to demarcate, survey and map suitable areas for settlement as "reserved" or "protected" forests under newly enacted Indian Forest Act. 1865. After this, general principles were laid down in the national forest policy of 1894, on which they were to be managed. The sole object with which state forests were to be administered was public benefit. In general, the constitution and preservation of a forest involved the regulation of the rights and restriction of the privileges of the user in the forest by the neighboring population.
The following account presented by a member of the Indian Forest services who served in Madras Presidency for 32 years and retired as a chief conservator of Forests) presents a more vivid picture of this transition to scientific forestry and what it has meant to various sections of our people:
Scientific forest management started in 1861, just 100 years ago when the frightening shrinkage in the forest cover was first appreciated. 'There was an uphill task, As it has been in all countries in its incipient stages, forest conservation was unpopular. And this is easy to understand as the dwellers in the' countless villages all over the country had, from time immemorial, obtained a great part of their daily needs from the jungles. First and foremost was the question of fuel with which to cook their food. Without that they could not live. Then there were small timbers for building without 'which they would' have no shelter, ploughs without which they could not cultivate the ground, grazing without which their Cattle would die, green-leaf manure for their fields, tanning bark for their leather bamboos for a dozen different purposes. And these were vital to their well being, and always they had taken them where they could find them. And then an authority came into being which denied them what they had always looked upon as their rights. They fought most bitterly and indeed understandably, against the new tyranny. They had - neither, the education nor the intelligence' to realize that their village forests were fast disappearing and that, if the process continued, the country ' would become uninhabitable, Indeed, it was not only the villager that did not understand. At the end of my service when I was Chief Conservator of forests in Madras, a very great man, Mr. Rajagopalaeharya was the Premier. He sent for me and told me that his advisers were pressing' him to abolish the Forest Department as being oppressive, expensive" and useless. I explained the position to him and urged (him)... to see for himself the working of the department and the results we had achieved in" some of the forest reserves. Within six months he was preaching Forest conservation 'wherever he went.
Indeed the above is the essence of our story, the story of the. Victory of 'scientific forestry' over our people. 'Scientific forestry' has never claimed to be non-oppressive and its main claims for consideration are the 'results' that it is supposed to achieve and the disasters that are supposed to .ensue if we do not adopt it. We shall in this article discuss some of the. Presuppositions of this modern science of forestry, by examining some of the landmarks in (the evolution of scientific forestry in. India. As is apparent from the .quotations above, forestry ideas not .appear to be a science which attempts to conceal carefully all its value biases and prejudices and to that extent our task is indeed simple enough.
II. 'Pre-scientific' Forestry.
There appears to be little information available on the forest management in 'traditional Indian society. But what is generally clear is that ever since the time of invasion of Alexandar, India has been famous for its forest wealth. Those extensive tracts of this country were wooded till 18th century is brought out by various 1 records. We merely cite two instances here:
About Hoshiarpur and Kangra Siwaliks in Punjab] it is said that when emperor Jehangir built the castle of Nurpur for Nur Jehan in the 17th century, the forest was so thick that a bird could hardly spread its wings. Today it is a denuded hilly area with nothing more than turfs of grass and thorny bushes.
'The tract east of Aravallis was, however, covered with forests even till late into the 1 Sthcentury, as can be seen from James Todd's travel accounts of Rajasthan in the 19th century.
The above instances are typical and would be true of almost any tract in the country. Not only were there extensive forests, but also they abounded in a variety of species of trees. As Brandis noted in his book Indian forestry (1897): 'The total area of the British Indian Empire is 15,60,000 square miles, that of Europe aggregates 38,00,000. Yet the number of trees indigenous in India exceeds 1200 while in Europe only 158 species are known. And besides these trees there are 120 species of Bamboos and a large number of climbers which play an important part in the Indian forests.
One important feature of forestry in traditional India was the setting apart of sacred groves. Brandis has given the following description in the same book cited earlier:
'Very little has been published regarding sacred groves in India, but they are, or rather were, very numerous. I have found them in nearly all provinces. As instances I may mention the Garo and Khasia hills which I visited in 1879, the Devara Kadus of Coorg with which I become acquainted in 1868, and the hill ranges of Salem district in the Madras presidency examined by me in 1882. Well known are the Swami Shola on the Yellagiris, he sacred grove at Pudur on the Jayadis and several sacred forests on the Shevaroys, These are situated in the moister parts of the country. In the dry region, sacred groves are particularly numerous in Rajputana. In Mewar, they usually consist of anogeissus pendula, a moderate sized tree with small leaves. In the southern - most states of Rajputana, in Partabgarh and Bauswara in a somewhat moister climate, the sacred groves here called Malwan, consist of a variety of trees, teak among the number These sacred forests, as a rule, are never- touched by the axe, except when wood is wanted for the repair of religious buildings, or in special cases for other purposes. A remarkable little forest of Sal (Shorea Rabusta) I found, in 1864 near Gorakhpur...The forest was in good condition and nothing was allowed to be cut except the wood required to feed the sacred fire [Kept by a Muhammadan saint, Mian Sahib] and this required the cutting annually of small number of trees which were carefully selected among those that showed signs of age and decay.
The traditional practice of forestry took clear cognizance of what are today called the 'ecologically beneficial' effects of forests. This knowledge of our people is variously documented in several accounts of the last century. For instance, in the 1840's as a result of various reports received from America on the effects of forests on the climate, the Goverenment of England wanted to find out whether such effects were observed in India also, and enquiry were made to that purpose. The Board of JRevenue of Madras Presidency in its Minutes of Consultation of 18th May 1849 noted that: 'The notion that more rain falls in mountains and forests than in the plains as prevailing among Natives is noticed by the Collectors of Nellore and Bellary...The principal Collector of Coimbatore mentions the general opinion among" Natives that extensive clearances have an influence on rain'. Brandis has cited the following interesting incident:
'Surgeon C. I. Smith of the Mysore Commission, writing in 1849, records the belief of the people of coorg and of the superintendents1 of the Nuggur and Chittledroog divisions of Mysore, that the presence of tree's in a country tends to increase the quantity of rain... In a range of hills south-east of Bangalore at a coffee plantation called Glenmore, in the Debenaicottah taiuk of the Salem district, the proprietor, when preparing ground for a coffee garden, which was watered by an excellent spring, was warned by the natives not to clear away tress in the immediate neighborhood of his spring, but he disregarded their warning, cut down the tress, and lost his stream of water It appears to us that two (perhaps related) factors seem to have contributed to the fact that the traditional Indian society seems not to have encountered any environmental or resource crises, and moreover seems to have involved all sections of population to both guard the environment and protect the resources. Firstly this society seems to have maintained through the ages a world-view that gets reflected in a very different man-nature relationship from that with which we are all so familiar the one characteristic of the modern civilization, its science and technology. To illustrate our point let us cite the following from various traditional sources which bring out some aspects of the (traditional) attitudes towards the forests, the trees, etc*. First let us cite Gautama Buddha 'The forest is a peculiar organism of (unlimited kindness that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it.' Here we see similar sentiments expressed by the modern Indian poet, Tagore :
The sandal tree as if to prove
How sweet to conquer hate with love
Perfumes the axe that lays it low.
Finally ** we present the following selection from the various Puranas, on the trees':
The custom of planting shady fruit trees along the public thoroughfares, or constructing gardens and consecrating them for public use has been of immemorial antiquity. Like many a good thing in India it received a religious sanction.
Thus in the Matsya Purana we read : "One who sinks a well in a place where there is scarcity of water, lives in heaven for as many years as there are drops of water in it. The effect of digging ten such wells is equivalent to the digging of one pond, and the excavation of ten such ponds is equivalent to that of a lake, and the excavation of ten such lakes has as much effect as that of begetting a virtuous son and the birth of ten such sons has exactly the same effect as that of planting a single tree." A similar eulogy on the practice is prescribed by the Agni Purana : the planting of trees and the construction of pleasure gardens (for the public) are conducive to purgation of sin and enjoyment of prosperity. Varaha Purana enjoins that "he never goes to hell who plants an Aswattha or a Pichumanda, or a Banyan, or ten Jasmines, or two Pomegranates, or five Mangoes (panchamras). A similar verse also occurs in Tithirattva where instead of Banyan, Jasmines and Pomegranates we have Champaka, Kesara, Tala and IN a rikela. A more elaborate injunction describing the particular effects of planting particular trees by the roadside is given in the Padma Purana. . . . The same authority further tells us that, "the man planting trees (by the wayside) will enjoy bliss in heaven for as many years as there are fruits and flowers and leaves in the plant he plants". .'. .
This is no mere irrational superstition. There is a plain reason behind the practice prescribed. The Agnipurana has the following explanatory verses: "The man who plants trees bearing fruits and flowers for the enjoyment of the public attains to a supreme state of bliss. The man, who plants thirty trees giving shade, fruits and flowers, and ten mango trees, is not destined to go to hell. Gods, demons, angels, seraphs, and the whole of the flying fraternity, beasts, and birds and men all receive some sort of delight through trees, The Gods get pleasure through flowers, the manes through fruits, and men and birds and beasts through shade. The man, who plants trees giving fragrant flowers and sweet fruits, is re-born as a result, as a Brahmin in a respectable family enjoying prestige and wealth in a prosperous country. So one should plant such trees and look after them -as if they were one's own children which, in fact, religiously speaking they are. The mortal sons are meant for purely selfish purposes whereas the 'tree-sons' serve purely altruistic ones. Leaves and flowers and fruits and shades and roots and barks end wood (timber) benefit others and bring salvation to our fore-fathers. One should worship trees as one worships a sage free from the vice of envy, because it provides with shade and fruits and flowers even to its very cutter. The all giving 'tree-son', which does not bear a grudge even to its cutter-fa(her out of selfish consideration, brings about the complete salvation to the planter. So the Brahmin should always plant them with due ceremony and treat them as his sons."
The Varaha Purana observes "That (the tree) which is taken for fuel is called "agnihotra" (the sacrificial fire); the tree by reason of shade and rest for travellers, the nest of birds, and leaves, roots and barks, etc., for drugs of bodied beings is called a "panchayajna" (who observed the five sacrifices). It houses small animals for whom it would have been difficult to build a house. It sheds leaves to give alms, and this is how it ends its sacrifice (panchayajna). It produces fruits twice a year which all the year round are of service to their parents (planter), and there are omens to be understood from the trees. Thus, son are they (the trees) to be duly planted, and so the seers know1'. The Agni Purana then very aptly concludes: "Therefore never cut down any tree that bears good flowers and fruits, if you desire the increase of your family, of your wealth, and of your future happiness. If a man cuts down trees near temples, chaityas and graves, famine, epidemic and drought follow. If one destroys Chincha trees, serious mischief to the monarch (s the consequence. If one destroys a boundary tree he dies with his horses; therefore, one should not cut down trees of the region haunted by Gods. The supremely wicked man who cuts down trees and thereby stops the passage to wells, ponds and lakes gets his family degraded and even his distant relatives dispatched to hell...
Thus the general idea underlying the whole practice is one of public utility religiously enjoined in order to make it universally understood, appreciated and followed.
The second important feature of traditional forestry, and the one which needs to be repeatedly emphasized to-day, is the paramountacy of the rights of the villagers and the forest-dwellers over the forests and forest produce. This feature forms the central theme of much of later discussion as it was precisely this which was declared unscientific (or against 'scientific management of forests') by the British who eventually established a State monopoly right over forests. To merely illustrate our point we] cite the following from an official handbook of the Forest Department in the last century,'[under the] Oriental Government, any one was accustomed without Jet or hindrance to get what he wanted from the forest, to graze his cattle where he liked, and to clear jungle growth for cultivation wherever he liked". This of course should J not lead to the conclusion that traditional forests merely supported agriculture. In fact woven around the village and tribal life were a whole lot of industries such' as iron smelting, sugar making, indigo manufacture, timber for construction and shipping industries etc,, some of which are alluded to later. But the wide variety of productive activity supported by traditional forestry is a subject yet to be studied in detail.
111. Preparing the Ground for 'Scientific Forestry'
Unlike the situation in traditional India,' the forests of Europe during feudal days were the property of the feudal lords. The protection of forests was in the hands of gamekeepers. The forests were used also for grazing . . . Sustained yield forestry began its development between the 13th and 16th centuries. It is interesting to discover that regulatory forest management in Germany came because of the fear that a timber famine would result from over cutting, land clearing and grazing. It took the form, first, of grazing control. The Europeans of course reckon the emergence of 'regulatory forest management' as indicative of the birth of the 'science of forestry'. Without pursuing the evolution of this. 'Science forestry' any further let us has a look at the history of forestry in England, as a backdrop to understanding the colonial forest policy in India.
It appears that great forests had covered most of England when the Romans first came to Britain but these were largely cleared to make possible the settlement of land. It was estimated at the end of 17th century that about 1 8th of England was wooded. This was achieved over a long period of forest conservation. It has been often remarked that:
The influence of hunting on forest management in Europe has been so great that it is worth considering its effects in England where French practices were introduced by William the conqueror and continued by his successors to the throne with long lasting results. But previous to 1066 (the time of Norman Conquest) king Canute had proclaimed similar protective laws in English forests... The forest taw to protect hunting as developed by William the conqueror and his successors was severely administered by a body of chief foresters, foresters and other officials and enforced at the Forest Eyre or internal court of justice. The forest law did not apply only to the woods of the king's domain. To quote Turner, In Medieval England . . . most of the forests were the property of the crown, but from time to time the kings alienated some of them to their subjects. Thus the forest of Pickering in Yorkshire and all those in the country of Lancaster were in the fourteenth century held by the Earls of Lancaster.
'The hunt determined the course of English forest policy centuries before naval timber was a consideration, but the original forest laws indirectly provided for the latter maritime need. The timber problem was first realized in the sixteenth century. It became acute during the Restoration. A century later, after the Seven years war [1756-63] the scarcity of oak caused very general alarm , and during the remaining hundred years of wooden ship building the groves of England became less and less capable of meeting the increased demands of the Navy . . . The king's woods had fallen into a notoriously low condition "during the [18th century]. . In fifty seven years they had supplied the Navy with the equivalent of only four years' consumption.. The general supply of English oak never recovered from the drain of Napoleonic wars and the Navy looked more and more to foreign lands for her ship timber.
This should clarify the context in which the colonial forest policy was to be formulated. Before going into a discussion of this policy, we would like to cite the following from a Report due to Major General W. Cullen, Resident of Travan-core dated 7th April 1849, which gives a clear picture of what the 'civilized' nations of Europe had been doing to their forests: 'In France in 1750 the woods are stated to have occupied 1/4 of the surface of the country, in 1788, 1/7 and in 1814 only about 1/12. In England according to Mr. Morean de Jones the woods, [in 1825] occupy only 1/23 of the surface'.
The period 1600-1750 had already witnessed the enormous devastation of the forests of Ireland to meet the timber requirements of England. Then it was the turn of India and other colonies. The following is a brief summary of what happened in the early years of British rule in India, as given by the imperial historian of Indian forests, E. P. Stabbing':
'The British of the period were unacquainted with the principles of forestry science. The reports on the forests in the neighborhood of the parts of the country, we first occupied were unanimous in regarding them as inexhaustible, so far as the materials that were required from them were concerned. The first decades of British occupation in India, therefore, witnessed no check, but rather an enhanced rate in the destruction of fine timber forests in these regions... The true state of affairs was not appreciated by the Government until the failure to supply focal requirements began to be felt. The first of these requirements which begin to give out comparatively early was timber for ship building... [In 1805] a dispatch was received from the court of Directors enquiring to what extent the King's Navy might, in view of the growing deficiency of oakin England, depend on a permanent supply of teak in Malabar... Thus the first real interest aroused in the Forests of India. . . originated from home, and the cause was the same which had kept forestry in the forefront in England through a period of three centuries the safety of the Empire which depended upon its 'wooden walls.
The felling of Malabar forests by the British had started considerably earlier. The earliest records of these efforts are the formation of a 'timber syndicate' in 1796 with Mr. Maconochie of the medical service as the prime mover. In 1799 alone 10,000 teak trees were brought down the Beypore river while it was estimated that about 2000 trees would be' the annual yield. The reports that were received in response to the enquiry of the court of Directors in 1805, revealed that 'the capacity of the forests in mature teak timber had been over estimated; that the more accessible forests had been almost cut out. Soon it was decided to appoint a special officer to supervise j forest work, to 'preserve and improve the production of teak and other timber suitable for ship building. Thus Captain Watson of the police was appointed first conservator of forests on 10th Nov. 1806. What followed was indeed a nightmare. The conservator was given extraordinary powers in a proclamation of April, 1807, which also asserted the .company's right of sovereignty over the forests*** and prohibited the felling of trees or young plants by private individuals under the penalty of being treated as plunderers. As described in a later report by W. R. BaiHie:
'The proclamation of 1807 contained no definition of the term 'sovereignty', nor had these forests been specified over ' which the sovereignty extended. But the conservator succeeded in a short time in establishing a timber of the two Provinces of Malabar and Travancore. He cut down and appropriated to the use of the company not only the trees of the private forests, but even those growing on cultivated J lands, paying revenue to the Government, while the proprietor himself, unless expressly permitted by the conservator, was prevented from cutting a piece of wood on his own property, or removing the young seedling plants that were injuring his land... The peasantry were deprived of the privilege of cutting wood for fuel and other ordinary purposes, a privilege which they had enjoyed from time immemorial, and which was started to be particularly prized in the rainy climate of Malabar, where large buildings are required by the peasants for the property'.
As a result there was a seething discontent all over. To avert a total disaster, the office of the conservator was abolished in 1822. In his minute of 26th Nov, 1822, the Governor Thomas' Munro acknowledged that 'The system [of forest conservancy] we are following is worthy only of the times of the Norman Conquest'. While this first phase of 'forest conservancy' did ensure the supply of, whatever teak the British Navy wanted, the forests of the west coast of India got rapidly denuded. Mr. Underwood the collector of Malabar wrote in 1839 on the achievements of the forest conservators, that he could not discover any record that any of the conservators had taken any steps to perpetuate the forests, as he could not discover that any of them had a single tree planted. No wonder that in 1860, the conservator of Forests noted that 'the old forests of Malabar do not now contain much timber.
We have gone through this story of the capture and destruction of Malabar forests in some detail as it is typical of the earlier phase of the colonial forest management. For instance, 'in his journey through Mysore in 1800 Buchaman had noted that extensive forests of teak flourished throughout the province. These had well nigh disappeared in 1847. Apart from South India the major source for teak was Burma. The Tennesserim province of Burma was annexed in 1826. Dr. Wallich the superintendent of the honourable company's Botanical Gardens was soon dispatched to make a survey of the Forests there. In his report of 1827 Dr. Wallich suggested: 'In my humble opinion not single tree ought to be touched, not a stick of that valuable wood [teak] ought to be allowed to be carried away for any purpose whatever but those of the Government without their express sanction'. Well, true to wallich's suggestion the extent of teak exports from Moulmein during 1840-48 was over one million tons of teak. Yet another province of Burma, Pegu, was annexed in 1852. Immediately it was proclaimed that all the forests are 'property of the Government'. It should thus be clear that the forests of India and Burma contributed much to the glory of English ship building industry. It was not merely the Navy whose demands were to be met. The tonnage of British merchant ships alone rose from 1,278,000 tons in 1783 to 4,937,000 tons by 1850's .
Till 1850s', the colonial Government had asserted its sovereignty over all the forests by various sporadic proclamations and regulatory rules. Mostly forests which were easily accessible and had 'valuable' trees like teak, sandal, etc., were taken over for forest management. But with the coming in of the railways in 1853 the situation changed drastically. The railways which were the backbone of colonial rule needed wood not only for sleepers but also as fuel for the locomotives, a practice which' continued till late in 19th century. The need arose therefore of a complete control over all the forests of India and this hastened the emergence of "scientific forestry' in this country. Great devastation of Indian forests occurred immediately after the 1857 war! of Independence. According to E. P. Stabbing:
'The incidence of the mutiny at once threw into glaring relief the paucity of the communications in the country, The necessity for railway construction if only to facilitate the movement of troops and their equipment had become evident. The Government set themselves feverishly to work. . . The urgent demands for timber to provide the sleepers for the new railway lines were met in the time-honored fashion, and great forest areas in the central and northern parts of India which had hitherto remained untouched by man, were ruined in order to supply to the demands. . . Large number of trees was felled in the forests without reference to the possibility of extracting these logs, numbers of which remained in situ unutilized, to be subsequently burnt in the jungle fires.'
IV. The Emergence of 'Scientific Forestry’:
The clamor for a total capture of all the Indian forests by the colonial state, began at least as early as 1850 when the British Association in Edinborough formed a Committee to consider the destruction of tropical forests in India. The Committee demanded that all forests be .taken over for management by the Government. The next major advance was an important Memorandum written by Lord Dalhousie the Governor General on 3-8-1855. All historians seem to agree with E. P. Stebbing when he calls this Memorandum the 'charter of the Indian Forests'. According to an official document prepared by the Government of India in 1920, 'Lord Dalhousie inaugurated scientific forestry in India with a permanent policy in 1855 And the policy enunciated by Dalhousie was that the ruling principle of management of 'state forest' should be that timber standing in it was state property to which individuals [or communities] had no right.
The needs and compulsions, for initiating 'scientific management' of Indian forests by setting up a Forest Department, are ably set forth in the letter of the Governor General to the Secretary of State dated 1st Nov. 1862:
'So long as the supply of timber in the country was generally sufficient for the public works in hand, the Question of forest management did not present itself to the Government as one calling for earnest consideration. Latterly however, while the supply of timber has been steadily diminishing from want of proper conservation, the demand both for State and private purposes has been rapidly increasing, and the enormous requirements of the different railways for sleepers has especially brought the matter into very prominent notice, and has now made the subject of forest conservancy an important administrative question ....
And in the first place we may express our belief, that under no conceivable circumstances it is possible that personal interests can be made compatible with public interests in the working of forests, otherwise than under a system of stringent supervision , . . The more or social constraints . . . are most especially wanting in India, whether we deal with natives of the country or European settlers. Therefore we think that the idea of giving a proprietary right in forest to any individual should be abandoned, as the possession of such a right is almost certain to lead to the destruction of forest; personal interests in short, under existing conditions and in this respect are not only incompatible with public interests, but they are absolutely antagonistic'
Thus the crying need of the hour was to establish a state monopoly right over forests and exploit them for 'public interests' alone, a pattern which was well established over a century in the various progressive states of Europe such as France, Germany, etc. England having no real forests to boast of any management. Thus Dietrich Brandis, a German trained forest officer who had already proved himself from 1856 in managing the teak forests of Pegu region in Burma (at the behest of Dalhousie), was invited in 1862 to 'advise Government on forest matters, and in 1864, he was appointed the first Inspector-General of Forests to the Government of India. He inaugurated the management of forests on scientific lines. A Forest Department was created, and a forest law enacted which provided for the settlement, demarcation, protection and management of forests'. We shall now present extracts from this first forest act (Act No. VII of 1865) which inaugurated the 'scientific era' of forest management in India.
Extracts From the Act No. VII of 1865
1. The Governor-General of India in Council...may, by notification in the Official Gazette, render subject to the provisions of this Act, such land covered with trees, brushwood, or jungle 'as they may define for the purpose by such notification : Provided that such notification shall not abridge or affect any existing rights of individuals or communities.
2. For the management and preservation of any Government Forests or any pan thereof in the Territories under their control, the Local Governments may, subject to the confirmation hereinafter mentioned, make rules in respect of the matters hereinafter declared, and from time to time may, subject, to the like confirmation, repeal, alter and amend the same. Such Rules shall not be repugnant to any law in force.
3. Rules made in pursuance of this Act may provide for the following matters :
First : The preservation of all growing trees, shrubs and plants, within Government Forests or of certain kinds only by prohibiting the marking, girding, feeling and lopping thereof, and all kinds of injury thereto; by prohibiting the kindling of fires so as to endanger such trees, shrubs and plants; by prohibiting the collection and removing of leaves futz, grass, wood-oil, resin, wax, honey, elephants' tusks, horns, skins and hides, stones, lime or any natural produce of such Forests; by prohibiting the ingress into and the passage through such Forests; except on authorized roads and paths; by prohibiting cultivation and the .burning of lime and charcoal, and the grazing of cattle within such Forests.
Second: The regulation of the use of streams and canals passing through or coming from Government Forests or used for the transport of timber or other produce of such Forests by prohibiting the closing or blocking up for any purposes whatsoever of streams or canals used or required for the transport of timber or Forest produce; by prohibiting the poisoning of or otherwise interfering with streams and waters in Government Forests in such a manner as to render the water unfit for use; by regulating and restricting the mode by which timber shall be permitted to be floated down rivers flowing through or from Government Forests and removed from the same; by authorizing the stoppage of all floating timber at certain Stations on such rivers within or without the limits of Government Forests for the purpose of levying the dues or- revenues lawfully payable thereon; by authorizing the collecting of all timber adrift on such rivers, and the disposal of the same belonging to the Government.
Third: The safe custody of timber the produce of Government Forests - by regulating the manner in which timber, being the produce of Government Forests, shall be felled or converted; by prohibiting the converting or cutting into pieces or burning of any timber, or the disposal of such timber by sale or otherwise, by any person not the lawful owner of such timber, or' not acting on behalf of the owner.
7. All implements used in infringing any of the Rules made in pursuance of this Act, and all timber or other Forest produce, removed or attempted to be removed, or marked, converted, or cut up contrary to such Rules shall be confiscated.
8. Any Police Officer or person employed as an officer of Government to prevent infringement of the Rules made in pursuance of this Act may arrest any person infringing any of such Rules, and may seize any implements used in such Infringement, and any timber liable to confiscation under this Act. A Though it [was, to be discarded soon in favor of an 'improved' forest act, the Act VI) of 1865 did .initiate the process of establishing the right of the state over forests by a stroke of pen, as also of taking stringent punitive action on the people who by sheer habit or necessity sought to exercise their age-old rights on forests and their produce. Curiously enough, some of these features of the Act were clearly brought out in the objections raised by the Madras Government which refused to introduce the act into the Presidency*, and the Board of Revenue wrote the following on 116th April 1868 :
The Act will not in any way facilitate conservancy, and no forest land can be placed within the scope of it, which is not absolutely the property of Government, free from private rights of every kind, for section 2 specially enacts that its application shall not abridge or affect any existing rights. All the jungles and forests of this Presidency are within village boundaries, and the people residing in or near them, have, from time immemorial, had the right to take leaves for manure, firewood for their own use, and timber for agricultural purposes, to graze their cattle at certain periods. These rights have been repeatedly recognized by Government, and are now scrupulously recognized. When, therefore, these and other similar existing privileges, as well as the rights of way which necessarily exist through forest tracts are taken into consideration, the operation of the Act in this Presidency will be very limited, and every prosecution under it may be met by the allegation (which the Forest Officers must disprove) that a right previously existed which vitiates the application of the Act. When the forest is the absolute property of Government, no special Act is necessary to declare it such.
But while thus useless for good, the Act, in the opinion of the Board, opens a wide and dangerous field for oppression and extortion. By section 8 any Forest Officer, even a 'peon' on five rupees per menses may arrest, without warrant, any person infringing rules under the Act.
Excepting the Madras Presidency, the Act VII of 1865 was adopted everywhere else, with great success. In 1869) the Governor General reported to the Secretary of State on the progress achieved so far, and the tasks looming , large ahead : 'We have the honour to report that the necessity of supplying sleepers and wood fuel on a large scale ,for the State railways, the construction of which has been determined upon, will require a considerable expansion of forest establishments in the North - Western Provinces [present day U. P.], Sind and Punjab and eventually the requirements of these railways will necessitate an increase of officers in the forests of the Central Provinces, Oudh and British Burma. At the present time the forest establishments are but ill-prepared to meet this expansion'.
But the more crucial issue engaging the attention of all the forest officials and the Government was the need for a new and more comprehensive Forest Act. Brandis formulated a draft bill in 1869 which was improved upon by Baden Powell in 1874 and a final version was prepared and adopted as the Indian Forest Act. (Act VII of 1878). This is perhaps the most significant event in the hundred odd years of 'scientific forestry in India, as this act (though modified in 1927 by the Central Government and amended here and there by several states) continues to be the central piece of legislation governing our forest management. While going through the various deliberations that went into the formulation, explanation and justification of this new act, we can see many of the basic premises of the 'modern science of forestry' set forth in all gory detail we can start with the proceedings of an important conference of forest officers held in Allahabad in 1874, organised by Baden Powell who was then officiating as the Inspector General of Forests. The following extracts are from the paper 'On the defects of the existing Forest Law (Act VII of 1865) and proposals for a new Forest Act', by Baden Powell:
'The former rulers of these lands [i.e. Native rulers], of course, had no idea of what forests were worth in any sense of the word; they only looked on them as immense jungles that were infested with tigers and wild beasts, and were far larger than was necessary for their sport; consequently they cared nothing for them. In the course of time,... without any distinct grant of license, and without any idea of asserting a right as against the ruling power, or against other individuals or communities, everybody got accustomed to graze and cut in the nearest jungle lands, because nobody cared whether he did or not. Now it is hardly necessary to point out that this does not constitute a legal or prescriptive right property so called. Hence, while the forests were, and are still, over run with people cutting and doing what they like, they are nevertheless in theory, the absolute and unrestricted property of the state.
Now this settlement of forest privileges and his regulation and limited interference with private rights being conceded, how does our Forest Law, Act VII of 1865, deal with the question? Why, it quietly ignores the first subject altogether; and as regards the second, it deliberately declines to allow any interference with any private right whatever. I am aware that this would be enough of itself to condemn the Act without another word. . . But besides these cardinal defects, there are, as I have already intimated numerous others.
The section 8 [of the 1865 Act] gives the one satisfactory power in the Act, and must be maintained in a law; arrest without warrant is absolutely essential. . .'
In the same conference two papers were read (one by Major Kenneth Mackenzie and one by C. F. Amery) 'On the principles on which a settlement should be effected, in demarcating forests,? With villagers who have enjoyed the general run of forests with undefined rights'. On MacKenzie's paper Baden Powell made the following significant remarks:
'Here he [i.e. Mackenzie] bears out fully the principle in all such settlements, which is what I ask the conference to support, viz., that having once made a careful settlement, determined what forest we are going to reserve, and how we are going to treat it, let us gently but firmly, stick to what the Government have sanctioned, and never mind what people say. In the first place, let ihe interests of the people be fully represented by an intelligent, reasonable, and experienced civil officer of the district or settlement staff, and let justice full and fair be done to everybody. You never did invent, nor ever will invent any system of conservancy worth the name, which was popular or which everybody liked. Forest conservancy is as much hated in Europe after three centuries of practice, as it ever was"; and if so, how can you expect to be liked in India? Whatever you do, you affect someone; you limit the freedom of some people in their grazing, burning and cutting, and they hate it accordingly. To supposed therefore that you can carry with you the people in the effort to conserve' is a vain hope. But though you cannot be popular and please everybody, you can and must be just’
The paper by C. F. Amery sought to establish that the rights of the local population were actually privileges*. In a later Forest Conference held at Simla in October 1875, Amery also [declared as a last straw that, The right of conquest is the strongest of all rights it is a right against which there is no appeal'. Indeed this was the" right which the) colonial Government was employing till the introduction of the 1865 act and 'scientific forest management'.
Dietrich Brandis, who of course wrote the first draft of the revised act in 1869, set forth his views oh forest; legislation in a detailed memorandum written in 1875. On the question of the rights of the local population over forests, Brandis writes :
'It has been maintained that the customary use of the forest in India here spoken of is usually not based upon a right but upon a privilege. Great stress has been laid upon this point in Mr. Baden Powell's able paper on forest legislation in the Report of the conference of 1874. He argues that the villagers who from time immemorial there accustomed to cut and graze in the nearest jungle lands did not acquire a right by prescription, because they used the forest without any distinct grant or license and without any idea of asserting a" right as against the ruling power or against other individuals or communities that the State had not exercised its full right over the forests, which were left open to anyone who chose to use them but that the right of the State was unimpaired and was asserted whenever a Native Ruler chose to close whole areas of forests to preserve the game as in the well-known instance of the Betas of Sindh enclosed by the Amirs**.
The view of the case merits careful consideration, and doubtless in many cases what are sometimes called forest rights are not rights at all, but merely privileges which are exercised by permission and at the pleasure of the Government and not as a right. A large class of cases will, however, remain and must be provided for by Forest Law, in which the custom to graze the village cattle and to cut wood for the requirements of the village have grown up in a manner in every respect similar to the growth of rights of Common or of forest rights, in Europe.
Brandis was not interested in establishing that all forest rights were mere privileges. He argued that it will be useless for the Government to be saddled with the management of all forests right away. His view was that the Government should have the liberty to constitute as 'reserved forest' any forest area which it would like to work for 'public benefit' and for this; it would be sufficient to claim that the rights (if any) that our local population enjoyed over the forests were no different from the rights of Common in Europe.
Brandis has more clearly set forth his argument in his 'Memorandum on the Demarcation of the Public Forests in the Madras Presidency (1878), while pronouncing or the rights of the cultivator in South Canara : 'The rights of Wargadars in South Canara...are rights in re aliena, which they have exercised in the Government forests. In India, as in Europe, these rights have grown up with the development of private property in fields, gardens and other cultivated lands. It has been [sometimes] maintained [as regards Indian forests] that rights of user (droits usage) partake to some extent of the nature of proprietary rights, and that the right holders are in the position of co-proprietors with Government. The study of this subject in the forests of the continent of Europe has led to a different result, and rights of user in forests are regarded universally as specifically distinct from proprietary rights in the soil'.
In essence both Brandis and Baden Powell argued that there could be no proprietary rights of the local population over forests or their produce as no such rights existed in Europe, and in any case if the superior civilization of Europe is to be emulated and the modern science of forestry is to be brought in, then there can be absolutely no scope for such rights. Further, Baden Powell, Brandis and a host of others justified most of the provisions of the 1878 Forest Act by arguing that these were based upon the most enlightened principles and practices which had been clearly established in Europe. For instance, Baden Powell declares in his famous 'Manual of Jurisprudence for Forest Officers' (1882) [later to be reprinted as 'Forest Law' (1893)] that:
'Throughout the work I shall illustrate my remarks by an occasional comparison with the laws [of France, Austria, Bavaria, Italy and Switzerland] I have alluded to*, partly to show that the great principles on which forest law must proceed, are fundamentally the same .. It will be, I think, a strong ground for confidence in the general wisdom and reasonableness of our own legal provisions [i.e., the Forest Act of 1878]—even those which seem at.first sight to persons unaccustomed to deal with these questions, arbitrary or too extensive—if I can show that they are supported by a consensus of skilled opinion in Europe.
To complete our story, we only have to reproduce the following extract from the speech of Honourable T.C.Pope while moving the Forest Bill in the Viceregal Council on 6th March 1878:
Our general principle is very plain; forest conservancy cannot go on without our, in some cases, taking .something. But we take as little as we can no more than is necessary for the purpose and that little we pay for in one form or another. It submits that this is a policy clear, reasonable, in harmony with European legislation, and that this is the only policy compatible with the true interest of the community at large. There are of course, persons who advocate an opposite theory of forest conservancy. . It would suffice them think, that... Village communities should be encouraged to preserve and improve their own customary forests or jungles by reaping to their village, benefits there from. In short if you want the forests preserved, only let people alone,1 and they will do it: I believe such a theory to be a delusion, and a most mischievous one. Whatever you do, do as leniently as possible; do equitably and only as far asis well shown to be necessary in each case, but act you must, if you are to save what is left of the once vast forests of India, to check deterioration of climate, and to diminish risks of famine. Under any system of laisser faire you are only fidding, while Rome, or your forest is burning. The effects of such a system under Native Governments, and during the earlier years of our own rule, are written in broad letters upon a thousand hills, and no where are they written more plainly . . . than upon the uplands of Southern India**. . . The final issue then is simple. If the council prefers the principle of the Bill to any such theory, then I submit that the details are well calculated to carry out that principle.'
Enumerating the defects of j the 1865 bill Mr. Pope said :
'It drew no distinction between the forests which required to be closely reserved, even at the cost of more or less interference, with private rights, and those which merely needed general control to prevent improvident working. It also provided no procedure for enquiring into and settling the rights which it so vaguely saved, and gave no powers for regulating the exercise of such rights without appropriating them. It obliged you in short, either to take entirely, or to let alone entirely. On control over private forests in the general interests of the community, it was absolutely silent. For duties on timber, even those actually levied, it gave no authority. Protection for Government forests, so interlaced with private ones as to be in chronic danger of plunder, there was none. In various minor points also it was deficient.'
We shall now present extracts from the Forest Act (Act VII) of 1878, which essentially continues to be the law of the land today.
Extracts from ACT No. VIII of 1878
Chapter II - Of Reserved Forests
3. The Local Government may from time to time constitute any forest-land or waste-land which is the property" of Government or over which the Government has proprietary rights, or to the whole or any part of the forest-product of which the Government is entitled, a reserved forest in the manner here in after provided.
4. Whenever it is proposed to constitute any land a reserved forest, the Local Government may publish a notification in the local official Gazette-
(a) declaring that it is proposed to constitute such land a reserved forest;
(b) specifying, as nearly as possible, the situation and limits of such land, and
(c) appointing an officer (hereinafter called 'the Forest - Settlement Officer') to inquire into and determine the existence, nature and extent of any rights alleged to exist in favor of any person in or over any land comprised within such limits, or in or over any Forest - produce and to deal with the same as provided in this Chapter.
8.' For the purpose of such inquiry, the Forest-Settlement Officer may exercise the following powers, that is to say
4. Whenever it is proposed to constitute any land a reserved forest, the Local Government may publish a notification in the local official Gazette-
(a) declaring that it is proposed to constitute such land a reserved forest;
(b) specifying, as nearly as possible, the situation and limits of such land, and
(c) appointing an officer (hereinafter called 'the Forest - Settlement Officer') to inquire into and determine the existence, nature and extent of any rights alleged to exist in favor of any person in or over any land comprised within such limits, or in or over any Forest - produce and to deal with the same as provided in this Chapter.
8.' For the purpose of such inquiry, the Forest-Settlement Officer may exercise the following powers, that is to say
(a) power to enter, by himself or any officer authorized by him for the purpose, upon any land, and to survey, demarcate and make a map of the same, and
(b) the powers of a Civil Court in the trial of suits.
9A (1) In the case of a claim relating to the practice of shifting cultivation, the Forest-Settlement-Officer shall record a statement setting forth the particulars of the claim and of any local rule or order under which the practice is allowed or regulated, and submit the statement of the Local Government, together with his opinion as to whether the practice should be permitted or prohibited wholly or in part.
(2) On receipt of the statement and opinion the Local Government may make an order permitting or prohibiting the practice wholly or in part.
(4) The practice of shifting cultivation shall in all cases be deemed a privilege subject to control restriction and abolition by the Local Government
25. Any person who
(a) makes any fresh clearing prohibited by section 5, or,
(b) sets fire to reserve forest, or, in contravention of any rules made by the Local Government, kindles any fire or leaves any fire burning, in such manner as to endanger such a forest; or who, in a reserved forest
(c) kindles, keeps or carries any fire except at such seasons, as the Forest Officer may from time to time notify in this behalf
(d) Trespasses or pastures cattle, or permits cattle to trespass;
(e) causes any damage by negligence in felling any tree or cutting or dragging any timber;
(f) fells, girdles, lops, taps or burns any tree, or strips off the bark or leaves from, or otherwise damages the same;
(g) quarries stone, burns lime or charcoal, or collects, subjects to any manufacturing process, or removes any forest-produce;
(h) clears or breaks up any land for cultivation or any other purpose; or,
(i) in contravention of any rules which the Local Government may from time to time prescribe [kills or catches elephants] hunts, shoots, fishes, poisons water or sets traps or snares,
shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine not exceeding five hundred rupees, or with both, in addition to such compensation for damage done to the forest as the convicting Court may direct to be paid.
Chapter 111 - Of Village Forests
27. The Local Government may from time to time assign to any village-community the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest, and may cancel such assignment. All forests so assigned shall be called village-forests.
The Local Government may from time to time make rules for regulating the management of village forests, prescribing the conditions under which the community to which any such assignment is made may be provided with timber or other forest-produce or pasture, and their duties for (he protection and improvement of such forest.
All provisions of this Act relating to reserved forest shall (so far as they are consistent with the rules so made) apply to village forests.
Chapter X - Penalties and Procedure
52. When there is reason to believe that a forest offence has been committed in respect of any forest-produce, such produce together with all tools, boats, carts and cattle used in committing any such offence, may be seized by any Forest-Officer or Police-Officer.
63. Any Forest-Officer or Police-officer may, without orders from a Magistrate and without a warrant, arrest any person against whom a reasonable suspicion exists of his having been concerned in any forest-offence punishable with imprisonment for one month or upwards.
Chapter XI Cattle – Trespass
69. Cattle trespassing in a reserved forest or in any portion of a protected forest which has bean lawfully closed to grazing shall be deemed to be cattle doing damage to a public plantation within the meaning of the 11th section of the Cattle Trespass Act, 1871, and may be seized and impounded as such by any Forest-Officer or Police-Officer.
Chapter XII - Of Forest Officer
72. All Forest-Officers shall be deemed to be public servants with the meaning of the Indian Penal Code.
73. No suit shall be against any public servant for anything done by him in good faith under this Act.
Most of the provincial Governments were quite satisfied with the 1878 Act. But, as earlier, the Madras Government was totally unhappy with the various provisions of the Act. It sent the following telegram to the Governor General in early February 1878: ' The Government unanimously considers that [proposed Forest] Bill pointing directly to arbitrary absorption of private rights and property will cause great dissatisfaction and create serious, disaffection. If passed at all, essential that it be declared in the Bill itself inapplicable to Madras '.
We had earlier noted the objections that- the Madras Board of Revenue had to the Act VII of 1865. The Board had reiterated its stand on 5th August 1871 as follows:
'There is scarcely a forest in the whole Presidency of Madras which is not within the limits Of some village, and there is not one in which so far as the Board can ascertain, the State asserted any rights of property until very recently. All 'of them, without exception, are subject to tribal or communal rights which have existed from time 'immemorial, and which are as difficult to define and value as they are necessary to the rural population. . . Here the forests are, and always have been common property'.
On 17th Sept. 1875, the Madras Government appointed a committee for the preparation of a (separate) draft forest bill which was supposed to deal with forests separately under the heads of state forests, communal forests and proprietary forests. The proposed draft bill was vetoed by the Government of India. We shall now present extracts from the very interesting and detailed minutes written by the Governor (the Duke of Buckingham) and members of the Council Sir W. Robinson and Mr. W. Muddleston, which set forth in detail their objections to the Act VII of 1878. The Governor stated in his minute of 9th Feb. 1878 that:
'This Bill if passed, will in this Presidency, give rise to grave dissatisfaction and will create serious disaffection. I believe that it will do so, not because the native people are averse to the maintenance and protection of forests, but because the basis and principle of the bill is the ultimate extinction of all private rights in or over forest or waste land and their absorption by Government. As regards interests of the village it is a Bill for confiscation, instead of protection. If existing and proved rights of ownership to land and produce are such that the forest Settlement officer finds it impossible, with due regard to the maintenance of a reserved forest, to settle or allow continence of existing rights he shall commute such rights as he thinks fit. This is probably much the same process which the Norman Kings adopted in England for their forest extension*. The powers proposed to be given to the Police are arbitrary and dangerous, viz., arrest without warrant or order by any Policeman of any person suspected of having been concerned at some unknown time (two years previously) of being concerned in a forest offence (taking some wild bee's honey from a tree or the skin of any dead animal). . . [Instead of the provisions of the Bill], village communities should be encouraged to preserve and improve their own customary forests or jungles by reaping to their village benefits there from. .
Sir W. Robinson wrote in his Minute of 3.2.1878:
'The Board of Revenue, I believe justly characterized our Forest Department as "eager to destroy all forest rights but those of Government". . . [the Bill] seems scarcely appreciative of the fact that the ancient village system, of South India at least, possesses immemorial prescriptions of communal property which are prescriptions, which cannot be traversed, abridged or meddled with, more especially in the direction of confiscation and commutation in the interest of the State, without leaving a deep feeling of injustice and resentment amongst our agricultural communities.
Mr. W. Huddleston wrote in his Minute of 14.2.1878:
'That. . . [this] law is of the most arbitrary character, is capable of being worked in the most oppressive manner to the destruction of private rights, and that it is liable to the grossest abuse does not really admit of question. . . In this Presidency, there is not an acre of land which does not lie within the limits of some village, and in the unreclaimed portion of which the villagers have consequently, from time immemorial, claimed and exercised certain common rights of procuring timber for building their houses or constructing agricultural implements, collecting fuel or grass or leaves for domestic and agricultural use; of hunting, fishing and grazing their cattle; and from time to time have, in accordance with local custom, extend cultivation, subject to the Government and village dues.
Brandis wrote a detailed rebuttal of these criticisms of the 1878 Act, in his 'Memorandum on the Demarcation of the Public Forests in the Madras Presidency' (15 Aug. 1878), from which we quote below :
It is clearly the duty of the State as the guardian of all public interests to enforce the maintenance in a good state of productiveness of all common lands and to exercise an effective control over their management. All over the world municipalities [i. e., local governing bodies] are apt to be short-sighted, the pressing demands and difficulties of the moment too often outweigh a prudent regard for the future; but in India, short-sighted apathy, ignorance and imprudence exist in a higher degree than in Europe; and unless the State interferes and insists upon the maintenance and proper management of the common landed property of towns and villages such a property is sure to deteriorate, and will certainly not improve. The Thomas Munro had also acknowledged this in his minute of 26th Nov. 1822, cited earlier.
Correctness of these views cannot be gain said; they are not based upon theories and Utopian schemes; they have stood the test of long experience in some of the most civilized and progressing countries of Europe. Paragraph 15 of the Minute by his Excellency the Governor recommends that village communities should be encouraged to preserve and improve their own customary forests and jungles by reaping to their village benefits there from...This is excellent as far as it goes. . . But unless the communal forests are placed under good management by professionally trained officers, they will neither be preserved nor improved; they will continue to deteriorate . . . whereas, if Government recognizes its duty as the guardian of the public interests, and j insists on an efficient management of the common woodlands the village authorities, it may be hoped, will gradually acquire that knowledge which will enable them to take a share in the management of those lands'.
It is interesting to note that at this stage Brandis is not attempting to counter the statement of the Madras administrators that traditionally most of forests there have been communal property.; He is only insisting that it is ' unscientific' to leave the forests to be managed by the communities which are after all ignorant, prone to be short-sighted. His claim is that the above views are not based upon theories, but on the practical wisdom coming out of centuries of European experience; whoever heard of communal forests being left entirely to be managed by the communities in a civilized nation ? Well of course eventually when everyone becomes scientific, may be .one could conceive of giving them a share in the management.
We shall return to the position of 'scientific forestry' vis-a-vis. communal (or ' village') forests later and continue with the story of confrontation between the Madras Government and the Government of India on the forest legislation. The Government of India had to wait till a change in the Government of Madras occurred after which the new Government was persuaded to have Brandis (now about to retire) as a special adviser on forest conservancy from November 1881. A committee was set up under Brandis' stewardship to draft a forest bill for the Presidency, In Fits 'Joint Report on Forest Legislation' (Madras, 10th June 1882) the Brandis committee stated :
'We now submit, as a result of our deliberations, the following bill, with the following explanatory remarks . . . (,there is no need) to enter in detail upon the question which has been so long agitated in this Presidency, whether the use of forest lands, which the people have enjoyed has arisen out of right, privilege or custom. Such use of waste and forest land for collection of firewood and thorns for fences, for procuring timber for domestic and agricultural purposes, and for pasturing cattle free of payment or otherwise, undoubtedly exists, and has long existed. If the user is exercised by virtue of a right, the right is vague and undefined... We believe that, in most cases, it is not exercised consciously as such but only under the supposed sanction of custom: that it has been tacitly permitted rather than expressly recognized and that strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a private right of user in Government waste lands and forests. We are further of opinion that there are no Communal forests in this Presidency.'
Well, Madras Presidency was fortunate to have a forest bill drafted by Sir Dietrich Brandis, the 'father of scientific forestry' in India. This forest bill which was passed by the Legislative Council and became Act XXI of 1882, was more progressive in that there was now no reference at all to 'village forests'. The introduction of a Forest Act to Madras Presidency removed all obstacles to the emergence of ' scientific forestry' in the country. Of course there were tremendous gains that followed from this. The forest revenue of Madras Presidency went up from 9.5 lakhs in 1883 to 23 lakhs in 1899. The forests under Government management went up from 1182 sq. miles in 1882 to 19,649 sq. miles in 1899 of which 15,862 constituted Reserved Forests.
V. The Painful Progress of 'Scientific Forestry* :
Our purpose being mainly to bring out some of the basic presuppositions inherent in the modern science of forestry, we shall only give a very sketchy treatment of the progress achieved by ' scientific forestry' in India from its inception to the time of independence. A detailed account (from the imperialist point of view) may be found in the four volume history of modern Indian forestry by E. P. Stabbing.
(a) Basic Achievements :
The following Table gives the phenomenal growth achieved in the forest revenue since the inception of scientific forestry. The revenue for India alone (excluding Burma) was Rs. 30.19 million in 1937-38 and Rs. 124.37 million around the end of the war in 1944-45. The revenue from forests in India excluding those of Pakistan, was Rs. 104.80 million on the eve of Independence in 1946-47.
Average Quinquennial Growth in Forest Revenue and Expenditure.
(in million Rs.)
(in million Rs.)
From Table - 2 given below; one can see the growth in the area (in square miles) of forests under the control of the Forest Department and especially the progress achieved in the demarcation of 'Reserved Forests'.
|Year||Reserved||Protected||Unclassed||Total Under |
The total area classed; as forests including private and other forests and waste lands etc, was over 4£ lakh sq. miles in 1897-98. After nearly forty years, in 1935-36, this figure had come down* to 3,19,286 sq. miles of which around 58,000 sq. miles constituted private forests and a bare 854 sq. miles constituted forests still under the proprietorship of corporate bodies.
The greatest achievements of the Forest Department should be placed during the first 20 years after the enactment of the Forest Act. From a total area of 14,000 sq. miles of Government forests, the total was raised by over a lakh square miles, of which over 80,000 sq. miles were constituted into Reserved Forests. The steady progress achieved in each of the States is best illustrated by the case of Assam which had 269 sq. miles of Government forests in 1878 in the first 18 years of conservancy. By 1894,13,683 sq. miles of Reserved Forests were constituted, which had risen to 5,380 sq. miles in 1918 and to 6,596 sq. miles by 1939. A major acquisition by the Forest Department, in this period, happened to be the huge forests of Upper Burma. In fact the conquest of this province by the British in 1887 was largely instigated by the j forestry - linked commercial interests.
(b) The ' Scientific ' Exploitation of Forests :
One of the major services performed by the ' scientific management of forests' was in j the rapid expansion of our railways, from 1349 kilometers in 1860 to 14,745 (kilometers in 1880 to 51,658 kilometers in 1910. The forests provided both the sleepers for railway lines (each mile of construction requiring about 1800 in number, each lasting for about 12 years) and also the fuel till enough coal could be procured from the coal mines. The second major' use for forestry was in providing valuable timber for export as well as for the growing cantonments and the cities. For instance, a British Empire Forestry conference noted that** the average annual export of teak to Europe during 1914-19 was 29,255 tons valued at £ 3,79,378. However more important was the recommendation made by the conference as to how the forest resources of India are to be utilized : ' As the principal custodian of raw products vital to the industrial expansion of India it behoves the Indian Forest Department to seek for methods of exploiting, marketing and manufacturing those products which will ensure not only the maximum profits from the forest property, but also the maximum development of local industries dependent on the state controlled forest for their supply of raw materials.
A great impetus to the working of the forestry towards the 'maximum development of industries’ came from the setting up of the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun in 1906. The Institute shifted to a new building* built at a £ 7,50,000 and cost of was inaugurated by the Viceroy Lord Irwin in Nov. 1929. On that occasion the Inspector General of Forests Sir Alexander Rodger declared :
The aim of Forest Research here has always been to work on lines which would prove of advantage, not only to the Forest Departments of all the provinces in India, but also to all users of timber and other forest products, especially the Railways, and other large customers of timber, such as Government Gun Carriage and other factories.'
Complementing the Institute for its achievements the Viceroy said :
'Spars for aero planes, poles for gun carriages, stocks for army rifles, sleepers for railways, are all the subject of exhaustive research, at Dehradun, and, thanks to that research, have attained a considerably higher degree of efficiency. . . After many years of work at Dehradun, bamboos are coming into their own for paper pulp and two companies are now being floated in London to work the enormous bamboo forests in Burma. . . It is expected that these two companies will be the forerunners of others which will work the extensive bamboo forests of India and Burma which are now standing more or less idle. . Proposals are now being considered for extensive experimental work and for a survey for the forests which contain potential match woods so that India may, as for as possible, produce all her own matches. In other ways, too, such as in assisting the manufacture of turpentine, oils from grasses, medicinal drugs, gums and other products;' the Economic Branch [of the Institute] has done work of the greatest practical utility.'
By far the most notable service performed by the Indian forests has been towards war effort. It is often recalled with pride that 'teak from Idayara [in Kerala] sent by' Mathu Tharagan' was used in connection with the battle of Trafalger '. It was however during the two world wars that the Indian forests got the opportunity to perform 'yeoman service'. During the time of the First World War, approximately 1.7 million eft of timber (mostly teak) was exported annually to the various theatres for war operations. The indigenous raisin industry came into its own during this period. The revenue of the Forest Department shot up from about Rs. 3 crores in 1915 to over Rs. 5 crores by 1919.
But, as a publication of j Government of India stated in 1948, it was only during the 'Great War' [meaning the second world war] that the potential value of India's forests was J fully realized*. Such a potential was realized merely at the expense of deforestation of 6326 square miles of forest land according to official estimates**. For instance, in the Himalayas, 'In the Sal forests early attempts to confine the extra fallings to regular coupes marked as laid down in the working plans and felled in advance soon proved impossible. By the end of the kwar most of the' utilizable larger trees had been felled in alt the more accessible areas. By felling in six years a volume that should have tasted fifteen to twenty years, or even longer, tremendous inroads were made into capital.'
The Revenue from all the forests excluding those of Burma, went up from about 3 crores in 1939 to over 12 crores by 1945. The following Table 3 shows the contribution of Madras Presidency to the war effort during' 1942—46, the total supply valued over Rs. 5 crores. The supplies from Bombay Presidency during
|Particulars||1942 - 43||1943 - 44||1944 - 45||1945 - 46|
|Teak logs (tons)||11,761||14,695||13,795||6,622|
|Hard wood logs (tons)||1,650||22,598||30,914||26,699|
|Sawn timber (tons)||33,905||65,319||69,410||66,452|
|Total value (Rs.)||66,70,368||131,51,733||177,65,024||132,82,671|
Bombay Presidency during 1940—46 were valued over Rs. 1.7 crores, those from the Eastern Slates (during 1940—45) over Rs. 4 crores, those from Central Provinces, over 3 crores, etc. In U. P. the supplies were more than 25 times as much as in world war I. At the end of the war the Govrnment was faced with the problem of disposing of large stocks of timber. It was decided to purchase the entire stock valued at over Rs. 1 crore from the Defense Department. And so on...
(c) Curb on Unscientific Practices :
The first unscientific practice to go was the traditional practice whereby the local population could freely collect wood from the forest for fuel and various other purposes. As Brandis notes, up to 1860 firewood was free throughout the country. In 1860, in order to defray the cost of jungle conservancy, which was established about that time what was called a fuel tax was ordered'. The rate fixed in Madras Presidency was 6 annas per 1000 lbs. and in 1868 the Government changed it to 10 annas per 1000 lbs. for the Railway companies. Meanwhile the consumption of wood - fuel by the Railways, which was only 9,821 tons in 1863, had risen to 54,358 tons in 1868, and in July 1869 Government raised the rate from 10 annas to 1 rupee per ton for all purchasers. It was only after lot of public 'clamor' that in October 1873 the rate of seignior age was reduced for the public to the old one of 6 annas per 1000 lbs.
The above story is typical of the whole history of 'scientific forestry'. The most disastrous effect of this policy was the more or less complete destruction of all the traditional forest-based industries. For instance, in 1870 the question was raised in the Kurnool district whether seignior age should be paid for firewood used for sugar-boiling, and the manufacture of indigo, or whether it should continue to be free as hitherto. As Brandis has described.
'The orders of 31st October 1873, which stated, that it is in accordance with immemorial usage to permit villagers to cut firewood free. . . Industries such as iron-smelting, sugar-boiling and the manufacture of Indigo should certainly by all means be encouraged, but this must be done by promoting the growth of wood, and by discouraging its waste. And there is no doubt that the payment of seignior age on fuel tends to make people more careful in the use of it.'
While such arguments justified the imposition of seignior age on firewood for traditional industries, considerations of 'scientific progress', must have induced the Government to issue annual licenses up to 1879 to the Aska Sugar factory in Ganjam (the 'scientific' manufacturers of sugar) authorizing them for the use of unlimited quantity of firewood at a 'nominal' fee of one rupee per license. In fact when it was contemplated in 1879 that a charge of 4 annas per ton may be levied, the 'scientific' manufacturers pleaded that it was impossible to carry on business whose annual requirement was 10,000 tons. Hence the special 'indulgence' to this factory continued.
The most tragic story is that of the traditional Iron-smelting industry. The situation as obtained in the Madras Presidency in 1883 is described by Brandis as follows* :
'The famous Wootz or Indian steel made in crucibles is manufactured in Mysore and in some of the adjoining districts of Madras, and native-made iron is to this day preferred by the people for many purposes to the cheaper iron from England... In many places the old native iron-smelting industry has died out through the competition of iron from England, and through the gradually decreasing supply of fuel. Mr. R. Bruce Forte in a note [Memories of Geological Survey Vol. IV 1864]... correctly states that it is owing most likely to the greatly increased price of charcoal that the number of native iron-smelting furnaces in the Salem District has decreased of late years. Mr. Forte informs me that in 1878 he noticed considerable traces of an old iron-smelting industry in the south of the Puducottah state but could hear of no smelting in progress... The same remarks apply to... the Sivaganga Zemindarr in Madura. Similar traces of a lapsed iron industry occur to the north-north -west of Cape Comorin...
There is, however, still a large native iron industry in existence [especially in Bellary and Salem districts.]' But, unfortunately the 'scientific' measure suggested by Brandis the constitution of reserved forests which could supply charcoal for iron - industry—sounded the death - knell for the industry, as the reserved forests had larger and more important interests to serve.
The story of how 'scientific forestry' affected our agriculture has been discussed in detail in the article 'Indian Agriculture at the Turn of the Century' that appeared [in PPST Bulletin Vol. 2 No. 2 (Nov. 82). The basic needs of our farmers, fuel wood, and small timber, wood for implements, fodder and grazing have been met freely from time immemorial from the neighboring village forests. After the inception of scientific forestry' these were no longer available free and in fact were not available at all in most of the reserved forests. Some of these hardships of our farmers were highlighted by A. 0. Hume in 1879 (in his book 'Agricultural Reform in India') and were taken up again by Sir William Wedderburn who wrote a very serious indictment of 'scientific forestry' in 'Indian Agriculturist' of July 12, 1884, from which the following extract is taken :
'We have all heard of the alarming denudation that has been going on for many years, and we have also heard of the hardships which have been inflicted upon the people by means of forest laws in the attempts to repair this mischief. . Now this mischief also has arisen from disregard of old village methods. The original method was that each village had its own tract of communal forest available for grazing purposes, and to supply villagers with wood for fuel and other domestic purposes. Under our land administration no care has been taken to preserve these communal forests or to help the peasants to manage them to the best advantage. On the contrary our land system... has encouraged the breaking up of these ancient reserves. . . The cultivators are thus stinted both in grass and wood, and are driven to use as fuel the droppings of cattle which are their only manure. Mr. Allan Hume gives vivid picture of how the plough cattle are decimated each hot season in villages deprived of their communal preserves of wood aud grass...
Now what is the remedy proposed by Mr. Hume? It is simply to return to the old order of things to restore the communal forests. . '. The remedy is thus simple enough if we are content to be guided by ancient custom and experience '.
A detailed analysis of the 'anti-agriculture' policy of the Forest Department was presented by J. A. Voelcker in his 'Report on the Improvement of Indian Agriculture ( 1893 ). Referring to the enormous stress under which Indian agriculture is functioning Voelcker called for an immediate constitution of 'Fuel and Fodder Reserves', somewhat akin to Brandis' idea of village forests. In fact referring to Voelcker's Report, Brandis states in his 'Indian Forestry' (1897) that; 'In his Report on the improvement of Indian agriculture. Dr. Voelcker justly urges the establishment on a larger scale of fuel and fodder reserves, for the primary purpose of supplying wood to take the place of cow-dung as fuel...With a view of eventual development in this direction, clauses providing for the establishment of village forests were inserted in the Indian and Burma Forest Acts.
We shall return to this notion of 'village forests' later, and suffice here to state that the time has never come so far for the constitution of 'fuel and fodder reserves' or 'village forests'. However the Government had to take cognizance of the points raised in the Report of Voelcker especially because of its serious interest in enhancing the agricultural revenue if possible. Hence it came forward with a statement of Forest Policy which was passed as a Resolution on 19th October 1894. In essence this (somewhat rambling) document advocates a slightly flexible approach on the part of forest officials so that agricultural and other local requirements could be satisfied as long as they do not affect the Imperial interests.
Whatever be the sentiments expressed in this Forest Policy regarding the meeting of the requirements of local population (i. e., requirements of agriculture, etc.) the situation only worsened as forests were supposed to first serve the various imperial interests (which grew very rapidly as we saw in the previous section). As an instance of this growing stress on agriculture, we can consider the rapid increase in the forest area totally closed to grazing. Ribbentrop had stated in 1900 that* : 'The aggregate and percentage of forest areas, both permanently and periodically closed [to grazing], have constantly increased, and amounted by the end of 1897-98 to 33,738 square miles closed against all animals and 28,146 square miles closed to browsers in addition*'. The area closed against all animals increased to 45,010 square miles by 1925 and to 46,304 square miles by 1930. Just before independence, (in 1946-47) the area closed to grazing constituted about 1 /6th of the total forest area under the Government of India. One can similarly discern the various constraints put on agriculture due to the [almost total alienation of forest resources from the villagers from the Report (1928) of the Royal Commission on Agriculture. As was to be expected, the Commission could not make any suggestions to alleviate the situation which was after all a consequence merely of 'scientific management of forests'.
Finally, we may mention the enactment of a new Forest Bill, the Act XVI of 1927 which is the law in force today. 1 This was only a very minor modification of the Act VII of 1878 and according to Stabbing :
'The changes were small and consisted mainly in redrafting the previous act and its amendments. The small changes included, in Section 30(b)', permission to enclose portions of Protected Forests and suspend rights therein for a maximum period of thirty years compared with the twenty years fixed in the 1878 Act. In Section 79 the duties of the public to prevent and extinguish forest fires and help Forest or Police Officers in preventing forest offences were clarified and made somewhat more extensive.
One important change which Stabbing does not mention consisted in the replacement of all the references to 'rights of communities' by 'rights and privileges of persons.
(d) Opposition to Scientific Forestry
The people to be most affected by the encroachment of all our forests by the colonial Government, were the forest-dwellers or tribal’s who had lived in forests for centuries. Forests were an integral part of life of these forest communities. There are several accounts which clearly show how these communities owned and managed the forests. The colonial forest policy rendered those aliens in their own homeland, their agricultural practices (shifting cultivation) declared unscientific and banned wherever possible, their very own forest produce declared the property of state, their culture, religion and life - styles dubbed primitive, etc. Our notions of advancement, progress, etc., are so much conditioned by modern western civilization that even people extremely sympathetic to these forest com-munities sometimes state, that' 'A part of these problems is inevitable in the developmental process.
The history of 'scientific forestry' in India is also the history of 'tribal revolts' against it, for the tribals inhabited some of the most 'valuable' forests. After the 'insurrection' in Chota Nagpur area in the 1830's, the British declared the region as a 'Non-regulated Area'. Later the tribal areas were demarcated as 'Agency Areas' and still later as 'Scheduled Areas' and their administration has always been a separate affair. The tribals never gave up the struggle for their rights. The history of these tribal movements is being seriously studied nowadays.
An equally significant opposition to 'scientific forestry' came during the non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements of our freedom struggle, where the popular opposition to the unjust forest legislation and the inhuman forest management got a clear expression also in the various resolutions passed by the Indian National Congress. This phase of opposition to 'scientific forestry is yet to be studied in detail* . We shall here present the imperialist assessment of these movements as presented by Stabbing in his 'Forests of India' Vols. III, IV:
'Whilst the non-cooperative movement was at its height considerable damage was committed in some of the forests. The troubles experienced during this non-cooperative movement are summarized from information obtained at the head quarters of the Provinces in 1925.
Bengal: Under the non-cooperative movement considerable damage was done by fire to the forests and forest buildings in 1922-3 in the Chittagang Civil District. .
Uttar Pradesh : The policy of the Government in Kumaun [the Kumaun forests were made reserved forests in 1915] has met with violent and sustained opposition. As a result of the non-cooperative movement large tracts were willfully burnt in Kumaun thus destroying many years, of careful work by the Department***. . . Government ordered a revision of the settlement under which certain areas were withdrawn from the control of the Department.
Assam : Under the non-cooperative movement there was some trouble in Kamrup, and in Goalpara all the forest villages went on strike, instigated thereto by agitators...
Central Provinces: Some trouble was experienced in January 1922, in South Raipur from the non-cooperative movement, the people entering the forests and committing damage, under the impression that all authority on the part of the Government had ceased. In most divisions a larger proportion of fires occurred, attributing to the same cause.
Madras : The non-cooperative campaign brought about organized defiance of the forest law. This was especially serious in the Guntur District, were many cases of violence against forest officials occurred. During the Mappilla rebellion in 1921 the Nilambur Division was for several months in the hands of rebels.
Bombay: The year 1920-21 was a year of bad fires, especially in the Southern circle... The agitation against the Departmet was1 strongest in Kanara, aided by the non-cooperative movement. A Forest Settlement Officer was appointed in consequence to enquire into the complaints'.
'The Civil Disobedience Movement [Bombay Presidency] : This movement launched in 1930/31, and defiance of the forest laws was one of its chief expressions. It assumed an aggressive and at times violent form in many parts of the Presidency. Mass meetings were held in various places, urging people to cut trees and grass in the forests, to graze cattle in closed forests, to refuse to purchase timber or grass areas, not to pay grazing fees for cultivation, and not to help Forest Officers in any way. Everything possible was done to create in the minds of the villagers a belief that forest laws could be broken with impunity. At two places where forest “satyagraha" took a violent form, the police were competed to open fire...
[The Central Provinces and Berar] : in 1930 Mahatma Gandhi launched a Civil Disobedience campaign. He selected the Salt Laws as the main target but as defiance of this Law provided little scope in the Central Provinces, the Provincial Congress leaders selected the Forest laws for attack. The main part of the organized 'Law breaking' consisted of token offences, such as cutting a few bundles of grass, or branches of trees. The general public did not always understand such fine distinctions and more serious offences were committed but the deterrent punishments accorded were sufficient to convince them that the Forest Act was still in force.'
VI, And the Relentless March of 'Scientific Forestry' Continues
One might have expected, in view of the unprecedented exploitation and destruction of our forests in I the service of the second world war, and more so in view of the miserable state to which our villagers and forest-dwellers had been reduced as a result of nearly a century of 'scientific forestry', that the Government of independent India would at least recognize the injustice inherent in the colonial forest policy***, and would attempt to restore to the people some rights over the resources that had been forcibly taken away from them. But that was not to be. The Government of India was wedded to continue the 'scientific management of Forests' initiated by the colonial Government and, if any, the major change was that forests were now supposed to serve vital 'national interests' instead of the 'imperial interests'. These 'national interests' have been repeatedly defined to be those of defense, communications and the industries.
Nowhere is all this better brought out than in the famous National Forest Policy Resolution 1952 of the Government of India. The Resolution started with the assertion that 'the fundamental concepts underlying the existing policy [as enunciated by the Forest Policy Resolution of 1894] still hold good’. However, it is often
observed that there has been a shift in the policy between 1894 and 1952. For instance the NCA notes that:
'Mention should be made here of the shift in the national forest policy between 1894 to 1952. -Under 1894 policy, it was laid down that, subject to certain conditions, the claims of cultivation are stronger than the claims of- forest preservation. In view of the rising demand for processed wood products in the home market and foreign countries and the escalating cost of import of vital wood based products, the intrinsic right of forests on lands was fully recognized in the 1952 policy.
However, as we have discussed in the last section, the involvement of forests with industries and the war effort had led to such a shift in colonial forest policy itself over half a century, though of course there was no change in the fundamental principles governing the policy (as was declared by the 1952 Resolution also).
It has often been claimed that 'much labor was put in by M. D. Chaturvedi (the first Indian [i. e., non-European] Inspector General of Forests [1949-54]) in the framing of the new policy.*''' However, with no disrespect being meant for this eminent member of the Indian Forest Service—he was in fact among the first batch of native officers to be trained at Oxford in 1920's when the Indian Forest Service was opened for the first time to the natives—it should be pointed that much of what may appear new in the 1952 Resolution is derived from the Report, 'Post-war forest policy for India' for tediously prepared for us as early as 1944 by Sir Hubert Howard, the then Inspector-General of Forests. For the rest, the Resolution also borrows from the writings of various colonial forest administrators. However as a document, the National Forest Policy Resolution of 1952 is a remarkable one for the forthrightness (or shall we say brazenness) with which it expounds and defends the principles of 'scientific forest management'. It thus deserves to be quoted extensively, especially as it does not need any comment Extracts from the National Policy of India
In their resolution No. 22-F, dated the 19th October, 1894, the Government of India in the late Department of Revenue and Agriculture enunciated in broad outlines the general policy to be followed in the management of State forests in the country. During the interval that has since elapsed, developments of far reaching importance have taken place in the economic and political fields. The part played by forests in maintaining the physical conditions of the country has come to be better understood. The country has passed through two world wars which disclosed unsuspected dependence of defense on forests. The reconstruction schemes, such as river valley projects, development of industries and communication lean heavily on the produce of forests.
2. While the fundamental concepts underlying the existing forest policy still hold good, the Government of India consider that the need has now arisen for a reorientation of the forest policy in the light of changes which have taken place, since it was enunciated.
3. Vital national needs : The National Forest Policy of India is formulated on the basis of six paramount needs of the country, namely :
(1) the need for evolving a system of balanced and complimentary land-use, under which each type of land is allotted to that form of use under which it would produce most and deteriorate least.
(2) the need for checking- ,
(a) the denudation in mountainous regions, on which depends the perennial water supply of the country; (b) the erosion progressing space along the treeless banks of the great rivers lending to ravine formation and on vast stretches of undulating waste-lands depriving the adjoining fields of their fertility; (c) the invasion of sea-sands on coastal tracts, and the shifting of sand-dunes, more particularly in the Rajputana desert;
(3) the need for establishing tree-lands, wherever possible, or the amelioration for physical and ' climatic conditions promoting the general well-being of the people;
(4) the need for ensuring progressively increasing supplies of grazing small wood for agricultural implements, and in particular of firewood to release the cattle-dung for manure to step up food production;
(5) the need for sustained supply of timber and other forest produce required for defense, communications and industry;
(6) the need for the realization of the maximum annual revenue in perpetuity consistent with the fulfilment of the needs enumerated above.
These vital needs indicate the functions forests are to fulfill, and provide the fundamental basis of the policy governing their future.
4. Functional Classification of forests : Having regard to the functions aforesaid, the forests of India, whether State or privately owned, may be conveniently classified as follows :
(a) Protection forests, i. e., those forests which must be preserved or created for physical and climatic considerations;
(b) National forests, i.e. those which have to be maintained and managed to meet the needs of defense, communications,' industry and other general purposes of public importance;
(c) Village1 forests, i. e. those which have to be maintained to provide firewood, to release cow-dung for manure, and to yield small timber for agricultural implements, and other forest produce for local requirements, and to provide grazing for cattle;
(d) Tree-lands, i. e., those areas which though outside the scope of the ordinary forest management are essential for the amelioration of the physical conditions of the country.
This classification is merely illustrative and is by no means mutually exclusive. In fact every forest performs more than one function, and has, therefore, to be so managed as to achieve the highest efficiency in respect of the chief functions assigned, to it. This fundamental classification has also no bearing on the classification of the" forests distinguished in the Indian Forests Act XVI of 1927, which IS based on the degree of control exercisable in them.
6. Two possible considerations: Two considerations, plausible, no doubt at first sight, but, if given undue weight may be destructive of national well-being in the long run, should be combated.
They are (1) Neighboring I areas are entitled to prior claim over a forest and its produce, (2) Agricultural requirement has a preferential claim over forest lands.
7. Claims of Neighboring Communities: Village communities in the neighborhood of a forest will naturally make greater use of its products for the satisfaction of their domestic and agricultural needs. Suchjuse, however, should in no event be permitted at the cost of national interests. The accident of a village being situated close to a forest does not prejudice the right of the country as a whole to receive the benefits of a national asset. The scientific consideration of forests inevitably involves the 'regulation of rights and the restriction of the privilege of user, depending upon the value and importance of the forest, however irksome such restraint may be to neighboring areas. The Himalayan forests, for instance, are the greatest of national assets; to them we owe the richness of the country.' The denudation and underdevelopment of the Himalayan slopes leads to greater Intensity and frequencies of floods, recurrent erosion, and to coarse detritus being deposited on the fertile subordinate tracts. This process inflicts immeasurable toss and misery on the unsuspecting millions in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and brings about a progressive and permanent impairment of soil fertility, and a cumulative reduction in the agricultural potential of the whole land. While, therefore, the needs of the local population must be met to a reasonable extent, national interests should not be sacrificed because they are not directly discernible, nor should the rights and interests of future generations be subordinated to the improvidence of the present generation.
8. Relinquishment of forest land for Agricultural purposes:
The indiscriminate extension of agriculture and consequent destruction of forests have not only deprived the local population of fuel and timber, but have also stripped the land of its natural defenses against dust-storms, hot desiccating winds and erosion. The old policy, which envisaged the relinquishment subject to certain safeguards honored only in their breach, of even valuable forest land for permanent cultivation, has resulted in general deterioration of physical conditions to the detriment of national interests and must therefore, be given up. In the abstract the claims of agriculture undoubtedly appear stronger than those of forestry. The notion widely entertained that forestry, as such, has no intrinsic right to land but may be permitted on sufferance on residual land required for any other purpose has to be combated. The role of forests in national economy, both protective and productive, entitles forests to lay claim to an adequate share of land. The importance of tree-lands in the rural economy of the region where agriculture constitutes the mainstay of the vast bulk of population can scarcely be over-emphasized.
13. National Forests : 'National Forests' constitute the basis of India's .strength and wealth; for they comprise valuable timber bearing regions the produce of which is indispensable for defense communication, and vital industries. They have to be managed chiefly in the interest of the nation as a whole, and their organization and development is one of the most important functions of the States. Their management on scientific and business lines is essential for maintaining a sustained supply of wood for industry end of large timbers for defense commu-nications and other national purposes. The basic policy, so far as such forests are concerned must be to attain national self-sufficiency in those vital supplies. Future development should therefore be directed to that end. Cultivation should not be permitted to encroach upon these valuable timber-bearing tracts. The solution of the food problem of an ever-increasing population must be sought primarily in intensive cultivation and not in weakening the very basis of national existence by encroaching upon such forests.
14. Village forests : 'Village forests' popularly termed 'fuel forests' are intended, in the main, to serve the needs of the surrounding villages in respect of small timber for housing and agricultural implements, firewood, leaves for manure and fodder, fencing thorns, grazing and edible forest products. The supply for such requirements should be made available at non-competitive rates, provided they are utilized by the villagers themselves and not traded in. The management of such village forests, should aim at meeting the present as well as future needs of the local population- Removal of the-produce in excess of its annual growth should not, therefore, be permitted. Restrictions should be imposed in the Interests out only the existing generation but also of posterity. These considerations render the entrusting of the management of village forests to pantheist, without appropriate safeguards, a hazardous undertaking as has been demonstrated in some of the States. The co-operation of pantheist should be enlisted in the protection and creation of village forests, and in the distribution of forest produce assigned to meet the needs of the local population, but not at the cost of economy and efficiency. While the profit motive in the management of those forests should be relegated to the background, there is no justification for allowing them to become a burden on the general tax-payer; the expenses for development and maintenance of such forests must come from their own income.
27. Forest education : A common forest education is a very effective means of inculcating an esprit de corps among forest officers of developing a common outlook in forestry matters; and of ensuring concerted and integrated policies throughout the country. Openings in the profession of forestry being limited, the decentralization of forest education will militate against economy and efficiency encourages fissiparous tendencies, create unemployment, and render planned development of forest resources difficult.
Many have been the achievements and successes of this policy of 'scientific forestry'. The forest revenue has gone up from around Rs. 15 crores in 1947 to around Rs. 472 crores in 1980. The Government has taken over almost all forest lands and the extent of reserved forests has gone up from around 1 lakh square miles in 1947 to over 1.5 lakh square miles by 1976-77, etc., etc. Of course the total forest square miles cover in the country has come down drastically from around 3 lakh (78 million hectares) at the time of independence.
Still, among our policy planners there has been considerable dissatisfaction that the progress is insufficient. The estimates committee (1968-69) of the Parliament in its 76th Report opined that a reappraisal of forest policy should be made. Such a reappraisal has been carried out in detail by the National Commission of Agriculture. In its Report' (1976) the Commission has gone into the question of how important it is to rid the forests of aft the surviving rights of local population (called the 'Nistar rights') to collect forest produce for domestic and agricultural purposes. And, it therefore suggests that all incased and protected forests should bs constituted into reserved forests at the earliest possible in order that nistar rights could be extinguished as far as possible in the manner provided in the forest law.'
The Commission declares:
'Free supply of forest produce to the rural population and their rights and privileges has brought destruction to the forests and so it is necessary to reverse the process. The rural people have not contributed much towards the maintenance or regeneration of the forests. Having over-exploited the resources, they cannot in all fairness expect that some-body else will take the trouble of providing, the forest produce free of charge.'
As regards the tribals:
'considerable damage is caused to the forest by them by the wasteful practice of shifting cultivation [which] should be regulated, contained and replaced as expeditiously as possible, by resorting to agricultural methods... Tribal. welfare should also be ensured by... recognizing the priority of their employment in forestry operations, so as to establish better symbiotic relationship between the tribals and the forests.'
In short, whatever vestiges of 'pre-scientific forestry' still remain, they are indicative only of backwardness and should be gotten rid off as quickly as possible. The National Commission of agriculture also suggested drafting of a new Forest Act to vest greater powers in the forest officers and police officers, to revise the provisions for constituting village forests**, to enhance the existing set of forest offences and their punishments etc., etc. Such a draft forest bill was indeed prepared by the Government of India in 1980. However, it was withdrawn without being enacted into legislation due to the widespread protests against it by various people's movements. The proposed bill had fifteen chapters consisting of 143 sections which included all the sections of the Indian Forest Act XVI of .1927 (excepting the preamble) and fifty new (additional) sections. The implications of this 'aborted bill' have been widely discussed in recent times*. In the current session of the Parliament, the Government declared that soon it will come up with a new statement of forest policy and also with various amendments to the existing forest legislation. And the restless march of 'Scientific Forestry' continues.
Finally we would like to understand more clearly what, is the nature of the Utopia that is promised by the modern science of forestry for the people 'at large'— the villagers, the forest dwellers. These promises are enshrined in the visions presented of 'village forests' or 'forest villages' or 'communal forests' which were talked about by the very pioneers of the 'science of forestry' in India. In fact the Forest Act of 1878 had a chapter-devoted to the constitution of village forests'. However this provision remained empty as no forests were constituted into village forests. Ribbentrop stated in 1900 that: 'The Act provides in chapter III for the constitution of village forests in a somewhat roundabout way...The area should first be created a Government Reserved Forest...The chapter has remained a dead letter.
Well, the chapter remains a dead fetter even today. But according to the pioneers of the 'science of forestry', constituting village forests represents a very advanced state which would only be eventually reached after the forests have been worked (as reserved forests) for a fairly long time under 'scientific management'. In fact Brandis realized that it was very premature to have introduced a provision for village forests in the 1878 Act and so when it came to drafting a Forest Bill for the Madras Presidency, the entire chapter on Village Forests was omitted This was because, the first task of 'scientific forest management' was to constitute 'Reserve Forests' and there was a danger that this could get confused with formation of 'village forests' which ought to come only much later. As Brandis himself explained:
'The present staff of Forest officers-superior and subordinate-in this Presidency, will barely be found sufficient to do justice to the most urgent work, that is the constitution, protection and management of reserved forests . . . These are the reasons why I have not recommended that a chapter on village forests be included in the Madras Forest Act. Had provisions authorizing establishment of village forests been inserted; in the present Act, the result would be that in many cases, when the establishment of reserved 'forests under the Act is proposed, a discussion would arise as to whether such lands should be made 'Reserved Forests', or 'Village Forests'*. Such discussions are premature. Under existing circumstances all that can be attempted with reasonable prospect of success is to constitute reserved forests under the Act, and then to manage them by the Government Officers. Later on when experience has been gained then the project of village forests must be taken in hand, and if it should be found necessary to give such a project the support of a legislative enactment, it will not be found difficult to frame such an enactment. I submit an emphatic warning against any attempt at present to undertake several things at the same time.
Well, granting that 'village forests' would come only eventually, one would like to know what they would be like, and when would it be reasonable to expect that such forests may get constituted. Here, what more can be promised than what has been achieved after centuries of 'scientific forestry' in the various civilized nations of Europe. Let us go back once, again to the pioneers of 'scientific forestry' in India and examine their vision of the Utopia. According to Brandis :
'In advocating the establishment of village forests, and the insertion of provisions for village forests in the Indian and Burma Forest Acts, I have had before me the beneficial effect of Communal Forests in Europe. There are many districts in France, in Germany and Italy, were well-managed communal forests are a source of wealth to the country. The revenue from these forests pays for the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, churches, school-houses and other public buildings and there are many towns and villages where a large portion, and in some cases the whole of the Municipal expenditure is covered by the revenue derived from forests belonging to towns and villages. But even in Europe the necessities of the present are stronger than the care for the future, and 'the communal forests j would be worked in a wasteful manner if their management were not controlled by the State. Chapter VI of the French Code Forester provides for the management of communal forests under the 'control of the State Forests Officers . . . Similar provisions form part of the Forest Law in other countries.
Baden Pawell, in his book, 'Forest Law' (1893) has given a description of the 'European Law regarding the control by the State of Communal forests and forests belonging to corporate bodies and institutions', and he states :
'A brief description of the European laws regarding the State control of forests belonging to Villages, Towns, Communes, Corporations' and Public Institutions will probably be useful as such provisions may in time to come afford practical suggestions for guidance in Indian and other forests, lit may be remarked that all these laws make provision that the Government should control the management of such forests to a greater or lesser extent ; and it will probably be felt that If this is found necessary in countries which are completely civilized it will be even more so when the peasantry are as ignorant as they are in India. Private owners and even communal councils are prone to look only to the present and desire to make an immediate profit without thinking of the future; the State being imperishable, is free to a large extent from this temptation. It is obvious that this' and other considerations, forcible as they are in any country, are more usually applicable to India, where there is so much ignorance and backwardness in all matters relating to the general economy.'
Half a century later, E. P. Stebbing describes the then prevalent vision of communal forests as follows* :
'In France where the reasons for maintaining State Forests are well understood, it has not been found possible to allow the village authority to manage the Communal Forests without the State Forest Officer-The latter draws up the Working Plan, does all the marking and is responsible that the provisions of the plan in respect to grazing, proper felling, and so forth are carried out. Even in France with three centuries of Forest Management behind her it has not been found possible to relieve the Forest Department its responsibility vis-a-vis the Communal Forests.'
Thus we see very little reason to lose heart if no village forests have been established in what is just over a century of 'scientific forestry in India. We should share the hope of Brandis : ''the village authorities, it may be hoped, will gradually acquire that knowledge which will enable them to take a share in the management of those lands [which will be constituted village forests]''**. Till then, what will be the role of people? Well, who can explain it better than Baden Powell.
'First as regards the people. They are ignorant as we have seen of the practical truths established by forest science, the more so as they are blinded by a short-sighted idea of their own immediate interest. All forest conservancy is therefore necessarily disliked. It is not to be supposed for one moment that people at large are less hostile to forest conservancy in Europe, than they are in India. . . And hence it is idle to speak of ''carrying the people with us in our efforts to conserve", such phrases are mere folly. All that in India we can hope to do is, from a standpoint of necessarily superior knowledge, to ascertain facts and define our restrictions and the areas within which they are enforced, with strict justice.
These have been the 'rules of the game' of the 'modern science of forestry'. Whoever claimed that it is a 'people's science of forestry'?
We are grateful to Ramachandra Guha for his invaluable help in the preparation of this article.