Forest Management in India

  1. Introduction
  2. Pre-World War 1
  • The Indian Forest Act, 1865
  • The Indian Forest Act, 1878
  1. Post World War II
  • Forest Act 1927
  1. The implications and administering Forest Act, 1927 in WW II

Pre world war 1 Phase 1 In 1806 A.D, the post of “Conservator of Forests” was established through a commission, to assess the availability of teak in the regions of Malabar and Travancore. This was the beginning of the Imperial Government exercising its control over the Indian Forests, disregarding the previous set of complex rules and regulations woven around socio cultural features and economic activities of the local communities. However the appointment of the commission to assess and enquire the availability of teak failed to conserve the forests, rather it allowed the conservator of forests to plunder and loot the forests.

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This post was eventually abolished in the year 1823 A.D but only after significant damage done to the forests. Therefore the first phase from 1806 AD to 1823 AD failed to conserve forests as the appointed conservator of forests plundered the forest wealth.[1] After abolishing the Conservator of Forests post, we find a void of any policy or commission till 1864. This period between phase 1(1806-1823) and phase II(1864-1913) was devastating for the Indian forests. Since the local communities and tribes in the forests had already lost their claim over the forests, there were no rules and regulations local or otherwise to maintain the forest cover. Therefore for imperial consideration and absence of any British policies, independent contractors both Indian and European seized the opportunity to cut down the forest cover and use the supply of wood for export, for British navy, for local constructions i.e. for roads and railways. These private contractors were chiefly responsible for the devastation of the forests. Phase 2 This phase marks the beginning of a new era under which we see an attempt being made to formulate new policies for organised forest management in India; legislate the implementation of such policies and some intention of taking administrative steps to conserve forests. The first inspector general of the forest was appointed in 1864. After this, the systematic management of forests started. The tasks assigned under the supervision of the inspector general of the forests were mammoth. It ranged from the exploration of resources, demarcation of reserves, protection of forest from fire, assessment of growing stock. Thus the objective of this appointment changed from obtaining timber to protecting and improving forests cover. Along with the appointment, the necessity of treating forests as state property was felt. Forest Act 1865 The first step towards asserting the state monopoly over the forest was the enactment of the Forest Act, 1865. This Act empowered the government to appropriate any land that is covered with trees. The purpose for promulgating Forest Act, 1865 is mentioned in section 2. It gives specific powers to the Governor General of India as well as to the local governments, to declare any land covered by trees, brushwood or jungle a ‘Government Forest’[2]. It also empowers the state to make rules and regulation regarding the management of the same by way of notification provided that such notification should not abridge or affect any existing rights of individuals or communities.[3] So, the Act sought to establish monopoly of state on property rights, for the right to cut down forests or any natural growth for imperialistic pursuits, especially for the purpose of constructing railway lines. Thus, in the name of “scientific management, the Act was an attempt to obliterate centuries of customary use of the forests by rural population all over India “(Guha and Gadgil 1989). The Act of 1865 was refused to be enacted by the Madras Presidency. The Presidency argued that the rights of the villagers over waste lands and jungles were important.[4] This led to a fierce debate between the Madras presidency and the government of India and the claim made by the Madras Presidency prevented the Government of India from making forests the exclusive property of the State. In 1874 AD, a conference of forest officers was held. The conference went into the defects of the 1865 Act. The main proposed task before them was to reverse a process which the Britishers had initiated. The Act was now seen as Worthless. By reversing the initiation they would allow the villagers to exercise user rights unhindered. All the provisions of the 1865 Act were found to be defective. The only exception made was to the provision pertaining to arrest. The major lacunae of the Act was that the act provided for the protection of forests but only after it had been selected and declared as Government forest. It was argued that for effective control, State as a soverign, should have the power to protect any forest for demarcation and management. Their was a lot of debate within the indian bureaucracy about the “absolute proprietary right of the State”. Thus it was decided to treat the customary use of the forest by the villagers and the local communities as based on “privilege” and not on “right”’. “the Act was hurriedly drafted and passed mainly to facilitate the acquisition of those forest areas earmarked most urgently for railway supplies” (Guha, 1990, p.66) Forest Act 1878 Since the 1865 Act was considered to be inadequate, it was replaced by Forest Act 1878. The main driving force behind the Act of 1878 were commercial consideration and revenue generation. According to Baden Powell, the architect of 1878 Act, only section 8 of the previous Act The 1865 Act was replaced by a much more repressive Act in 1878 as it was thought to be ‘inadequate’,12 with commercial considerations and revenue generation becoming overriding. In fact, all the provisions of the 1865 Act were found to be defective, except Section 8. According to Baden-Powell, the chief architect of the 1878 Act, section 8, “gives one satisfactory power in the Act, and must be maintained in the new law; arrest without warrant is absolutely essential”. (Guha, 1983, p. 1941). The 1865 Act had only 19 Sections, the 1878 Act was comprehensive comprising of 83 Sections, divided into 14 Chapters and a Preamble. The primary objective of the Act was the establishment of absolute state property rights over forests. This was done along with the legal separation of customary rights. to achieve this demarcation of State property Rights along with separation of Customary Rights, the forests were classified into three types:

  1. reserved forests
  2. protected forests
  3. village forests

Such demarcation as an inherent aspect of the forests, was done solely on the basis of administrative grounds. The guiding force behind such demarcation were based on commercial benefits. A clear difference was established between “rights” and “privileges”. Rights were those which existed earlier and referred to those assertions that existed which were recorded in earlier land settlements by giving them strict legalisitic interpretation. While privileges were sort of concessions, for example, “the use of grazing, collecting firewood, etc., and which were alwaysgranted by policy of the state for the convenience of the people. The distinction, by one stroke of the executive pen, attempted to obliterate centuries of customary use by rural populations all over India. (Gadgil and Guha, 1992, p. 134). The Forest Act, 1878 had great deal of flexibility for interpretation, Baden Powell, the architect of this Act, commented that “if such interpretations were “intelligently done, it is surprising often to find how much better off we i.e., the colonial state) are than a casual or hopeless elimination of existing sections would at first suggest”. (Guha, 1983, p. 1942). According to reserved forests (Chapter II of the Act), the lands were the absolute property of the government. In protected forests (Chapter IV of the Act), the lands were the property of the government but the use-rights of the villagers remained. In village forests (Chapter III of the Act), the government held only the rights of management. Village forests consisted of residue forest wastelands with hardly any forest department control. Village forests were largely residue of wastelands with no forest department control. On the other hand the reserved and protected were guided by the commercial revenues from profit of the timber. Initially , those areas needed for the requirements of india and for export to England were designated as reserved forests. It was very difficult to assess the demand needs right away as time went by, the area under reserved forests increased. the ultimate goal of the designated protected forests were of converting them into reserved forests. The conversion was directly proportional to the ever increasing demand of timber. “There were 14,000 square miles of state forests in 1878. This increased to 56,000 square miles of reserved forests and 20,000 square miles of protected forests in 1890 and to 81,400 and 8,300 square miles respectively in 1900”. (Gadgil and Guha, 1992, p. 134). In India the requirement for railway sleepers grew exponentially. By 1870s it was not possible to meet the demands. It was calculated by then that “well over a million sleepers were required annually”, at the rate of 860 sleepers per mile of railway track construction. Each sleeper was calculated to last between 12 to 14 years. The rate at which the railway grew was greater than what was then calculated. The estimation suggested that it expanded from 1349 kilometers of track in 1860 to 51,658 kilometers of track in 1910. It was very well known that the victories of England during its war with Napoleon and maritime expansion[5] was due to the permanent supply of durable timber from India for royal navy[6]. “Ships were built in dockyards of Surat and on the Malabar Coast, as well as from teak imported into England. In fact, even in the second decade of the 20th Century, well over one million sterling worth of teak wood [were] being imported annually into Britain”. See M. Gadgil and R. Guha (1992), Initially only three kinds of trees, deodar, teak and sal were used for railway sleepers. However, around 1912, research proved that the blue and chir pines were also suited for this purpose. In the next few years, the extensive pine forests of Garhwal and Kumaon regions were reserved. 16 The revenue and surplus of the forest department increased from 5.6 and 1.7 million rupees respectively, for the period 1869-70 to 1873-74, to 55.2 and 18.5 million rupees respectively for the period 1919-20 to 1923-24. See Stebbing (1922-27), Vol. III, p. 620. P

[1] Lal, India’sForests: Myth and Reality(natraj, Dehradun, 1989) at 15-17 [2] History of Conflict over Forests in India: A Market Based Resolution By Arnab Kumar Hazra* [3] S Prasad – ‎2011 [4] S Prasad – ‎2011 [5] E.P. Stebbing (1922), The Forests of India, Vol. I, and R.G. Albion (1926), Forests and Sea Power, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. [6] This Fissured Land : An Ecological History of India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi,

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