The Rise of Commercial Forestry

  • The British were worried that the use of forests by local people and the reckless felling of trees by traders would destroy forests.

  • They decided to invite a German expert, Dietrich Brandis , for advice and made him the first Inspector General of Forests in Ind ia.

  • Brandis realized that a proper system had to be introduced to manage the forests and people had to be trained in the science of conservation.

  • The felling of trees and grazing had to be restricted so that the forests could be preserved for timber production.

  • Anybody who cut trees without following the system had to be punished.

  • Brandis set up the Indian Forest Service in 1864 and helped formulate the Indian Forest Act of 1865.

  • The Imperial Forest Research Institute was set up at Dehradun in 1906 . The system they taught here was called ‘scientific forestry.

  • In scientific forestry, natural forests which had lots of different types of trees were cut down . In their place, one type of tree was planted in straight rows . This is called a plantation.

  • Forest officials surveyed the forests , estimated the area under different types of trees, and made working plans for forest management.

  • After the Forest Act was enacted in 1865, it was amended twice, once in 1878 and then in 1927.

  • The 1878 Act divided forests into three categories : reserved, protected, and village forests. The best forests were called ‘reserved forests.

How were the lives of People Affected?

  • Villagers wanted forests with a mixture of species to satisfy different needs - fuel, fodder, and leaves.

  • The forest department on the other hand wanted trees that were suitable for building ships or railways . They needed trees that could provide hardwood, and were tall and straight.

  • In forest areas, people use forest products – roots, leaves, fruits, and tubers – for many things.

  • Fruits and tubers are nutritious to eat, especially during the monsoons before the harvest has come in.

  • Herbs are used for medicine, wood for agricultural implements like yokes and plows, bamboo makes excellent fences, and is also used to make baskets and umbrellas.

  •  A dried scooped-out gourd can be used as a portable water bottle

  • After the Forest Act, all their everyday practices - cutting wood for their houses, grazing their cattle, collecting fruits and roots, hunting and fishing- became illegal.

  • People were now forced to steal wood from the forest, and if they were caught, they were at the mercy of the forest guard who would take bribes for them.

How did Forest Rules Affect Cultivation?

  • One of the major impacts of European colonialism was the practice of shifting cultivation or swidden agriculture.

  • This is a traditional agricultural practice in many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. It has many local names such as lading in Southeast Asia, milpa in Central America, chimenea or tavy in Africa, and chena in Sri Lanka.

  • In shifting cultivation, parts of the forest are cut and burnt in rotation.

  • Seeds are sown in the ashes after the first monsoon rains , and the crop is harvested by October-November.

  • Such plots are cultivated for a couple of years and then left fallow for 12 to 18 years for the forest to grow back . A mixture of crops is grown on these plots.

  •  In central India and Africa, it could be millets, in Brazil manioc, and in other parts of Latin America maize and beans.

  • European foresters regarded this practice as harmful to the forests.

  • The government decided to ban shifting cultivation.

  • As a result, many co mmunities were forcibly displaced from their homes in the forests. Some had to change occupations, while some resisted through large and small rebellions.

Who could Hunt?

  • Before the forest laws, many people who lived in or near forests had survived by hunting deer, partridges and a variety of small animals.

  • This customary practice was prohibited by the forest laws. Those who were caught hunting were now punished for poaching.

  • While the forest laws deprived people of their customary rights to hunt, hunting of big game became a sport.

  • In India, hunting tigers and other animals had been part of the culture of the court and nobility for centuries.

  •  Under colonial rule, the s cale of hunting increased to such an extent that various species became almost extinct.

  • The British saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society. They believed that by killing dangerous animals the British would civilize India.

  • 0ver 80,000 tigers, 150,000 leopards, and 200,000 wolves were killed for reward in the period 1875-1925.

  • The Maharaja of Sarguja alone shot 1,157 tigers and 2,000 leopards up to 1957. A British administrator, George Yule, killed 400 tigers. Initially, certain areas of forests were reserved for hunting.

  • Later environmentalists and conservators began to argue that all these species of animals needed to be protected, and not killed.

New Trades, New Employment, and New Services

  • While people lost out in many ways after the forest department took control of the forests, some people benefited from the new opportunities that had opened up in trade.

  • Many communities left their traditional occupation s and started trading in forest products.

  • For example, with the growing demand for rubber in the mid-nineteenth century, the Mundurucu peoples of the Brazilian Amazon who lived in villages on high ground and cultivated manioc began to collect latex from wild rubber trees for supply to traders.

  • In India, the trade in forest products was not new. From the medieval period onwards, we have records of Adivasi communities trading elephants and other goods like hides, horns, silk cocoons, ivory, bamboo, spices, fibers, grasses, gums, and resins through nomadic communities like the Banjaras.

  • The British government gave many large European trading firms the sole right to trade in the forest products of particular areas. Grazing and hunting by local people were restricted.

  • New opportunities for work did not always mean improved well-being for the people.

  •  In Assam, both men and women from forest communities like Santhals and Oraons from Jharkhand, and Gonds from Chhattisgarh were recruited to work on tea plantations. Their wages were low and the conditions of work were very bad.
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Davneet Singh

Davneet Singh has done his B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He has been teaching from the past 14 years. He provides courses for Maths, Science, Social Science, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science at Teachoo.