Beginning of forest management in India
Pegu’s first superintendent John McClelland examined its teak forests in minutest details. In his report, he noted that many accessible areas had been over-exploited; he urged strict conservancy measures in his two reports. These reports had formed the basis of memorandum issued by Lord Dalhousie on Indian forests in 1855.
“Private trade in timber led to over exploitation of certain forest areas in India and negative environmental impacts brought such problems as soil erosion, climate change and water shortage as documented by Michael Mann covering a period of 1780-1840 published in Environment and History Journal in 2001.”
Timber merchants and some government officials opposed McClelland’s proposals. They wanted to promote laissez-faire policy. The struggle between interventionist and economic liberals found expression in a dispute between McClelland and Commissioner Arthur. P. Phayre over the issue of timber duties. While the former favored a higher rate to discourage over harvesting, the latter promoted a low rate that would encourage private extraction. This dispute led to McClelland’s resignation, Dalhousie’s minutes on forest policy and Brandis’s appointment as Pegu’s second superintendent of forests.
In his reports, McClelland observed that young trees of only two to four feet in girth were harvested in low lands destroying the process of natural seedlings that an older tree provided. This waste cut the future yield significantly to satisfy the urge for an immediate profit with no concern for either the forest or for future revenue. McClelland proposed two simple remedies:
1. A single duty per log rather than a percentage of their worth, thus rendering the harvesting of small trees profitless after the payment of the sizeable fee and 2) reservation of forests by the government so that merchants could only extract timbre specifically marked by foresters. To enforce these rules he proposed revenue stations along all the rivers below the teak forests to inspect logs and calculate duty.
Dalhousie agreed with both the proposals of McClelland, accepted the advice to ban merchants from choosing their own trees for felling, and approved of constructing revenue stations on the rivers for efficient duty collection. His charter on Indian forests confirmed annexation as a ruling principle. He declared by definition forest must be considered state property, if not wasteland or privately owned. Brandis even stopped felling of trees in government forests until forest officials as per scientific methods determined volume of timber available in forest. J S Verma, CJ when he issued directions in famous and ongoing T N Godavarman case (forest conservation case) in 1996, took recourse to these two measures.
Beginning of conservation and environmentalism
With the establishment of forest areas as absolute state property, new methods of scientific forestry developed in Burma, later moved to India, and culminated in establishment of Imperial Forest Department in 1864 and creation of a new all India service Imperial Forest Service. With the new legal definition of forest grew the policies and practices of the conservation movement, the first phase of environmentalism which later spread to British colonies and USA. Thus, growth of British imperialism and environmentalism has a shared past and both cannot be separated. This was the dialectics of the time in late nineteenth century.
Following loss of Britain’s American colonies, coupled with the outbreak of Napoleonic War and a blockade of the Baltic between 1805 and 1822, teak assumed great importance. Initially, teak supplies were met from Malabar Coast and later from Bengal and Burma. In Malabar Coast, over exploitation of teak led to timber famine hitting shipbuilding of Royal Navy.
The government’s support for expanding agriculture and construction of Railways also contributed to loss of more forest areas leading to environmental problems. This background made Scottish doctors turned foresters to argue with the government to intervene in direct forest management for lesser harm to forests, sustained supply of teak and revenue to the government coffers. Necessity of teak for shipbuilding and in constructions in India and England and resultant shortage of teak in Malabar Coast and Bengal, government turned towards Burmese operation to get supplies of teak without interruption.
Forest extraction on the principle of sustained yield was supported with planned regeneration of forest areas exploited. Only mature trees were allowed for cutting based on marking done following principle of silviculture. Exploitation and regeneration was planned in such a manner that the total growing stock was not impaired. Only increment was harvested. This sustained yield principle was followed in departmentally approved document called “Working Plan”. Every ten year working plan was revised based on detailed survey. This more than 150 years old practice is still being followed in forestry establishments.
Thus, Lord Dalhousie’s charter on forest issued in 1855 initiated the management of forest by the state on scientific lines as per sustained yield principle heralded the era of forest conservation in India. The Rio Earth Summit 1992 in the Forest Principles and the SDG Summit 2015 have both accepted the imperative of managing forest on sustainable principle. The term used in early forest management in British India ‘sustained yield’ is now ‘sustainable management’ in modern international treaties and agreements on forest.
Public policy making is mostly a reflection of the dominant philosophy of the day. In second half of the 19th Century, the British were consolidating their foothold in India. The British had already established network of courts and many codes on law to facilitate adjudication. The First Law Commission had come into being in 1834. The British had realized that the state has to intervene in the matters of general welfare in India if the British Raj had to be continued. Creation of vast network of roads, rails and other physical infrastructures were reflection of that conviction.
In deciding intervention of state in forest was likewise their thought to continue getting timber and revenue from forest resources in perpetuity. However, state intervention in forest proved to be beneficial to the cause of forest protection even after independence. These were the reasons for continuation of some of the laws and management practices made in the British time even after independence. (Concluded)