(Last Updated on : 26/11/2010)
The history of Indian forests
is closely linked with political history. The Epics Ramayana
give an attractive description of forests. The Dandakaranya, the Khandavban and the Nandanvan come from them. Ancient Hindu culture is said to have evolved in Aranyas. Literatures are not, however, scientific treatises. Nevertheless, they give a glimpse into the dim and distant past. They are an indication of the level of significance the forests had in the cultural life of people.
Early History of Indian Forests
The earliest indication of forestry administration in India is found in 300 BC. It was during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya
. A Superintendent of Forests looked after forests and wildlife. Later Ashoka
continued the process. Much importance was given for planting trees along roadsides. Camping sites, too, were planted. The Mughal policy on forests was one of indifference. Neither did they seem to pay much attention to the forests nor did they have any religious scruples to destroy them. The Mughals looked upon the forests as game reserves. They were interested in trees for gardening. They also showed interest in plantations on either side of avenues. They therefore displayed an aesthetic and utilitarian approach to plants. They lacked any comprehensive understanding of forests. They lacked definitive approach for their preservation, propagation, protection and improvement. The forests were reclaimed for agriculture. It was emphasized. The state supported this through incentives. Parts of the farmer community were pushed back into the forests due to the Mughal invasion. They took up shifting cultivation. This damaged the forests.
Later History of Indian forests
Heavy destruction of forests also occurred in the later part of the 18th and early part of the 19th century. Europeans carried away much of the produce. In the early years of British Raj, large indents were made on the timber wealth of the country. The teak forests along the coast of Malabar were over-exploited. The timber was supplied to meet the requirement of the British Navy. Over-exploitation followed appointment of a commission in 1800 to inquire into the availability of teak. Sandalwood trees of South India were exploited for their way to European markets.
The history of Indian forests in the modern period is the story of conservation. The first Conservator of Forests was appointed in 1806. It was basically to organize timber supply from the West Coast. First teak plantation in Nilambur (Kerala
) was raised in 1842. This was the first step towards the conservation forestry. In 1855, the Government of India issued a memorandum outlining the rules for the conservation of forests for the whole country. A qualified forester, Dr. Dietrich Brandis, was appointed the first Inspector General of forests in 1864. The First Indian Forest Act was drafted in 1865. A revised Indian Forest Act came into existence in 1878. It became operational in most of the provinces. For the first time forests were classified into Reserve and Protected forests. In 1927, the Act of 1878 was consolidated. Imperial Forest Research Institute was established in 1906 in Dehradun. Board of Forestry was created at national level in 1910. It was chaired by Inspector General of Forests. National Character of forest administration was considerably diluted in 1921. With political changes in 1921, forests became a provincial subject. Their administration came to rest on Provincial Governments. Gains in forests policy administration and conservation got a severe set back during two World Wars. The Wars accentuated over-felling. The Second World War was more damaging of the two. Most of the forests were destroyed for fuel and timber. Charcoal production was increased for supply to run army trucks. After the Wars, forest based industries cropped up in great numbers. Forests never got a chance to recuperate. Exploitation continued unabated.
In the post-independence period, the task of consolidation of forests, unification of forest laws and extension of scientific management on a reasonably uniform basis was the most important task of forest administration. In the early 50`s most of the States enacted new legislation affecting land tenure systems. Large areas of privately owned forests came to rest with forest departments of the states. Measures were also taken for wildlife conservation.
Thus, the history of forests in India reveals a rather chequered history. Starting from the earliest attempts at preservation and protection, they underwent serious exploitation. Thus a number of sustained efforts are being made for the recuperation and improvement of forest cover in India.