Discuss how the changes in forest management in the colonial period affected the following
groups of people:
(i) Shifting cultivators
(ii) Nomadic and pastoralist communities
(iii) Firms trading in timber/forest produce
(iv) Plantation owners
(v) Kings/British officials engaged in shikar
(i) Shifting cultivators: The colonial rulers banned shifting cultivation as it was difficult
government to calculate taxes. As a result, a number of communities were forced to leave the
forests. Some had to join alternate occupations in the cities, while some rose in rebellion
(ii) Nomadic and pastoralist communities: The nomadic and pastroralist groups suffered a lot. The British government declared some forests as reserved and protected. This limited their access to the forests. They could not graze their herds in the forests or collect forest produce like fruits, roots, fuel and timber. For medicines, they could not collect herbs. They had to give up hunting and fishing in the forest areas as well.
(iii) Firms trading in timber and forest produce: The colonial rule affected the timber trade in many ways:
(a) The British government enacted laws for forest preservation. According to this law, people were not allowed to cut trees and collect timber from the forests.
(b) The disappearance of the oak forests in England created a problem of timber supply for the Royal Navy.
(c) People could not collect the forest products like ivory, silk, coconuts, bamboo, spices, resins, gum, etc. for trading.
(d) Only a few European trading firms were given the right to trade in the forest products of particular areas. Owing to this rule, the local traders had to suffer.
(iv) Plantation owners: The concept of plantation agriculture came to India with the colonial rule. The owners of the plantations were mostly Europeans. Therefore, the regulations related to plantations were made keeping in view the interest of the Europeans.
(a) Large areas of natural forests were cleared to make way for tea, coffee and rubber plantations. The British traded profitably in these commodities.
(b) The colonial government took over the forests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. These areas were enclosed and planted with tea or coffee.
(c) The planters were given a free hand to manage and regulate the farms. The labourers were paid low wages and made to work in poor conditions.
(v) Kings/British officials engaged in shikar: Under colonial rule, the scale of hunting increased to such an extent that various species became almost extinct. The British saw large animals as symbols of a wild, primitive and savage society. They believed that killing dangerous animals would ‘civilise’ India. Rewards were given for killing tigers, wolves and other large animals as they posed a threat to the cultivators. Killing of wild animals took place on a large scale. In the period between 1875 and 1925, more than 3 lakh animals were killed. Hunting for game became a favourite pastime for both British and Indians. Only after many years passed, the environmentalists questioned this uncontrolled hunting and suggested the preservation of the animal species.
What are the similarities between colonial management of the forests in Bastar and in Java?
The similarities in the colonial management of forests in Bastar and Java are given
(i) Both were colonies ruled by foreign powers.
(ii) In both the regions, a proper system of forest management was established by the colonial masters. Scientific forestry was started and forests were controlled.
(iii) The local people from villages were not permitted to collect any forest produce. Large parts of forest cover were reserved where the villagers were not allowed to stay.
(iv) The livelihood of the local people was threatened by the colonial policies. Hence, they organised themselves to resist colonial intrusion.
Between 1880 and 1920, forest cover in the Indian sub-continent declined by 9.7 million
from 108.56 million hectares to 98.9 million hectares. Discuss the role of the following
(iii) Agricultural expansion
(iv) Commercial farming
(v) Tea/Coffee plantations
(vi) Adivasis and other peasant users
(i) Railways: The British introduced the railways to easily transport goods from one place to
The first railway line was laid down in 1853 in India. Wood was required as fuel to run
engines as well as to build railway sleepers. Only a mile of railway track required about
sleepers. The expansion of railway lines required wood which led to depletion of
(ii) Shipbuilding: Trade was mostly carried out by sea routes. For building ships, wood was needed on a large scale. In Britain, the oak forests were declining. This created a problem of timber supply for the Royal Navy. In 1820s, timber search teams were sent to India for exploring the forest resources. The British provided for large scale cutting of trees in India so that timber could be exported to England.
(iii) Agricultural expansion: Large areas under forest cover were put under cultivation by the British. This would bring more revenue to the British through agricultural incomes. Between 1880 and 1920, the cultivated area increased by about 6.7 million hectares. Also, the British promoted the cultivation on large plantations. Plantations required large forest areas to be converted into cultivable lands.
(iv) Commercial farming: Earlier, the forests were used as resources for sustaining life. The British cleared large forests for growing commercial crops. The British traded in tea, sugar, coffee, jute, rubber and cotton, which were in huge demand in Europe. These crops were also important raw-materials which were required in British industries.
(v) Tea/Coffee plantations: The British introduced plantation agriculture in India. To achieve this, forest areas were cleared where different types of plants grew naturally. The plantations required one crop to be planted systematically over a large area of land. Over time, the British earned high profits from these plantations. A large workforce was needed to work on these plantations. Forests had to be cut down to provide accommodation to these labourers.
(vi) Adivasis and other peasant users: The British government imposed certain forest laws in India but, adivasis and farmers disobeyed these laws through several means. They continued to use forest resources and took their cattle for grazing. The women continued to collect firewood. If caught, they bribed the police guards and forest officials. The local traders returned huge favours to the forest guards to continue cutting trees illegally.
Why are forests affected by wars?
The wars affected the forests in the following ways:
(i) During World War I and II, forests were badly affected because trees were recklessly cut to meet the British requirements.
(ii) During wars, large areas of forests came under fire which resulted in disappearance of forests. (iii) At the time of war in Java, the Dutch government themselves put fire to teakwood and agricultural machines to prevent the resources going into the hands of the enemies. The Dutch did not want their resources to go into Japanese hands.
(iv) During the war years, many villagers expanded their cultivation in the forests. In case of India, people required land to increase their agricultural productivity. It brought them in conflict with the forest departments.
Have there been changes in forest areas where you live? Find out what these changes are and why they have happened.
In the area where I live, the forests have dramatically changed. Over the years, it has
number of trees have disappeared. Only a few plants have been left now as compared to the
These changes took place due to large scale urbanisation and industrialisation. The increase in population is a major factor responsible for this. (Answers may vary.)
Each mile of railway track required between 1,760 and 2,000 sleepers. If one average-sized tree yields 3 to 5 sleepers for a 3 metre wide broad gauge track, calculate approximately how many trees would have to be cut to lay one mile of track.
Approximately, 470 trees would have to be cut to lay one mile of track.
If you were the Government of India in 1862 and responsible for supplying the railways with sleepers and fuel on such a large scale, what were the steps you would have taken?
If I were the Government of India in 1862, I would have taken the following steps for
railways with sleepers and fuel on such a large scale:
(i) I would have looked for alternative sources to meet this increasing demand.
(ii) If alternative sources were not available, I would have focussed on increasing the area under forests.
(iii) I would have spread awareness among the people to stop deforestation.