Thursday, December, 08,2022

THE DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF THE FOREST DWELLER

The 1865 Indian Forest Act represented the first attempt of the colonial state to bring about a comprehensive legislation on the subject. Its primary aim was to assert the monopoly of the British over the Indian forest land. It empowered the government to declare any land covered with trees, or brushwood or jungle as a government forest and make rules to manage it. As mentioned in the first article in the series, the task was to secure teak wood for railway sleepers by creating a government monopoly over teak. However, as the forest department had still not been organized, the determination of whether the land in question was under forest or not, was determined by the Revenue officials. Over the next two decades, the Forest department became more organized, and forest officials pointed out the lacunae in the 1865 Act (from the point of view of the Forest department). Thus, the Indian Forest Act was revised in 1878, and the principal fallout was that it truncated the centuries-old traditional use by communities of their forests. The provision of this Act established a virtual State monopoly over the forests in a legal sense on one hand, and on the other, asserted that the customary use of the forests by the villagers was not a ‘right’, but a ‘privilege’ that could be withdrawn at will. This was, in effect the disenfranchisement of the forest dwellers over their traditional rights over access and livelihoods. The 1878 Act divided forests into three categories- reserved, protected and village forests. The Reserved forests were called the ‘best forests and the villagers could not take anything from these forests, even for their own use. For house building or fuel, they could take wood from protected or village forests, but in effect they were at the mercy of the forest officials. By one stroke of the pen, the organic relationship between the forest dweller and the forest was extinguished.

This was followed by the first formal Forest Policy in 1894 in which the exception clauses took precedence over the stated objectives. Therefore, we shall talk of the exceptions before the general policy. The three exceptions were that permanent cultivation should come before forestry and that the of satisfaction of local needs at noncompetitive rates would take precedence over revenue: but it was left to the Forest department to define what the local need was, and, and what exactly was ‘non- competitive’. Last but not the least was the realization of ‘maximum revenue’. The general policy was the normative statement regarding the of adequate forest cover for preservation of physical and climatic conditions and fulfilment of the needs of the people – observed more in breach than in practise.

This was followed by the Indian Forest Act, 1927 which is still on the statute book, though it has been amended many times and supplemented with state legislation as well. It created the fourth category of Non-government Forest, besides introducing regulatory measures were introduced to prohibit/control quarrying of stones, burning of lime or charcoal, the collection of any manufacturing process, or removal of any forest produce in any such forest and the breaking up or clearing for cultivation, for building and for herding cattle. The Government of India Act of 1935 transferred the subject of Forestry to the state list. Not only was the recruitment to the IFS stopped, but it also meant that there was in effect, little central control over forest matters. Popular ministries too oath in the states, and increased the expenditure on welfare schemes, thereby putting pressure on the Finance department to seek additional sources of revenue. At that time, the main tax base of the states comprised land revenue followed by excise and commercial taxes. Given the pro- famer orientation of the freedom movement, land revenue could not be raised: in fact, many state governments announced remissions, and therefore the forest department was under pressure to mobilise funds for the enhanced budgetary outlays. (To be continued)

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

SANJEEV CHOPRA  The writer superannuated as the Director of the LBS National Academy of Administration, India’s apex training institution, and curates Valley of Words: An annual Literature and Arts festival at Dehradun, where he currently resides

  Share on

Related News