Sunday, May 1, 2016

46 Summary and conclusions. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-X.

Revisiting the issues

This final section is to go over the main points made previously, and pull together the various suggestions made. The essay seeks to understand the current feeling of discontent with the forest service in India, and the various pressures for change and modernization from different quarters; and what sort of response the forest service has made, or should be making, in dealing with actual activities as well as dealing with public perceptions.

A pdf of the entire article is available at

Section I (Post 37) set the broad background and agenda of the essay, by recounting the main strands of contemporary critique of the forest service. These include such issues as: 1) the identification of the forest service with the colonial regime, serving those interests under cover of concepts like ‘scientific’ or ‘sustained’ forestry; 2) the need to replace the top-down agenda of the forest service with an alternative ‘bottom-up’ approach predicated by transfer of rights to the people; 3) the need to infuse more scientific content into the activities of the forest service; 4) the related need to develop specialization and professionalism, e.g. in wildlife management, even to the extent of splitting the service; 5) the need to test the competence of forest officers as specialists through their success in publishing papers in peer-reviewed media; 6) the need to broad-base lines of recruitment into the service, even bringing in people from civil society through lateral entry, and reverting to the state services by doing away with the all-India service; 7) giving primacy to civil society influence on the priorities and strategies to be adopted rather than allowing the service to take final decisions; and so on.

Section II (Post 38) drew the parallels of the present-day forest service with the classical bureaucracy described by Max Weber, the German sociologist, in his early 20th century writings. Reference was also drawn to contemporary American political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s analysis of the early success of the US Forest Service, similarly based on recruitment of young aspirants from the open market, strong professional ethos, shared values and esprit-de-corps, etc., that made the USFS one of the best examples of effective state bureaucracy. However too much acquiescence to diverse agendas from civil society, especially for fire prevention, resulted in the USFS losing its original focus, leaving it in a less than happy state today. Something similar seems to have befallen the once fighting-fit Indian Forest Service as well, although the seed of its decline was probably an over-indulgence of industrial interests, rather than over-emphasis on fire protection as in the US case.

Section III (Post 39) traced the hoary traditions of social scientists’ engagement with the forest rights question, starting from the great Karl Marx’s essay on the “Wood Theft Law” in 19th century Germany. This clearly demonstrates how matters of forest control, that appear to the forester to be straightforward questions of the administrative set-up, are transformed into much larger questions of the relationship of the state to the individual and the status of basic human rights. However, the founding father of colonial forestry, Dietrich Brandis, observing the aftermath of the distribution of forests to the communities in the 1848 ‘revolution’ in Europe, could discern the ill-effects of such divesting of ownership, confirming his championing of a certain degree of state control on use and misuse of forests to guarantee sustainability to posterity. Another example of social commentary on state control of forests was drawn from James Scott’s work on the repeated failure of state-sponsored social engineering, of which the ‘scientific’ sustained yield forestry of 19th-century Europe, especially Germany (on which much of organized forestry in the colonies is modeled), was once again the favourite case study.

Section IV (Post 40) took up the call for improving scientific expertise and developing foresters as scientists of international repute. The impediments to developing a scientific or scholarly career in the midst of the routine demands of the job, were explained. In order to provide opportunities for the brightest among the forest officers to develop such a scholarly, advanced, academic competence and recognition, a few schemes had been proposed in the ministry during 2010-12. The first of these to be implemented is the Hari Singh Fellowship for IFS probationers, which sends the selected officers to a year’s specialized course in subjects like wildlife, immediately after the initial professional training at the IGNFA Dehradun. Other parallel proposals, i.e. the C.R.Ranganathan award for overseas study, the S.K.Seth award for middle-level officers, and the Dietrich Brandis award for senior and retired officers, have not yet been initiated. The point was made that developing excellent specialists does not end with the initial specialized course, but calls for a protracted period of dedicated effort on the part of the aspirant, complemented by support and approval from the service and department, as well as mentoring and collaborative work with persons of eminence in the chosen field, both at home and abroad. This is how the current experts like Ullas Karanth (wildlife) have been developed, and the forest service needs to study and emulate such processes if the current crop of young hopefuls (the Hari Singh fellows) are to make something of their initial start on the road to eminence as specialists.

Section V (Post 41) explained the traditional resistance of the forest service to splitting the service between forestry and wildlife, and to the even more extreme suggestions of the National Forestry Commission (2006) of making additional cadres for social forestry and for research and working plans. It was suggested that the disillusionment with the service of prominent personalities, like Valmik Thapar, could be ascribed to a basic cultural gulf from the middle-class members of the service. Another concerted effort, spearheaded again by persons like Thapar, was to split off the forests and wildlife as a separate department from the environment ministry. This was shot down by the committee of secretaries in the government of India, leading to much heartburn among the proponents, but it is suggested that the service should move towards integration with related fields like environment, rather than seeking to isolate itself. It was pointed out that the two pressures were internally discordant: one, for making the service sharply focused on specializations, and the other, making it inclusive and broad-based by opening recruitment to all types of graduates and providing for lateral entry from civil society at the highest levels, and so on.

Section VI (Post 42) addressed the tension between increased specialization and broader inclusive strategy in aspects such as recruitment to the service and applying science in forest management. The point was made that there cannot be a fundamental objection to allowing graduates in social sciences to compete in the IFS recruitment process conducted by the UPSC, but because classical sustained yield forestry had a strong base in measurement of trees and crops and calculation of financial criteria, a certain level of mathematics has been traditionally demanded at entrance itself. This is provided for in the UPSC exams by the requirement that at least one of the science papers should have been given in the undergraduate degree, and Statistics being one of these, it is conceivable that social sciences graduates could find themselves eligible if they had given Statistics at their Bachelor’s degree level. The suggestion was made that the eligibility clause could be expanded to include the post-graduate level as well, as many MA programmes do have Statistics as a mandatory paper (especially in economics, sociology, anthropology, if not others).

More critical for the modernization of the service, however, is the need to identify aspirants who have a certain flair or passion for nature, outdoors activity, and working with a field force and local communities. An analysis of the changes made in the UPSC selection process in 2012 was presented, with the clear indication of the rapid ascendance of engineering graduates in recent batches. This suggests great challenges to the training institution (IGNFA), as well as opportunities on the assumption that these engineering graduates will have superior mathematical, computer, and technical skills. The irony is that the most popular papers chosen in the exams were Forestry and Geology, not the physical sciences; the advantage imputed in past years to forestry graduates was thus eliminated and, ironically, the relative ease of scoring in Forestry was taken advantage of by the engineering graduates. For comparison, it was noted that a similar role was played by social sciences like Politics or History in the main civil services exams.

While the training institute (the IGNFA Dehradun) has made many changes to the training curriculum and techniques over the years that seem to have improved the competence and morale of the young entrants, it was suggested that an overhauling of the curriculum may be called for in response to the changed forest policy environment. For instance, the ecological and social role of forests being of the highest priority, in contrast to industrial material or financial returns, it may be desirable to reverse the very order in which these concerns are introduced. Rather than starting with measurement of volume and growth in the first hill tour, perhaps the initial emphasis should be on the environmental conservation angle of hill forests, followed by the patterns of dependence of local communities and the political economics of common property use and management. Production forestry could be introduced at a later stage, and the accent could be on the role of financial criteria in private forestry, rather than on conversion of natural forests. The main texts of the social (and judicial) critique of the traditional sustained yield forestry, and the modifications introduced by the concepts of sustainable forestry, should be presented and processed in depth.

Section VII (Post 43) discussed the knotty issues surrounding the role of forestry in the universities. It was argued that the very motivation for these courses (which were initiated in the 1980s) was somewhat confused, as protagonists of these courses seemingly thought that the graduates would be destined to take up the actual implementation of afforestation programmes. This approach was based on a wholly unjustified and unjust judgement that the forest departments were not capable of taking up the responsibility. The result is that these forestry graduates are caught between two posts: they are not guaranteed any positions in the state forest departments (they have to go through the same competitive process as all other eligible graduates for the forest services), and they have to strive extra hard to develop research projects as they do not have easy access to field forestry resources. Often university graduates drift to socio-economic critiques of forestry as an alternative to bio-physical research (which is highly demanding of time and logistics support), and thus become somewhat adversarial to the state forest departments. All this does not bode well for the future growth of forestry as a science. In this respect, some of the forest industries like MPM Bhadravathi, ITC Bhadrachalam, WIMCO, etc. seem to have done much better forestry research, utilizing the services of the self-same university graduates in collaboration with some retired forest officers. However, social environmentalists do not think much of these efforts as they have an ideological bias against forest industry, monocultures, etc.

Section VIII (Post 44) discussed the issues concerned with research, and the need to make the scientists in the forest research institutes feel an integral part of the forest establishment. Efforts may be required to improve access of scientists to some of the senior administrative posts in the Council. Recruitment processes of scientists may need to be decentralized, or at least dispersed to the outlying institutes and centers, to overcome the impression that persons from Uttarakhand state or Dehradun have a differential advantage. The two-edged nature of the move toward autonomy of the ICFRE was discussed; it appears that the more the Council attempts to ask for autonomy, the more it ends up as neither the ministry’s baby nor effective on its own. The budgets provided by the central government are now just sufficient for meeting the establishment and routine expenditure of the ICFRE, and it would be advisable to at least double the budgets over the course of the current Plan period, so that the institutes will be in a position to take up more activities. Since field forestry is the central mandate of the forest departments, the ICFRE institutes will need to forge strong ties with them, both for research agenda setting and for field activities. Some comparative figures of the size of forest scientist personnel from China and India was presented to show the need to increase the sheer numbers, so as to achieve a ‘critical mass’ in our forest institutes.

Section IX (Post 45) dealt with the need to make effective use of communication and information media, emulating some of the NGO groups who have been successful in their advocacy programmes. With the rising public interest in natural history, conservation, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, protection of indigenous and traditional cultures, and so on, the type of information put out will have to be improved. No longer will official reports on annual budgets satisfy the hunger for information and intellectual stimulation. Actually the forest service is in a relatively advantageous situation here, as it has assured access to the best and remotest natural areas, tribal centers, and so on. The forest departments have undertaken innumerable experiments in all these spheres, including working with tribals. These experiences need to be described, developed as case studies and documentaries, and put out on the media in such a way as to bring out the voice of the people on the ground, rather than as drab official reports. The help of creative media persons could be taken to develop such material. Ideas for certain new institutions like a Knowledge Forum, a Center for Information and Documentation, and even an Institute for  Sustainable Forestry, have been presented to enable such creative work and provide appropriate forums for collaboration with civil society resource persons outside the walls of the ministry.

Should the forest service be responsive?

Finally, the question arises whether the situation is really so serious as to warrant a response. Many foresters may feel that the criticisms are merely idle commentaries by social academics and activists who seek to gain popularity by such activities, and that the forest department can continue with its traditional approaches and ignore them. On the other hand, many foresters themselves have striven to develop a new paradigm for the department, for example through the devise of joint forest management (JFM). With a large number of academics and professionals getting involved in research and advocacy on behalf of community rights, as exemplified by the Forest Rights Act campaigns, it is unlikely that the forest service will be allowed to go on with its activities without modification. Hence it will be necessary for the service to organize its own study and analysis of such questions, in a framework acceptable on the stage of public academic discourse, complete with comparative analysis, case studies, time-line studies, and so on, so that the forest service can take part in an informed and competent way in these discussions.

A similar question was examined in connection with joint forest management in the author’s paper in the Karnataka Forest Department’s journal Myforest (Dilip Kumar, 1990). The point was made that the forest department should be in a central leadership position in this sphere, rather than be at the receiving end of innovations imposed from outside. If the experiment were to prove a success, the positive contribution of the department would be recognized and the service gain some improvements in its image and influence. If the experiment were to come apart and become a failure, the department would at least be in a situation where the situation could be rapidly retrieved and the negative effects minimized. Keeping aloof would only reinforce public perception of the service as uncooperative or hidebound and inflexible. In any case, it would be to the long-term advantage of the service, and the cause of forests, that the service be sensitive to the needs and desires of the people, as well as to the aspirations, perceptions and frustrations of the political class and their fellow-travelers, the social activists.

This article, as all others on this site, is the intellectual property of the author, P.J.Dilip Kumar (IFS, Retired). You are welcome to reproduce it with due acknowledgement. Suggested citation is as follows:
Dilip Kumar, P.J. Year. “TITLE”. Forest Matters, Nos. xx-xx (Month & Year). Available at: or


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Thursday, April 28, 2016

45 Documentation and communication. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-IX.

A new strategy for communication and advocacy

While the forest service is doing many things to respond to the winds of change, one of its problems is that it is not very effective in communicating this to the outside world. The private media (which are the more effective ones) of course are not interested in providing space to government agencies to publicize their activities (they seek controversies); so the service has to create its own.

A pdf of the entire article is available at

One way to do this is to recognize that society now sees multiple values in forests, not just the financial returns. These multiple values need to be acknowledged formally, internalized in the ethos of the forest service, and the multiple stakeholders given a place in the processes of the forest department. The panchayati raj institutions are but one example of such stakeholders that need to be given a place, and that can in turn provide a location for forest values; there are other, formal and informal, forums that are available, or can be created at different levels. In many European forest strategy statements, for instance, berry and mushroom collection are  listed as important activities; this is apparently not just an affluent society’s pastime, as this very issue was at the heart of Marx’s attack on the tightening of forest laws in mid-19th century Germany; these activities are at the very heart of the sense of local entitlements even in today’s changed economic conditions. Collection of forest products, is still a deeply prized right among the tribals and other forest-dependent people in the tropics, as exemplified by the Sholiga tribals’ struggle to regain the right of collecting gooseberry and other NTFPs in the BRT tiger reserve (Nitin Rai, in Lele & Menon, 2014).

Recognizing youth as stakeholders would be a strategic choice for the department. There is a lot of interest in the non-commercial natural history values that will make them friends of the forests. Trekkers and photographers who get lost need to be treated with kindness, instead of booking cases of trespass. There have been some good initiatives to make this activity more public-friendly by arranging for local guides, which has the benefit of creating a stake for the community as well.

Making the department more user-friendly through modern methods of information and communication technology (ICT) should come high on the priorities: wherever it is possible to remove the need for personal attendance at the offices, it should be made possible. It is important to generate as well as disseminate information; even here, it could be provided online in addition to the print media. Much of the information which had to be disseminated through pamphlets and brochures can now be provided on the internet through websites, including video clips.

Of course it is still essential to use publications to publicize work. One important point, which has been neglected by government institutions, is that all publications should be available through regular booksellers, both online and on physical shelves. As observed earlier, the problem is often that these publications are unpriced; and booksellers may be asking for very heavy margins on priced ones, so the institutes try to do it themselves, perhaps to avoid audit objections. I would say that a copy should be displayed on the shelves of all leading booksellers, at least to make the work known, even if actual sales are not made. Otherwise many an excellent publication is left unknown to gather dust in the back rooms of the research institutes.

Providing avenues for participation of all sections is a good way of earning goodwill and making the real work of the department known to the outside world. Even in our research institutes, there is a tendency to focus attention only on the immediate superiors and work for self-advancement, which means working solely for peer-reviewed papers or fulfilling the government targets and carrying out government-mandated studies. However, some space should be there for the general public also to take part.

One particular instance occurs to me as especially rich in possibilities. In the course of reviewing the activities of the Wildlife Institute, Dehradun, it occurred to us that apart from the mandated courses for forest officers and other government services, it would be nice to have a week-long course for just any interested persons from the general public. This was quite a successful experiment, and has the potential to make a number of friends for the department from among lay persons (especially retired citizens, who would probably treasure such an experience that they could not organize on their own). There is nothing preventing even forest research institutes from organizing similar courses, which could range from botanizing and community interaction for the older citizens, to trekking and hiking for the youngsters.

The department is doing a huge number of innovative experiments with communities, processes, and institutions on the ground, but very little of this gets projected. The department would do well to observe the strategies used by the very NGOs and other organizations that are targeting the forest service (see the FGLG India Report for the Project: Social Justice in Forestry, 2014, available at, and emulate them: i.e. develop case studies, enroll individuals from among the general public, make certain examples iconic in the discourse, use the media, and so on. A separate unit is called for to organize this sort of strategy, staffed by creative individuals (who may be from outside the department). This has to be in the national capital, and must be quick off the starting block, not hobbled by the problems of the ICFRE.

A number of ideas have been discussed and proposals made at various occasions in this direction, such as the Knowledge Forum, the Forest Communication and Documentation Center, and the Forest Policy Institute/Center. They did not come to fruition, but are worth pursuing even today. A brief account follows.

A Knowledge Forum for sharing views and experiences

 The first idea, the Knowledge Forum, is envisaged as a place where, as the name suggests, information and views can be exchanged (and perhaps insults traded and mutual complaints registered!). The motivation is to alleviate the sense of alienation that both civil society members and the forest personnel feel from the policy-making and direction function of the central ministry. Individuals and NGOs would like a free and fair interaction in order to put forth their views, bring pressing problems to the attention of the ministry officials, and influence policy making and implementation. On the other hand, forest officials (and provincial NGOs) feel that central ministries lend an ear only to those influential NGOs as can operate in the national capital, and have access to the political class; they also are convinced that people sitting in the centre have either forgotten what it is like in the field, or do not have good knowledge of conditions outside the limited sphere of their own home states. Foresters would also like to interact with, even confront, NGOs and intellectuals with the reality of the field situation, and get a public acknowledgement of the difference between the ideal and the reality, so that the blame game can be moderated.

For bringing ministry officials and influential NGO representatives from the national capital into contact with counterparts in the field, meetings or ‘retreats’ can be arranged in different places, or people from the field can be brought to the capital.  A very good experience of the change in tone that occurs when field practitioners join the fray, was afforded by the presentations made before the prime minister and senior cabinet ministers in Delhi during July 2010 when the forest service was under attack as the principal cause for left-wing extremism making inroads in tribal areas. The response of the ministries was moderated to a great extent by presentations made by young forest officers and administrators from LWE-affected divisions, before the august presence of the Prime Minister himself. For instance, an insinuation that forest staff were attending meetings called by extremists, and not divulging information on the movements of the extremists’ leaders, was stoutly met by an IAS officer’s statement that their lives would be forfeited if the field staff did such a thing.

In a way, the Knowledge Forum supplements the ‘expert’ panels formed out of the body of IFS doctorates by the minister in January 2010 (these panels never actually got activated). The key to this Forum evoking interest would be to have it physically outside the ministry building, where there are barriers to free entry and interaction. This can be easily done by using the premises of any good private or non-governmental organization, such as the India Habitat Center, the ICFRE premises, or the WWF in Delhi. Some of the interactions could be achieved, at least in the initial rounds, through the internet. In any case, it should not get bogged down searching for land and setting up a campus etc. The Forum could be run by a very small executive group, and could sponsor meetings and studies in the field, drawing funds from different donors and expertise from the states.

Ministry officials and forest and other officers from other government organizations and the states would interact with academics, NGOs, concerned citizens, and civil society members, in a free and collegial manner, exchanging information, understanding one another’s concerns and constraints, and so on. These meetings would lead on to further collaborative activity, perhaps some intervention in the field, case studies, process support, and so on. The experiences would be captured in reports and articles that would be put out in various media, including the internet. The idea is that people will come together to work on some topic for some period of time, and then drift apart, the lasting benefit being a better understanding of the variety of field situations and some appreciation of one another’s viewpoints, and some influence on the working practices in the field and relations between officials and civil society.

The Knowledge Forum as such is seen as an autonomous and not very formal organization outside the four walls of the ministry, even though initiated and sponsored by the ministry; it will be run by stakeholders from both sides like an ‘ideas cooperative’. It should not, however, be allowed to become yet another forum for forester-bashing; the understanding is that both sides will be allowed to make frank presentations with a positive objective of improving the situation, while not criticizing the government. Definitely the far left position of trying to undermine the state (which, in their ideology, has to wither away) and other extreme or stereotyped positions will not be permitted to poison the interactions. The confidentiality of the matters discussed will be maintained until everybody concerned is comfortable about further publishing.

The ministry was requested to support this experiment with a corpus fund from the CAMPA account, but at the 4th meeting of the National CAMPA Advisory Council on 25 January 2012 (, “The proposal for establishment of the National Forestry Knowledge Forum was dropped”. Presumably the feeling was that transferring a corpus (annual expenses to come from the interest) would make the body too independent and free of the need to take the guidance of the ministry. However, it was always the intention to have the minister and senior ministry officials as patrons and ex-officio members of its governing council, so this should not really be a problem.

The two other institutions we dabbled with were (2) an institute for policy research in sustainable forestry and (3) a centre for documentation and communication at Delhi. Before proceeding to describe these ideas, it would be as well to state that these activities were proposed to be funded by the interest earned on a corpus grant transferred from the national CAMPA account. This was not acceptable to the minister, and in the minutes of the same 4th meeting of the National CAMPA Advisory Council (NCAC) on 25 January 2012 referred to above, it was recorded that in respect of “(4) setting up of (a) National Instt of Sustainable Forestry & Natural Resources ; (b) National Forest Documentation (and Communication) Centre; at Delhi ; (5) CAMPA support for Second Indian Forestry Congress, Bangalore in November, 2012” that “support to such Schemes should ideally be found from out of the budget of the Ministry of Environment and Forests; the funding should be project related rather than out of the interest earned on a corpus; however CAMPA itself being in the nature of a corpus, the question is of earmarking corpus funds for specific items. The Chairperson ruled that the legality – vis-à-vis the Supreme Court orders and approved Guidelines – of setting up such a corpus will require to be examined” (op. cit.). This rejection led to some gleeful speculation in the newspapers that there was a huge rift between the minster and the foresters (Economic Times, 27 January 2012: the report is inaccurate, as it confuses a separate proposal for providing 1000 crore corpus for the ICFRE with the more modest proposal of some 25 crores for the proposed information and documentation institutions).

In respect of these proposed entities under the firm control of the ministry (unlike the Knowledge Forum, which was envisaged as a more free-wheeling cooperative), the minister was not apparently dismissive of the idea, but was against the expedient of transferring a corpus fund permanently, a position reiterated in the 5th meeting of the NCAC held on 24 November 2014 ( However, we go through the salient features of these two organizations to clarify their role and intent, especially to explore how they will do slightly different things and fulfill slightly different objectives, and how they should be set up and run. Hopefully these ideas will be of use even if not in exactly this form, or for the forest service cadres and forest departments in the states, if not at the center.

A national center for information and communication

First, we explore the idea of the proposed India National Center for Forest Information and Communication, to link with the underlying concept of improving INFORMATION  generation, dissemination and management, again at the national capital. It would have two parts, one a Center for Documentation, and the other for Communication (INFORDOC and INFORCOM, as they were fancifully styled). Again, we emphasize the spare, flat and frugal nature of the proposed institutional structure. Essentially, it will be run by a small management team consisting of a CEO and two assistants for accounts and administration, and a couple of research associates for programme coordination. The CEO is expected to be a youngish person from the ‘open market’, with a creative bent of mind and good communications and writing skills. The Center would build up a comprehensive library of source material, especially ‘grey’ literature and personal reports, taking over the old and unwanted documents lying around the ministries and department offices, copies of departmental publications, collections of retired foresters and so on. It would over time become a national repository of all the data of the sector, and even take up the periodic preparation of  the ‘Forest Sector Report’,  in continuation of the grand start made by Dr.Devendra Pandey for 2010 (ICFRE, 2012).

Such a Center is especially needed to support the larger national programmes like the NAEB and its National Afforestation Programme (NAP), and now the Green India Mission (GIM). In fact one proposal is to put it under the aegis of GIM, as its information management agency. Unlike the more collaborative and collegial Knowledge Forum, INFORDOC/INFORCOM would more clearly serve the purposes of the ministry and department, and an important part of its job would be the accessing of data from the states and the field units, putting the developmental and social efforts into a broader perspective, and assisting the ministry in broad strategic planning. Preparation of the periodic Forest Sector Report (perhaps biennially, and definitely at the end of each Plan period[1]) would be an important part of its activities, and may even be thought of as its flagship, just as the State of Forests report (biennial) is of the Forest Survey of India.

Other significant parts of its mandates would be to service GIM in capturing, and assessing, the experience in the states, drafting operational guidelines, making case studies and impact assessments, showcasing   the works of the department, gathering stories of success and frustrations, listening to ‘whispers from the forest’ and ‘voices from the field’, and most importantly, of marshalling all this material into publishable documents and conveying the published material to trade outlets (booksellers, online marketing sites, and so on). Under the umbrella of the Forest Sector Report, the center would also organize the collation of information on the forests themselves, how they are being managed, and so on (something like an in-house National Geographic Society). It would, however, require a smart and nimble CEO who could establish the required linkages with the states and the publishing industry, and its working would have to be clearly different from the stodgy approach of government departments. So instead of being directly under the ministry, it would be good to have it one layer removed by making a quasi-autonomous body.

A national institute for sustainable forestry

Under a broader approach, there is a case for setting up a National Institute for Sustainable Forestry and Natural Resources, of which the Documentation and Communication Center described above could be an operational unit. This would, conceptually, be a more organized and comprehensive institution to take up technical studies, especially as regards sustainable management, which includes livelihood and social issues as well as ecological conservation and habitat preservation. The conflicts between development and natural resource conservation, green accounting, responses to climate change and so on, would all come under this more scientific and professional body.

Once again, it would be have to be structured a little differently from the existing institutes of the ICFRE, and because of the internal politics and various legacy complications of the ICFRE, apart from ICFRE’s apron strings to Dehradun, it would be best to make the National Institute an autonomous body under the ministry, perhaps again supported and managed by the National Afforestation and Ecodevelopment Board (NAEB) or the Green India Mission (GIM). Once again, it should ideally be physically outside the ministry, in order to develop its own modernistic, forward-looking style and ethos, with the collaboration of good national NGOs to add value and excellence. Once again, it is not at all intended to act as a critic of government policy or performance, but more as a public information arm of the forest department. It would provide support to forest officers themselves to put together studies and reports, providing them a platform to talk about their work, publish and communicate with civil society. By sponsoring a number of studies, this Institute would also act as a venue to engage the energies of forestry graduates and social scientists with an interest in forests, thereby building up a group of positive spokespeople for the department, informed by a knowledge of field realities and especially collaboration with foresters in the field.
Some progress had been achieved in setting up this institution, even to the extent of issuing a public notice (with the approval of the minister, who had previously rejected the idea of a Knowledge Forum and of placing a corpus fund from the CAMPA account for the Center) calling for interest in hosting such an institution, and identifying some excellent, pre-wired premises at a national institute in Manesar (not far from the Delhi airport). But it is not clear whether there is enough interest in the ministry, and more so in the GIM management, to take it further. It would be advisable, however, for GIM to support this venture, seeing that there is such a huge stake in making GIM an effective programme, and as GIM itself requires an enormous amount of ground information and studies, and is seen as an inter-sectoral, inter-stakeholder collaboration. Its effectiveness, and credibility, will be enhanced by keeping the intellectual activity centers at arms’ length, outside the ministry, and involving both field levels and civil society from the start.

The purport of all these suggestions is, broadly, to emulate the success in knowledge generation and dissemination achieved by national NGOs, but without the underlying hostility to government and the compulsion to achieve ‘scoops’ in unearthing ‘scandals’ (the ‘crying wolf’ syndrome). Such an organization has to have a presence in the national capital region (not tucked away in Dehradun, like the ICFRE). It has to resolve from the start not to get bogged down in establishing a large infrastructure like its own campus (a fatal flaw of proposals from the ICFRE, for instance), or a large captive staff, and so on. It has to attract young scholars and field activists from civil society, who are not looking for a permanent salaried job (again a fatal flaw off the ICFRE type of proposal).  It has to be led by a youngish person from the open market (or forest service in competition on a level playing field), engaged on contract for a reasonable term, with freedom to enter into collaborative relations with other organizations. Its structures, both institutional and physical, must be easy to assemble and equally easy to disassemble without too many legacy problems for the ministry. It should focus on getting product out (conferences, studies, publications), which should be done even before acquiring physical premises and infrastructure, rather than getting bogged down in building an empire. Its greatest strength will be to provide a platform for field workers, both forest officials and community members.  The list goes on; whether the ministry will use a certain amount of imagination and allow such an institution to be set up and function is a question.

A pdf of the entire article is available at

This article, as all others on this site, is the intellectual property of the author, P.J.Dilip Kumar (IFS, Retired). You are welcome to reproduce it with due acknowledgement. Suggested citation is as follows:
Dilip Kumar, P.J. Year. “TITLE”. Forest Matters, Nos. xx-xx (Month & Year). Available at: or

[1] We are not clear whether the 5-year national plan cycle is going to  be maintained; the forest department has its own Working Plan system running on a 10-year cycle, though these are not synchronized across divisions or across states.


FGLG India. 2014. Report for the Project: Social Justice in Forestry. Forest Governance Learning Group. Published by International Institute for Environment and Development, London. (Available at

Rai, Nitin D. 2014. Views from the Podu. Approaches for a Democratic Ecology of India’s Forests. Ch.4 in Lele & Menon (Ed.), 2014.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

44 Forest research and the ICFRE. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-VIII.

We now look at the premiere institution for forestry research in India, the Indian Council for Forestry Research & Education (ICFRE), set up in 1985 to oversee the research institutes  like FRI Dehradun and its centres (which would be upgraded as institutes of equal status to the FRI), and also forest research and education in the universities. The intention here is not to undertake a full-scale review of the ICFRE and its institutes, which will need a separate paper to cover in detail. However, certain points are being made in the context of the strengthening of the scientific base, and scientific competence, of the forest service. These are concerned with (i) the role of forest officers in research and in the ICFRE, (ii) structure of the ICFRE and its relation to the ministry; (iii) ways to improve the effectiveness of the ICFRE.

Role of forest officers in the research institutes

As argued previously, the average forest officer can scarcely be expected to undertake actual scientific studies in the course of a career, however excellent the academic background and strong the aspiration, simply because there are a host of other job responsibilities that leave little time for focused work and years of engagement on one topic. At the most, an officer can take off a couple of years study leave to undertake a PhD or MSc, which many officers have availed of. Whether the officer is able to pursue that particular line of work or study in later life is however uncertain, but many do keep writing and studying, although within careful limits due to the unpleasant possibility of getting embroiled in controversy.

One of these controversies is the role of forest officers in the ICFRE, featured in a rash of reports, such as the one by Khan and Pathak (2015) in the web-magazine This story quotes a note of the audit team of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India critical of “IFS officers who presently seemed to have gone astray from their mandated and primary objectives of protection, conservation of forest and maintaining ecological environment and unrestrictedly rushing towards research fields” (CAG note, quoted in the article, op. cit.). The other objection raised by the CAG, according to the article, is that there were too many IFS officers in the ICFRE and its institutes, some 104 as per the report, and that these officers were holding the posts “without any knowledge and experience of the initial alphabets in the field of research” (ibid.).

Of course, such sweeping statements are not worth wasting too much time on, and only betray a lack of understanding of how a professional cadre is built up, and the supporting roles of research and field functioning. In the case of forestry, it is essential that there should be this constant cross-fertilization between cloister and the field, and scientists cannot get access and support in the field without the personal links of forest officers. The seeming concentration of forest officers is only at the ICFRE in Dehradun, at the higher levels of ADG and DDG, and again in the fringe areas of extension and management, rather than in the core research faculties like botany or genetics. There are very few forest officers in the constituent institutes, mostly a Coordinator (Research) and a Coordinator (Facilities), and occasionally in research divisions dealing with forest management and silviculture.

There is a case, however, for increasing the space for scientists to rise up to levels of DDG and ADG in the ICFRE, and a reasonable sharing of these posts can be worked out. However, this does not mean that well-qualified, competent and experienced forest officers should be kept out: because of the unrelenting diatribe of our social scientists, an illusion has been created of the ‘ugly forester’ that is simply not in consonance with the reality. Because of the all-India competition, members of the IFS tend to be of fairly high caliber right from the start, and the wide experience gained in the states does make them capable of getting things done even in field research. Bitter though this may be to the inveterate critics of the service, forest officers are essential to keep the institutes relevant to the field needs, and do add value in most departments because their entire service life has been devoted to field trials and implementation, extension, and training. Moreover, the cadre strengths of the IFS in the states have been fixed very much with a deputation quota to the centre, that obviously includes deputation to the research institutes. 

The bone of contention, perhaps, is the feeling that the forest service has monopolized the top post, that of the DG ICFRE. There is no bar for selection of a non-forester even for the DG ICFRE post, provided there are suitable candidates and the competing forest officers are not clearly better. There is usually a requirement that the candidate has had a certain length of working in the forestry sphere, and this may go against senior scientists from completely disparate fields, however eminent they may be. The post requires constant interfacing with the forest departments, and awareness of the working of the department and the issues relevant to it from a management point of view in order to fulfil its role as a high level advisor to the government, and not just narrow academics. The individual Institute Director posts have been assigned in the past to scientists, especially in the more specialized institutes like the IWST Bangalore (Wood Technology) and the IFGTB Coimbatore (Genetics).

The two-edged sword of autonomy: relations with the ministry

A separate issue is the level of staffing in the institutes and the financial support afforded by the ministry. Ever since the institutes were taken out of the government’s fold and put under the umbrella of the ICFRE, they have tended to be nobody’s baby. The situation is even less congenial after the post of the DG ICFRE was upgraded to equal the DG Forests in the ministry, because now the ICFRE was left without an official champion at the centre (the DGF being now just one among many members in the governing council), and would have to deal directly with the Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the Minister. Being in far-away Dehradun, the ICFRE has never managed to impose itself on the public’s attention where it matters: at the national capital; even the functions and conferences it organizes tend to be in Dehradun or in its regional institutes, and therefore do not attain visibility to the decision-makers at the centre. Unfortunately, this is because the ICFRE took over the imposing building of the FRI Dehradun as a natural corollary of the abolition of the President, FRI and institution of the post of the DG, ICFRE. The net result, unfortunately, seems to be that the ICFRE is not considered on par with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) or other similar national councils, and the FRI Dehradun itself is overshadowed and its independence taken away.

Ironically, even though it is the ICFRE, being the apex overseeing body, that is staffed with a number of IFS officers, it is the FRI, the research institute, that appears to be groaning under the pressure. Therefore, one single measure to clarify the relations and linkages would be for the ICFRE to shift from its provincial seat in Dehradun to the national capital. Unfortunately, this proposal gets bogged down in a search for a large chunk of land to build a campus to emulate the FRI Dehradun, but actually the Council needs to be lean and somewhat mean about its own facilities, and could easily start operating out of premises rented from any central institution in Delhi.

It is the reality of the situation that the relationship of the ICFRE with the ministry depends very much on the personality and worldly wisdom of the DG ICFRE, rather than merits of the case or their genuine needs. Interactions with the ministry tend to revolve around the demands of the ICFRE for autonomy from control by the ministry.  The ministry therefore ends up feeling that the ICFRE is not its own baby, resulting in the gradual starving of funds, almost 90% going just for salaries and maintenance expenses. Unless the budget is at least doubled, there will be little opportunity for even the existing scientists in the system to develop their expertise and implement meaningful research projects. On the whole, it appears that the experiment with making an ‘autonomous’ council has given the worst of both worlds: no extra support is forthcoming just for becoming a Council, and the relatively closer access to the ministry through the DG Forests and his staff is also lost. Every decision of the Council may be suspected as an exercise in self-aggrandizement by the Council officers, and the ministry looks on with relative indifference, as the Council is supposed to be independent. The woes of the employees and the expense of maintaining the campus and buildings are added burdens.

Just as criticism is leveled at forest officers for allegedly treating the ICFRE a cozy resting place from stressful postings, so also is there a suspicion that local candidates from dome loacalities (say, Dehradun and Uttarakhand due to the location of the FRI and ICFRE there) are disproportionately represented in the scientists’ cadres, and individuals often try to get back to Dehradun even when they are recruited against other institutes. There has to be a special effort to de-localize recruitment process, by providing one major recruitment every year, with examination centers at all the states and UTs. To get around individuals putting pressure for transfer back to their ‘home’ states, recruitment should be done against specific posts in specific institutes, and a lock-in period of say 10 years should be stipulated before transfers. This may encourage people from say the north-east to apply, and serve in the institute at Jorhat, for instance, which may look like a punishment for the recruit from other regions. Such considerations are similar to the home-state syndrome in the All-India Services, but there are also examples of persons who have made a complete transfer of allegiance to the new state of residence, among scientists as among service members.

Between subject specialization and broad regional mandate

One of the perennial crises of identity of the ICFRE institutes has been the swing between regional (local) relevance and subject specialization. Firstly, these institutes were started as a referral point for all the problems of the states in the respective regions. Thus, the centre in Bangalore was actually started by the Mysore government, and in time looked into not only utilization of local forest products (this was influenced by the personal interests of the forest officers who founded the institute on their return from Germany), but also silviculture and management, achieving fame in the study of sandal (Santalum album). After the ICFRE took over, came the concept of each institute specializing in certain subjects, so the Bangalore institute was named the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), and the Coimbatore institute (equally hoary in age and accomplishments), the Institute of Forest Genetics & Tree Breeding (IFGTB). This resulted in a continuous soul-searching in IWST, whether or not to continue with the forestry subjects, sandal research, tree propagation (tissue culture, etc.) and so on. The state forest departments of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh definitely expected the Bangalore institute to serve as a general research support in their activities, for instance by responding quickly to issues of forest pathology (disease) and entomology (insects), tree improvement, propagation, agro-forestry, silviculture, and so on, and did not want to have to turn to the FRI Dehradun or other institutes at every turn. Similar expectations would be there of the other institutes in the respective states of their location. In the final eventuality, if the central institute was unable to fulfil this sort of back-stopping role (just because the ICFRE had trimmed the mandate discipline-wise to certain specializations) the concerned states would be prepared to take up the gauntlet: the multi-disciplinary Kerala FRI (KFRI) at Peechi is a good example.

The logical option would seem to be make each of the ICFRE institutes multi-disciplinary, so that it could cater to the field forestry needs of the relevant states and region both in the general disciplines, and in the specializations developed at each institute due to historical reasons. This would have some side benefits: it would build up a certain ‘minimum mass’ of personnel at each institute that would enable larger field projects to be taken up, and it would make space for the induction of young scientists in all the branches. However, depending on the past record of achievements and the interests of the scientists, certain fields could be identified for special efforts and achievement of excellence: IWST would obviously forge ahead in forest products research, but could also decide to become the last word in agro-forestry (ignoring the policy decisions that reserved this subject for the ICAR), and IFGTB obviously would continue work in genetics, but also have capability in supporting subjects like botany, farm forestry, and so on.  The names of the institutes may have to be modified to reflect their broader base, but even if that is not done, the mandates would have to be expanded, never mind possible objections by ICAR, the agricultural universities, or CAG staff. These issues are explored in depth in respect of the IWST in a report prepared by the author in 1994, as part of a course in Research Management at the Centre for Developmental Studies, Swansea (Dilip Kumar, 1994; available at the author’s site

In the next section, some data is presented and discussed on the manpower levels in forestry research in India in comparison with China. This will give a suggestion on why forest research seems to be handicapped, and one of the fundamental measures that are needed to revitalize it: providing the minimum mass of manpower.

Critical mass of forestry scientists: India and China

Lastly, it would be as well to compare the sheer size of the ICFRE scientific manpower with that in a comparable country, say China. Some information on the “Number of graduate staff” is available in the FAO-IUFRO Directory of Forest Research Institutions (FAO, 1993), which though old reflects the position at the time the role of universities in forest research was being actively debated in India.

Table 1- CHINA

SHANGHAI WOOD INDUSTRY RESEARCH INSTITUTE (SWIRl), 667 Zhongshan Road (West), Shanghai 200051
SICHUAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF FORESTRY, 344 Jinhua Street, Chengdu, Sichuan 610081


Source: Directory of Forestry Research Organizations, Forestry Paper 109, IUFRO and FAO, 1993

Table 2-INDIA




Source: Directory of Forestry Research Organizations, Forestry Paper 109, IUFRO and FAO, 1993

Leaving out the university establishments like the Beijing Forest University in China (which is not cited in the list) and the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Himachal Pradesh, India (which shows as many as 417 graduate staff), the state sponsored forest research institutes numbered 14 in China, with an aggregate of 2061 “graduate staff”, and 8 numbers in India with a total of 631 “graduate staff” (we have had to supply numbers for some: TFRI Jabalpur 50, IRMDFR Jorhat 50, FRI Dehradun 150). This indicates a considerably larger manpower dedicated to forestry research institutes in China, which by all reports has taken this sector very seriously.

The above figures obviously include all staff with a degree, not necessarily at the level of Scientist (equivalent to the IFS officers). They probably include research assistants and Technical Officers and other such lower levels; it is difficult to know how each institute has interpreted the category. More troubling for the Indian forestry research scenario, however, is the steady attenuation of personnel due to bottlenecks in recruitment, coupled with economy orders in government which require that posts remaining vacant for a length of time (over one year) become lapsed posts which cannot be filled up subsequently without a long and involved procedure in government. This affects not only the ICFRE but also the government agencies like the Forest Survey of India (FSI) Dehradun.

Data given in 2010 by the then Director, FRI (pers. comm.) suggest that the strength of scientists in ICFRE and its institutes together, was only 280 (that of forest officers on deputation was stated to be 90). Some 32 posts of Scientist were abolished in 2002, 21 posts were abolished in 2003. These strengths are a fraction of those in the other gargantuan Councils like the ICAR and CSIR.

Forestry by itself has a low profile in the government (it is mainly seen as an obstacle to development) and even in the ministry of environment & forests (and climate change since 2014), where the more glamorous and attention-catching subjects like climate negotiations, environment, biodiversity, international conferences and conventions, and so on tend to occupy most of the time and attention. Because of the thesis developed by our social environmentalists that it is the strict (and corrupt) forest regime that has given rise to popular discontent and left-wing extremism, much of the time efforts are made to clip the spurs of the forest service, for example through the Forest Rights Act, rather than give it support and authority.

Since forestry has no place in the prevailing scheme of priorities, it is very unlikely that the ICFRE will ever gain the prestige and clout (not to speak of sheer size) of the ICAR; this is one of the unforeseen pitfalls of the drive for autonomy under the Council (supposed to be patterned after the ICAR, with a full-fledged Secretary for Research and so on). It appears in hindsight that it would have been better for the Council to remain a part of the ministry and focus efforts on improving internal processes, rather than going after the chimera of autonomy.

This article, as all others on this site, is the intellectual property of the author, P.J.Dilip Kumar (IFS, Retired). You are welcome to reproduce it with due acknowledgement. Suggested citation is as follows:
Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2016. “TITLE”. Forest Matters, Nos. xx-xx (Month & Year). Available at: or


Dilip Kumar, P. J. 1994. Strategic Planning for the Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bangalore. Report on a Course of Training in Research Management  at the Centre for Developmental Studies, Swansea, Wales, from 10 January to 5 May, 1994. Available at

FAO/IUFRO. 1993. Directory of forestry research organizations. FAO Forestry paper 109. Rome.

Khan, Jamshed and Sushant Pathak. 2015. Tehelka Investigation: How Forest Officers Net Their PhDs. webmagazine, Volume 12, Issue 6, 2015-02-07. Available at