Tuesday, January 26, 2016

31 Forest policy and the integrated approach. Forest Landscape Restoration in India -II.

Background of Empire forestry in India

India has had no less than three comprehensive statements of forest policy, the first as early as 1894 under the British Raj. The foundation of organized or ‘scientific’ forestry  in India is often ascribed to the Memorandum of 3rd August 1855, issued by Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor-General of India (FRI,  1961, Vol.II, p.63), which Stebbing (1922, Vol.I, p.206) termed the “Charter of the Indian Forests”.  The forests of the sub-continent had been depleted in the preceding decades by two forces: one, the prior practice of relatively unregulated timber ‘mining’ by contractors (both British and native), and then other, the frequent slashing and burning for expanding cultivation. Dalhousie’s memorandum laid the basis of scientific forestry, by enunciating the principle that valuable forests should be worked, not to swell the profits of traders, but to maximize their value to the state in conformity with their “future proper  maintenance” (Stebbing, op. cit., p.207). Stebbing states that “Lord Dalhousies’s pronouncement was the act of a far-sighted statesman and proved him to be a man far ahead of his times”. It was Dr.Dietrich Brandis, who started as the Superintendent of Forests in Pegu in 1856, who subsequently worked tirelessly to establish scientific forestry in India, earning him the name of the “Father of Indian Forestry”, endowed as he was with “both the requisite scientific forestry knowledge, fitness of character and the equally  necessary tact to carry through the policy determined upon in the face of the most strenuous opposition” (ibid.).

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at https://www.academia.edu/21490696/Forest_Landscape_Restoration_in_India_Antecedents_experience_and_prognoses)

This ‘scientific’ forestry has been reviled by social environmentalists and environmentalist  historians  as an exercise of naked imperial avarice and high-handedness that dispossessed the people of the sub-continent of their rightful habitats and their traditional rights (for a recent adumberation, see Lele & Menon, 2014). However, a less adversarial assessment  would be that the colonial foresters and administrators were actually trying to preserve the existing large forest belts (specially in the higher altitudes and upper river catchments), for what we now term environmental and ecological values (see Barton, 2002), while the intermediate belt of high timber value would be worked on sustained yield basis for commercial timber and other products (including non-timber products like oleo-resins and pitch, gums and tannins, medicines etc. which were significant commercial products). At the same time, it is not as if the colonial forest conservators like Brandis and others were completely oblivious of the great dependence of the population on the common lands and community forest for a myriad of products and services. In his Report on the Improvement of Indian Agriculture, Voelcker (1893) drew a number of conclusions on the interdependence of the agricultural economy and livelihoods to the state of the forests and supply of forest products. For instance, because farm-yard manure (cattle dung) was so important to maintain soil fertility, he urged that government should help in supplying fuelwood so that the manure need not be burnt, through the development of “Fuel and Fodder reserves” for the rural population, even if it proved to not financially profitable, in the greater interests of the rural population (Voelcker, op. cit., p.xi). In his chapter on the forests,  Voelcker recognizes that the initial mandate to the forest department had been to make the working of the forests more sustainable financially, but because of the expansion of cultivation closer to the forest borders and increase in population and the needs of the people, it “has become necessary to extend the benefits of forests, so that they may more directly serve the interests of agriculture” (p.xii).  Voelcker also suggests “the increase of plantations along canal banks and railway lines”, “the further encouragement of arboriculture”, the carrying out of an enquiry into “the needs of different cultivating districts in the matter of wood supply”, and the setting aside of a portion of the forest revenue for “the extension of ‘reserves’ to meet agricultural wants” (p.xiii). In his Chapter IX on “Grass”,  he maintains that “the provision of grazing in forests is a desirable and legitimate object”, and in times of drought it may even become “invaluable in keeping the cattle of the country alive” (p.xiii). He again stresses the importance of raising fodder in the fuel and fodder reserves, and in the Chapter X on “Fodder-crops and Hedges”, he advocates the growing of fodder and hedges on farms (p.xiv). As is apparent, these ideas not only foreshadow the concepts of social forestry and agroforestry that  were developed in detail in the 1970s following the National Commission of Agriculture (Government of India, 1976), but also imply an integrated, multi-stakeholder approach that took the whole gamut of land use and livelihood practices and patterns for its field of action.

Brandis himself was a strong proponent of the desirability of community control of such local resources. Although, based on the experience of different states in Europe, he felt that handing over full control to private entities would end up in sale of forest, he also expresses the highest concern for the need to respect the customary rights of the people, which calls for “much care, patience, and conciliatory treatment of the people concerned”, and definitely not to treat the clearing and burning of forests by the native communities as a grave offence, as “…the tribes of India have the same claim as the holder of prescriptive forest rights in Europe to demand that provision be made for their reasonable wants and requirements”. Brandis had the vision that once the forests had been restored to a productive state, the village communities would be in a position to take responsibility for their future conservation and management as fuel and fodder reserves (Brandis, 1897, repr. 1994).

Forest Policy Resolution, 1894 of colonial government

Based on Voelcker’s report and the considerations outlined in the government memoranda, the Government of India issued the first Forest Policy resolution dated 19 October 1894 (available as an Appendix in 100 Years of Indian Forestry, FRI, 1961, Vol.I). The underlying principle is that the state forests are to be administered “in the public benefit”, which may be in some cases the whole body of tax-payers, but in others “the people of the tract within which the forest is situated”. Regulation and restriction of rights and privileges may be necessary to safeguard the forest, but are justified “only when the advantage to be gained by the public is great”; and must be done only to the absolutely minimum degree. The state forests are broadly classified under four headings: (a) Forests to be preserved on climatic or physical grounds (hill slopes, hill torrents, etc.), (b) Forests for valuable timbers for commercial purposes, (c) Minor Forests, (d) Pasture lands. It is not intended that existing state forests should each be assigned these classes; they are only “to afford a basis for the indication of the broad policy” to be applied, and always with “the fullest consideration … given to local circumstances”.  

One of the implications of making the interests of sustainable agriculture and livelihoods paramount is that “wherever an effective demand for culturable land exists and can only be supplied from forest area, the land should ordinarily be relinquished without hesitation” (subject to certain precautions e.g. avoiding the honey-combing of the forest etc.). Therefore, the local governments were given the discretion to divert forest land to agricultural purposes without previous reference to the Government of India, a position that was reversed only in 1980 with the passing of the Forest (Conservation) Act.

Protection and management of the minor forests and fuel and fodder reserves are to be done with full consideration of the local needs and traditional practices, and not to generate profit for the state and even though scientific principles may demand strict control. “The customs of generations alter slowly in India; and though much may and should be done to lead people to their own profit, yet it must be done gently and gradually – always remembering that their contentment is no less important an object than is their material advantage”.

It can thus be seen that the colonial policy on forests and village commons was, at least conceptually, a fairly ‘integrated’ one that sought to keep a balance between the needs of the rural and urban populations as well as the interests of what we would term today the environmental and ecological health of the region. On the one hand, therefore, the colonial administration proceeded with diligence in notifying the better forest tracts and settling the rights and privileges of the communities, while on the other, the expansion of settled agriculture was encouraged following on the establishment of ‘Pax Britannica’ in tracts hitherto subject to the vagaries of fickle nature and the  depredations of wild animals – and of lawless humans (see Tucker & Richards, 1983, for an account of nineteenth-century deforestation and expansion of settled agriculture).

National Forest Policy, 1952 of independent India

If we fast-forward to the post-independence era, it appeared to the policy-makers that the country had probably taken the priority of agriculture to unreasonable extents, and a corrective was seen to be required if the remaining forest areas were to be safeguarded for posterity. Thus the National Forest Policy of 12 May, 1952 (Government of India, 1952; available as Appendix III in the publication 100 Years of Indian Forestry, FRI, 1961) called for a “re-orientation” of the forest policy in the light of the changes since the colonial era, the better understanding of “the part played by forests in maintaining the physical conditions of the country”, and the realization of the “unsuspected dependence of defence on the forests” during the World Wars. The National Forest Policy was based on the following paramount needs of the country: (1) the need for balanced and complementary (and the most appropriate) land-use, (2) the need for checking denudation, soil erosion, invasion of sand dunes on the coast and desert regions, (3) the need for establishing treelands wherever possible, for amelioration of climatic conditions and general well-being, (4) the need for increasing supply of grazing, small wood, firewood etc., (5) the need for sustained supply of timber and other forest produce for defence, communications and industry, and (6) the need for the realization of the maximum annual revenue in perpetuity consistent with the fulfillment of the needs enumerated above. The following functional classification of forests was proposed: (A) Protection forests, which “must be preserved or created for physical and climatic considerations”, (B)  National forests, to meet the needs of “defence, communications, industry and other general purposes of public importance”, (C) Village forests, to provide fuelwood, small timber, fodder, grazing, etc. for local requirements, and (D) Tree-lands, “outside the scope of the ordinary forest management”, but “essential for the amelioration of the physical conditions of the country”.  All the forests, “irrespective of their functions and ownership”, should be administered “from the point of view of national well-being”; hence the claim of local communities, and the interests of agricultural requirements, must necessarily take a second place to the national interests. Thus the first national forest policy of independent India is seen to have rejected some of the basic premises of the previous (colonial) forest policy. According to the  1952 policy:

 “The accident of a village being  situated close to a forest does not prejudice the right of the country as a whole to receive the benefits of a national asset. The scientific conservation of a forest inevitably involves the regulation of rights and the restriction of the privileges of user…however irksome such restraint may be to the neighbouring areas”.  

Again, local needs should be met to a reasonable extent, but not at the cost of national interests. The old policy of liberal relinquishing of forest lands for agricultural purposes,  although subject to certain safeguards that unfortunately have been “honoured only in their breach”, should be given up. Each land parcel should be put to the appropriate land use “under which it would produce the most and deteriorate least”. The forest vegetation on vulnerable tracts like mountain and hill slopes, river valleys and river banks, catchment areas,  coastal areas, desert areas, etc. needs to be restored “by establishing protective forests over larger areas, and preserving the existing ones”.  Village forests should be managed in a sustainable manner for local needs, but not for commercial returns. This will require the imposition of controls, which “render the entrusting of the management of village forests to panchayats, without appropriate safeguards, a hazardous undertaking as has been demonstrated in some of the States” (probably pointing to the experience in Tamil Nadu, where the panchayats had found themselves unable to safeguard the village wood lots raised under forestry schemes).  There is “vast scope for an all-round increase in the area under treelands”,  on agricultural land, institutional and departmental lands,  etc. outside the conventional forests, and a systematic programme for this should be drawn up for raising nurseries, raising public awareness, etc. Free grazing (especially of sheep and goats) should be curtailed where it is damaging the vegetation. Shifting cultivation, which damages the forest over wide tracts, should be gradually reduced, but by “persuasion, not coercion; a missionary, not an authoritarian, approach”.

National Commission on Agriculture, 1976

The 1952 forest policy thus aimed at maximizing the value of the forest resource, and consolidating the forest estate, a response to the free-handed conversion of forest to cropland in the early decades of independent India. This techno-centric and national-economic orientation was further strengthened by the report of the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA, 1976), the main points of which are summarized below. One of the issues that seems to have deeply impressed the NCA is that with a forest estate of almost half the cultivated area, the contribution of forestry and logging to the NDP was only some 1.5% (1972-73), which obviously weakens the case for retaining land under the forest department. The resolution of this conundrum is seen in working toward the general increase in productivity and economic returns (per hectare per year), which would call for, and also attract, higher investment from commercial banks, overseas development agencies, and the corporate sector. But to achieve this higher productivity and economic returns, the forests would have to be put under “scientific management on modern lines” (op. cit., p.20), which meant that the existing low-valued, mixed growth of all sorts of low-valued miscellaneous trees and scrub ought to be replaced by the most efficient, fast-growing, species, implying the testing and adaptation of exotics that had been proven in similar ecological conditions elsewhere in the world (like the poplars, Australian eucalypts, acacias, sub-tropical and tropical conifers like the pines and Cryptomeria species for the hill regions). At the same time, free supply of forest produce to all and sundry was resulting in a feeling that the forests were of no value and could be treated in a cavalier fashion:

“There are a lot of subsidised supply of timber and forest materials to the rural population. From this an attitude has developed that forest material can be given to others without going too much into the economics of production… In the name of encouragement to industry, forest material has been leased out for longer period at a very nominal rate of royalty… If the forests are bled both by the rural sector and industrial sector, there will be no incentive or initiative left to change over from the present low-cost low-yield forestry to a commercial high investment economic forestry development” (NCA, 1976, Part IX: p.3-4).

The recipe, then, was to convert the mixed low-value jungles into highly productive plantations yielding industrial material that would be sold at fair prices (for which forest development corporations were to be set up to attract institutional finance), while local needs like fuel, fodder, artisanal raw materials, etc. would have to be met from farm forestry or social forestry, and from improved degraded forests in the rural areas (using development funds and foreign aid agencies’ support). “Production of industrial wood would have to be the raison d’etre for the existence of forests” (NCA, Part IX:p.32-33). Development of minor forest products through state agencies for collection, marketing, etc. was expected to assure employment and a reasonable minimum wage to tribals and others dependent on this activity (p.34). The detailed recommendations were set out in the NCA’s two “Interim reports”: one on Production Forestry – Man-made Forests, and the other on Social Forestry (NCA, Part IX:p.22).

A mention may be made of the NCA’s approach to the interrelations of forest economy with the rural and tribal economy. Apparently the Commission saw employment (wage labour) as a main avenue for involving the local people and lessening their pressure on the forests: “Employment could be offered as an alternative to rights of user, if forest development is properly organized” (NCA, IX:p.22). The rural labour could also be engaged in increasing the production as well as improving collection and processing of minor forest produce  for maximizing its contribution to rural employment. However, the forests under use by communities have deteriorated mainly because of their over-exploitation, so ‘they cannot in all fairness expect that somebody else will take the trouble of providing them with forest produce free of charge” (p.25).  However, the NCA also stated that “growth should lead to social justice…the increased yields of forest products will have to be equitably distributed between industrial needs and the demands of the rural population” (p.34) and so on.

The 1952 forest policy and the NCA report of 1976 gave a fillip to forest development on a large scale in India. The achievements are impressive (and condemnable in the view of environmentalists) in terms of conversion of natural forest into monocultures of industrial wood using mainly exotics like eucalypts and acacias, as well as, complementarily, a huge programme of social and farm forestry in the countryside. This  is, in a manner of speaking, an integrated approach, approximated by the term “high modernising” (Scott, 1999): it seeks to take care of diverse, competing needs, but at a macro-, national policy-making level. In doing so, it tends to ignore the specifics of the relationship of local communities with the habitat and its resources. The high-modernist approach tends to abstract use of resources to the level of the broader national economy, and claims to maximize the benefits to the wider economy. Under this model, benefits would have to circulate back to the community not directly as extractors, but by way of their participation in that economy, either as processers or wage-earners etc.

Unfortunately, the local community is often unable to participate in the wider economy because of various reasons: lack of education and awareness, centuries of discrimination by the caste or class system, remoteness and lack of communications and infrastructure, lack of credit  and marketing facilities, and so on. This could well be the crucial difference in the landscape approach that we are discussing now: it has to be at the level of the local community, taking into account the actual specifics of their interrelationships, rather than leaving it to the broader economy and markets to sort out their issues. At the other extreme, the village common lands, with no caretaker institution, were left to a process of local appropriation which rendered them “unable to meet local demands for fodder and fuel, leaving the villagers with no other recourse, but to turn to the Forests which increased pressure on them” (Saxena, 1997, p.13).

Ironically, even as the state was developing this ‘high-modernistic’ approach in accordance with the National Commission on Agriculture, other currents were already starting to move in the ‘political economy’ of the forest  that would in time result in the almost complete reversal of that policy and the proclamation of a revised forest policy of 1988, and the formalization of a revolutionary new phase of Joint Forest Management (JFM) for the degraded notified forests of India. Thanks to the activism of a group of social environmentalists, who came to examining the forest sector fairly late in the game according to Guha (2012), the direct relationship of the local communities was legalized in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers Recognition of Forest Right (ROFR) Act, 2006, which vested considerable rights (and duties) in the Gram Sabha or village assembly in replacement of the formal forest department in the traditional habitat of the communities.

Revised National Forest Policy of 1988

The Revised Forest Policy of 1988 (Government of India, 1988) derives the need for a new policy statement from the “serious depletion” suffered over the ensued years, the “relentless pressures arising from ever-increasing demand for fuelwood, fodder and timber”, “inadequacy of protection measures”, “diversion of forest lands… without ensuring compensatory afforestation and essential environmental safeguards”, and “the tendency to look upon forests as revenue earning resource”. The statement of “Basic Objectives” in Section 2 also seems to indicate the hierarchy of priorities given to different objectives: it starts with “maintenance of environmental stability” and “ecological balance”, “conserving the natural heritage”, controlling erosion, sand dunes spread, etc.; then “increasing substantially the forest/tree cover… through massive afforestation and social forestry”, “meeting the requirements of fuelwood, fodder” etc.; and finally, “increasing the productivity of forests to meet essential national needs”, “encouraging efficient  utilization… and maximizing substitution of wood”.  A final objective is listed: “Creating a massive people’s movement with the involvement of women, to achieve these objectives and to minimize pressure on existing forests”. However, an overall caveat is given that the principal aim is “to ensure environmental stability … ecological balance… including atmospheric equilibrium”, etc., and that “derivation of direct economic benefit must be subordinated to this principal aim”.

Perhaps the most telling feature of this revised policy is the total reversal of the strategic role between reserved forests and social forestry: now the “domestic requirements of fuelwood, fodder, minor forest produce and construction timber” of the “tribals and other poor living within and near forests” should be “the first charge on forest produce”. Use of industrial wood needs to be reduced by substitutes, while as far as possible, forest-based industry “should raise the raw material needed… preferably by establishment of a direct relationship between the factory and the individuals who can grow the raw materials…”. Farmers would be encouraged to grow industrial wood, on marginal lands not required for cultivation or pasture purposes, and forest department/ corporations likewise on “degraded forests, not earmarked for natural regeneration”.  The practice of supplying forest produce to industry at concessional prices should cease, encouraging the industry to use substitutes, and import of wood and wood products should be liberalized. In essence, then, this has been interpreted as down-playing the commercial harvests from the state forests (fresh clear-felling and conversion of natural forest is precluded, so only the already existing plantation working circle areas are being harvested and replanted in rotation), while industrial raw material comes predominantly from trees outside forest (TOF). The policy also gives highest importance to supporting the tribal people and involving them closely in the protection and development of forests, safeguarding their customary rights and interests, “undertaking integrated area development programmes… including the provision of alternative sources of domestic energy”, etc.

However, this does not mean that the revised policy has no place for attention to the state forests beyond use for “subsistence and consumption” (Saxena, 1997, p.34) of local poor. The aim of achieving one-third of the total land area under forest or tree cover is reiterated. A massive programme of tree growing on all degraded and denuded land, both forest and non-forest, is urged, along with modification of laws and rights to encourage community afforestation, social forestry, farm forestry etc. Projects that interfere with forests on hill slopes etc. should be “severely restricted”. To met the “growing needs for essential goods and services which the forests provide”, it is “necessary to enhance forest cover and productivity” through “application of scientific and technical inputs”, however, without resorting to “clear-felling of adequately stocked natural forest”, nor through introduction of exotic species, “unless long-term scientific trial undertaken by specialists in ecology, forestry and agriculture have established that they are suitable and have no adverse impact on native vegetation and environment”. Shifting cultivation should be contained within areas already affected, “and area already damaged by such cultivation should be rehabilitated through social forestry and energy plantations”. There should be “no regularization of existing encroachments”, fire should be controlled, and grazing regulated.     

Antecedents in Indian experience with ‘integrated’ approach

A plethora of schemes, programmes, and projects have been pursued in India that go under the general rubric of ‘integrated’ approaches, a precursor to the landscape approach. The earliest was probably the Community Development Programme immediately after independence, which however was faulted on the grounds that works were decided by officials, and not in consonance with people’s felt needs. This prompted the move to set up local representative governance structures (panchayati raj institutions, PRIs) as discussed in the author’s monograph on village communities and forest conservation (Dilip Kumar, 2014). Other integrated projects and schemes include the Integrated Tribal Development Projects, Watershed Development Programme, Integrated Rural Development Programme, and others. Each of these has thrown up valuable learnings regarding many issues: the role and method of genuinely bottom up planning, empowering communities, addressing issues of gender and equity, mechanisms of consultation, planning and implementation, and so on. Space precludes a detailed consideration of these, unfortunately, so this paper goes on to consider only three major programmes in the forest sector: the Social Forestry/Farm Forestry programmes of the 1970s to the 1980s, the Joint Forest Management (JFM) framework adopted in the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) and in most ongoing externally aided projects from the 1990s, and the Western Ghats Forestry Project (WGFP) in Karnataka during the 1990s.

(A pdf file of the entire article is available at https://www.academia.edu/21490696/Forest_Landscape_Restoration_in_India_Antecedents_experience_and_prognoses)


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