Sunday, April 17, 2016

41 Specialization and structure of the forest service. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-V.

Splitting the service: Forestry Commission recommendations

One of the recurring debates about specialization in the forest service is the need (or not!) to divide the service into different wings, or even separate services, that will each have its own separate subject to deal with and its own dedicated members trained especially for that purpose. Valmik Thapar who quite supports this, says that a move in this direction was scuttled in the 1970s by “some power hungry forest officers and their government colleagues” (Thapar 2015, p.37). But generations of foresters have been emphatic that the service should remain one and both wildlife areas and general forest should be managed in one organization, and the better compromise would be to at least get more wildlife-trained officers into the sanctuaries and national parks. Bihar forest chief, S.P.Shahi, had this to say in the 1970s in a paper included in the volume Saving Wild Tigers, put together by Valmik himself:

“The notion that wild life should be looked after by a separate service and that the present forestry personnel are ill-equipped for it, has been debated for quite some time. To  support this argument, it is often stated that the East African countries have different personnel for their game reserves and their forests. But few people realize that, in those countries, the wild life live in open grassy savannahs, unlike India where the bulk of wild life lives in forests. Wild life and forests have to co-exist in this country.

 “Even if a separate wild life service is created, I doubt if it will attract men with the necessary aptitude and dedication. As it is, the Indian Forest Service is less glamorous than the other two existing All-India Services. A Wild Life Service will be still less so. The Indian Forest Service was revived so that available talent could be dispersed and in the hope that meritorious youngsters would join this service. But this hope, unfortunately, has been belied. In the seven two-year courses between 1968-70 to 1974-76, out of the 116 persons who were selected for training at the Indian Forest College, Dehra Dun, for the IFS, as many as forty left during the course of the training for other services. Not only that, they left largely for the Indian Administrative and the Indian Police Services, a few of them went to the State Bank, and the Central Engineering, Revenue, Indian Ordnance and Railway Services. The situation in the country at present is such that it is not only the salary but the pomp and power that goes with a service that also influences meritorious young men wanting to join it. As long as such a situation exists, the Wild Life Service will continue to be unpopular, and will mostly attract the left-overs…

“….Success in the conservation of wild life will, in the ultimate analysis, depend on the interest taken by the State Governments and their Forest Departments. Forestry and wild life being State subjects, the Centre can only use persuasive methods. While there is no hostility as such against wild life, there is colossal indifference to it both at the political and administrative levels. Lack of political courage is another serious handicap to contend with. The future will hinge on how soon this indifference vanishes and is replaced by courage and keenness, and how soon those in power realize that ecology and conservation are no longer a matter of aesthetics, but one of survival – a biological necessity.” (Shahi, in Thapar, 2001, pp.222-4)

S.P.Shahi was one those legendary forest officers from an earlier era that we fresh recruits to the refurbished IFS had only heard of, but similar stands were taken by others down the years. For example, here is the dissenting note by J.C.Kala, DG Forests in the report of the National Forestry Commission (Government of India, 2006), chaired by Justice B.N.Kirpal. This report had gone a couple of steps farther by recommending four sub-cadres, respectively for “forest conservation, including protection, harvesting and sale of forest produce”, “extension forestry, including plantations and nurseries, joint forest management, grassland and watershed management and eco-development outside Reserve Forests”, wildlife management, and “research, training, working plans, technical support to agro- and farm forestry” (Report, p.255 onwards). Kala’s dissent note (ibid., p.420) says:

“…a need for (a) separate sub-cadre to deal with wildlife and protected areas is neither justified nor desirable because around 70% of the wildlife exists outside the parks and sanctuaries… creation of a sub-cadre will be detrimental… will lead to administrative and managerial conflicts… will lead to fragmentation of (the) service and is bound to create conflict…all these recommendations are strongly contested as these are more of a personal opinion of a few individuals and not substantiated by ground reality … or any authentic data. Making this  basis for setting up of specialized cadre is certainly neither correct nor desirable in the overall management of Forest and Wildlife.”  (Kala, in Government of India 2006, p.420)

Forestry is a composite discipline, to be administered on the ground, not just in the office or lab. Effective foresters are those who combine a basic knowledge of the practice with a liberal dose of man-management and organizational ability, and the capacity and interest to wander afield. Ironically, most of the wildlife experts have themselves become what they are not by attending courses in wildlife (except for the case of Ullas Karanth, who entered the field after actually starting off as an engineer), but by repeated visits to the wildlife reserves; those with a flair for writing made a stronger impression, which is perhaps why it is not surprising that some of them were professors of English or other humanities subjects.

Since most of the work is carried on by fairly simple subordinates and village folk, there cannot be too much of intellectualization: things have to be spelt out in the direst terms, without too much ambiguity. Apart from this, the service will be considerably weakened by splitting it up into so many little bits, and will not be able to resist populist (and ideological!) pressures even to the little extent it has been able to in the past. Moreover, people in the field draw support from all wings and even other departments around, in spite of some jealousy or heart-burn: when out in the field, it is not possible to get things done without everybody rallying around. Thapar again suggests that not only should the All-India forest service revert to state-based services, but also that these should be “further divided into different wings like wildlife, forestry, marine area management, law and order, anti-militancy operations, and at the other extreme, rural development experts and so on” and that this is “the only way to transform our forest service into a crack force which can effectively protect our forests” (Thapar, 2015, p.41).

One suspects that the emanation of such suggestions from all except the foresters is born of an underlying envy, as a way of breaking and weakening the service so that others can push their way in, and the first step in this campaign is naturally to try and discredit the service by single-mindedly harping on its weaknesses.The author, as DG Forests at the ministry from 2009 to 2012, had also to face such pressures (originating from wildlifers like Valmik Thapar, Belinda Wright and Bittu Sehgal, as per Chetan Chauhan’s report in the Hindustan Times of 23rd April 2010) to accede to splitting of the service, but faced them down by a combination of grit and foolhardiness till the proposal was dropped (Chauhan, 2010).

However, these suggestions only suggest a lack of understanding of the ground reality, and will only result in a cracked, rather than a crack, force. Therefore, instead of splitting an already politically weak and hierarchically handicapped department, the better expedient of creating specialists by mentoring and career development in different disciplines, is probably a better alternative. As described in a previous section, the process of incubating and nurturing the talent will have to be attended to.

Splitting the ministry

Another idea, again favouring the ‘splitting’ mentality, has been pushed during recent years, and in fact again Valmik Thapar appears to be a great champion of it: i.e. of splitting forests (and wildlife) away from the environment ministry and giving the former a separate ministry. As Thapar describes it, the proposal went through the coils of bureaucracy and was ultimately shot down, even though (according to Thapar) the idea as such had been endorsed at the highest political level (Thapar, 2015, p.13 onwards).

Whatever be the rights and wrongs of this episode, once again it has to be said that the forest sector, and the forest service, draws more strength by being part of a larger set-up, than it would gain  by becoming isolated. For one thing, there is already an immense amount of irritation with the ministry that it has half a dozen clearances for any project that makes project authorities go through as many tortuous processes: some of them are Forest Conservation Act clearance, wildlife clearance (involving reference to the Central Empowered Committee and the Supreme Court), coastal regulations clearance, pollution clearance, environmental clearance, and so on, which have to be taken up sequentially. Since there is a call for “less government and more governance”, the executive always urges that all these processes be integrated and coordinated. Splitting the ministry would only exacerbate the problems. Secondly, and the forest service  would find itself completely isolated as a separate department, and because it is seen as a hurdle and deal-breaker in development circles, there will be very little cooperation coming from other wings of government; whereas when it operates in coordination with the administrators (the IAS officers) in the environment ministry, there is a great amount of mutual support and synergy.

It is true that the forest service feels a certain sense of injustice because its head, the Director General of Forests, is not a full Secretary to Government, and also that certain subjects like Biodiversity, Climate Change, and Mangroves have been attached in the past to a separate wing or division under the IAS officers. But this also gives an opportunity for a really competent and articulate forest officer to get these portfolios or divisions, even though reporting to the Secretary (an IAS officer). It has to be accepted (by aspiring IFS officers) that such assignments cannot be had merely for the asking; there will have to be a little extra effort on the part of the aspirants, by building up some record of having developed some experience and expertise in the specialized fields, especially by publishing papers, reports and so on. Indeed, that is one of the motivations for building up specialists in the service, discussed in the previous section.

A particular weakness of the proposals as drawn up (with some enthusiastic inputs from Valmik Thapar) was that they did not provide separate support services like the financial advisor, parliamentary affairs, legal advisors, and so on for the (proposed) forest department. These would have to be shared with the other divisions, just as in the existing structure. This one deficiency would have belied the hopes of the forest service that special attention would be paid to the problems of the sector; it would trundle along as usual, with the added burden that the support services, which hitherto had been provided as part of the entire ministry’s mandate, would now be only grudgingly provided as the entire responsibility would be that of the forest cadre.

One way of putting it is to say that the forest service has at least a single seat at the table under the composite ministry (the DG Forests being at least of Special Secretary rank), but if it were to be split up, the service would not even be invited to the meeting, let alone given a hearing.  As it stands, the forest department actually draws strength from being part of the team along with IAS officers and scientific officers at the ministry, rather than being isolated.

In general, the future of the services will be served by integrating with others, rather than isolating oneself; this applies specially to the forest service, which has been buffeted by many contradictory forces (even Fukuyama, 2014, in his discourse on the rise and fall of the state, found this sector a signal lesson on institutional decay in the US Forest Service, see previous post here).  

There appear to be some contradictions in the different expectations people have from the service. On the one hand, there is a feeling that the service should be more sharply specialized in its training and structure; on the other hand, there is a desire that it become more open and inclusive, and change from an organization narrowly focused on timber management, to a broader view with multiple objectives and accommodative of different interests, valuing both nature and human society at the cost of financial returns if necessary.

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


Chauhan, Chetan. 2010. Govt decides not to split forest services. Report in the Hindustan Times, 23 April 2010, New Delhi.

Fukuyama, Francis. 2014. Political Order and Political Decay. From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy. Profile Books. London. Preview at:

Government of India. 2006. Report of the National Forest Commission. Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi.
Shahi, S.P. 1977 (2001). Battling for Wildlife in Bihar. Excerpts from Backs to the Wall: Saga of Wildlife in Bihar, India (Affiliated East-West Press, Delhi, 1977). In Valmik Thapar (Ed.), 2001, 2006. Saving Wild Tigers, 1900-2000. The Essential Writings. Pp.205-224. Permanent Black, New Delhi.
Thapar, Valmik (Ed.). 2001, 2006. Saving Wild Tigers 1900-2000.The Essential Writings. Permanent Black, Delhi.

Thapar, Valmik. 2015. Saving Wild India. A Blueprint for Change. Aleph Book Company, New Delhi.

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