Thursday, April 21, 2016

42 Recruitment and training. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-VI.

Between narrow specialization and broad-basing recruitment

The forestry sector has attracted much attention in recent decades from social activists and academics, legal specialists and practitioners, media persons, litterateurs, and so on, whose views have become dominant the world over. This throws up the suggestion that the forest service itself should be similarly broad-based in its source of recruits, and more oriented towards the social aspects like inclusiveness, giving greater importance to subsistence functions and spiritual values, empowerment of stakeholders, responding to humanistic and human rights concerns, and so on. On the other hand, the recommendation of many observers and commissions that there should be a closer specialization and a stronger scientific base to the forestry profession (and they are not talking of the social sciences here) pulls in the opposite direction.

There are two distinct facets of the question of modernizing the forest service: the recruitment stage, and the training stage. At the recruitment stage, there are two suggestions that pull in opposite directions. One is, that the service should be thrown open to arts and humanities graduates, in addition to science and technology as at present. This will bring in a broader range of disciplines and thought processes, which will facilitate the opening up of the service to contemporary social and political concerns. The other suggestion is that forest services should draw their recruits only from graduates of the forestry schools, as in most other countries, rather than drawing from the general pool of graduates. This will, it is argued, enable the profession to build its technical competence, and the training course itself need not start from the elementary level and can go on to a more rigorous and wide coverage of field experiences, recent advances and research findings, and so on.

A few comments will be made on each of these aspects here.

The role of maths and science in eligibility criteria

There has been a bias, right from the inception of the service, to the physical and biological sciences as a qualification for recruitment to the forest service. It is apparent that the mathematical skills were of high importance to the initiators of scientific forestry in Europe, as they were the basis of measurement, volume computation, and ground survey, the very foundation of scientific management of forest land and crop. Dietrich Brandis, who laid the foundation of Indian forestry in many respects, has this to say:

“Since 1867 great attention has been paid to the selection and professional education of the candidates destined to fill the appointments of the Controlling Staff. It has been recognized that the candidates selected must possess a thorough knowledge of pure and applied mathematics (up to and including plane trigonometry and the binomial theorem), and of selected branches of natural science; and then before going out to India they must make themselves familiar with the administration of large forest domains in those countries where extensive areas of State and Government forests are managed according to a regular system.” (Brandis, 1897, rep. 1994, p.56)

Brandis goes on to say that Indian forestry should be built on the long experience in those countries of Europe where scientific forestry is best understood (op. cit., p.57), but what is of interest here is the insistence of a firm mathematical base. Forestry was considered an applied science (the forest specialists were known as Forester-Engineers in Europe), combining the theoretical concepts of growth and form with the physical techniques of felling, extraction, conversion, and utilization. Biological sciences were, of course, represented in the form of floras (field botany) and descriptions of phenology (time and form of flowering, seed setting, etc.), propagation and crop tending techniques, physiology, etc. In a list of basic forestry manuals given by Brandis (op. cit., pp.58-9), only one pertains to a non-technical subject, that by Baden-Powell of the Bengal Civil Service on the Land Revenue Systems and Land Tenures of British India (and his Manual of Jurisprudence for Forest Officers dealing with both Forest and Civil and Administrative laws and regulations).

Forestry as a science has developed in western countries (especially the United States) in the direction of increasingly advanced mathematical models for growth and composition, with the use of modern techniques of mathematical programming and optimization, developed in many cases by university departments. Private companies have taken up these models in their management decisions, which perhaps confirms that these techniques are applicable in real-life situations (although the increased use of modeling on computers may suggest otherwise).

In India, however, very little of this type of advance has taken place in state forest departments, most of the effort having been devoted to developing relatively static growth and yield tables and stand tables and volume tables (the main achievements of the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun). A beginning was made in the 1980s to develop variable-density models for predicting the growth and outturn of eucalyptus and water-yield interactions (under the pressure of environmentalists’ denunciation of eucalyptus as a water-guzzling monster), under a collaborative project with Oxford University and the Karnataka Forest Department (see the papers by P.G.Adlard in the project symposium proceedings, Calder et al. 1992, for instance). However, by and large forest research in India has tended more toward tree improvement, propagation, nursery and plantation techniques, tree introduction, utilization, etc., rather than mathematics and growth modeling. Statistics as a science comes in more at the stage of application, as in statistical design and subsequent analysis of trials and experiments, rather than as a tool of prediction and modeling.

An especially confusing issue is the question of broadening the eligibility conditions at recruitment into the forest service (especially the IFS and the ‘superior’ State Forest Services). The popular perception is that eligibility is restricted to graduates in science subjects and technology, but the notification (based on the relevant rules) of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) states only that “The candidate must hold a Bachelor's degree with at least one of the subjects namely Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science, Botany, Chemistry, Geology, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics and Zoology or a Bachelor's degree in Agriculture, Forestry or in Engineering of any of Universities...” (UPSC notification, IFS_2015/IFS_2015_eng.pdf). In principle, therefore, Arts or Humanities graduates could presumably apply if they just had Statistics as one of their subjects. This is a possibility in updated courses in Economics, Sociology, or Anthropology, which have Statistics as a compulsory paper at least at the post-graduate (PG) level. Perhaps the rule could be extended somewhat by counting the papers given at the PG level in addition to the bachelor’s level, if universities have not yet incorporated Statistics in their undergraduate (Bachelor) degree courses in the social sciences.

Broadening the eligibility to include Arts and Humanities graduates

The broader question is, whether there is anything undesirable about letting Arts and Humanities students take the examination. This question was raised at a conclave of IFS officers with a PhD qualification held in Dehradun on 10 January 2010 referred to already (Ministry of Environment & Forests, 2010),  and as I remember it, an oral vote was decisively against extending the eligibility to the social sciences. A number of the IFS participants wrote in subsequently, and the majority advanced arguments for this ‘hard’ position. Some of these are analyzed and discussed below.

The first, and basic, objection is the need for a solid grounding in mathematics, including trigonometry, for understanding the technical aspects of forest management, such as measurement of trees and crops ( e.g. volume tables, height and girth-diameter measurements), forest yield prediction (e.g. yield and stand tables) and yield regulation, survey, and to some extent forest engineering and timber mechanics. Of course the equally fundamental objection to this is that probably nobody dislikes mathematics as much as do the botany and zoology students, and they generally may not have had maths and stats in their degree courses (which is why most of them went to these courses; the situation may have changed of late, as both maths and biology are presumable included up to at least the 10th class). On the other hand, biology students are much stronger in the other equally basic subjects like botany and zoology, which makes a solid foundation for honing their skills in forest botany and forest zoology (both entomology and wildlife science). The irony is, however, that even biology-based subjects like wildlife have become heavily ‘mathematicised’ with the advent of engineers and modelers into the field (a good instance in India is Ullas Karanth and his focus on population estimation), in contrast to an older, easier approach based on observation of behavior and local information (Sankhala and Valmik Thapar, for instance). So as far as maths being a requirement is concerned, therefore, the argument is interesting, but not water-tight. Perhaps it may be more reasonable to say that some people from the maths-stats stream are desirable, in the hope that they may take up such studies (which, again, depends on the talent-search and mentoring schemes described previously).

A second line of argument is that the forest being a living entity, it calls for an ecological- scientific approach that demands basic physical sciences (and maths and stats for ecological modelling). Unfortunately, the popular perception is the opposite: that the service is packed with a preponderance of graduates in the physical sciences, which has made the approach very formulaic and insensitive to the finer nuances of ecology, biodiversity, etc. Because physical science types tend to value numbers above quality, they have tended to favour the numbers-based commercial model, especially taking to the financial criterion (which is, in turn, heavily influenced by mathematically oriented economists). Further, ecological principles have not been developed to an extent that they can be used as a basis of actual decisions; in practice, the forester, based on the training in ‘scientific’ forest management, tends to go by bare numbers like the annual timber yield, and has not been very concerned about the type of structure, species composition, and other ecological changes, resulting in wholesale conversion of species-rich and ecologically complex, natural forest into dreary monocultures, and so on.

A final argument, and probably the least defensible but most keenly (and covertly) felt, is that Arts types are used to depending on sleight-of-tongue rather than concrete facts, and will tend to be populist and liberal in giving away the forests. In other words, Arts and Humanities students tend to be political creatures to a greater extent than students of physical sciences. To a certain extent, this is true, ever since social scientists and intellectuals decided that most concepts are ‘constructed’; applying this to the forestry context, for instance, they have decided that the British gave the tribals a bad name just to take over their resources, and so on. This is also a ‘leftist’ view, na├»ve and simplistic though it sounds, especially based on a deeply ingrained Marxian view of history and a breathless anticipation of the withering away of the state, which they hope will begin with the forest department. The counter-argument, of course, is that most Arts students probably do not take the theory that seriously, and many of them will have as good a perception as any science graduate of the larger issues of environmental conservation and so on.  

In any case, it cannot be denied that many of the most prominent and productive wildlifers and conservationists are not scientists in the sense of the physical or even the biological sciences, but have instead a background in literature or journalism or the social sciences. The advantage many Arts students have is that they are better at communication, either because that is the faculty exercised most in their courses, or because the social sciences naturally attract such types. Conversely, it is a general impression that one of the serious deficiencies of foresters is that their written and oral communication skills are not very good: perhaps the UPSC exams favour the studious, introverted types automatically, as they draw forester candidates predominantly from the maths-physical sciences streams. Of course, we cannot expect every Humanities student who applies for the services to be as great a writer as, say, Ramachandra Guha, who indeed exemplifies the type of dedicated scholar who abhors the idea of joining a bureaucracy. Similarly, not every science graduate who joins will be a Swaminathan or every engineer a Vishweshwaraiah.

Favouring aspirants with outdoors interests

This brings us to the final consideration in this discussion, the pattern of recruitment. As discussed above, it is probably unreasonable to say that Arts graduates are unsuitable (there is probably nothing they cannot do as well as science graduates, provided they can cope with the required level of maths used in the training, which many young people nowadays are well capable of). More to the point is that the type of persons brought into the IFS, their interests and temperament, may end up being rather studious and bookish, because of the academic standards required for the UPSC papers. The service requires persons interested in nature and the outdoors, with a commitment to conservation, an ecological sensitivity and empathy for poor communities. They should have a basically scientific, rational approach and the capacity to learn from past experience, convert them into working papers efficiently, and have good communication skills (both written and oral, and increasingly, computer skills).

At the same time, they have to have a robust common sense and practical approach – they should not be too taken up with ideologies or be unduly academic or ‘scholastic’ (another way of saying, pedantic). This has been a general feature of the colonial services, where “Too much philosophy and any kind of intellectual flair were generally frowned upon in India, where character counted more than brains”, and where the officer’s duty was primarily to “obey orders and keep abreast of files” (James, 1997). This is a difficult balance to strike for any recruiter, let alone India’s Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) which has its own time-tested practices, presumably perfected over decades based on experience (not unlike the forest department!). There are probably a lot of persons passionate about conservation and nature, passing out of the colleges and institutes every year, but many of them are ending up in the media and academia, ultimately taking an adversarial position to the forest department and to government in general. This diminution of public faith in government is, of course, a general phenomenon of the age, and in a way is brought about by aspirations going far ahead of the reality. On the other hand, the department, and government in general, should find ways of getting some of these talented but critical individuals into its folds, so that they have something substantial to contribute on the ground, and make a reality check in respect of any theories or illusions they may have.

The existing selection process gives such a high weightage to book learning that it may be filtering out the more active, adventurous types and favouring highly studious ones. Though there may be no suspicion about their high competence in the papers they choose – say physics, or chemistry, or maths --  such persons may tend to be neutral to the relative interests of forestry or wildlife as compared to others, like urban or infrastructure development. This may be one reason why so many of them end up looking on the forest service as just a career, rather than a calling or vocation. When highly evolved and committed persons like Valmik Thapar (2015) come into contact with these apex officers of the service, they are left cold by their apparent lack of enthusiasm, commitment or passion for the forests. On the other hand, as remarked already, this lack of a spark may also be the reflection of a culture gap between the sophisticated wildlifer and the modest, middle-class, family-centered, and often not very affluent persons who end up in the services. The point has also been made earlier that civil servants have to maintain a controlled and expressionless mien in public, because projecting personality and attitude is a prerogative of the people’s political representatives.

This does not mean that the forest service is not committed to the forests, but this is so more as a professional bureaucracy: as masters of the realm (or at least 25% of it), the forest service naturally strives to safeguard its territory in the field, and its sphere of action in the administration, by whatever means are available to it. So the forest officers may take unprecedented efforts to protect the forests from encroachment, poaching, etc., and every year many are assaulted or killed in the process. But the same department may raze a pristine forest to the ground, either in the process of implementing a plan drawn up in consonance with their perceived scientific principles, or in obedience to the larger government, and derive a certain sense of professional satisfaction in this scenario as well.  Protecting the forest and wildlife areas may be an act of a territorial Weberian bureaucracy, a fighting force, as much as a conscious effort to conserve nature; and carrying out the clearance of a natural forest and replacing it with an exotic plantation or a development project, may equally be the expression of the professional efficiency, competence and responsiveness to the political will of the government that imparts a sense of strength and solidarity to the very same Weberian institution.

In essence, the forest service can function as an efficient and effective tool, but may not be so particular to impose a certain agenda or objectives on the governing executive. That function is increasingly being carried out by ‘civil society’, the media, the intellectuals, and the academics, and the forest service is usually a mute spectator, to the extent that Lele feels that the forest service “has closed ranks against the push for democratization … now seems to have abandoned any constructive engagement with these questions” (Lele and Menon, 2014, p.403).

Reform by UPSC in selection process of the Indian Forest Service

The UPSC did make some changes a couple of years back (in 2013) to broaden the source of recruits, by merging the preliminary tests of the IFS with the larger civil services exams (for the other all-India and central services). Prior to this, the IFS had its own completely independent stream of exams. Actually the motivation for this reform seems to have been that forestry graduates from certain forest institutes were getting selected in large numbers; giving rise to a suspicion that marking of the forestry papers may have been skewed to favour the forestry graduates (a natural instinct to favour one’s own, not present in the more impersonal disciplines of science and technology). The senior levels in the forest service themselves tended to favour the older pattern, where the very best (at least in principle) from all the disciplines were apt to score well in the written tests, and any skewing could at best be done in the interview (personality test).

To illustrate the effect of these reforms, in the 2016 civil services test, there were as many as many as  9.4 lakh (lakh=100,000) “aspirants” , half of whom actually gave the preliminary exams, and around 15,000 of whom were shortlisted for the main exams against 1129 vacancies in all the civil services put together (Hindustan Times web page; 1415 were also shortlisted for the IFS main exams (against around 110 posts). One may assume, then, that many of the IFS hopefuls would have come from fairly high up in the civil services list (it would be rarely that somebody would apply only for the IFS on the very same form of application). The merging of the prelims would have removed one cause of complaint from the general science graduates that forestry students were being unduly favoured: now everybody is put through the same strainer, which tests the general knowledge and awareness of social, political, and current affairs issues. Communication skills etc. in the second paper are  relegated to merely a qualifying requirement (minimum of 33% required to be shortlisted for the mains). A post-facto analysis of the relative performance of forestry and other graduates in these papers would be instructive.

Some analysis is available in the UPSC annual reports of 2014 and 2015. Prior to the 2013 reforms, when the IFS had a completely independent exams system, there was a steady rise in number of applications for the IFS, from 32,872 (2008) to 84,584 (2012), but stagnation in the number who actually wrote the exams, at 10000 to 11000 (except for 2008, 7659) (UPSC 2014, Appendix 20, Table 1, p.157-8). Since the planned recruitment level for the IFS happened to be 85 throughout, the number who qualified for the “personality test” was also steady around 230 to 240 (implying a ration of less than 3:1). Very broadly, then, during these years the ratios of candidates to appointments was 10,000:85 (although the total applications was many times higher). Regarding the educational levels, the report (Table 4 in UPSC 2014, p.159) reveals that Bachelor degree holders were 88 (out of 228) or 39% at the personality test, and remained more or less at the same proportion (38% ) at the final selection (32 out of 85). The rest were Masters or higher degree holders.

By discipline-wise background, the same table for the 2012 exams shows that candidates with Agriculture or Forestry degrees were 66 out of 228 (29%) at the personality test, and 31 out of 85 (37%) at final selection: they obviously tended to improve their performance relatively. Animal Husbandry, Veterinary Sciences and Medical (MBBS) candidates were 30 out of 228 at the personality test (13%), 12 out of 85 (14%) at final selection. Engineering graduates and post-graduates were 46 of 228 (20%) at the personality test, 18 out of 85 (21%) at final selection. Of the remaining, Bachelor and Masters degree holders from the physical and biological sciences constituted 73 of 228 (32%) at the personality test, and 15 of 85 (18%) at final stage, their loss obviously going to the Agriculture/Forestry disciplines. The table shows Ph.D./M.Phil. holders separately, which may mask the actual representation of the science stream: together, they formed 13 of 228 (5.7%) at the personality test, and 9 out of 85 finally selected (11%).

A very interesting feature of the 2012 selection was the high representation of optional subjects Botany or Zoology at the exams: 196 of 428 , or 46% at the stage of the personality test, and 73 out of 170 (43%) at final selection. (These numbers refer to total papers, which is double the count of candidates, as each chooses two optional papers). The numbers for Agriculture/Forestry optional papers are 121 (29%) at the personality test, and 45 out of 170 (27%) at final selection. Putting Botany/Zoology and Agriculture/Forestry optional papers together, their representation was thus 75% at the personality test, and 70% at final selection. The physical science papers which used to figure so prominently in the past (at least in the 1970s, when direct recruitment had just started) are represented in single digits: out of final selections, 8 out of 170 for Mathematics, 7 for Physics, 4 for Chemistry, and none for Statistics; Geology papers were a more respectable 15 (out of 170). 

Only 8 selected candidates were from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in the 2012 exams as per Table 9 of the report (UPSC 2014: p.163), so that it does not seem they have taken over the process; but 6 were from the IARI New Delhi, which may have added to their number, and in general it is apparent that the whole process did give a predominance to persons with such backgrounds.

What will be really interesting would be to see what changes in these trends took place when the IFS selection process was channeled through the common preliminary tests of the civil service by the 2013 and subsequent exams. The 2014 annual report gives the first feedback on the 2013 IFS exams (UPSC 2014: Table 4, p.169). The applications doubled to 170,667 and 37% or 63,809 actually wrote the Preliminary exam in May 2013 (only 10000 to 11000 wrote the IFS main papers in previous years as summarized above). Of these 1061 qualified (12.5:1 ratio to the number of final appointments, 85), but only 520 appeared in the IFS main exams 2013 (UPSC 2014:p.166). The subsequent ratios (of attenuation) were similar to previous years, with 222 candidates going to the final stage of personality test, against 85 vacancies as mentioned.

Qualification-wise in the 2013 exams, those with bachelor degrees were 161 of 222 (73%) at the personality test, and 58 out of 85 (68%) at selection, a little less than double their representation in the previous year (the rest were Masters’ degrees or Ph.Ds). The other striking change was in the discipline-wise composition. Agriculture or Forestry degrees were 23 out of 222 (10%) at the personality test, and 11 out of 85 (13%) at final selection: around a third of their proportion the previous year. Animal Husbandry, Veterinary Sciences and Medical (MBBS) candidates were 7 out of 222 at the personality test (0.03%), 3 out of 85 (0.04%) at final selection (down from 14%). Engineering graduates and post-graduates soared to 137 of 222 (62%) at the personality test, 54 out of 85 (64%) at final selection (up from 21%). Of the remaining, Bachelor and Masters degree holders from the physical and biological sciences constituted 54 of 222 (24%) at the personality test, and 16 of 85 (19%) at final stage, not much different from the 2012 results. Ph.Ds were just a singleton.  Obviously the new system has been instrumental in a massive shift from Agriculture/Forestry disciplines to Engineering.

Looking at the disciplines chosen in the 2013 exams for the main papers within science subjects (UPSC 2014: Table 5, p.170), it is seen that  Botany/Zoology represented 62 (14%) of 444 at the personality test stage, and 24 of 170 (14%) at the final stage (selected candidates): one-third of the previous level. Interestingly, Agriculture/Forestry did not suffer but in fact increased its presence: 163 of 444 papers (37%) at the personality test stage, and 58 of 170 (34%) at the selection stage, up from 27%. It is obvious that Forestry had earned a reputation as a relatively easy, high-scoring paper, and many non-forestry candidates must have taken this option, which is adding insult to the injury that forestry graduates must have already been feeling. Another surprising addition to the repertoire happened to be Geology, 100 out of 444 (23%) and 40 of 170 (24%) at the selection stage, against 33 and 15 in the previous year. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has contributed only one successful candidate , IARI New Delhi 3 (UPSC 2014: p.170).

The 2014 exam saw even more candidates applying for the IFS (222,424) of which 97,2015 actually wrote the Prelims for IFS, up from 63,809 in 2013 and 10-11,000 prior to that (UPSC 2015: Table 1, p.124). This was for the same number of vacancies, 85. Some 543 went on to the Mains for the IFS (of 1106 judged eligible), and 232 went on to the personality test. The shift to Engineering was even more marked, 179 of 232 (77%), Agriculture/Forestry was a negligible 9 of 232 (0.04%), and so on. On the other hand, looking at the papers given, Forestry was 60 out of 170 at the final stage (35%), geology 48 of 170 (28%), and Engineering subjects only 9 of 170 (0.05%). This shows that Forestry and Geology are confirmed as scoring subjects, and not too difficult to prepare for the purposes of the exams.  

Thus the changeover to the common prelims has handsomely expanded the population from which the IFS is drawn, leading to recruitment from a broader base, and of presumably higher performance (at least in the exams). However, with this strengthening of selection, has come a massive shift to engineering graduates. It does not directly address the question of drawing the right type of candidates: the adventurous, outdoors, nature-loving types that a person like Valmik Thapar may find “vibrant” enough.

Of course, this is not to say that engineering graduates will necessarily be bookish or studious rather than adventurous; hiking and trekking are nowadays very popular in campuses, and technical types (‘techies’) are encouraged to do it, for example as a means of de-stressing and team building. Indeed one of India’s leading tiger specialists (Karanth)  started his career as an engineer. The point really is that unless special care is taken, it may just be a matter of luck if some of the shortlisted high-scorers also turn out to be such persons, who will do well enough in the written exams to pass on to the personality test (accounting for 300 marks as against 1400 for the written papers of the main exams), where there may a possibility of giving these qualities an extra weightage. The question then is, how to fine-tune the examinations and selection process so that more of the adventurous, nature-loving types are actually attracted to apply, and do well when they do.

Comparison with other services

Before leaving this topic, we cannot resist taking a peek at the corresponding figures for the other All-India and Central Services put together. The UPSC Annual Report 2014 (p.109-) gives an analysis for the 2012 exams: some 5.5 lakh 5,50,080) aspirants applied, but less than 50% (2.7 lakhs) actually sat for the prelims, of which 13,092 qualified to go on to the Main exams. Out of these 12,190 actually wrote the Mains held in October 2012, out of which 2674 (21.9%) qualified for the personality test; 998 candidates were finally recommended for appointment against 1091 vacancies (p.110).

Of interest is the discipline-wise breakdown of the 2012 exam results (Table 4, p.111): of 2669 candidates who actually went through the personality test, 1677 held bachelor degrees (63%); Humanities were represented  by 261 undergraduates and as many as 680 postgraduates, totaling to 941 or 35% of the interviewed candidates, but 400 (40%) of the 998 successful candidates. Engineering graduates interviewed were as many as 991, and together with 121 post-graduates, Engineering had 1112 candidates interviewed, but only 373 were selected, or 37% of 998. It is noteworthy that percentage success of Engineering candidates was significantly lower that Humanities, resulting in smaller numbers in the final selection; perhaps Engineering students have so many other opportunities that civil services is not that important. Science students were represented  by only 113 with under-graduate degrees, 158 post-graduates, totaling 271, of which 80 successful of the 998 (8%). Another remarkable fact was that although only 40% of the recommended candidates were from Humanities, if we look at the papers taken at the Mains, 90% of the optional subjects opted were from the Humanities (including literature of languages), and only 5.9% related to Science, and a miniscule 0.8% to Engineering (p.114). Public Administration was the most popular, followed by  Geography and Sociology (p.113).

There are thus a number of anomalies, ironies and counter-intuitive patterns here. Of greatest significance to the IFS selection is the fact that engineering graduates seem to be flocking to it in increasing numbers, and the irony is that they are apparently using the Forestry paper (and Geology) as a stepping stone to success in the selection, just as Humanities papers are used by science and technology candidates in the broader civil services exams. This suggests that the UPSC may have to make special efforts to seek those of them that have a particular interest in nature and conservation, and a flair for outdoor and community work.

Challenges and opportunities for the training institutions

The ‘take-over’ of the service by ‘techies’ will be posing a distinct set of challenges to the training institution, the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA) Dehradun (and the other supporting institutions like the Wildlife Institute of India or WII Dehradun, the National Academy of Administration or LBSNAA Mussourie, the IIFM Bhopal, etc. that take care of components of the training). Their (presumed) high technical competence (in math-science streams) also affords an exciting opportunity to take the science of forestry higher, especially through the use of modern technology like information and communications technology (ICT), remote sensing, data crunching, mathematical modeling, remote surveillance and monitoring, and so on. This may in fact be a good thing, as engineers may have a greater propensity to get out and about in comparison with the more bookish humanities graduates, qualities that will be of advantage in developing alternative livelihood support activities on the ground, especially in value-addition and marketing of products from local raw materials from the forest.

The challenges that the service needs to adapt to (and the institutes to respond to) have been expressed very well by A.K.Wahal, a former Director of the National Forest Academy, in the following words:

“Lastly, the foresters alone can help in bringing about the much needed change in perceptions of the people, polity and other democratic institutions [by providing a modern outlook and scientific vision for the sector]. This would come about if our officers start looking at forestry issues in a  holistic manner and not in isolation with (sic.) many other predicaments facing the society – poverty and hunger, water, energy, social conflicts etc. and come out with innovative ways which would help mitigate some of these. Forging and cementing bond with people who are depending upon forests for their livelihood and existence and not excluding them, should be guiding principles for forest managers. Failing to do so shall isolate the sector much more and may not result in bringing about the much needed priority and consideration that it deserves from politicians, planners and policy makers. Holistic approaches in training, right from the beginning may help overcome this deficiency.” (Wahal, in IGNFA, 2012: p.139)

Fortunately, IGNFA has been continually taking action, at various times,  to respond to changing needs and perceptions, as presented in the cited publication (IGNFA, 2012). They took on board the heightened importance of wildlife in the 1960 and 70s, and in fact pioneered the wildlife course which over time developed into the Wildlife Institute. They have recognized the major changes in the national priorities with the 1988 policy, bringing in matters like joint forest management, the Forest Rights Act, and (hopefully) the international thinking on climate change, people’s rights, and livelihoods in the new policy approaches to sustainable forestry.

The curriculum may need some more tweaking, by laying out the social and environmental backgrounds first, following the line of argument and development of the department’s mandate in the current forest policy (1988), read with the rights-based legislation of recent decades and the constitutional and legislative framework, which also reflects thinking the world over. The sequence in which subjects are introduced often decides their importance, and if social aspects are relegated to the last, they will tend to seen as an after-thought rather than the bedrock of forest policy. Timber production and the business economics of forestry will have to be shifted to a later semester, and the social economics of managing common resources addressed early in the course, although this may horrify classical foresters who have been conditioned by the received wisdom of the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, the sanctity afforded to the Working Plan as the ‘Bible’ of the forest officer would have to give way to the more usual approach of looking at it as a management plan amenable to change and modification in the course of implementation, with consultation and feedback from the bottom up at all times.

Teaching methods have already been transformed to a great extent, and more scope may be given to dealing with the major currents of thought during recent decades. Touring may be made more effective, and the probationers may be sent individually to the most challenging locations for a week in each year, to stay with the local staff and make a case study (a suitable structure may be developed for these, and academics may be involved). There are so many scores, maybe hundreds, of wonderful experiences scattered through the length and breadth of the land, and the batches can each generate over a hundred of them each year, which can be built up into a  huge resource using the internet and visual media.

On the other hand, there will have to be a special effort to spot those individuals (engineers or not) with a special liking for nature etc., and to introduce forestry as a means of environmental conservation and support to local communities, rather than as a purely commercial undertaking (which the traditional forest training may suggest). A wide spectrum of speakers from civil society could be invited to interact, followed up with analysis and case-study (a good example for this approach may be the innovative and popular civics module being developed for the undergraduates of the 4-year B.Sc course of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore at their Center for Contemporary Studies[1]. Needless to say, the discussions, the narratives and the discourses should of course be brought to some conclusion in the form of operative guidelines to arm the young officers going off to the field, as the intention is not to make academics or intellectuals out of them, and definitely not to put them in a quandary of indecision by over-thinking situations.

Combined with initiatives like the Hari Singh and other fellowships (see Part IV, previous Post 40 here), and the suggested ‘mentoring’ and ‘nurturing’ of special interests, it will be possible to ‘catch them young’ and develop many of them into specialists capable of advanced research and innovation in administration and development, especially in working with the community, developing enterprises, etc.

Arguments about recruiting from forestry graduates of the universities

The other side of this argument, however, is that most countries draw their forest personnel from amongst the forestry graduates themselves (the opposite of what has been argued above to broad-base entry processes), just like agricultural officers are drawn from agriculture graduates, medical personnel from qualified medical graduates, and so on. So the other side of the coin is that only technically qualified persons should be eligible to compete for entry into the forest service, and the subsequent training course would be oriented toward the actual field practices and departmental codes of working, it being assumed that the forestry graduates are already proficient in the theoretical aspects. This very issue was the subject of the international meeting of the 18th FAO Advisory Committee on Forest Education, Santiago de Chile, in November 1996, where the author had tried to explain the historical and perceptual reasons for India to persist with the civil services approach of recruiting to the forest services (Dilip Kumar, 1996). Foresters look upon their job as primarily one of land consolidation and management, because of the innumerable pressures acting to take over forest – from industry and the development sectors, from local people to accommodate increasing population, and lately, from social activists who see the state as an unjust, even evil, entity. An effective forest officer – and even more so, a wildlife manager – is one who can manage  and contain all these diverse forces, and mere scientific knowledge may not count for much in the scheme of things. In fact, it is often observed in various in-career training programmes and Management Development Programmes (MDPs) that field officers are most energized by legal modules and case law, rather than, say, climate change or international conventions.

Technical expertise in all of the thirty-odd disciplines going into forestry, including entomology (study of insects), mycology (fungi), botany and taxonomy (scientific classification), genetics and breeding, tissue culture, wood anatomy (cell structure), physiology (nutrition), growth modeling and economics, ecology, and so on,  cannot conceivably be mastered by any one individual, and it cannot be expected of the three thousand officers in the service. Such specialist knowledge has to be drawn in from research scientists, and forestry being a rare discipline in the regular universities, the main source hitherto has been the Forest Research Institutes or FRIs under either the central ministry (now under the quasi-autonomous ICFRE,  Dehradun), or state-sponsored ones like the outstanding Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI). We will turn to a discussion of these institutions in the next section.

[1] A course on Contemporary Governance, given through lectures from eminent experts, followed up by presentations by the students. With regard to environment, the following podcasts are interesting: V.S.Vijayan, Conservation and development: the challenges at, P.N.Unnikrishnan, Towards the sustainable mode of forest conservation in India; at; Rajeev Gowda, How Parliament works, at; Jairam Ramesh, Ecology, growth and democracy at, and many others. Organized by Dr.Uday Balakrishnan, previously of the Indian Postal Service.

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


Brandis, Dietrich. 1897 (repr. 1994). Forestry in India. Natraj Publishers, Dehradun.

Calder, I.R., R.L.Hall and P.G.Adlard. 1992. Growth and Water Use of Forest Plantations. (Proc. International Symposium at Bangalore, 4-7 February, 1991). Karnataka Forest department, Mysore paper Mills Ltd., and the Oxford Forestry Institute and the Institute of Hydrology, U.K. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester and New York.

Dilip Kumar, P. J. 1996. Changing forest policy and forestry curriculum responses - the Indian experience. Paper presented at the 18th Session of the FAO Advisory Committee on Forest Education, Santiago de Chile, November 11-14 1996. FAO, Rome. (Abstract provided in FAO Proceedings, Rome, 1998).  PDF available at

Government of India. 2006. Report of the National Forest Commission. Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi.
Government of India. 2010. Doctorate-IFS Network. Published by Director, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, for Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi.
IGNFA. 2012. Shaping a Forester. 75Years of Excellence. Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehradun. Download at

James, Lawrence. 1997. Raj. The Making and Unmaking of British India. Little, Brown and Company, London. 

Lele, Sharachchhandra and Ajit Menon. (Eds.). 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press India, New Delhi.
Thapar, Valmik. 2015. Saving Wild India. A Blueprint for Change. Aleph Book Company, New Delhi
UPSC. 2014. 64th Annual Report of the Union Public Service Commission. New Delhi. Available at
UPSC. 2015. 65th Annual Report of the Union Public Service Commission. New Delhi. Available at

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