Saturday, April 23, 2016

43 Forestry degree courses and employment prospects. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-VII.

Role for forestry courses in the universities                            

The Indian Forest Service itself needs less than a 100 recruits every year, while recruitment to the state forest services (SFSs) is sporadic and small in numbers. There is an in-built resistance to ‘direct recruitment’ to SFSs which provide some promotion avenues for the ‘subordinate’  executive staff like Range Forest officers. Similarly, the Forester  cadre is the only venue for promotion of Forest Guards after a lifetime of service, hence states drag their heels on direct recruitment to the Forester level. Forestry was very much an in-house subject for the forest department, and even forestry research was done mainly by the central government institution, the Forest Research Institute (& Colleges) at Dehradun. It was only in the 1980s that a policy decision was taken to develop forestry courses at the state agricultural universities, and the FRI&C was converted into an ostensibly autonomous body, the Indian Council for Forestry Research & Education (ICFRE), the overseer for the half-dozen regional forest research establishments or centres of the erstwhile FRI, and the governing body for forestry education in the state universities.

There is also a separate forest university, with the Director FRI Dehradun as its chairperson. This institution has been strongly upbraided in recent years for favouring forest officers to get their PhDs, an inevitable fall-out of the conflict of interests inherent in a closely-held, inward looking organization, that could have been anticipated from the beginning.

Forestry courses in the universities were not really created for filling up the direct recruitment slots to the IFS, but to populate the forestry research centers in the FRI (ICFRE) and in universities. Unfortunately for the students who joined these forestry degree courses in the universities, there was an underlying, and deep, schizophrenia between the academy and the department in the whole undertaking. This is nicely illustrated by the paper by Khosla and Sehgal (1989), who argue that

“in the highest circles it was strongly felt that the country did not possess a cadre of persons educated in forest science to man the field jobs to check the increasing degradation of our green cover through scientific management. This was also the time when the traditional forestry was going more into the background and new programmes like agroforestry, social forestry, community forestry, farm forestry, etc. were emerging. … Forestry was thought to be more akin to agriculture and hence the ICAR took the initiative to start forestry education in the universities; also because the Ministry of Environment and Forests approached the ICAR to start degree programmes in Forestry to generate trained manpower to achieve the target of the GOI to reclaim 5 m ha [million hectares] of wastelands every year through afforestation under the social forestry programmes”  (op. cit., p.379-80).

Confusion in role perception of forestry graduates

The very starting premise in the above is defective, that there is no technically competent cadre on the ground to achieve any of this: the forest department seems to have been written off at the outset, somewhat like giving a dog a bad name to hang it. The logical flaw is that the university departments were supposed to develop experts to add science to the field formations’ efforts; but the idea as formulated by Khosla apparently looks at them as actual field workers. The problem here is that the field space is already occupied by a well-organized department with an old and established structure, hierarchy, culture, and sense of self-worth, manned by personnel recruited through established channels, so that the new university graduates are not guaranteed an entry. Especially at the field levels, it is local people who are engaged as watchers, and after many years of field work some of them are inducted into the Forest Guard cadre, and they slowly go up one or two levels to retirement. University graduates would like to start off in the gazetted posts, but there is little regular recruitment (except to the IFS) because the states do not give that much importance to filling vacancies in the state forest services, and because incumbents at lower levels in the department (RFOs, Forest Guards, Foresters) want to keep these as promotional avenues.

Khosla and Sehgal (op. cit.) completely confuse the issues by constantly shifting between research and field implementation, and between the training institution IGNFA, and the BSc courses at the universities, with the FRI and ICFRE thrown in for good measure. Perhaps it would bear repeating that the IGNFA training is not meant to produce specialists or scientists, neither is the university course meant to produce implementers in the field. That is why the IGNFA course lasts only 18 months to two years, while the BSc courses are usually of 4 years duration.

The logic would have been understandable if the university graduates were meant to develop research, but apart from nursery and propagation, forestry research projects tend to be too demanding of time and logistics support for small university departments to pursue without the strong support of the department. This support, however, can be got only if there is a sense of ownership of the departmental officers in the project. A programme that starts off by devaluing the department as incompetent can hardly elicit this sort of close cooperation and support, even if a number of the forest officers are actually from those very universities and institutes. An irony is that even for the research scientists’ recruitment (e.g. in the ICFRE), it is not forestry graduates alone that are eligible, but they have to perforce compete with graduates in botany, zoology, biotechnology, biochemistry, agriculture, etc., as a look at the ICFRE notifications will show.

Another flaw in the whole argument as presented by Khosla and Sehgal (op. cit.) is that these forestry graduates can achieve some 5 mha of forest plantation development every year. This shows that the academics have little idea of the resources that such a scale of operations demands. As argued elsewhere, the forests are being hollowed out by the removal of anything up to 200 million tones of wood every year, equivalent to say 20 mha of forest; but with all its efforts, the department is achieving only around 0.3 mha of plantation every year. Although the 20-point programme reports 1 mha a year based on the district administrations’ reports, this includes other departments like horticulture and plantation industry.  Even the Green India Mission, which is supposed to be a flagship programme under the Prime Minister’s Climate Change strategy, has only proposed 10 m ha over 10 years, half of which will be improving the density of existing forest; and even this flagship programme has not been allotted specific funds (which are estimated to require something like Rs.45,000 crores over 10 years), but must manage with ‘convergence’ from ongoing sources of funds like the MNREGA (rural employment guarantee) scheme. How the time-bound activity like forestry is managed by the field staff under such conditions is a topic for further study, and is illustrative of the resourcefulness and ‘jugaad’ (muddling through) that is required of our field functionaries; this cannot be achieved by text-book formulae.

Employment for the forestry graduates

Naturally, given all these logical flaws and mismatches, the forestry graduates are left stranded as far as assured employment is concerned. Therefore some universities had to suspend the forestry courses after a few years, while others combined forestry with mainstream agriculture, horticulture, etc. There are demands that states give quotas to forestry graduates in recruitments, but this is considered if at all only at the lower levels, which ultimately may not attract the graduates who have gone through a 4-year course. Some institutions, like the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, have been smart enough in the past to prepare their students to be competitive in the selection exams of the UPSC or state PSCs, but with the recent change in the exam pattern for the IFS, as described in this post, the advantage seems to have faded away.

The inference would be that universities and their academics ought to focus on whatever research catches their interest, and build bridges with the forest department for access to the field. They need to develop a slightly robust mentality to the realities in the field, so that they do not end up as implacable and hostile critics like Gadgil and Guha in the 1980s and 1990s, especially when they start intervening in the communities’ relations with the department. Because forestry as a discipline itself is so difficult to do research in, academics are often tempted to take up socio-economic issues, which inevitably end up as a critique of the department and the government, if not of the state and the courts, as has happened even with as brilliant a scholar and intellectual as Sharad Lele. Then the department may naturally close ranks and raise the drawbridge on communication and cooperation, leading to much acrimony and waste of  energy all around.

Functional research has been developed very well in some of the forest based industries, where objectives are clear and no ideological tussles are involved. Some good examples are found in the Mysore Paper Mills in Karnataka (see the webcached page from at, the Bhadrachalam Paper industry of ITC (see Lal, 1999), WIMCOs in northwestern India (Dhiman and Gandhi, 2012), and a few others (see R.D.Gupta, in Singh, 2006: p.217). Of course, they may get embroiled in controversy as they basically raise monocultures of fast growing exotics on public or private land, but some of them like ITC Bhadrachalam have developed very effective farm forestry programmes as well (which themselves are also not free of controversy as they compete with food crops, or encourage absentee landlordism, and so on).

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


Dhiman, R.C. and J.N.Gandhi. 2012. Clonal Development and Diversity in WIMCO’s Poplar Programme. Forestry Bulletin, Vol12, No.1. Downloadable pdf available at the ENVIS website. 199

Dilip Kumar, P.J. 1996. Changing forestry policy and forestry curriculum responses. The Indian experience. Paper prepared for the 18th Session of the FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education (ACFE), Santiago, Chile, 11-14 November 1996, on Curriculum Revision and Continuing Education. Final, abridged version, 20.01.1997.

Gupta, R.D. 2006. Role of Agro-Forestry in Promoting Self-Reliant Rural Economy. Chapter 20 in Y.P.Singh (Ed.), Indian Villages 2020. Vol.I, Vision and Mission. Concept Publishing Company. New Delhi.

Khosla, P.K. and R.N.Sehgal. Status of Forestry Education and training in India. Ch. 29 in P.K.Khosla (Ed.), Status of Indian Forestry. Problems and Perspectives. Proceedings of the National Seminar held Chaudhari Charan Singh University of Agriculture, Hisar. 29-31 December, 1989, under the auspices of the Indian Society of Tree Scientists, Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India.

Lal, Piare. Private Sector Forestry Research – a Success Story from India. Indian Forester, vol.125, No.1, January 1999. Abstract available at in/index.php/indianforester/article/view/5378


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