Forest Society and Colonialism

Deforestation and Rise of Commercial Forestry

Once, a few centuries ago, dense forest covered a majority of our country. But as we began development, these forests made way for cultivation and infrastructure. This indiscriminate cutting down of trees is what we call deforestation. Let us take a look at the causes of deforestation in India since the colonial times.

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Causes of Deforestation

Forests form an important part of our ecosystem and are beneficial to us in various ways. Major deforestation in India occurred during the British rule, between the years 1880 and 1920. Deforestation is not something that has come up recently but the problem had begun centuries ago. However, it was under the colonial rule that the whole problem of deforestation became more systematic and extensive.

causes of deforestation

1] Land to be Improved

  • With the increase in population during the course of time, there has been a high demand for food due to which the peasants had extended the boundaries of cultivation, clearing forests and breaking new land. This was one of the main causes of deforestation during those times.
  • The production of commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat and cotton were directly encouraged by the British. In the 19th century, the demand for these crops had increased substantially in Europe where the food grains were required in order to feed the growing urban population and also the raw materials which were required for the industrial production.
  • The colonial state in the early nineteenth century considered forests to be really unproductive. They believed that the forests were just wilderness wherein the cultivation had to be done and further wherein the land could yield agricultural products as well as revenue to further lead to enhance the income of the state.
  • Due to this, the cultivated area rose by 6.7 million hectares between 1880 and 1920, cultivated area rose

2] Sleepers on the Tracks

  • Oak forests in England were eventually disappearing due to high demand which further created a problem of supply of timber for the Royal Navy required for building ships. In order to get the large oak supply, the British started to explore the forests in India on a large scale, just for the purpose of building ships.
  • With the advent of railways from the 1850s, it has started to create a new demand to run locomotives for which the wood would be the need as fuel. With the expansion of railways, the demand also became very high and became one of the primary causes of deforestation
  • It was very important to hold the tracks together when it needed to lay railway lines sleepers. To fulfil the demand of sleepers’ on a massive scale, each mile of railway track required between 1760 and 2000 sleepers. Larger numbers of trees were cut and gradually the forests had started to disappear with railway tracks spreading throughout India.

3] Plantations

The large areas of natural forests were cleared up to meet Europe’s growing need for these commodities. The vast areas were given to European planters at cheap rates and also the colonial government took over the forests.

The Rise of Commercial Forestry

In India, the colonial rulers required huge supplies of wood for the purpose of railways and ship which lead to widespread deforestation and the British government got alarmed. A German expert on forests, Dietrich Brandis was appointed as the First Inspector General of Forests in India. He emphasized that rules that needed to be framed about the use of forest and had also introduced a system where people would learn to manage the forests with his initiatives –

  • Indian Forest Service was set up in 1864.
  • Indian Forest Act was enacted in 1865
  • Imperial Forest Research Institute was set up in 1906. The system they taught here was called ‘scientific forestry’. In the year 1878, the Act divided forests into three categories – Reserved, Protected and Village forests.

Solved Question for You

Q: What percent of the world’s total area cleared between 1700 and 1995 for industrial uses, cultivation, pastures, and fuelwood?

  1. 8.7%
  2. 9.3%
  3. 5.5%
  4. 10.8%

Sol: The correct option is “B”. Diversity in forests is disappearing quickly. The process of deforestation began many centuries ago. It became more systematic and extensive during the colonial period and has continued in the same fashion sense.

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