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Table of contents :
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 - Forest Management and Imperial Politics: Thana District, Bombay, 1823–1887
2 - The Forests of the Western Himalayas: The Legacy of British Colonial Administration
3 - The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas,1815–1914
4 - The Historical Context of Social Forestry in the Kumaon Himalayas
5 - The Evolution of Transhumant Grazing in the Punjab Himalaya
6 - The British Empire and India’s Forest Resources: The Timberlands of Assamand Kumaon, 1914–1950
7 - The Depletion of India’s Forests under British Imperialism: Planters, Foresters,and Peasants in Assam and Kerala
8 - The Commercial Timber Economy under Two Colonial Regimes in Asia
9 - Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves in India: The Prehistory of a Strategy
10 - Non-timber Forest Products Policy in the Western Himalayas under British Rule
Index
About the Author
Recommend Papers

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A Forest History of India

Thank you for choosing a SAGE product! If you have any comment, observation or feedback, I would like to personally hear from you. Please write to me at [email protected] —Vivek Mehra, Managing Director and CEO, SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi

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

A Forest History of India

Richard P. Tucker

Copyright © Richard P. Tucker, 2012 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in 2012 by SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044, India www.sagepub.in SAGE Publications Inc 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California 91320, USA SAGE Publications Ltd 1 Oliver’s Yard 55 City Road London EC1Y 1SP, United Kingdom SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte Ltd 33 Pekin Street #02-01 Far East Square Singapore 048763 Published by Vivek Mehra for SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, typeset in 10/13 Berkeley by Star Compugraphics Private Limited, Delhi and printed at Chaman Enterprises, New Delhi. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Tucker, Richard P., 1938–   A forest history of India / Richard P. Tucker.     p. cm.   Includes bibliographical references and index.   1. Forest policy—India—History.  2. Forests and forestry—India—History.  3. Forests and forestry—Economic aspects—India—History.  4. Forests and forestry—Social aspects—India—History.  I. Title. SD645.T83      333.750954—dc23      2011      2011041477 ISBN: 978-81-321-0693-7  (HB) The SAGE Team: Gayeti Singh, Arpita Dasgupta and Rajib Chatterjee Disclaimer: This volume largely comprises pre-published material which has been presented in its original form. The publisher shall not be held responsible for any discrepancies in language or content in this volume.

Contents Acknowledgments ix Introduction xi Chapter I Forest Management and Imperial Politics: Thana District, Bombay, 1823–1887 1 Chapter II The Forests of the Western Himalayas: The Legacy of British Colonial Administration 35 Chapter III The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914 60

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Chapter IV The Historical Context of Social Forestry in the Kumaon Himalayas 92 Chapter V The Evolution of Transhumant Grazing in the Punjab Himalaya 115 Chapter VI The British Empire and India’s Forest Resources: The Timberlands of Assam and Kumaon, 1914–1950 142 Chapter VII The Depletion of India’s Forests under British Imperialism: Planters, Foresters, and Peasants in Assam and Kerala 166 Chapter VIII The Commercial Timber Economy under Two Colonial Regimes in Asia 191 Chapter IX Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves in India: The Prehistory of a Strategy 204

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Chapter X Non-timber Forest Products Policy in the Western Himalayas under British Rule 217 Index 242 About the Author 249

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Acknowledgments I

wish to thank Mahesh Rangarajan for originally suggesting that a collection of these papers would be valuable for researchers, students, and resource managers who work on the history of forest use in India. I am equally grateful to the many environmental historians and others who have contributed to my understanding of this history over the years. Finally, I am grateful to Rekha Natarajan, Sugata Ghosh, and other staff members at SAGE Publications for believing that this collection can be beneficial for our understanding of India’s past dynamics and present situation.

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he field of forest history developed in Europe in the early twentieth century. Not surprisingly, it emerged in Germany and France, since these studies arose out of the actual management of government forests, which had evolved first in Germany, followed by France after the establishment of the French national forestry school in 1824, in the city of Nancy near the German border. In 1979, that research center was host to an international conference sponsored by the venerable International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the research association of the world’s forestry profession with close links to the timber products industry. By then the academic discipline of forest history was recognized in most countries of western and central Europe, and Americans and Canadians had also become active in IUFRO. Its North American affiliate, the Forest History Society (FHS), had been founded in the United States in 1946, as a meeting place for historically minded members of the timber industry as well as academic specialists. Some of the latter were also working on the history of the wildlife conservation movement. Along with several Americans connected to the FHS, I attended the 1979 conference in Nancy. None of the participants had paid any attention to the exploitation and management of the colonial and tropical possessions of the West, but they were generally receptive to seeing that work begin. I had spent the summer at the India Office Library in London and the Commonwealth Forestry Library in Oxford discovering the riches of colonial India’s forestry archives. I had learned that the National Archives xi

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in New Delhi and the Forestry Library at Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehradun also held large collections of records from the years of the Raj. It was clear that historians of India under the Raj (and continuing after Independence) could learn greatly from these hitherto neglected materials, about the reduction of forest cover in the subcontinent and the rise of forest management as a major element of colonial administration, changing land use, and social conflict. At the time, I was turning away from the political focus of my previous work on the early nationalist response to the Raj in Maharashtra, toward the environmental underpinnings of confrontations between British officials and Indian nationalists. In particular, I had been alerted to the late 1870s, when Bombay Presidency was under the authoritarian thumb of the Tory Governor, Richard Temple, who challenged the founders of the Indian National Congress to show that they had a broader constituency than just their anglicized social network in major cities. Simultaneously, the Government of India (GOI) had adopted the Forest Law of 1878, which placed major restrictions on the traditional uses of forests in rural areas. Historians of the freedom movement had generally failed to notice that the leaders of Congress in Bombay and Poona found that they could begin to build a rural constituency by connecting to the rural resistance that was emerging against the new forest restrictions. That led to my first essay (in 1979) on India’s forest history, which primarily traced the politics of the forest law controversy. When they read the article, forest historians in the West (more firmly grounded in forest ecology and economy than I was) noted that this essay was weak in its treatment of the actual changes in forest composition that were emerging under the new forest law. The work on India had just begun; it would require a wider range of participant scholars who could apply the insights of social history, land- and water-use history, and local history. As the following decade revealed, the work also brought out our political and ideological commitments. In India and internationally, most of us who call ourselves environmental historians in our professional lives are also active environmentalists as public citizens. My own work at the time with the Sierra Club, both in the United States and in its emerging international awareness, reinforced my conviction that environmental issues in India’s history were closely analogous with issues in North America and elsewhere. Simultaneously, the years around 1980 were a turning point in public controversy over xii

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environmental legislation and its social impacts in India. The fledgling GOI Ministry of Environment was feeling its way into working relations with other government agencies and also nongovernmental representatives. The abortive Forest Bill of 1980 helped coalesce a (sometimes uneasy or fragile) alliance between emerging environmental activists and the proponents of rural low-caste and Adivasi rights, whose ancestry traced back at least to protests such as the movement in Kumaon in 1919–21. It was clear that the State’s management of forest resources had not changed much since the British had left India—and that similar challenges to the production-oriented priorities of the timber products profession and industry were occurring throughout the Englishspeaking world. At the first national conference of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), in New Delhi in 1980, the controversy over access to forest resources was galvanizing social movements from Assam to Himachal Pradesh to Kerala. Chipko activists from Uttarakhand were there to present their case with their student allies from New Delhi. On the professional front, for one prominent example, Anil Agarwal was returning from London to establish the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi which quickly became internationally recognized for its systematic studies of a wide range of environmental issues, including forests. Closely parallel to this, outstanding environmental investigative journalism was appearing in the public press. In the early 1980s, India emerged almost overnight as a leader in the global movement of citizens’ environmental activism. In this public setting, it was vital to establish a rigorous historical perspective on the contemporary debate. By 1980, I was turning my attention from the hinterland of Bombay to India’s segment of the great watershed of the Ganges, the vast forest region of the western Himalayas, from the border of Nepal to Kashmir. The colonial forest records of Kumaon, Garhwal, and the then Punjab Hill States (roughly, today’s Himachal Pradesh) were largely intact in Dehradun and the forest department offices of the various districts. Over several years, I probed the substance and limitations of those records, suffering the endless flow of bureaucratic language and noting the conventional stereotypes of official discourse. Several of my articles on that mountain region appeared in the 1980s, but until now most of them have not been readily available in India. xiii

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One of the great limitations of British foresters in India, when it came to understanding the social dimension of forest administration, was their limited, though widely varying knowledge of local languages. Their Indian subordinates in the forest service could help to correct this in the flow of actual administration. But they were trained in a highly defined and prestigious professional subculture, which resulted in great continuity of law and administration after 1947. In my own work, in the 1980s, the same linguistic limitation held true. My 1984 article on social forestry in Kumaon addressed an important subject, but its perspective was limited, for I did not yet have access to Shekhar Pathak’s important Hindi-based work on the social impact of colonial forest administration in Kumaon. At the same time, Ramachandra Guha was studying social resistance to British as well as princely rule in Kumaon, extending the analytical tools of subaltern studies into questions of environmental change in The Unquiet Woods (1989). He used Pathak’s work and other Hindi material in broadening the scope of forest history to the inclusion of the history of marginal social groups. In the same years, Ajay Rawat was contributing varied work on the forest history of Kumaon and Garhwal. Then and since, studies of India’s forest history, from the time it became more market-oriented in the 1800s, have continued to be weak in their treatment of the private sector—the timber merchants who worked with and against foresters and villagers in an intricate triangle that continues today. In this respect, the field of Indian forest history is very different from its counterpart in Europe and especially North America, where the private sector timber industry has played a more prominent role in forest management and reduction of biodiversity. My 1989 essay was a probe of that issue, in comparison with the more readily accessible parallel in the American colony of Philippines. In the mid-1980s, my perspectives expanded to include a different social dimension of environmental stress in mountain environments: pastoralism. From the beginning of colonial administration, a major dimension of the forest departments’ work had been the effort to codify and regulate the intricate, intensive livestock pressures on hill lands. In a pattern that long predated British rule in the Punjab hills (and had close parallels in mountain regions elsewhere), transhumant shepherds guided their flocks from high pastures in the summer to the foothills of pine forests xiv

introduction

in the winter. Gaddis and other pastoral groups played an intricate game of evasion and resistance against forest officers, even becoming one of the most powerful political lobbies in the post-Independence years. This work was preliminary to Vasant Saberwal’s intensive study of transhumance and its political dimension in Himachal, Pastoral Politics (1999), which in turn was complemented by the broad environmental context surveyed in Chetan Singh’s Natural Premises (1998). For another angle of vision on the northern mountain region under British rule, I turned to Assam and Kerala, where plantation agriculture for export (especially tea and coffee) replaced natural forests in hill regions to a far greater extent than in the western Himalayas. In those regions the literature on commodity production for export locates environmental change in the broader context of the world market and imperial centers of consumption. In the early 1990s, additional studies of the forest history of the subcontinent were appearing, by then enriched by new studies of other dimensions of environmental history. In 1992, two conferences demonstrated the rapidly increasing depth and range of India’s environmental historiography. Several scholars at the first conference, organized by David Arnold and Ramachandra Guha, brought water resources to the fore as a key factor in environmental history. (Its papers were published in 1995 as Nature, Culture, Imperialism, edited by Arnold and Guha.) The second conference resulted in the publication of Nature and the Orient (1998), edited by Richard Grove, Vinita Damodaran, and Satpal Sangwan. (Their “Introduction” defines in detail its place in the rapidly developing field.) My contribution, “Forests Are More Than Trees,” was an attempt to extend the discussion into considering non-timber forest products, revealingly called Minor Forest Products in the colonial era. Minor they might be, for the priorities and preoccupations of the forest department and the timber economy, but they have always been major in the rural household economy and in terms of overall biodiversity. The diverse faunal riches of the subcontinent’s forests were under different pressures during the Raj. Wild game—mammals, birds, and fish—were prized by both British officers and Indian aristocrats as trophies, both hunted and protected. Just as with other forest products, colonial practice gave elites privileged access to game, restricting local xv

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people’s traditional rights. My 1991 essay, “Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves,” appeared along with Shishir Raval’s study of the Maldhari tribals in the Gir Forest, in an international anthology that placed India in global perspective regarding the pervasive tensions between rural communities and wildlife protection areas. Mahesh Rangarajan’s publications on the history of hunting and wildlife reserves in India greatly augmented that subject. This has been followed by the work of Anand Pandian and others. This turn toward a geographically broader vision influenced the turn of my own primary attention in the 1990s from the British Empire to the American Empire. On the history of tropical forest depletion, I published articles on American foresters and lumbermen in Latin America, in conjunction with other writers on Latin America, colonial Africa, and Southeast Asia. My synthesis on American colonial and neocolonial operations appeared as a chapter in my book, Insatiable Appetite (2000). The turn of the new century saw rapidly enriching studies of the Indian subcontinent in the broader contexts of British Empire history and global change in modern times. The pioneer work was Richard Grove’s Green Imperialism (1995). It has been followed by Ravi Rajan’s Modernizing Nature (2008), on forestry around the British Empire, and in a different vein, William Beinart and Lotte Hughes’ Environment and Empire (2007), especially its survey chapter on India’s forests. Several survey articles on the state of environmental history research within India and beyond have been invaluable in tracking the condition of the field, and putting forest history in its wider analytical context. See the introductory essays in Arnold and Guha (1995) and Grove et al. (1998), as well as an essay added to the 2000 revised edition of Guha’s The Unquiet Woods. They are complemented by separately published essays by Rangarajan (1996 and 2009), D’Souza (2003), Grove and Damodaran (2006), and Sivaramakrishnan (2008). Finally, the new volume edited by Deepak Kumar, Vinita Damodaran, and Rohan D’Souza, The British Empire and the Natural World (2011), brings the subject to the present, indicating the rich variety and depth that the field has come to represent. In sum, the emergence of the field of Indian forest history in the 1980s, including its intricate contradance between scholarship and public xvi

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controversies, now seems like receding history itself, as we take for granted a wide range of topics that we had hardly begun to identify 30 years ago. But the issues themselves have only partially changed, reflecting the intransigent continuities of our times and the difficulties of resolving competition over access to natural resources.

References Arnold, David and Ramachandra Guha. 1995. “Introduction: Themes and Issues in the Environmental History of South Asia,” in David Arnold and Ramachandra Guha (eds), Nature, Culture, Imperialism: Essays on the Environmental History of South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 1–20. Beinart, William and Lotte Hughes. 2007. Environment and Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press. D’Souza, Rohan. 2003. “Nature, Conservation and Environmental History: A Review of Some Recent Environmental Writings on South Asia,” Conservation and Society, 1 (2, July–December): 317–32. Grove, Richard H. 1995. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Origins of Environmentalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Grove, Richard H. and Vinita Damodaran. 2006. “Imperialism, Intellectual Networks and Environmental Change: Origins and Evolution of Global Environmental History, 1676–2000” (Parts I and II), Economic and Political Weekly, 41–42 (October 14 and 21): 4345–54 and 4497–505. Grove, Richard H., Vinita Damodaran, and Satpal Sangwan (eds). 1998. Nature and the Orient. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Guha, Ramachandra. 1989. The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalayas. Berkeley: University of California Press. Expanded edition, 2000, pp. 211–22. Kumar, Deepak, Vinita Damodaran, and Rohan D’Souza (eds). 2011. The British Empire and the Natural World. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pandian, Anand. 2001. “Predatory Care: The Imperial Hunt in Mughal and British India,” Journal of Historical Sociology, 14 (1): 79–107. Rajan, S. Ravi. 2008. Modernizing Nature: Forestry and Imperial Eco-development, 1800–1950. New Delhi: Orient Longman. Rangarajan, Mahesh. 1996. “Environmental Histories of South Asia: A Review Essay,” Environment and History, 2: 129–43. ———. 2001. India’s Wildlife History. Delhi: Permanent Black.

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Rangarajan, Mahesh. 2009. “Environmental Histories of India: Of States, Landscapes, and Ecologies,” in Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz (eds), The Environment and World History. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 229–54. Rawat, Ajay S. (ed.). 1991. History of Forestry in India. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company. Saberwal, Vasant. 1999. Pastoral Politics: Shepherds, Bureaucrats, and Conservation in the Western Himalaya. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Singh, Chetan. 1998. Natural Premises: Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya, 1800–1950. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Sivaramakrishnan, K. 2008. “Science, Environment and Empire History: Comparative Perspectives from Forests in Colonial India,” Environment and History 14 (1): 41–65. Tucker, Richard P. 2000. Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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I Forest Management and Imperial Politics: Thana District, Bombay, 1823–1887∗

Introduction

I

n 1885 the Government of British India established the Bombay Forests Inquiry Commission to study acute tensions between the Government of Bombay and villagers in the immediate hinterland of Bombay city, and to recommend remedies which the local government seemed incapable of devising. A struggle between the Bombay Presidency government and the villagers of Thana District over control and use of forest resources, as acute as in any forested district of India, was threatening to explode politically. The villagers protested that their immemorial right to use forest products had been inexorably and illegally wrested from them by an alien government. On the other side, Forest Department professionals insisted that without systematic forest protection the hills would soon be so denuded that they could no longer sustain an expanding population. The controversy in Thana was one of the earliest and best documented examples of the now familiar struggle between long-range maintenance of natural resources, and economic development or the immediate subsistence needs of rural society. The conflict was both environmental and political: ecological pressures in Thana in the 1870s and 1880s reflected ∗ Originally published in The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. 39, and No. 2–3. Copyright © The Indian Economic and Social History Association, New Delhi. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holders and the publisher, SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi.

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the rate of nationalist political development in a colonial setting as much as the rate of deforestation. Therefore, though the commission of 1885 attempted to resolve the environmental issues which still haunt us today, the political heart of the conflict was very different from what it became after Independence in 1947. Ecological dilemmas had become caught in the polarization of interests between the imperial bureaucracy and the newly articulate nationalist elite. In that setting all combatants’ vision of the issues became limited by the overriding political issues, whether Indians or foreigners would control administrative policies. As a result the commission’s work, and the work of others after it, produced almost no innovation in policy throughout the British era. The losers were those whose true survival interests were at stake: the forests and the villagers. As early as the 1860s, most stakeholders in the controversy over the forests of Thana District were visible and vocal. On one side were the government officials. These included the revenue officers who exercised primary jurisdiction over the district and its talukas or subdivisions; their major interest was to increase revenue from agriculture. To them were added the Forest Department professionals, a newer, smaller and always weaker service committed primarily to preserving the forests. Within the government the two groups were often at odds, and the implementation of forest policy in the talukas reflected that tension. On the other side were the villagers themselves, represented by major landholders and the village headmen. The rural populace was also divided into two major groups, the caste-Hindu agriculturalists and the tribal groups who were only partly assimilated into the agricultural life of the region. Both the majority population and the British regime considered that the tribes required special treatment. Finally, the merchants from the towns brought a commercial and urban interest into the villages. Village landholders and government officers disagreed on rates of taxation and patterns of access to the forests, but both agreed that the subsistence needs of the villages required higher priority than the disruptive presence of the contractors’ money economy. If trees were to be preserved, the contractors’ interests should be the first to be curtailed. One crucial catalytic force did not appear until the 1870s, an effective urban elite to represent the villagers against the increasing governmental presence in the forests. In Thana most village leaders were illiterate and few landholders held large-enough tracts to make them wealthy 2

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and influential. Necessary skills of political organization appeared with the new class of Western-educated lawyers, who, by 1870, began to articulate nationalist political demands against the British. The Bombay Association and, even more, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha or People’s Association of Poona were a new elite looking for a mass constituency in the 1870s. In inland agricultural districts they found a constituency among small farmers in the poor crop years of the early 1870s. In forest districts they found another population to defend among tribal groups in the late 1870s. In cooperation with the Thana Forest Association, they articulated these grievances in the late 1870s, when the Bombay government was headed by the aggressively imperialist Governor Richard Temple. The destiny of the Thana forests then became inextricably linked to the passions of nationalist politics.

Thana’s Forests in the Early Nineteenth Century Thana District lies immediately east of Bombay city. Its narrow coastal plain stretches eastward from Bombay, then gives way to the ghats, the steep Sahyadri hills which rise to nearly 3,000 feet and then roll off eastward into the 2,000 feet high Deccan plateau, or Desh. From June to September the ghats bear the full brunt of the monsoon, which deposits up to 200 inches of rain. The other eight months are virtually cloudless. In the early nineteenth century Thana was one of the most heavily forested districts in the Bombay Presidency. Over 33 per cent of its land was government-held forests, a high percentage for any part of British India. Another 30 per cent of Thana’s land was classed as “wastelands,” or untilled land not privately owned, mostly in small tracts of semiforested and controlled by villages through their elders.1 The district’s total population, nearly all rural, passed 900,000 by the early 1880s, or 212 per square mile.2

1

Government of India, Bombay Forests Inquiry Commission, 4 vols., Government Press, Calcutta, 1887, I, 12. Hereafter cited as Inquiry Commission. 2 Bombay Presidency Gazetteer, Vol. 13, Part 1, Thana District, Government Press, Bombay, 1882, pp. 1–3. Hereafter cited as Thana Gazetteer.

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Agriculture dominated the economy along the coast; in the hills it was more mixed, with subsistence farming, livestock grazing, and the harvesting of forest products. In the coastal tract rain-irrigated rice was a principal crop by the mid-nineteenth century. In the ghats, wherever small plots were flat or could be terraced, dry rice, other grains, and legumes were the chief crops.3 The subsistence economy rested on its forest resources in many ways. Firewood was a major energy resource: most cooking was still done with firewood, and to a lesser extent wood provided heat in the cold months. Timber, especially hardwood, was also needed for rural building, since the abundant stone of the ghats was too expensive for all but the most affluent to use for construction. Beyond this, leaves from forest trees were essential as enrichment for the rice fields of Thana and adjacent districts. The thin soil of the hills4 lacked the adequate nutrients to sustain rice farming in the laboriously levelled and banked rice paddies. The forests provided essential fertilizer supplements. Villagers went to nearby woods, lopped the branches, dried them, and burned the leaves on the fields.5 Even more important to the village economy was the forests’ support of grazing for cattle, sheep, and goats. In these open subtropical forests the lush growth of grasses and young leaves between June and January was the almost exclusive food base for all grazing animals; very few even now are stall-fed. Cattle were essential for milk products, the bullocks for ploughing and pulling carts, and all the grazers for their production of dung as a second source of fertilizer. Essential to grazing patterns were the Dhangars and other shepherd castes, whose seminomadic subsistence depended on farmers periodically welcoming flocks onto their land for the animals’ production of dung. Unless all of these mechanisms of village life could be reconciled with long-range management of the forests, the rural economy and government–peasant relations were in danger. In Thana District the forest tribes, who made up one-third of its population, presented particularly difficult problems, especially because they 3

Ibid., pp. 286–300. Ibid., pp. 280–82. 5 Harold Mann, The Social Framework of Agriculture, Vora, Bombay, 1967, pp. 395–401. 4

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were the chief inhabitants of some of the larger Reserved forests.6 Varlis, Thakurs,7 and other tribes traditionally did little farming, depending more than caste-Hindu farmers on fruits, tubers and other vegetation for food. Moreover, like tribals in many parts of the subcontinent, they traditionally practiced temporary or slash-and-burn tilling for hill tracts. In the tinder-dry months before the onset of monsoon they set fire to pasture and forest tracts, either to encourage maximum growth of tender new grass for their animals’ forage, or to clear and fertilize the land. As the thin soil of the higher hillsides declined in fertility, they would move on after a few seasons and clear new tracts in the manner of shifting cultivators throughout the tropical and subtropical world. The fires which were their standard method of clearing often went out of control, for the climate in April and May is very hot, very dry, and increasingly windy as the pre-monsoon breezes develop. The early nineteenth-century spread of lumbered tracts, in most of which the remains from harvesting were left as vast brushy tangles, saw a steady increase of devastating forest fires. From nearly the beginning of British rule, revenue officials and others pressed the tribals to change to settled farming and cattle raising; shifting cultivation was outlawed in 1863 in Thana District.8 But this left the tribals more dependent on grazing rights in government forests and on day labor for landlords, merchants, or the forest service. They gradually took up employment as forest guards as a substitute for their traditional occupations because they knew the upper hills better than anyone, and because they would work for very low wages.9 Nonetheless, the village population, which was relatively sparse early in the century, might still have been in balance with its forest resources in the 1880s. But new outside forces were applied on the land as the century wore on. The British imperial machine placed severe pressure on the teak forests in the early nineteenth century, for the Royal Navy badly needed timber. 6

Thana Gazetteer, pp. 153–89. L.N. Chapekar, Thakurs of the Sahyadris, Oxford, Bombay, 1960, Chaps 2–3, gives a detailed account of the Thakurs for the 1940s. 8 Inquiry Commission, I, 115 f.; E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, 3 vols., London, 1926, I, 351. 9 See Inquiry Commission, III, passim, for various opinions on their work. 7

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English oak, formerly the staple source of spars and beams for warships, was almost entirely depleted before 1800.10 Hence, until the 1840s the navy led the effort to explore and exploit the hardwood forests of the entire west coast of India. In the same period, Bombay’s port facilities developed as a major shipyard for southern Asia, spurred on by the shift in Parsi-controlled capital from Surat.11 By the early 1800s British merchants were active in teak marketing; they included both private firms and East India Company officials in their private capacity, profiting rapidly in the age of the nabobs. By 1850, with the decline of wooden ships, this factor ceased to be significant for the coastal forests, and British timber merchants were no longer active in the trade.12 The government’s need for timber did not slacken yet, however, for the 1840s saw the start of the great railway-building era in India.13 In the short run, over the following two decades the railroads’ first impact on the forests was their consumption of many millions of sleepers or railroad ties, taken from the coastal hardwoods. In the long run, the railroads’ major impact on the forests was their provision of transport for wood products to urban markets. From the start of British rule there was a steady expansion of urban centers. By far the most important was Bombay city, the Presidency capital, which by 1800 had become the largest port on India’s west coast. Bombay’s market was expanding as rapidly as any urban market near dense forests in India. Several smaller towns added to the rising urban demand. These included Surat, the port on the coast to the north, Thana town at the upper end of Bombay harbor, Kalyan inland at the foot of the ghats, and finally Poona, the center for the western Deccan plateau beyond the hills. 10

R.G. Albion, Forests and Sea-Power, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1926, Chaps 3 and 9. 11 Pamela Nightingale,Trade and Empire in Western India, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1970. 12 Bombay Forest Reports, 1850–51, p. 92. 13 See John Hurd II, “Railways and the Expansion of Markets in India, 1861–1921,” Explorations in Economic History, 1975, pp. 263–88; John M. Hurd, “Irrigation and Railways: Railways,” in Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai (eds), The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983.

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Most towns of Thana District lay along the main road from Bombay to Poona and the Deccan. Their growth was further stimulated in the 1850s when the Peninsular Railway, the major line from the west coast toward southeastern India, was completed on the same route through Thana, the ghats, and Poona. These tracks became the principal local line from the hills to Bombay. British officials’ reports from the 1830s onward regularly mention the expansion of the forest-product trade with the towns. Fluctuations in the market price of wood had only temporary impacts on this expansion. The chief beneficiaries of this expansion, and the chief carriers of the urban market to the villages, were small-scale timber merchants most of whom were based in Bombay and the coastal towns at the mouths of the many short rivers from the ghats to the sea. They represented several mercantile communities. Many were Memon Muslims, never politically powerful; others included Marwari traders from farther north, and Parsi merchants from Bombay.14 By the 1830s the Parsis were purchasing large tracts of land in the villages of Salsette, the portion of Thana District directly across the harbor from Bombay. Their interests in timber were somewhat different from the other local traders, since their primary interest was the land; profits from timber sales were a secondary element of their investment. The other groups were rarely landholders. By mid-1800s commercial contractors became an important link between towns and forests and between government and villagers. In Thana District, unlike Kanara to the south, the forests and topography have never enabled traders to develop large-scale commercial forestry such as teak plantations. The contractors remained a disparate urban group in Bombay and the smaller towns. As commercial middlemen they often were direct employers of day labor in tribal and agricultural villages, offering subsistence wages for gathering timber and other forest products. Alternatively they negotiated with government officers at timber depots, buying wood from the government for resale in the towns. In both systems they developed a reputation, which they still hold today, for ruthless dealings at the expense of both government and villagers. The cumulative effect of these commercial forces was the precipitous deforestation of much of the Bombay coast in the first half of the 14

Thana Gazetteer, pp. 28–39.

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nineteenth century, long before the colonial administration was able to regulate the forest economy, and even before the British were aware that the process had reached dangerous proportions. The story of forest management in the latter half of the century is one of belated and inadequate efforts to restrain the impact of overwhelming pressures on forest lands.

Early Forest Management in Bombay The forests of the coastal range might have been more nearly adequate for subsistence had they not come under pressure from expanding agriculture as well. There is little evidence of conflict between agriculture and forests in pre-British times, for the land’s resources were more than adequate for a sparse population. But British policy from the start advocated opening new lands for agriculture, first as a source of increased revenue, and later as a recognition of the needs of a growing population. When the British assumed control of the coastal districts, including Thana, the hills and ravines of the ghats were heavily forested and lightly populated. One officer’s early report indicated that The whole country was lying waste and unpopulated. That up to about 1850 wasteland was everywhere so abundant as to create a feeling of despair as to the future of the district, that the increase of cultivation was so much desired that the poorest people were allowed to cut down as many trees as they liked merely for the purpose of clearing the land, and that wood itself was so abundant that every one cut where and as he liked.15

Early British agricultural and forestry policy was thus set in seemingly unlimited forest reserves and a sparsely settled, largely poverty-stricken rural population. No one as yet foresaw any danger to the land’s resources if revenue, commerce, and food production were all encouraged. From the 1820s the government’s approach to forest lands was based on the laissez-faire principle of maximum private harvesting, especially of teak. In order to maintain the loyalty of the newly conquered populace, the new regime impinged on existing social and economic rights as little 15

Inquiry Commission, I, 21.

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as possible. Furthermore, the Raj was committed in principle to private property. It encouraged private ownership of economic resources, especially land, in the belief that this would lead to innovation and prosperity in agriculture.16 All these factors reinforced its early forest policy. Teak forests in the coastal districts held the greatest commercial potential, and pre-British regimes had often asserted the government’s ownership of teak on all land, whatever the ownership of the land itself. The British regime at first rejected even this claim, but, like other aspects of environmentally significant policy, this was done piecemeal and inconsistently. The first British precedent was set in 1823 in two talukas of Thana, when the Bombay government declared that owners of privately held lands had full rights to standing teak, as well as other species.17 Officials in other districts disagreed, however, and it took years to determine a consistent policy. After 1837 the government slowly extended its asserted forest rights, and the courts became elaborately involved in litigating conflicts between private owners and the government. This halting start guaranteed that the process of expanding government control over the forests would be slow and expensive, and that it would result in widespread hostility among the landed elite. In addition to the question of forest ownership, the early British had only one other interest: to maximize revenue collection from the trade in forest products, especially the teak harvest. In the 1820s they levied a tax on timber and firewood as one of several transit duties. But when these 16

For the strategic aspect of this policy, see Kenneth Ballhatchet, Social Policy and Social Change in Western India, 1817–1830, Oxford University Press, London, 1957, part 1; and Ravinder Kumar, Western India in the Nineteenth Century, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1968, Chap. 2. The ideological commitment to private ownership of private lands also reflected governmental policy regarding land use during the nineteenth century in other parts of the English-speaking world: governments should not own vast stretches of forest land. In the United States, for example, government policy until after 1900 was to divest itself of forested lands. See Roy Robbins, Our Landed Heritage, 2nd edn., University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1976, Part 3. 17 Inquiry Commission, I, 21; Stebbing, I, 35. For parallel policies in north India, see B. Ribbentrop, Forestry in British India, Government Printing Office, Calcutta, 1900, pp. 60–65.

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transit taxes were abolished in 1838, the wood tax was also abolished in places where it had been placed on the transit rather than the cutting of wood. This left a confused and inconsistent system until a uniform wood tax was decreed for all of Thana in 1851. This uncertain path reflected the fact that the new government was understaffed, poorly financed, and inexperienced. In particular there was as yet no organized forestry administration anywhere in India. Bombay, like other provinces, left the rural economy to the Revenue Department, which was absorbed in surveying agricultural lands. No forest surveys were undertaken in Bombay Presidency before 1840, nor did anyone there have any understanding of subtropical silviculture, the science of forest biology.18 Twenty years into the British era, revenue surveys first indicated the extent of destruction in the teak forests. In 1841 the government took its initial protective step by prohibiting further teak cutting in governmentowned forests in Kalyan taluka, just inland from Bombay city. They knew they were operating largely from ignorance, so in the same year Dr Gibson, Curator of the Bombay Botanical Garden, was asked to begin surveys of the existing condition of the Sahyadri forests. Gibson could hardly be called a professional forester, but as a respected botanist he was the best-qualified man available. His first tours around the hills confirmed the alarming state of the teak,19 and established him as the

18 Modern forestry management was still in its infancy in England as well. See Colin R. Tubbs, The New Forest: An Ecological History, David & Charles Publishers, Newton Abbott, Devon, 1968, Chap. 4. The South Germans, and to a lesser extent the French, had almost the only trained foresters in the world. Throughout most of the nineteenth century the British in India turned to Germany for recruits to their forestry service, men such as Brandis and Ribbentrop. It was nearly 1900 before these men added to their experience of European climate and botany a systematic understanding of the monsoon climate and India’s subtropical vegetation. For broader perspectives on the history of forest management in Europe, see Clarence Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1967, pp. 318–40; and Bernard E. Fernow, A Brief History of Forestry in Europe, the United States and Other Countries, 2nd edn., University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1911. 19 Stebbing, I, 111–14.

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leading authority on the Bombay forests. In 1847 he was appointed Conservator of Forests for Bombay Presidency, the first position of its kind in India. The following twenty years witnessed the steady development of experience, competence, and ambition in the Bombay forest service, under increasing political and environmental pressure. Systematic surveys not only of forest resources but also of legal rights to forest products had to be initiated; these took decades to complete. Simultaneously, control over the day-to-day use of the forests had to be attempted, and this somewhat haphazard process left the foresters with few friends, many critics. Gibson established high standards of professionalism before his retirement in 1860. But his successors were not as universally praised, perhaps because they were less diplomatic, perhaps because the contradiction between preserving the forests and meeting the people’s needs was becoming more acute. The demands of forest work always exceeded their resources. N.A. Dalzell,20 Chief Conservator from 1860 to 1869, was administratively responsible for the entire Presidency, a vast territory, and his staff was inadequate both in numbers and training. During Dalzell’s tenure forestry was organized as an all-India service under an inspector general. The first inspector general, Dietrich Brandis, knew from his early tours of Bombay and other provinces that the size of the service must be expanded and its technical capacities greatly improved. As his successor Ribbentrop later wrote, new recruits were chosen not on the basis of effective prior training but on vague indications of aptitude for the work. “Officers were as a rule chosen who had previously shown qualifications for forest life and forest management. In some instances they were naturalists, in others sportsmen.”21 None of them had any training in the legal complexities they would face, or necessarily any capacity for the delicate diplomacy of negotiating with

20

For their technical work, see N.A. Dalzell and A. Gibson, The Bombay Flora, Education Society’s Press, Bombay, 1861; and A. Gibson, Handbook to the Forests of the Bombay Presidency, Bombay Government Press, Bombay, 1863. 21 Ribbentrop, p. 78; Stebbing, II, 82–89. See also the brief biography of Brandis: Anon., “Dietrich Brandis, the Founder of Forestry in India,” Indian Forester, August 1884, pp. 343–57.

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village landholders and peasants. Even in their technical work of forest management it would be another generation before the first true professional foresters were trained at the forestry institute which opened in 1906 at Dehra Dun in the Himalayan foothills.22 Slowly, though, the Bombay service was expanded. In 1873 the Presidency was divided into three Circles, each covering several districts. Dalzell’s successor, A.T. Shuttleworth, a zealous conservationist with little patience for villagers’ traditional rights, became Conservator for the Northern Circle. Although this did not include Thana, his influence was felt there for another decade.23 By 1883 the Bombay service had expanded to three conservators and an additional professional staff of twenty-four.24 By the 1860s the forest departments of Bombay and other provinces became committed to preservation of existing forests as their fundamental reason for existense. From then onward, all other functions of forestry were strictly secondary to the defense of the remaining woodlands. Successive secretaries of state for India, to whom the Government of India was ultimately responsible in London, made this principle unequivocally clear, as in the 1863 statement of policy which insisted that … the proper growth and preservation of the Forests is as important to Government as the cultivation of any other crop which the soil produces, and in some instances more important, since the destruction of the Forests would affect most injuriously the climate, and perhaps the fertility of the soil.25

The basis of all forest administration had to be detailed surveys of forest lands. Dalzell and his staff pursued this work, using a system which distinguished among government, waste, and private lands. After 1865 government lands were categorized as Reserved or Protected; in Reserved forests the government held full rights of ownership; their products were not to be used without specific official approval. Protected forests were in a temporary category: these forests were owned by the government but had not yet been systematically surveyed for the character 22

Stebbing, III, Chap. 12. See Stebbing, I, 330 for data on the staff in 1860, and III, 48, for 1890. 24 Ribbentrop, p. 82. 25 Stebbing, I, 350. 23

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of the vegetation or the pattern of users’ rights. By the later years of the century most of the Protected forests were studied and reclassified, many of them becoming Reserved. This process was complicated by the fact that many government forests were in small tracts in the hills, alternating with equally small tracts of privately owned land. The ownership pattern was too fragmented for effective land management, and the department faced many years of effort and litigation in its attempts to consolidate its lands before they could be effectively reserved and managed. This process, in India as elsewhere, produced lengthy disputes and friction between government and landowners. During the 1860s, while the surveys were proceeding and consolidation and legal controls were being put in place, the forest officials were hampered by several additional factors that intensified their impatience with obstacles. They were understaffed partly because their departmental budget was required to be met entirely by revenues from the collection of forest fees. As tax collectors they became a reluctant extension of the Revenue Department, which was rarely popular with the rural populace. New regulations of 1861 and 1862 first explicitly subordinated the conservators to the collectors, the revenue officials who dominated district-level government. All official communications among forest officials were henceforth to be channelled through the collector’s office; this gave him effective oversight of the foresters’ work but identified them more than ever as tax collectors and enemies, especially in the timber merchants’ eyes. Gibson, always outspoken in favoring the villagers’ subsistence needs over the profits of the contractors, had begun systematizing the collection of forest duties from the merchants in the early 1850s. The immediate result was that the merchants in the Surat area organized Varli tribals to march on government offices to protest the infringement of private commercial rights.26 The protest gained them nothing, for the forest service had begun to assert its own interests. But from that time onward the government was wary of the danger of urban interests organizing peasant protests, even though, for the rest of the century, the timber merchants 26

Inquiry Commission, I, 26.

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failed to organize as an effective lobby. Despite their occasional protests, they may have had enough access to timber to satisfy their ambitions. The government’s pressure on the merchants increased in variety and intensity as the century wore on. In the early years, before there were adequate resources in the forest department, the government had sold all rights to timber harvesting on specified tracts for specified periods of time; the merchants then hired day labor and chose which trees to cut. This system was at the heart of the devastating damage done to the forests in the 1830s and 1840s. As the government began exercising the right to designate which trees to cut in any timber concession, the merchants began to evade the new governmental controls, in pursuit of maximum short-run spoils. They learned to follow several strategies, most of them illegal, in their evolving battle of wits against the British. At times when the foresters experimented with rules allowing the harvest of dead but not live trees, presumably for firewood, they found that by a year after the rules were announced, many trees had been discreetly girdled, killed and sold.27 Another experimental rule allowed villagers to take firewood, brush and fodder from lands newly declared Reserved if their own property’s produce was inadequate.28 This system in practice encouraged landowners to sell their own trees to merchants and then apply for access to Reserved forests. At other times, when government forests were not yet clearly demarcated and patrolled, the rate of destruction in border areas suddenly rose.29 Borderlands between British districts and the small Princely States in the hills where British law did not extend, were subject to devastating attacks by merchants’ crews. Most common of all, a phenomenon with which everyone is still familiar today, those with adequate funds could easily persuade forest guards and local officials to look the other way when the saws and axes set to work. In all these strategies the townsmen and traders were central actors; they had built up over the years ties with village society which British officials found extremely difficult to regulate. The most important of these ties was that the merchants, in their search for day labor, frequently 27

Ibid., I, 121. Ibid., II, 349. 29 Bombay Forest Reports, 1850, p. 77. 28

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hired tribal men from hill tracts which the tribals knew far better than anyone else. For increasing numbers of tribals these wages made the difference between surviving and not surviving on a meager resource base which shrank as the British reserved more and more government forests. Fortunately for the British this tie was offset by the merchant’s reputation for promising the lowest possible wage rates and then often failing to pay even the agreed rates. The British administration was able to turn most of its attention to the intricacies of regulating the villagers’ subsistence economy in the forests. This the forest department eagerly attempted, for it was officially pledged both to preserve trees and to harvest enough forest products to meet the villagers’ complex needs. This task was far more complex than it seemed at first. As the 1860s wore on, an organizational issue emerged, which entangled the foresters in the conflicts of rural society far more than the department ever admitted publicly. At the upper levels of administration, which were entirely staffed by Europeans, the forest and revenue departments were often at odds because they championed forests and agriculture respectively. Among their Indian subordinates at the taluka and village levels a similar tension developed, this time with a social component. The mamlatdars, local revenue officers feeling that they embodied the most powerful wing of government in the villages, were high-caste men, often Brahmins. Their work included supervising the rural police. In the younger and lower-status forest service the forest guards were required to prevent illegal use of government forest lands. For many years it was considered impossible to recruit high-caste men for this work, since it entailed arduous trips through forested tracts which only peasants and tribals knew well. Forest guards could arrest lawbreakers, but if their social superiors, the mamlatdars, did not support them when it was time to coordinate with rural police, control of the forests was vitiated. This tension between administrative and social patterns led by 1880 to massive bribery of rural officials; the more their responsibilities expanded, the more widespread the corruption became. Village-level authority was lodged in the patils or headmen, who were usually leading landowners and the most influential members of the dominant local farming caste. They were responsible for regulating the “wastelands” or old forest lands which the villages owned collectively and used primarily for firewood and grazing. If disputes arose among 15

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the villagers, the headmen were expected to resolve them, often with information gathered by low-caste watchmen. By the late nineteenth century the forest department was convinced that village officials could not understand the need for long-range conservation and systematic application of the forest regulations. The department began pressing more insistently to have professional foresters and their staff of forest guards supplant the headmen in this work. In this regard too, the village elites came into increasing friction with the forest managers by the 1870s, though they had not yet learned to coordinate their efforts to resist bureaucratic encroachments. The combination of new forest legislation in 1878 and a decisive change in political conditions during that decade brought the struggle over the forests of Thana to a head.

Maharashtrian Politics in the 1870s Until the early 1870s conflict between forest officials and villagers registered in the outside world largely through bureaucratic channels. The villages had no formal voice at any higher level of government, and their elders lacked the literacy and experience which might have enabled them to pursue their interests even as far as the district towns, to say nothing of remote Bombay. Beyond this, there was no tradition of open disputation between villagers and imperial officials. The only rural resistance to British rule since 1818 had been occasional armed revolts led mostly by remnants of the old Maratha regime. The British dealt uncompromisingly with these, especially after they succeeded in keeping the north Indian revolt of 1857 from spreading into Bombay Presidency. The only effective resistance to the growing governmental controls on forests was individual: either to evade the regulations by working at night, or to bribe local officials and forest guards. The political context changed all of this after 1870. The catalyst which had been lacking until then was an indigenous intelligentsia, based in the cities, trained in Western ways of politics and administration, and looking for a way of representing the masses’ interests in Bombay. Western-style politics had actually begun in the early 1850s, both in the formalities of municipal government and in the establishment of 16

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voluntary organizations as pressure groups. By the mid-1850s the major towns and cities of the Presidency established municipal advisory boards, which included Indian members. More years passed before the Indian members were elected; as yet they were restricted to conservative local luminaries named by the British head of the municipal government. But the principle of active Indian participation in local affairs was established. It was strengthened in 1870 when the Government of India passed a landmark Local Self-Government Act which, for both towns and rural districts, began the long evolution toward full-government in India. These fledgling institutions of local government would have meant little for natural resource issues, but they were paralleled by the beginnings of non-official political protest movements. In 1852, when the charter of the Government of India was to be renewed, political associations were formed in Calcutta, Bombay, Poona and elsewhere to articulate the interests of both local financial elites and the Englisheducated young professionals who were beginning to staff the lower ranks of government. Within two years, after the charter renewal debate was completed, these associations fell into quiescence for fifteen years. But by 1870 the Bombay Association and the new People’s Association of Poona were ready to represent popular grievances to a government which was in principle prepared to read the memorials.30 During the 1870s the Poona People’s Association took the major role in a variety of agitations, because of effective leadership by G.V. Joshi, M.G. Ranade and others. The literati of Poona were actively looking for a broad constituency, in contrast to the Bombay Association, which represented more narrowly Bombay’s commercial and professional interests. Many of the new college graduates in Poona came from rural Brahmin families. They were a small minority of even the Brahmin elite in a city of only 100,000, and they maintained close personal ties to the villages where their fathers were influential, especially the coast-and-hill district

30

J.C. Masselos, Towards Nationalism, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1974, Chaps 1–2; S.R. Mehrotra, The Emergence of the Indian National Congress, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1971, Chap. 4; and Richard Tucker, Ranade and the Rise of Indian Nationalism, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1977, Chap. 3.

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of Ratnagiri, just south of Thana and Kolaba. If they were to exercise the influence which their British mentors had promised them, they had to establish their place as the proper spokesmen for the rural populace, a role to which Brahmins had long been accustomed in pre-British times. The climate in the 1870s, both political and meteorological, was prepared for this new assertiveness. The level of conflict between revenue officials and villagers tended to rise and fall in rhythm with each year’s monsoon rains. If the monsoon from June through September was timely and brought enough rain for the crops but not enough to flood the fields, farms prospered, moneylenders were held at bay, and the revenue was usually paid. Severe flooding was rarely a problem in western India, unlike some regions of the subcontinent. But periodic droughts were the scourge of the countryside of Maharashtra and of its socioeconomic balances. Peasants relied on moneylenders for loans at planting time and at revenue time; and the level of rural indebtedness had been rising inexorably under British rule as a money economy penetrated outward from the cities. Tension between peasants and moneylenders was exacerbated because many moneylenders in rural towns were not members of local society but recent arrivals, members of commercial castes from farther north with a reputation for ruthlessness. These Marwaris and Vanis came from tightly knit interloper groups similar to the Hindu timber merchants. It is possible that in districts like Thana close to the coast, some were active in both moneylending and local marketing of rural products. Beginning in 1873 the monsoon rains fell short. By 1875 the peasants of several inland districts attacked the moneylenders in many villages and towns, killing few but destroying their loan and debt records. The British reimposed order after a few weeks, but the riots left scars, tension and, among the British, heightened distrust of the Poona Brahmins, who disclaimed any role in fomenting the violence.31 Then from 1876 until 1879 western Maharashtra suffered its worst drought and famine of the century.32 Food supplies, always the first issue in times of drought,

31 32

Kumar, Chap. 5. Tucker, Ranade and the Rise of Indian Nationlism, pp. 83–85.

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began to vanish in the dry upland districts. As local wells and water supplies dried up, villagers and their grazing animals migrated either toward urban areas or less desiccated districts. The resulting political tensions were presided over by the new Governor of Bombay, Sir Richard Temple. Temple, a career India administrator, had begun a brilliant career in the 1850s in the newly conquered northern province of Punjab. He had extensive experience with famine relief, and had helped design early forestry practices for the subHimalayan forest areas of Punjab.33 He was efficient and absolutely decisive. Unfortunately for the villagers of the famine districts, Temple by now hoped to become Viceroy of all India or enter the House of Lords. He was determined to “make the famine pay its own way,” to expend only as much as a balanced provincial budget would allow and to require in return that the displaced peasants work on emergency public works, such as irrigation canals, in return for minimal food rations. In this way, one drought could help reduce the likelihood of future water shortages.34 Long-range objectives, which hardly mattered to desperate villagers, struck the politicians of Poona as whimsical ruthlessness on the part of an arrogant government which could not yet be forced to meet the immediate needs of the people. Each side accused the other of self-interested arrogance. Temple took personal control of the famine relief campaign, certain that he understood the long-range needs of the populace and the resources available far better than they or their self-appointed leaders. The Poona People’s Association responded by amassing data concerning social conditions in the drought areas, continuing the work well into 1879. It perfected a network of school teachers, retired civil servants and others throughout the dry districts, which gave it in some areas better data faster than the government could produce. The association used this information to plead the position that the drought was causing far more widespread dislocation than Temple would admit, and by implication that it was better informed and more responsive to the villagers’ subsistence needs than the alien government. Politically, this was a dangerous strategy. When a new armed revolt flared quixotically in the dry districts

33 34

Ribbentrop, p. 75. Tucker, Ranade and the Rise of Indian Nationalism, p. 84.

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in 1879, Temple held the association responsible for a seditious plot and attempted to intimidate its leadership. This, the sharpest confrontation yet between the British and Indians in Bombay Presidency, was resolved only by a combination of good crop seasons beginning in 1880 and new parliamentary elections in England that year. A Liberal victory resulted in Temple’s replacement by Sir James Fergusson, who proved nearly as popular as his predecessor had been hated. What relevance did these events have for the natural resource base of society and politics in western Maharashtra, and especially for its forests? The ecological dimension is unclear: no one has yet attempted to ascertain what impact the famine years had on the forests of the Sahyadris and the consumption of forest products. This drought’s effect was at most indirect. Forest department records hardly mention the drought because minimally adequate moisture fell as it does every year on the coastal plain and the hills; the famine region was only the rain-shadow region of the Deccan to the east. Fiscally, though, there were budgetary effects over the entire Presidency. The middle and late 1870s were a period of lower general productivity, lower revenue, intense pressures on the government’s financial resources, and hardened relations between British officials and Indian subjects. Clearly the most important effect of the famine was political. The Poona People’s Association established itself as the most articulate and aggressive spokesman for the rural population in the upland districts; it had been born with close ties to Ratnagiri District on the south coast. Its claim to be the proper representative of the masses was resisted by most British officials, and since there were as yet no formal elections at any level of the government, there was no clear way of resolving the issue. The association was rapidly learning how to organize in the districts, leaving the metropolitan center of Bombay to the Bombay Association and the new Bombay Presidency Association. The Poona group’s strategy depended on representing the most urgent and concrete needs of rural society; the association had neither a British constituency nor any love for the commercial interlopers, the moneylenders and traders who had moved into the districts in tandem with modern bureaucracy. This pattern of politics was applied again in the early 1880s when the forestry controversy reached a peak, this time centering on Kolaba and Thana districts where the association’s influence had not yet been clearly established. 20

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In forested lands tensions between the forest department and the populace had been slowly building since the early 1860s, independently of the politics of the early nationalists. The forest law of 1865 had been implemented hesitantly in the provinces because of inadequate departmental staffing and low priority on the agendas of the Presidency governments, and because it was too general to meet the specific needs of individual provinces. Although the law did provide the legal basis for systematic forestry in British India, it would have to be revised and elaborated in greater detail in each local setting. It took thirteen years before the Bombay government was ready for that additional legislation. In the conflict-ridden year of 1878 a new forest law was passed for Bombay Presidency which precipitated the sharp crisis of the following decade in northern Konkan.35 It went beyond the earlier law in two crucially important ways.36 First, under the pressure of continuing deforestation it systematized the division of government-held lands into Reserved and Protected forests. After reaffirming the legal validity of the villagers’ traditional usufruct rights on public lands, it also repeated that the government held fundamental rights of ownership; in Reserved forests both private and public rights would henceforth be preserved. Protected forests were to be under forest department management; there the various government and private rights still had to be studied. When these could be clarified (and the work should be done as quickly as possible), they should be absorbed into the system of Reserved forests until only one class of government forests remained. The second major feature of the law proved even more controversial. It declared that unoccupied or wastelands belonging to villages should now be taken into the Reserved forest system and administered by the forest department. This was implemented in Thana District beginning in 1882, generating a widespread fear among the villagers that their traditional rights were being abrogated. Long before 1882, however, conflict between the villagers and the forest department had been rising in relation to the Reserved forests. The central issue was what responsibilities and powers the department had 35

For the condition of the teak forests by the early 1880s, see Thana Gezetteer, pp. 36–37. 36 Stebbing, II, 469–71.

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in limiting the harvest of forest products so as to sustain the forests in the long run, and whether the villagers could still meet their subsistence needs without undue harassment from the forest administration. The department had developed a system, and was now implementing it from one forest to another, of closing some portions to harvesting or grazing so as to allow effective regeneration of young trees, especially teak. Other areas were declared open for harvesting and grazing, but villagers had to buy permits for grazing, firewood, building timber, and other forest products. They were required to collect these at specified times and remove them only on certain routes marked by official checkpoints. The department, moreover, now supervised all commercial cutting and sale of wood, eliminating the timber merchants’ freedom of movement in the forests. The forest service also had established local timber depots where they sold or auctioned timber and other forest produce. This was the only system that would give them enough control to assure both effective forest management and a subsistence income for the department. But the more this system was enforced, the more intense was the friction with the villagers. The system of forest preservation had become elaborately bureaucratic, open to massive petty abuse, and often confusing to villagers unaware of the changes in regulatory detail. The most controversial regulation of all was one which the department imposed as its only adequate means of preventing forest fires. Since it was rarely possible to discover who had set a fire, and whole villages suffered from fires which leapt out of control, the department now not only required villagers to help fight fires but established the principle of collective responsibility for fires. Whole villages were fined for fires set by an individual, a mechanism which probably violated basic principles of criminal law, though its constitutionality was yet to be tested in the courts. The unavoidable effect of implementing this system was that traditional social conflict in forest villages was heightened and rampant bribery and intimidation occurred. The most notorious practice was a blackmail system in which forest guards threatened poor villagers with fines or imprisonment for imaginary violations of the new regulations. As early as 1875 the Bombay government reacted to charges of this system with a sharply worded directive to the forest department: 22

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Government are bound to pay due regard to the habits and wants of perhaps the poorest class of the population, and they strongly deprecate vexatious and oppressive interference with their daily life for the purpose of enforcing in petty details the so-called rights of the forest Department.37

This plea had little effect, for the government itself had set in motion a system which could not be implemented at the village level without encouraging petty abuse and conflict. The forest officials were turning from technical specialists into police who, spending much of their time in local courts, came to be hated by the village elders whom they were displacing, and were feared by the poor villagers whose very survival might be at stake. With too many people now subsisting on the available resources of the land, it was extremely difficult on a sociological level to create more effective systems of land and forest management. From 1880 onward this task also proved extremely difficult in its political implications. Poor villagers, whether tribals or low-caste farm laborers, humbled by the social system and illiterate, were in no position to protest publicly. But well-to-do landowners and village officials led by the patils or headmen were in a potentially stronger position. They were linked by ties of caste, wealth, and education with the new political elite of the cities, especially Poona. Beginning in 1880, two organizations championed their case against the forest department: the Poona People’s Association and the Thana Forest Association. The two were in fact a close alliance, quietly but effectively controlled by the Poona group in its long-range effort to become the dominant spokesman for the rural elites of western Maharashtra. The Thana Forest Association generally preferred to remain anonymous and speak collectively in its appeals to the government. The only name to appear on its documents in the 1880s was that of its secretary, S.H. Chiplunkar, the well-known permanent secretary of the Poona organization and a respectable Brahmin member of Poona society. Whether, like other leading Brahmins of Poona, he held land in the districts, even perhaps in Thana, is unknown. What is clear is that he provided a direct link between the leading interests of villages in Thana and the leading nationalist organization of its time in western India. 37

Quoted in Inquiry Commission, I, 204.

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The Forest Act of 1878 was published in the Bombay government’s Gazette in August 1880. The Poona organization immediately drafted a memorial to the government, published in January 1881,38 which granted in principle that the forests had to be more carefully controlled if they were to survive into the coming century. (This admission of the longrange environmental problem was rarely stated even as a vague principle in subsequent public protests against the forest department.) More severe regulations might well be necessary and appropriate in Reserved forests, but only there and only for the cutting of commercial timber. On all other land, and for all other forest produce including grazing rights, there should be no detailed system of permits and fees. The Revenue Department’s promiscuous desire for income had been largely responsible for deforestation early in the century; the new forest fees would only follow the same trend. This meant increasing oppression of the rural populace and increasing deprivation of the rights of private property. Notwithstanding, the department shortly put into effect most of these regulations and licensing requirements for timber, firewood, even bundles of dry grass. In 1882 it extended the system to cover uncultivated village wastelands. Discontent in the districts intensified, until in 1885 the Government of India in Calcutta announced the formation of a special commission, the Bombay Forest Inquiry Commission, to study the controversy in Thana and Kolaba districts. Its members were four British officials representing the revenue and forest departments, and three Indians, including K.L. Nulkar. Nulkar, a Chitpavan Brahmin and an early law graduate of Bombay University, was a close associate of the leaders of the Poona organization; when the commission’s exhaustive final report and recommendations were issued two years later, it lay with Nulkar to make fundamental exceptions to major elements of the report. Even with Nulkar on the commission, the Indian-owned newspapers of Poona, Thana, and Bombay immediately expressec grave skepticism that its work would amount to much. In the name of free trade and a minimum of government interference, the financially conservative Native Opinion of Bombay argued that the “industries of the people” were being strangulated by excessive regulation.39 Mahratta, a leading 38 39

Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, III ( January 1881), 3. Bombay Presidency, Reports on the Native Papers, July 11, 1885, p. 5.

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nationalist newspaper in Poona, ominously argued that though the government had insisted that deforestation changes climate and rainfall and intensifies the impact of famines, the people were convinced that this was just an excuse to increase revenue.40 Arunodaya, the leading newspaper in Thana, suggested an important insight into local social conditions by insisting that the peasants, untouchables and tribals should have free access to timber, and the mamlatdars should have no powers to regulate this system.41 In village society the mamlatdars, of course, were usually Brahmins at the apex of social hierarchy; the other three groups were at the bottom. It was evident that the new forest system had reinforced the exploitative social hierarchy of the villages, and thus could hardly avoid entanglement in pre-existing patterns of rural social conflict. Both Arunodaya in Thana and Kesari, the militant nationalist newspaper in Poona, proposed a new strategy which had far-reaching political implications. Arunodaya wanted the local wood depots run not by the forest officers but by citizens’ committees elected by local populations. Implicitly, this would lead to socially influential local men controlling the distribution and costs of wood products. Kesari extended the concept of local control, asserting that village patils should control village wastelands, since they were responsible for the collective affairs of the villages. And rural district boards (which under local self-government laws were evolving toward Indian control), rather than the Revenue Department, should oversee the work of the forest department.42 These newspaper editorials showed elite opinion on ways to undermine the forest department’s powers; there were no indications in any of these editorials that the department had a necessary or legitimate task to perform. The Indian counteroffensive against the department was developed further by the Thana Forest Association whose views were systematically expressed in their full testimony to the Forest Commission. The association’s principal goal was to strip the forest department of the power to interfere in the traditional forest rights of the people; in other words, to turn the clock back far beyond 1878. In the preface to its recommendations it asserted that the British regime had claimed no right to own or 40

Ibid., September 26, 1885, p. 5. Ibid., August 1, 1885, p. 7. 42 Ibid., 11 July 1885, pp. 4–5. 41

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regulate forest production before 1862. For the following sixteen years, after the formal establishment of the forest department, it had gradually expanded its revenue function and curtailed the people’s rights. But since 1878 it had perpetrated a “sudden and violent confiscation of the long cherished and traditional rights of the people.”43 This aggression had been so massive that the department had forfeited any right to formal executive power. Its proper role must be purely technical and advisory. The department should merely advise the taluka boards which had been established in 1870. The boards, which already had significant representation from men of local influence, were becoming a genuinely representative system of local government. These boards, the association argued, should take full control over management of communal forests. Only they could inspire the villagers’ confidence, and only that confidence could save the forests. The boards would also be in a strong position to curtail the power of outside merchants, by working with the department to channel all shipment of timber through government-run depots. The association was patently representing the interests of the larger local landowners against both the department and the urban merchants. Its views were supported by other groups of Thana landowners in similar petitions to the inquiry commission. One group proposed that all private and communal lands, even small tracts of presently governmentowned land, should be removed from the department’s jurisdiction, and that whenever these lands proved insufficient for the villager’s needs, the peasants should have free access to Reserved forests for their subsistence needs. Urban timber contractors, referred to as “in the habit of not always keeping themselves within the limits of their contract terms,”44 should have access to the forests only through government depots. Another lengthy memorial, submitted by a group identified only as “the inhabitants of the Thana District,” agreed that no land should be classified as Reserved or Protected if its area was less than 1,500 acres or within a specified distance of any village. Subsistence needs should have full precedence over forest protection; villagers should have unrestricted rights to all forest products in much the same terms that had existed prior to 43 44

Inquiry Commission, II, 149. Ibid., IV, 49.

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the establishment of the forest service. Timber contractors should be restricted to buying all forest products from local landowners and peasants, whose control would be guaranteed by local officials.45 The government, in other words, should give local villages full priority over all outsiders, whether British officials or urban Indian interests. When the exhaustive survey of opinion, official and non-official, British and Indian, was completed in 1887, the commissioners submitted their proposals for the revised system.46 Their package of strategies amounted to the most systematic and far-reaching system yet envisioned for Bombay forests. The fact that, as we shall see, most of the proposals were not implemented, indicates the intensity of cross-cutting pressures which by then bore on forested lands and peoples. To the commissioners the village economy was the key to both the legal and ecological systems. Commercial marketing of forest products had been so destructive to the forests, with seemingly little benefit to the villagers, that it should be tolerated only when it did not impinge on the two poles of forest policy: preserving the forests over the long run, and meeting the immediate subsistence needs of the villagers. All government forests should be moved as rapidly as possible into a single system of Reserved forests, including village lands. By now it was established that full legal control over these lands was vested in the government, or, as the commission called it, “the people as a whole.” These lands should be used to meet subsistence needs as little as possible; those uses should come on private lands to the maximum. If private owners sold any trees commercially, they would forfeit all access to government trees. But in return they must be given maximum rights to trees on their own land to encourage better management. Government should release to them the rights to teak and blackwood trees. (This proposal ran against the grain of decades of forestry policy.) And any land which a private owner returned from cultivation to growing trees for mulch leaves should have its revenue rate reduced by three-quarters in compensation. This system should reduce pressure for wood products and grazing on government lands, the commission asserted. As the Reserved forest 45 46

Ibid., IV, 59–60. Ibid., I, Chap. 12.

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system was more fully implemented in each district, the forests should continue to be regulated by closing large portions to grazing and cutting for the ten-year minimum necessary to grow new stands of trees. And forest officers should continue to have full control over harvesting of trees and grazing in the portions declared open. Under their supervision, annual cuttings would provide firewood and other wood products for all villagers. Branches under two inches in diameter would be free to all, as would leaves for fertilization. Villagers would be allowed to graze their animals without charge in the cutting areas, and they could buy building wood either at periodic auctions run by the department or at standard rates set well below commercial prices. As part of the streamlined system, the “wild tribes” would have no special rights beyond those of other poor villagers, except for continuing their first priority as day laborers and forest guards in the department’s employ. The commission’s view of the department’s recent work became clear in its position on the most controversial subject: the department’s takeover of village common or wastelands in 1882. The commission reaffirmed this system in principle but sharply criticized the department for heavy-handed and unrealistically sudden imposition of restrictions on subsistence use. They agreed with department’s critics in charging that many villages had suddenly been deprived of large portions of their subsistence base. The system must be introduced to village wastelands, but it must be done patiently and deliberately, with full acknowledgment of the villagers’ minimal needs. This system should be simple and consistent enough for villagers to comprehend, and simple enough to administer, so that friction between officials and villagers would be minimized. Bribery and corruption would be reduced; forest guards would no longer intimidate or be intimidated by villagers; and professional foresters would stop functioning as police and prosecutors. Sanguine as they were, the commissioners had hoped in this way to safeguard both forests and villagers, and by further implication to nullify the nationalists’ pressures to have local committees take an official role in regulating the system on the ground, an approach which from that time administrators consistently viewed with horror.

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The leading Indian member of the commission, K.L. Nulkar, appended an extensive minute of criticism to the final conclusions.47 While generally supporting the recommendations as the package of compromises most likely to ease the burden on the people, he insisted on going beyond them to lodge an impassioned attack on the forest department’s work. The heart of Nulkar’s case was the twin charges that the department had achieved a massive confiscation of land rights since 1878 and that in the process it had become riddled with corruption. For decades before, the Revenue Department had encouraged all possible settlement of wastelands, he asserted, in the great task of opening additional soil to agriculture. In the process, and backed by the courts, the Revenue Department had granted industrious landholders and peasants a range of right of ownership and usage. Then suddenly, on the basis of the 1878 forest law, the forest department had counterattacked with a panoply of restrictions on both individuals and villages. The whole range of rights to forest produce which had made forest villages viable over the years was suddenly cancelled or severely limited. As an immediate consequence, “the people were reduced to a choice between starvation and bribery.”48 In villages throughout Thana District, Nulkar continued, forest guards discovered they had in the fee system a new set of weapons with which to intimidate poor villagers. Not only could they blackmail the laborers with threats of imprisonment on trivial charges; they also connived with contractors to harvest teak illegally, often in broad daylight, for they quickly learned that their British superiors, whether through ignorance of local ways, overwork, or simply departmental loyalties, would not investigate situations which compromised their Indian subordinates. The commissions’ new proposal were the very least which might be done to curb the foresters’ rapacity and avert grave danger of defensive violence from the peasants. Nulkar concluded by praising the selfless work of the larger landholders of Thana for representing the peasants’ grievances and compelling the appointment of the inquiry commission; the

47 48

Ibid., I, 213–18. Ibid., I, 215.

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landholders deserved credit for avoiding a wave of desperate violence. He did not have to remind anyone explicitly of the Deccan Riots of a decade earlier.

The Aftermath The commission and its critics had worked for nearly two years, but the government largely ignored their recommendations. Over the following decades the many levels of difficulty in reconciling the forests’ long-range needs with the villagers’ immediate needs were not resolved, nor were patterns of social and political influence significantly changed by the grand debate. The forest service of British India remained centralized in structure until 1935; it did not become either more responsive or more subordinate to local interests, and it remained the opponent of nationalist pressures. Its professional staff were all Europeans, trained in France until 1885, then in England until 1920, and only thereafter at the Indian Forestry Institute which was established at Dehra Dun in the Himalayan foothills in 1906.49 Both this pattern of foreign training and the urban Indian elites’ dislike of wandering on remote mountainsides for several months at a time meant that even in 1906 only two Indians had entered training for the professional ranks. This route toward making forest management localized was not promising. And as the service became more sophisticated in forestry science, its hostility to commercial forestry hardened. An 1894 law encouraged replanting forests and attempting to expand revenue from later harvests in the plantations; but this was to be entirely controlled by the forest service, not by timber merchants, who had shown no ability or interest in sustained management of the forests which they rarely owned. Most fundamental, in India the acreage under forests of even the poorest quality did not expand, but the population with its inexorable minimum needs did. The official perspective of the government on this massive dilemma was evident in the Imperial Gazetteer of 1909, whose volume on Bombay 49

W.F. Perree, “Indian Forest Administration,” Journal of the East India Association, January 1927, pp. 69–70.

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commented in discouragement on what it perceived as the peasants’ wanton destructiveness. In spite of the care which is taken to control forest operations in the interests of the people, these operations are not popular, as the mass of the population are unable to comprehend the necessity of foresight in forest utilization. The peasant is as a rule wasteful in the extreme: he will not hesitate to burn a valuable forest for the sake of a temporary supply of green fodder or to lop and fell trees in order to provide manure for his crops, without thought as to whether the supply of forest produce will continue to meet the needs of his successors. In the same way, accustomed as he is to permit his cattle to graze at will throughout the whole forest area, he resents measures taken to protect the regrowth from their depredations, while ignorance of the rights or privileges that have been accorded to him by Government too often places him at the mercy of the members of the subordinate forest staff, whom it is at times impossible to restrain from taking advantage of their official position.50 The gap between systematic forest management and the subsistence practices of the villagers had widened, and nothing had been learned about methods of social communication necessary in order to bridge that gap. The forest service, proud of its high standards of specialization and professionalism, maintained its imperial paternalism toward the villagers: the peasants seemed incapable of acting responsibly or intelligently. They would have to be coerced by bureaucratic methods, if there was to be any hope for long-range survival. The results of these hardening trends were painfully evident in 1927, forty years after the publication of the earlier commission’s report, when another Bombay Forest Committee reported. Its membership included as chairman the Chief Conservator of Bombay, the three conservators of the three Circles, and five Indian members of the now expanded Legislative Council in Bombay. The official report and the Indian members’ dissenting report revealed a further polarization along the old lines, powerfully influenced by the vastly increased political tensions between the colonial administrators and the Indian nationalist movement.

50

Imperial Gazetteer of India, Bombay, I, 64–65.

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The official report opened with the familiar basic principles of the forest service: To allow the present generation to derive the maximum possible legitimate benefit from the forests; to ensure that the forests are not laid waste by the present generation but are preserved for the benefit of posterity; [and] to secure as high a legitimate revenue from the forests as possible.51

The British commissioners defended the system of permits and fees, including a more recent additional fee for any villager grazing his animals on government land, a fee which was by now bringing in well over ` 300,000 per year in revenue. They considered that it might be appropriate for forest villagers to take without charge the remains of trees cut by contractors, as well as the remains of systematic thinning in young reforestation tracts. But they rejected the villagers’ complaint that merchants were selling these leftovers at cutting sites for exorbitant rates. Villagers could always go to government fuel depots, where firewood was sold at cost, they blandly asserted. As for commercially valuable hardwood on private land, the government had not followed the 1887 proposal to turn it over to private landowners. Rather, under financial pressure beginning in another devastating drought period in the late 1890s, the government by 1910 had cut and sold most standing teak from private lands in Thana for a handsome profit of ` 2,300,000 of which they passed on 20 percent to the landowners. It seemed selfevident that the government would be foolish to pass up the right to future cutting of more scientifically grown teak. Nowhere in this report did the British commissioners indicate any sympathy with the villagers. On the most controversial issue, the fines levied on villages that failed to fight forest fires enthusiastically, they concluded that rural opinion must be aroused, coerced if necessary, against setting forest fires; no less rigorous system could prevent major damage by fire. Finally, in response to the continuing flow of complaints that forest officials oppressed villagers with their varied petty powers, they responded blandly that these assertions must be grossly exaggerated, since the forest guards were after all local men known to their neighbors. 51

Government of India, Bombay Forest Committee Report, Government Press, New Delhi, 1927, I, 4.

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It is curious that the mere fact of a man being appointed as Forest Guard should at once change him from down-trodden uncomplaining serf to an arrogant oppressor....On the other hand cases of assault and even of murder of Forest Guards are not at all uncommon.52

By implication the motives of the department’s critics were suspect. This being the case, proposals to appoint committees of locally influential residents empowered to oversee the work of the foresters were hardly even worth a rebuttal. “If adopted in practice it would lead to endless trivial complaints against local forest officials calculated to deter them from the performance of their duty.”53 The dissenting report by the Indian members of the commission could hardly have been a sharper contrast, lobbying as it did for the immediate interests of the peasants. It reported that peasants everywhere were intimidated by the forest officials to the point where they hardly dared testify before the commission. But it was “common knowledge” that in every district there was a severe shortage of both timber products and grazing areas, while the administration insisted on closing extensive tracts even to grazing. Landowners as well as the poverty-stricken had their grievances, familiar from decades past. They had formed Forest Grievance Committees in two talukas of Thana, reminiscent of the old Thana Forest Association, to demand the right to 100 percent, not 20 percent, of the sale price of teak grown on their lands. And it seemed outrageous to this view that the public was not given full and free rights to all remnants of controlled felling of trees even on government land. The only way to reverse these self-aggrandizing trends of the administrators would be to hand over local administration of permits and fees to village patils, and establish local taluka committees, with local citizens a controlling majority, to oversee the foresters’ work. Finally, wherever the need for more agricultural land conflicted with the preservation of forests, the plow should take priority. This last principle, reflecting the interests of their largely agricultural constituency, was emphatic in the Indian report, which buttressed it by references to the government resolution of 1881 that had asserted 52 53

Ibid., I, 18. Ibid.

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the primacy of agriculture. The Indian non-officials in 1927 expressed the interests of a growing and politically rising agricultural populace. Whether it was as politically opportunistic as the officials’ position was politically rigid, or just a consistent reflection of the increasingly urgent subsistence needs of the peasants, is a matter of interpretation. Clearly, though, Indian protest against the foresters’ efforts had lost the awareness of long-term environmental issues which the Poona People’s Association had expressed in 1880. After nearly a century’s accumulated experience with the problems of maintaining forest resources, Bombay Presidency was in a worse position than at the beginning, and not only because population pressure had increased. Political polarization had worsened between the British rulers, who saw Indian criticism of forest policy as veiled political self-interest, and the Indians, who perceived long-range resource management as only a cover for perpetuating foreign control of the government.

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II The Forests of the Western Himalayas: The Legacy of British Colonial Administration∗

A

lthough our understanding of forest use in industrialized countries is relatively well developed, we still know little about the history of forested regions and forest management in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We are only beginning to analyze the impact that the era of colonialism has had upon the natural resources of present-day developing nations. Numerous local examples from a broad range of colonial settings must be explored before historians can generalize with any confidence about the patterns of resource use in the non-Western world. Because colonial forest management was born in British India and was transferred from there to other parts of the British Empire, an appropriate starting point might be the development of forest management in one ecological region of the Indian subcontinent. Nowhere were the problems of forest management in India more intricate or the ecological stakes higher than in the vast forests of the Himalayas.

∗Reprinted with permissions from the Forest History Society, Durham, NC; www.foresthistory.org. First published as “The Forests of the Western Himalayas: The Legacy of British Colonial Administration,” Journal of Forest History, 26:3 ( July 1982), pp. 122–23. Durhan, NC: Forest History Society.

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Early History of the Himalayan Forests Although Nepal, in the central Himalayas, retained its political autonomy throughout the nineteenth century, the mountainous region of northwestern India came under direct or indirect British control between 1815 and 1849. During the early nineteenth century this region was virtually unknown to Westerners. Following the fabled pilgrimage routes that had carried devout Hindus toward the headwaters of the Ganges for centuries, British explorers, traders, and geographers discovered vast stands of forest covering most of the Himalayan hills.1 In some of the more fertile river valleys that penetrated far into the high mountains, they found agricultural terraces and grazing lands that had been carved out of steep hillsides above the torrents. But overall, the population seemed sparse and the forest almost endless. For centuries the West had cultivated visions of north India’s vast wealth of agriculture and luxury goods. In the years after 1800, a new dimension of that myth emerged: the mountains that towered above the plains promised boundless mineral and timber wealth to those who exploited them. Of the early travelers, only one voice dissented from this romantic vision. Bishop Reginald Heber, head of the Church of England for India, traveled through north India and observed as early as 1823–24: Great devastations are generally made in these woods, partly by the increase of population, building, and agriculture, partly by the wasteful habits of travelers, who cut down multitudes of young trees to make temporary huts, and for fuel, while the cattle and goats which browse on the mountains prevent a great part of the seedlings from rising. Unless some precautions are taken the inhabited parts of Kemaoon will soon be wretchedly bare of wood, and the country, already too arid, will not only lose its beauty, but its small space of fertility.2

Bishop Heber foreshadowed the lengthy debate that emerged later over how carefully the forest resources of the Himalayas should be 1

See especially F.V. Raper, “Narrative of a Survey for the Purpose of Discovering the Sources of the Ganges,” Asiatic Researches 11 (1810): 446–563. For a recent overview, see John Keay, When Men and Mountain Meet, pt. 1 (London: John Murray, 1977). 2 Reginald Heber, Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1849), 1: 274.

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husbanded. But by later standards, the hills of the western Himalayas had seen only limited human penetration in the 1820s. Isolated mountain valleys had been settled by hill men under local rajas for up to 1,700 years.3 In the more fertile low valleys near the plains, a few kingdoms ruled by Rajput princes had reached a high degree of prosperity, power, and culture. Despite internecine battles that left the royal houses perennially unstable, for the most part the kingdoms managed to remain at arm’s length from the far greater political powers of the Ganges basin below. Even the great imperial Mughals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries paid little active attention to the hill rajas and their estates. Once the rajas accepted formal subordination to the Mughal emperors, the Mughals were content to spend their energies organizing the economy of the plains and constructing a few elegant retreats, such as the Shalimar gardens in the hills of Kashmir. Other than that, their need for timber and tribute was supplied well enough from the still-lush resources of the Gangetic basin.4 The eighteenth century saw more complex and destructive events in both the lowlands and the hills. After emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707, Mughal power crumbled and north India experienced a century of political decentralization and shifting military campaigns. Although the remote hill rajas attempted to remain aloof, several military forays penetrated the outer hill states in the late eighteenth century, disrupting agriculture and stripping some of the wealth. The last of these adventurers were the Gurkhas, who controlled the central valley of Nepal and its capital, Katmandu. Entering the turmoil, the Gurkhas expanded their power westward beyond modern Nepal’s borders to conquer the Hindu hills of Kumaon and Garhwal in 1803. For the next twelve years, until their defeat by British regiments in 1815, the Gurkhas extracted whatever wealth they could from the conquered territories.5 Heavy tax 3

For the pre-British history of Kumaon and Garhwal, see E.T. Atkinson, The Himalayan Gazetteer, vol. 2 (Allahabad: Government Press, 1882), chaps 3–7. For pre-British Himachal, see John Hutchison and J.P. Vogel, History of the Punjab Hill States (Lahore: Government Press, 1933). 4 W.H. Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar (reprint ed., New Delhi: Atma Ram, 1962), pp. 20–21, 134–35. 5 G.W. Traill, “Statistical Sketch of Kumaon,” Asiatic Researches 16 (1828): 137–234.

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tributes forced many villagers to desert their old terraced fields, which began washing into the riverbeds below. Some of the finest timber of the lower hill region was cut and sold to extract further wealth from the region. What sort of forest wealth were the Gurkhas and their predecessors exploiting as they prepared a legacy for more systematic British forces?

The Forest Cover of the Western Himalayas The distribution of timber species in the western Himalayas depended primarily on the factor of elevation.6 Along the southern edge of the mountains, the Siwalik Range of foothills rises abruptly from the alluvial plains to heights of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. At the base of the Siwaliks runs the bhabar, a line of talus gravel slopes deposited by the Himalayan rivers over the millennia. For much of the year, the streams subside beneath the bhabar, only to emerge again some ten to twenty miles downstream carrying alluvial silts more slowly into the plains. On the northwestern out-reaches of the Siwaliks, the lowest hills are composed of a deep and highly unstable alluvium, susceptible to severe, rapid erosion when their forest cover is removed. Farther southeast where the rivers emerge, they form the tarai—a marshy, malarial belt of dense jungle that resisted most human exploitation until after Indian independence in 1947. Except along major river channels, the tarai formed the mountains’ most effective defense against overuse until the arrival of the United Nations’ malaria eradication campaign of the 1950s. North of the Siwaliks lie fertile low valleys, including Dehra Dun and Kangra, and at their backs the Outer Himalayas rise abruptly to 8,000 feet and more. Deep gorges cut by the northern rivers provide a few difficult access routes into the inner mountains. Beyond lie the glaciers and permanent snows of the Great Himalaya, whose 16,000- to 25,000-foot peaks are the highest in India.

6 For the geological setting, see Augusto Gansser, Geology of the Himalayas (London: Interscience Publishers, 1964).

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The historical pattern of timber operations has reflected the distribution of tree species in the hills.7 In the tropical moist deciduous zone of the foothills and tarai, dense thickets of bamboo became commercially important for many small traders in the nineteenth century, but this was timber only in a very limited sense. The most desirable hardwood was sal (Shorea robusta), then and now the great timber tree of the submontane tracts. Its fine grain and hardy resistance to the ravages of white ants placed it in prime demand for most timber purposes. As the century wore on, overcutting of sal in the lowland districts stimulated a search for other hardwoods in the mountains. In the subtropical pine zone of the Outer Himalayan ranges, from 3,300 to 6,200 feet, the chir pine (Pinus longifolia) dominated many slopes. Like most other conifers, its wood was unsuitable for use as railway sleepers (crossties). Though relatively accessible to rivers, it did not become an important commercial tree until after 1900, when it became the chief plantation tree for the resin industry of the foothills in Kumaon. The great tree of the mountains was the deodar (Cedrus deodara), whose dense and elegant wood was ideal for construction and railway use. It grows at elevations from 6,000 to 8,000 feet in the moist temperate zone. Most of the massive cuttings of the nineteenth century were in the deodar forests. Silviculturists gradually learned that the deodar is not only slow growing but difficult to propagate. Unfortunately it had no ready substitute, for the other conifers, though faster growing, were all far less durable. Mixed with the deodar, and increasingly dominant in the middle ranges at 6,000 to 8,500 feet in recent decades, is the kail or blue pine (Pinus excelsa or wallichiana). Higher yet, the Himalayan spruce (Picea smithiana) and the Himalayan silver fir (Abies pindrow) growing to elevations of nearly 11,000 feet, were not under severe commercial pressure until the advent of a new road system in the high mountains after independence. Oak (Quercus) was the only broadleaf genus to become commercially valuable in the nineteenth century. Several species of oak grow at widely ranging elevations in open stands. Oaks supplied material for building 7

For fuller detail, see G.S. Puri, Indian Forest Ecology, 2 vols. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1960), and H.G. Champion, Manual of Indian Silviculture, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1938).

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and furniture, although commercial exploitation conflicted increasingly with villagers’ need for oak leaves as fodder and mulch. Some of the most severe soil erosion in the region resulted from deforestation on dry south-facing slopes where only oaks grow well.

Early Colonial Forest Use When the first British administrators settled in the Kumaon hills after 1815, they reported being welcomed by the hill people as liberators from Gurkha oppression. In the low valley called Dehra Dun (where India’s Forest Research Institute now stands), they found villages deserted, local irrigation canals crumbling, fields returning to scrub vegetation, and some of the woodlands randomly damaged in the social upheavals of the previous years. There, as so often happens in human history, the fields and forests had paid the price of military and political turmoil. Determined to reclaim the fertility and prosperity of the Kumaon hills, the British appointed Commissioner G.W. Traill in 1815 to oversee the reconstruction of the region. Over the following eighteen years Traill surveyed the land and laid the foundation for colonial administration and revenue management in Kumaon.8 Under his aggressive energy the Revenue Department assumed the dominant place in the colonial system that it held until England left India in 1947. The history of forest management and exploitation cannot be understood except as it functioned under the influence of revenue administration. The British gradually extended their rule northwestward across the Ganges basin and into the hills on its northern borders. Some areas they left by treaty to autonomous Indian princes and rajas; others they annexed one by one. Kumaon Division was linked with the adjacent plains as the North-West Province, and in 1849 the British defeated the king of Punjab in the northwest, the region drained by the Indus River system. They annexed the Punjab plains and part of the hills above them; the rest they left as Princely States, including Kashmir. Turning eastward 8

Traill, “Statistical Sketch,” gives his full analysis. For a more accessible summary, see Atkinson, Gazetteer, 3: 463–87.

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again, they completed stabilization of north India in 1855 by annexing Oudh and shortly thereafter combining it with the North-West Province as the United Provinces, or U.P., as this north Indian heartland has been called since that time. Throughout the region the Revenue Department moved in immediately behind the army, surveying land records and setting up fiscal administration, district by district. Almost without exception, the colonial officials were passionately committed to a dream of a prosperous peasantry, productive cash crops, and growing cities and towns.9 In the 1830s they began a massive network of canals to divert the flow of Indus and Ganges waters into some of the drier districts.10 From the late 1850s onward they laced a network of railways across northern India. These policies rapidly transformed vast regions from forest to tilled fields. Early Revenue Department settlement reports, and then forest surveys from the 1850s onward, document this process in richer detail than we have for any other colonized country in that century. Under conditions of peace, the population of the rural Ganges and Indus lowlands rose steadily. The Gangetic forests were rapidly becoming the Gangetic plains as agriculture and forest clearing expanded in the region. Any generalization about such an intricate and locally varying process runs the risk of serious distortion, but a few general trends can be indicated. In order to stimulate agriculture, colonial policymakers in nearly every district gave title to large amounts of fallow or untilled land to any farmer willing to plow it. Woodcutters under no direction or planning removed the best quality trees for charcoal, building timber, and furniture; they were followed by villagers gathering firewood, grazing 9 For a fuller analysis, see Richard P. Tucker, “The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914,” and J.F. Richards and Michelle B. McAlpin, “Cotton Cultivating and Land Clearing in the Bombay Deccan and Karnatak, 1818–1920,” in Richard P. Tucker and J.F. Richards, eds., Deforestation and the Nineteenth Century World Economy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1982). 10 Elizabeth Whitcombe, Agrarian Conditions in Northern India, vol. 1, The United Provinces under British Rule, 1860–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972). Also see Ian Stone, “Canal Irrigation and Agrarian Change: The Ganges Canal Tract, Muzaffarnagar, 1840–1900,” in K.N. Chaudhuri and Clive Dewey, eds., Economy and Society (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979).

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livestock, and burning the dry season’s grasses to make way for the lush new growth following the monsoon rains. These annual fires often spread to nearby woodlands and did serious damage, especially to younger tree growth. It would be years before any systematic fire protection was organized. By the 1850s district officials were reporting that forests in the lowlands had lost their best timber to this small-scale but widespread practice of woodcutting and forest clearing. Although impossible to quantify, the spread of commercial agriculture was undoubtedly the most important single element of changing forest conditions in those decades.

Timber and the Market Economy Woodcutters first encroached in the lower Siwalik hills, especially the area between the plains and the first valley of the U.P. hills, Dehra Dun. Sal forests there, continuous with the vast sal stands in the adjacent plains, were initially cut in the 1820s both for building materials and to make way for the plow. Local timber merchants working on an individual basis brought their bullock carts to the clearing sites, much as small-scale wood merchants do today, and hauled sal trunks away for construction timber in the towns of the plains.11 By the 1840s British entrepreneurs began to penetrate much higher into the mountain valleys. A major escalation came in the mid-1840s when an improved system of floating logs down the Ganges tributaries extended timber harvests to the deodar forests in the mountains of the Princely State of Tehri-Garhwal, far beyond Dehra Dun.12 By 1850 some of the region’s prime sal and deodar tracts, both below the hills and in the higher valleys, were already cleared of their marketable trees.13 11

Survey Report on the Forests and Swamps of Pileebheet, in the Province of Rohilcund (Allahabad, 1854), pp. 1–6; E.F. Pearson, “Sub-Himalayan Forests of Kumaon and Garhwal,” Selections from the Records of the North-Western Provinces, 2nd ser., no. 5 (1869), pp. 125–52. 12 V.B. Singh, Working Plan of the Uttarkashi Forest Division, Uttar Pradesh, 1961–62 to 1975–76, p. 43. 13 Papers Regarding the Forests and Iron Mines in Kumaon (Allahabad, 1855), pp. 14–15. For the broader context of the period, see the standard history of

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In the hill districts of the U.P. and the Punjab, forest clearing initially moved at a slower pace. But beginning in the 1840s the development of plantation crops and experiments in small-scale mining accelerated the process of deforestation. Tea estates were introduced in the Kangra valley after 1850 in hopes of rivaling the lucrative tea plantations of Darjeeling farther east.14 The northern tea, generally referred to as Palampur tea after the central town of the district, became an important cash crop for the area. But its markets even today remain regional rather than international. More devastating to local forests were the smelting facilities opened by British developers in the mid-nineteenth century. Iron and copper were mined and smelted in the Kumaon hills on a primitive scale before the British arrived, and the products of those mines tantalized British developers with a vision of massive mineral deposits. Although leading engineers were recruited from England to survey mining locations, the effort failed for two reasons. First, the extent and quality of the ores disappointed the developers. More important, the smelting operations soon devastated the forests on the steep mountain slopes of the region as far as fifteen miles from the smelting sites, making the cost of fuel prohibitive. After a few decades of operation, the experiments in mineral exploitation were brought to a halt.15 As early as the 1850s doubts were raised about the impact of these numerous unregulated pressures on the supposedly inexhaustible Himalayan forests. Such fears, however, were not effectively communicated to those in power. Commissioner J.H. Batten, Traill’s successor forestry in India, E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, 3 vols. (London: John Lane, 1922–26), 2: 264–90. 14 Robert Fortune, “Report upon the Tea Plantation of Dehra, Kumaon and Gurhwal . . . 1851,” and W. Jameson, “Government Tea Plantations,” both in Selections from the Records of Government, North-Western Provinces (Allahabad, 1869), 5: 401–29. 15 J.D. Herbert, “Report of the Mineralogical Survey of the Himalaya Mountains Lying between the Rivers Sutlej and Kalee,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 11 (1842): xxxiv; G.S. Lushington, “Account of the Experiment Carried on at the Pokree Copper Mine, Ghurwal,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 12 (June 1843): 454.

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in Kumaon, noted in 1851 that fuelwood cutting in the sal forests had opened up the tarai forests to settlement. Unrestricted fuelwood harvests left little commercially valuable timber below the hills, but that hardly mattered, he insisted, because in the lower slopes of the Outer Himalayas “the extension of the timber trade one hundred-fold would hardly make any visible impression,” and the terrain of outer Kumaon was too rough for cutting on a scale that would threaten the forests.16 Batten however, could not have anticipated in the early 1850s the transformation of the Himalayan forests soon to be brought on by the railways. Beginning with the first track in India, laid from Bombay into the coastal hills in 1853, the forest resources of the subcontinent were mined in vast quantities to link India’s natural resources with the expanding world economy.17 The railway construction of the next few decades provided India with by far the finest rail network in the nonWestern world. The system’s many purposes included military security and the transport of grain throughout India and to the European markets. The railways built in the Bombay region in the 1850s initially used teak from the west coast, but by the 1860s teak supplies were severely depleted.18 The cost of transporting the wood from Bombay to the north was in any case prohibitive. To construct the network of lines across the north Indian plains, the railway builders turned to the timber resources of north India, which by then were primarily in the Outer Himalayas. After the rebellion of 1857–58, which nearly destroyed the colonial system in north India, the British returned to the plains districts of the region with renewed enthusiasm.19 By 1870 the principal towns of U.P. and Punjab were linked by rail lines, and the first spur to the foot of the mountains was opened in 1872 to Bareilly, a fast-growing timber processing center. 16

J.H. Batten, “Minute on Iron Mines in Kumaon,” August 1855, Papers Regarding the Forests and Iron Mines in Kumaon, pp. 7–9. 17 See footnote 9. 18 Richard Tucker, “Forest Management and Imperial Politics: Thana District, Bombay 1823–87,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 16, no. 3 (September 1979): 273–300. 19 Thomas R. Metcalf, Land, Landlords, and the British Raj: Northern India in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), chaps 6–8.

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Modern Forest Management As soon as the search for railway timber began, the government of British India realized that more systematic surveys of forest resources and management of timber harvest would be essential. Officials reasoned that the profits generated from sales of timber to the Railway Department would cover the costs of forest management and even the replanting of degraded forest tracts. After some tentative surveys in the 1850s carried out by heads of the regional botanical gardens or the commissioners themselves, the government turned to the forestry schools of Germany and France, recruited the best foresters available, and established a formal Forest Department for India. In 1865 Dietrich Brandis became India’s first inspector general of forests.20 In the following years one of his staff’s major tasks was to provide massive supplies of sleepers to the railways. This operation was to be managed for sustained yield and for the ultimate improvement in the quality of the forest. The ideal species for sleepers might have been sal, but by then the sal forests of U.P. were considerably depleted and the major supply was on the Nepal side of the tarai border.21 Hence most north Indian rail lines were built with deodar, growing in the higher mountains farther west in both British and princely districts. Beginning with the Princely States of Chamba and Tehri in the early 1860s, British officials struck contracts with the rajas, usually of twenty years’ duration and usually renewed. Under the contracts, British foresters managed princely forests for maximum deodar yield, and a large and increasing portion of the profits went directly into princely coffers. This system was maintained with only minor variations as long as the princes’ autonomy lasted— until India won independence in 1947. For the most part, the distinction between princely forests and those of British India need not concern us

20 Stebbing, Forests of India, vol. 2, chaps 1–2; Robert K. Winters, “Forestry Beginnings in India,” Journal of Forest History 19 (April 1975): 82–90. 21 Some detail on this situation is indicated in C.M. Johri, Working Plan for the Gorakhpur Forest Division, United Provinces, 1944–45 to 1953–54 (Lucknow, 1949).

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here, because the principles of forest exploitation were nearly identical in both areas. Throughout the nineteenth century the new Forest Department concentrated on cutting in the deodar forests, providing more than 100,000 sleepers annually. With such heavy pressure on the increasingly limited deodar forests, Brandis and his men attempted from the 1860s onward to diversify the range of timbers they might use, hoping to find adequate and inexpensive methods of creosoting to preserve chir and kail pine, Himalayan spruce, and silver fir.22 But the technical problems remained insurmountable for decades, leaving the hardwoods under pressure of insatiable demand throughout the railway-building era before World War I.

Foresters versus Villagers The drive to maintain high levels of timber production increased the urgency of defining rights of forest ownership and use. This process began under Revenue Department auspices in each British Indian district shortly after it was annexed, although in the remote mountainous districts officials either left vast areas legally undefined or allotted them to local villagers’ control. Beginning in the mid-1860s the Forest Department brought together a body of legislation, refined it through practice and experience, and finally achieved the Indian Forest Law of 1878.23 This law defined several legal categories of forests, the most important of which was “Reserved Forests,” which would be managed by the Forest Department for timber production and silvicultural improvement. A second category, “Protected Forests,” was to be largely a temporary 22 Dietrich Brandis, “Memorandum on the Supply of Railway Sleepers of the Himalayan Pines Impregnated in India,” October 1878. For his retrospective views on north India’s forestry, see Brandis, “Progress of Forestry in India,” Indian Forester 10 (September 1884): 399–410, and subsequent issues. By 1900 some industrial uses of the forests were expanding. See George Watt, Commercial Products of India (London, 1908), and R.S. Troup, Indian Forest Utilization, 2nd rev. ed. (Calcutta, 1913). 23 Stebbing, Forests of India, vol. 2, chap. 14.

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designation; these forests were to be taken out of general use until they could be assessed and planned. Other categories of forested land were left to the Revenue Department, private owners, or village communities. An enormous task remained—applying the general terms of the 1878 law to specific villages, timber stands, and watersheds. Until well after 1900, a major portion of the Forest Department’s energies was absorbed in developing detailed working plans for each reserved or protected forest. This meant designing fire controls, regulating grazing, and controlling villagers’ access to forests, especially in newly replanted forests.24 The 1878 law quickly brought to light a deep-seated conflict between the subsistence patterns of traditional village life and the colonial system’s methods of timber management. When the law was introduced into the districts, villagers evaded en masse the fee-payment system that regulated their use of government forests. Forest guards hired by the British functioned as little else but rural police, often in competition with officers of the Revenue Department. Voices outside the Forest Department charged that the forest guards were either harassing the villagers or were allied with the timber traders from outside the hills. Kumaon illustrates the severity of these dilemmas. Under the 1878 law several areas of Kumaon, especially in the Siwalik foothills, were set aside as reserved forests by the 1890s and later produced some of the finest sal timber in the subcontinent. Many of the sal stands had been systematically replanted by the Forest Department.25 Seeing rapid depletion of adjacent protected forests, which had not yet been provided full working plans, they added to the so-called old reserves extensive new reserves that would provide similarly rigorous 24

Ibid., chap. 19. Ibid., chap. 18. For further detail, see working plans: Gopal Singh, Working Plan for the Naini Tal Forest Division, Kumaon Circle, Uttar Pradesh, 1968–69 to 1977–78; Manohar Singh, Working Plan for the Tarai and Bhabar Forest Division, Western Circle, Uttar Pradesh, 1965–66 to 1974–75; S.S. Srivastava, Working Plan for the Lansdowne Forest Division, Western Circle, Uttar Pradesh, 1964–65 to 1973–74; and their predecessors, at the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun. Later reports on sal plantations include E.A. Smythies, Note on the Miscellaneous Forests of Kumaon Bhabar, Forest Bulletin no. 45 (Calcutta, 1921), and C.G. Trevor, Note on a Tour of Inspection in the Forests of the United Provinces, March 1936. 25

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restrictions on grazing, fires, and fuelwood gathering. The new reserves were brought under this administration between 1911 and 1916.26 It was already evident that whenever any area was declared a reserved forest, the transition to the new management system was a time of very delicate tensions between foresters and villagers. Unfortunately, in the prime sal forests of Kumaon’s new reserves, the many economic pressures resulting from World War I coincided with this transition. Furthermore, shortly after the end of the war, India’s first nationwide Non-Cooperation Campaign under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership brought modern political conflict to the hills. In a number of ways Kumaon was suddenly and tragically catapulted into national and worldwide affairs. Increased British travel in the hills, both for administration and tourism, had also strained local transport capacities by 1914. Since few trails were usable even as cart tracks in the region, village men were traditionally required to provide unpaid labor, begar, to transport officials and their goods. The war brought this system to a breaking point. Recruitment for the colonial army, coupled with expanded labor demands to meet the wartime timber needs, brought on acute labor shortages. Villagers also needed, as always, to tend to the crop-growing cycle. Under all these pressures, they began in 1916 to resist the government’s demands for unpaid coolie labor. Their protests were directed against the Revenue and Forest departments, their chief employers. Represented by leading townsmen of the region, they demanded an end to the unpaid labor system and forced the issue by 1919 into full discussion in the provincial legislature. Fortunately, District Commissioner Wyndham was highly respected on all sides, and through his work a system was devised that introduced regular wages for the workers in the early 1920s. Nevertheless, resentment focused on the Forest Department in the hills developed into an organized system of political protest in the ensuing years. The sal forests became the chief victims of the tension. Every year from February into May, mountain villagers had burned their grasslands to encourage vigorous new growth for grazing during 26

For a fuller analysis of the ensuing conflict, see Richard P. Tucker, “The Historical Context of Social Forestry in Kumaon, Himalayas,” Journal of Developing Areas, 18: 3 (April 1984), pp. 341–56; Ramachandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

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the following monsoon season. Since these fires sometimes spread to sal and coniferous forests, the Forest Department had long tried to limit the burning. The dry season of early 1921 was one of the hottest in many years, and in March the situation became totally unmanageable. To compound the department’s problems, 1921 was the year of the nationwide protest movement against all reputedly arbitrary or repressive actions of the colonial regime, and in the hills resentment was centered primarily on the forest regulations. In Kumaon, which had previously been untouched by nationalist politics, several towns witnessed protest meetings between January and March, and suddenly the sal forests were ablaze across the Siwalik hills, even into Punjab. Thousands of acres burned in less than a month in what the colonial press and officials condemned as political incendiarism. No Congress nationalist leaders of Kumaon were arrested; in fact, they too were appalled at the damage. But popular sentiment in the hills had been at flash point; the blazes were evidently a tragic example of “spontaneous” peasant protest. The U.P. government responded by conciliating the hill people, and doing so provided the greatest policy defeat the Forest Department has ever suffered in that region. A fact-finding commission chaired by Commissioner Wyndham recommended that the new reserves be removed from Forest Department jurisdiction because popular opposition could not be otherwise contained.27 The provincial government adopted the plan in early 1923, concluding that unless local villagers supported forestry policies actively, no sustained management or reforestation would be possible. Although the old reserves remained under Forest Department management, the new reserves reverted either to the Revenue Department as civil forests—meaning no silvicultural management at all—or to the village councils themselves. The effect was to condemn many of Kumaon’s forests to denudation. Concessions to hill people were designed to bring political benefits to the government in a period of high political tension. A related element of the government’s strategy was to generate money incomes for hill men through commercial utilization of the forests. Though the timber market, reflecting the general economy of north India, was soft in the 1920s and then depressed in the 1930s, there was hope that increased timber 27

Report of the Kumaon Forests Grievances Committee (Lucknow, 1922).

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sales would mean rising cash incomes for logging contractors’ crews. As the system developed, however, it brought little benefit to the workers of Kumaon and therefore little political benefit to the Forest Department or the government in general. In the timber auctions held every few months in foothills timber depots like Bareilly, the Forest Department auctioned the right to harvest marked trees at stipulated sites in the hills. Competition among investors was usually intense, and winning bidders became determined to squeeze maximum profit from their coupes. As the system matured, the hill people charged that contractors often cut many more trees than they had legally purchased, either by stealth or by bribing foresters. The extent of this corruption is of course impossible to measure, but widespread complaints suggest that there was some truth to the charges. Senior officials of the Forest Department, like their counterparts in other agencies of the colonial regime, were never able to effectively monitor their chronically underpaid subordinates. As nationalist resentment against the colonial regime deepened, the hill people protested the alleged collusion between foresters and contractors. Morover, they charged that wages were going primarily to outsiders imported into the Kumaon hills by the contractors. Documentary evidence that local villagers were indeed being bypassed by the labor bosses is substantial. Specialized skills such as sawing were controlled by specific groups from Mandi and other districts farther to the northwest, and as the years went on, menial labor increasingly went to Dotiyals, landless villagers from western Nepal.28 Hence the government failed to convince the villagers that its commercial operations were bringing new income to the hills, even though the case was backed by impressive statistics in the annual forest reports of each north Indian state. In another move designed to harmonize the wider market economy with hill villagers’ interests, the Forest Department after World War I fostered the resin industry in the chir pine forests. Under department guidance new processing facilities were opened at Clutterbuckganj, the timber center near Bareilly.29 But the resin industry suffered from a number of disadvantages until after independence. Private capital was 28

Working Plans for each forest division give details. E.A. Smythies, The Resin Industry in Kumaon, Forest Bulletin no. 26 (Calcutta, 1914); United Provinces Forest Department, Progress Report on the Resin Industry in the Kumaon and Utilization Circles, annual publication beginning in 1918. 29

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Map 1: Mountain Region of United Provinces and Punjab

Map Courtesy: Richard P. Tucker

not available in significant amounts. The provincial government, which reviewed the Forest Department’s commercial operations, demonstrated the usual reluctance of a colonial regime to invest revenue-derived funds in industrial ventures. Furthermore, the foresters themselves were often cautious in expanding industrial demands on the Himalayan forests, fearing that this could easily lead to still further depletion of the reserves. They did attempt to convince the rural populace of Kumaon that resin tapping in the chir forests was an important source of wages for them. But the move did little to mitigate the political tensions of the era. 51

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In the next nationwide Non-Cooperation Campaign, in 1931, Gandhi and the Congress again urged local organizers to initiate nonviolent resistance against arbitrary laws. Again there were protest fires in the Siwaliks, though not nearly on the scale of those that had destroyed the half-grown sal plantations a decade earlier.30 The late 1930s and 1942 saw repetitions of these protests, with further injury to the mountain ecology and to relations between villagers and foresters. This is not to say that Congress Party organizers were merely using the hill people’s resentment against the Forest Department as leverage for nationalist organizing. As in all matters in the hills, the politics of forest protest was more intricate than that. On the one hand, political grievances were real and were spearheaded by local leaders in the hill towns. On the other hand, some of the Congress organizers in the 1930s were plainsmen from the more highly politicized districts below the hills; as such they tended to be distrusted by the hill people as interlopers.31 It would be a mistake, then, to assume that organized nationalist politics was the only important element of the hill people’s response to official forestry efforts in the twenty years before independence. Equally important were the subsistence needs of the villagers, which is to say their access to forests and grazing lands for daily fuelwood, fodder, and other products. As early as 1922, the Wyndham Committee had recommended that woodlands removed from Forest Department control be turned over to villagers for management wherever they were able to elect councils or panchayats to administer them. This was the beginning of the social forestry movement that has been so intensively discussed in recent decades. The forest panchayat movement in Kumaon was one of the earliest in India, setting precedents that were reflected later in other areas under British colonial forest management. The principle of establishing forest panchayats was not implemented until 1929, when the U.P. government formally set up procedures for election of panchayat officers by villagers and designated professional foresters to advise them. Before the outbreak of World War II, several 30

Annual Report on the Forests of the United Provinces for 1931–32. Personal communication from Philip Mason, who was commissioner of Garhwal in the late 1930s, September 1980. 31

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hundred forest panchayats had been established throughout the U.P. hills.32 The village forests were often common lands that had already been severely deforested or overgrazed, but in remoter areas—beyond dense population concentrations and motor roads—many of the panchayats developed reputations in the 1930s for relatively shrewd management of their resources. World War II brought new and severe pressures on forest management in the western Himalayas. Massive wartime demands for timber products brought the danger of permanent damage to both government and private forests. The problem was exacerbated by timber and fuelwood shortages and consequent inflationary pressures in the burgeoning urban centers of north India. By now they drew to a large extent on the Himalayan and central Indian forests, since almost no large timber stands remained in the Ganges and Indus plains. In 1945 the Forest Department surveyed the results of its work in the war years as it planned the transition to Indian control of the agency for the post-independence era.33 Foresters arrived at three conclusions: first, that the department, by timing rotational cuttings, had successfully met the demands upon government forests without permanent damage to the forests’ vitality; second, that private forests, which were rarely covered by systematic plans, had been decimated for the inflated civilian economy; and third, that the forest law must therefore be amended to give the government control over all forestlands. British and Indian foresters alike agreed that private forests must be taken by the government. Moreover, an independent India under Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed a better chance of success in controlling private forests than a colonial regime, since the change would be politically more acceptable to the populace. The 1948 U.P. Private Forests Act and the 1952 national forest resolution largely accomplished that legal goal. During the inevitable delays in implementing the policy, however, large additional stands of timber on private lands, including some major hunting

32

Annual Report on the Forests of Uttar Pradesh for 1948–49, p. 3. R.D. Richmond, “Post-War Forest Policy for India,” Empire Forestry Journal 23, no. 2 (1944): 103–09, and 24, no. 1 (1945): 52–55; W.F. Perree, “Post-War Forest Policy for India,” ibid., 23, no. 2 (1944): 101–03. 33

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preserves, were clearcut and sold. By the mid-1950s the task facing forest managers throughout India was more formidable than ever.

The Himalayan Forests since Independence Independence brought a new era to the Himalayas, their forests, and their people. The most pervasive change was a new attitude in New Delhi toward economic development. Nehru’s moderate socialism was pledged to providing basic necessities for the masses and linking private business with all the resources of government, both technical and financial. The First Five-Year Plan, covering 1951–56, stressed the expansion of heavy industry and had little direct impact on the northwestern forests. But industry and urbanization needed power, and north India’s greatest power resource was the Himalayan rivers. In the 1950s the first high dams and hydroelectric projects came to the mountains, beginning with the great Bhakra-Nangal Dam.34 Planning for Bhakra had begun at the turn of the century, but only when Nehru became prime minister did the project receive urgent attention. Ground was broken in 1952, and the turbines began turning in 1960. Similarly, public health programs rapidly changed patterns of population and land use. The introduction of DDT in the 1950s dramatically reduced malaria in the tarai, both in India and Nepal, leading to rapid transformation of the tarai forests into fertile farmland.35 For the Forest Department in the hills, danger lay in their perennially uneasy relations with the more powerful Revenue and Agriculture departments. In the U.P. hills the Forest Department watched the civil forests lose the last of their ragged trees, knowing that the revenue authorities had neither the training nor the interest to protect these lands and would rather see them gradually turned to subsistence farming. In the Punjab hills, now a separate state called Himachal Pradesh, the Forest Department met similar frustrations. Even today forest officers complain about the right of nautor, by which the revenue authorities give 34

A.A. Michel, The Indus Rivers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967). Frederick H. Gaige, Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975). 35

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village landowners the right to till government fallow and ultimately to take ownership of the newly plowed fields. By the late 1950s, it was becoming clear to the foresters that the civil forests no longer provided a buffer zone for the reserved forests by meeting the villagers’ needs for food and forest products. One hope for these civil lands lay in closer working relations between foresters and villagers, but the social forestry movement was slow to develop, caught up as it was in mutual suspicion.36 The reserved forests themselves had to be made more productive for the timber markets of all northern India. Here lay the Forest Department’s great hope in the 1950s. For the first time in over twenty years, political and military conditions were stable and the civilian economy was expanding. State forest departments and private timber contractors, both entirely Indian now, faced the “nation-building” task of increasing timber production to meet the fast-expanding national market for paper pulp and building timber. This would generate greater income for the Forest Department, which could in turn finance more intensive management and reforestation of the reserves. The Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun contributed an important share to the new industrial forestry. Freed of the colonial regime’s reluctance to use government agencies to expand the commercial economy, the institute expanded its research facilities in the first years after independence. The timber exploitation teams were helped in crucial ways by other aspects of economic development in the hills. The Public Works Department’s budget was increasing, and new road-building programs were pushing motorable roads into many remote mountain areas that had been reached before independence only by river or horse-track. For example, Chamba District just southeast of Kashmir—an autonomous Princely State until 1948—gained its first motorable road up the Ravi Valley to its capital, Chamba town, in 1942. Only after it was absorbed into the Indian Union in 1948 was it fully integrated into regional economic expansion.37 Further east, the first all-weather road up the Beas

36

S.L. Shah, “Socio-Economic, Institutional and Technological Constraints in Development of Social Forestry in the Hills of U.P.,” unpublished paper, 1980. 37 Annual Report of the Administration of Chamba State, 1944–45, p. 6.

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River gorge to Kulu and beyond appeared in the late 1950s, bringing tourists and loggers nearly to the Rohtang Pass, gateway to high Ladakh with its skirts of virgin spruce and fir. The motorcar that carried Justice William O. Douglas into the region in 1951 clung to the unpaved track as far as Kulu; from there Douglas and his party walked over the Rohtang Pass.38 The Tata–Mercedes timber trucks did not arrive in these high forests for another decade. Peasants looking for work could follow the dirt tracks downward to the plains, but timber was transported out of the mountains as it had been for a century—on the rivers themselves. The decisive turning point in the ecology of the Indian Himalaya was the border war between India and China in October 1962. The fighting was brief and did little direct damage to the mountain landscape; indeed, there was no military action in Himachal or northern U.P. But India’s military had been badly outflanked by the Chinese at high elevations, and the military immediately gained Prime Minister Nehru’s support for a network of roads into all mountain regions of potential strategic importance. In the decade or so after 1962, the Border Roads Commission, using all the engineering and managerial resources of the military on an emergency footing, carved motorable roads through many previously inaccessible high forests. Although these roads caused severe problems of local landslides and soil erosion, the country viewed these effects as a necessary price for strategic security. The border roads, though built by the military, were accessible to civilian traffic and thus opened the fragile high valleys to commercial penetration far sooner than the cilivian economy alone could have done. Since then the mountain forests have been exploited more intensely, and the response of professional foresters has been deeply ambivalent. The expansion of cash crops, notably apples, has also exerted pressures on the Himalayan forests. Commercial apple growing in the middle elevation of Himachal began before 1900 when Major John Banon of the Indian Army introduced them into the upper Kulu Valley. Shortly thereafter, the emigré Pennsylvania Quaker Samuel Stokes settled in the hills beyond Simla and planted orchards that within a generation made

38

William O. Douglas, Beyond the High Himalayas (New York: Doubleday, 1952), pp. 19–40.

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his family one of the most influential in all of Himachal.39 But the rapid expansion of the fruitlands, which now cover many thousands of acres and provide the hill regions’ greatest source of income, awaited the new network of roads after independence. Private forests as well as degraded civil forests have been turned into apple and pear terraces, stabilizing soil though in some cases replacing coniferous stands. One divisional forest officer in a village above Chamba (at 9,000 feet) points with pride to trees he planted more than twenty years ago that are now laden with red and golden delicious apples. In contrast, at the state forestry headquarters in Simla, another forestry planner laughs half-seriously and says, “I don’t want ever to hear the word apple again.” His fear, shared by many in the hills, is that the spruce and fir forests are being depleted to produce packing crates for each new season’s export of apples throughout the subcontinent. Within the past several years, forest researchers have urgently sought substitute designs for fruit packing crates. At the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun and the Upper Level Conifer Research Institute in Simla, researchers are proceeding along several lines in an effort to reduce pressures on the soft conifers. Packing materials derived from petroleum hold little promise; plastics are too expensive and their source too remote. Production of heavy cardboard boxes from sawmill wastes as yet remains too expensive. One promising line of attack, according to some, is a new process for using chir pine needles as the basic fiber for packing cases.40 Faced with these various pressures on the Himalayan forests, the Forest Department in the years after independence could do little to retard the degradation of private and civil forests. Forest law stipulated that the professionals were only to advise other forest owners on management of the trees—and then only when called upon; such invitations rarely came. In the wide reaches of the Kumaon hills, the new reserves 39

C.M. Kashyap and Edward Post, “Yankee in Khadi: The Story of Samuel Evans Stokes,” Span 1, no. 3 (January 1961): 23–28; V.S. Nanda, “The Stokes of Kotgarh,” Span 10, no. 9 (September 1970): 2–7. Stokes’s son-in-law was the guiding spirit of Himachal politics until his recent death. 40 Personal communication from Dr R.V. Singh, director, Upper Level Conifer Research Laboratory, Simla, November 13, 1981.

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of 1911–16, removed from department jurisdiction in 1923, were reaching the last of their productivity in the 1950s. Around 1960 planners in the state capital of Lucknow finally recognized the need for new measures to preserve the civil forests, and in 1964 they were returned to either the Forest Department or local panchayats. Euphemisms in official reports cannot fully mask the ensuing struggle between foresters and villagers for control of the civil forests. Foresters were committed to preserving and improving existing timber stands, chiefly the pine in the lower hills, while villagers demanded fuller access to the woodlands for their subsistence needs and whatever profit they could make from sales of timber and other forest products. Forest Department officers, having limited formal authority over panchayat forests, have little enthusiasm for work that brings minimal professional reward.41 Villagers, perceiving the department as little more than a purveyor of restrictions and red tape, prefer to go their own way. In many cases this means simply improvising to meet each season’s needs, with midnight forays into the reserves when necessary. But in the upper districts of Garhwal, nestled between Kumaon and Himachal, a dramatic new chapter in the controversy began in 1974 when village women learned that a nearby hardwood forest had been sold in Lucknow to a timber contractor supplying wood for sports equipment. Beating the loggers to the woods, the housewives hugged the trees, vowing that they themselves would have to be sawed before their trees could be cut. The Chipko movement, born that morning, has altered the balance of forces in the exploitation of the U.P. hill forests.42 Each autumn season, between the monsoon rains and the winter snows, Chipko organizers penetrate more villages of Garhwal and Kumaon. Armed now with broader ecological perspectives, they work with villagers 41

Personal communication from Dr S.L. Shah. Consultant in Agricultural Economics, Vivekananda Parvatiya Krishi Anusandhan Shala, Almora, October 22, 1981. 42 Among the many recent publications on the Chipko movement, see especially Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Eco-System of the Central Himalayas and Chipko Movement (Gopeshwar, India, 1980); Bharat Dogra, Forests and People (Rishikesh, India, 1980); and Anupam Mishra and Satyendra Tripathi, Chipko Movement (New Delhi, 1978).

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to improve management of panchayat forests for local use. And they consistently demand an end to all commercial use of Himalayan timber. Within the past two years the state governments of both Himachal and U.P. have initiated partial or temporary moratoria on commercial timber cutting above the foothills. In Kumaon a special commission of senior foresters and civil servants is preparing a long-range plan to finalize or amend the timber-cutting ban. In Himachal some voices have charged in the legislature that the ban has been so heavy-handed that villagers cannot even procure wood to cremate their dead. Meanwhile the timber contractors are moving steadily into other lines of investment. Many of the timber merchants of Himachal have sent their sons into law, politics, and other business operations. Great old timber families, such as those of Bawa Dinga Singh of Lahore and Dan Singh Bisht of Naini Tal, have long since left the timber business. Others have experienced declining profits from legitimate timber trade (evidently a reflection of the declining availability of healthy timber stands) and moved their investments into safer channels, such as road construction, orchards, and other hill development projects. Despite the longest unbroken tradition of forest management in the non-Western world (except for Japan), India has yet to resolve the conflicts between local subsistence demands and the wider commercial markets for the resources of the Himalayan forests.43 Meanwhile, the vision of high mountains clothed with dense stands of oak, deodar, pine, and spruce—which once greeted British explorers in search of the sources of the Ganges—continues to recede.

43

For our first English-language insight into the rich Japanese literature on the history of forests and forestry in Japan, see Masako Osako, “Forest Preservation in Tokugawa Japan,” in Tucker and Richards, eds., Deforestation and the Nineteenth Century World Economy.

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III The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914∗

W

ithin the past decade the countries which share the Himalayan mountain system have become increasingly alarmed at the processes of ecological degradation which are in motion in the region. The mountains are experiencing an inexorable decline in the resource base for local subsistence and are sending increasingly frequent floods and eroding soil downriver into the densely-populated Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra basins. The consequences in the Ganges system alone are felt as far awayas the delta region around Calcutta and major population centers in Bangladesh. In New Delhi both the Government of India and independent resource planners now recognize that the Himalayas are both a unique resource for the life of India and an extremely fragile ecosystem which must be managed both as a coordinated development system and as a high priority in its own right, not just as an appendage to the economic and political interests of the north Indian plains.

∗ Originally published as “The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914,” in Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth Century World Economy, Richard P. Tucker and J.F. Richards, Eds. pp. 146–166. Copyright 1983 Duke University Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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The environmental pressures on the western Himalayas have been building for at least a century and a half. The region, once largely isolated from the outside world, has moved to close integration with the world economy and international administrative networks. Much of this pattern was set during the century or more of British rule in the region. The colonial regime left not only a complex set of traces on the mountain lands but also the most extensive range of archives relating to resource exploitation for any mountain region in the colonial world. Those records tell an intricate and paradoxical story. The British Raj not only contributed to the decline of the region as an ecosystem but also, in response, it established the most sophisticated forestry service in the colonial world. In turn, that service harvested vast regions of timber from the Himalayas; in addition it began systematic sustained-yield forestry management and soil stabilization on the lands under its control, even before World War I brought sudden new pressures to the region. Finally, as the foresters well knew, their efforts to exploit and preserve the Himalayan timber lands operated within a much broader system over which they had little control. The destinies of the forest and their users were profoundly influenced by the international economic ties of British India. Even though almost no products of the western Himalayas, either timber or other crops, were exported beyond India’s borders, human use of the mountains was tied closely to the worldwide dynamism of nineteenth-century Britain and cannot be fully understood except in that broad context.

Landforms, Vegetation, and Subsistence The area of this study is the mountain region which lies between the present border of Jammu and Kashmir to the northwest and Nepal to the east.1 Politically and geographically it is divisible into two segments. The eastern is Kumaon and Garhwal in the Ganges watershed, two subregions which together comprise the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh state. The state was known before independence in 1947 as the United Provinces; hence it is referred to as U.P. both before and after independence. Kumaon reaches eastward to the Sarda River, which defines the Nepal border as it descends to join the Ganges system. Beyond, the mountains 61

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of Garhwal are drained by the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers, which join to form the main stream of the Ganges. The western gorges of Garhwal form the upper Jumna River, the westernmost branch of the Ganges system, which determines a portion of the border of U.P. and later flows past the capital, New Delhi. Just northwest of New Delhi, and on a roughly northerly line into the mountains from there, runs the demarcation between the Ganges and Indus river systems. The western half of the region under analysis is the upper watershed for three branches of the Indus system—the Jhelum, Beas, and Ravi rivers. Rising in the hills which were part of Punjab until they were separated into their own hill state, Himachal Pradesh, after independence, these three branches water the fertile plains of Punjab. The lower ranges of the western Himalayas form one of south Asia’s critical ecological regions. Along the southern edge of the Himalayas the hills rise abruptly from the heavily populated alluvial plains. The first hills, the Siwaliks, stand at 600–900 meters. Behind them lie a series of transverse valleys including Kangra and Dehra Dun, where Hindu rajas based small kingdoms on prosperous subsistence agriculture during Mughal times, unstable in their allegiance to the emperors below in the plains. At the base of the Siwaliks on the Himachal border, the lowest hills are composed mostly of a deep and highly unstable alluvium, and are susceptible to severe, rapid erosion if their forest cover is stripped. Farther southeast in U.P. runs the bhabar, a line of talus gravel slopes deposited by the Himalayan rivers over the millennia. For much of the year the streams subside beneath the bhabar for 15 to 25 km, emerging again to carry finer alluvial silts more slowly into the plains. Where the rivers emerge they form the tarai, a marshy, malarial belt of dense jungle poorly suited in the nineteenth century to agriculture and permanent settlement. Except along river channels the tarai formed the mountains’ most effective defense against overuse until the 1950s when chemical pesticides became available. Beyond the low valleys rise the outer Himalayas, northwest-tosoutheast ranges rising abruptly to 2,500 meters and more. The Himalayan river gorges provide only occasional, difficult access routes to the inner mountains. Beyond the outer ranges lie another series of valleys and then finally their headwaters in the glaciers and permanent snows of the great Himalayan peaks, which rise to 5,000–7,000 meters, many of the highest 62

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peaks in the Indian Himalayas. These youngest and highest of the world’s mountains are also among the most unstable. In large parts of Himachal and northern U.P., natural geological processes, even without any human assistance, have produced extremely high rates of soil erosion and riverbed siltation.2 Rock formations, extremely varied in type, are shattered in intricate and unstable striation; the threat of landslides and earthquakes is constant. Mountains of this scale succeed in dividing the monsoon climate of south Asia from the cooler drier climate of central Asia. From midJune into September, monsoon storms swirl northward into the lower Himalayas leaving 70–120 mm of rain in the warm valleys and up to 250 mm of rain on the southern slopes of the outer Himalayas beyond. The northward-facing slopes receive a lower total accumulation of rain, but the storms pound less intensely on their vegetation and soils. The heavy monsoon clouds do not penetrate beyond the great Himalaya; north of there is one of the planet’s great rain-shadow regions, the Tibetan plateau. Coming from the north, winter deposits heavy snows on the high ranges, closing the alpine passes even to traders and shepherds for several months and sealing off the high country. The spring runoff into the Indus and Ganges systems provides the year’s second source of water for the valleys and plains to the south. Within this region, as in any major mountain system, lie an almost infinite variety of micro-climates. Human habitation has had to adapt to highly specific equations of elevation, exposure to sun, soil patterns, slope contours, and precipitation. This great variety, added to the remoteness of most mountainsides and gorges, meant that before the British colonial system appeared, local subsistence was virtually the only economic pattern in the region. The Pahari people of the hills (pahar in Hindi means mountain) have traditionally sown a mixed pattern of crops in the kharif season, planting wheat, barley, maize, rice, gram, and millet from April to July. Below elevations of roughly 2,000 meters, a winter, or rabi, crop of wheat, barley, and gram has also been possible.3 Above that, to 3,000 meters or so, villages have had to depend on one crop annually, often elaborately terraced on steep slopes. Until well into the nineteenth century, when the plains began to make major demands on the mountains’ resources, this was enough to provide survival for the sparse population of the hills. 63

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Typically, small villages farmed their acreage in the alluvial soil along river beds and grazed their domestic animals on common lands in pastures and forests above. Demarcation of ownership in the pastures and forests was usually unnecessary; broad belts of virgin forest meant that boundary or usage quarrels were rare. The local rajas in theory owned all land and arbitrated the use of noncultivated land; their demands on the forests were minimal until the gradual development of a market economy in the nineteenth century. Even under the British regime, though the acreage planted to crops expanded greatly, there was little market agriculture geared for commercial export to the plains before 1947 except in the low valleys. The major export crop was timber: deforestation was the principal economic and ecological change in the hills during colonial times. The history of timber operations has reflected the pattern of tree species in the hills.4 In the moist deciduous forests of the foothills and tarai, dense thickets of tall bamboo became commercially important for many small traders in the nineteenth century, but this was timber only in a very limited sense. The most desirable hardwood was sal (Shorea robusta), then and now the great timber tree of the submontane tracts from U.P. eastward. Its fine grain and hardy resistance to the ravages of white ants placed it in prime demand for most timber purposes. Overcutting of sal in the lowland districts as the century wore on was the key to the increasing search for other hardwoods in the mountains. In the outer Himalayan ranges, from 1,500 to 2,300 meters, the chir pine (Pinus longifolia) dominated many slopes. Like most other conifers, its wood was unsuitable for use as railway sleepers (crossties). Though relatively accessible to rivers, it did not become an important commercial tree until after 1900 when it became the chief plantation tree for the resin industry of the foothills. The great tree of the mountains is the deodar (Cedrus deodara), whose hard and elegant wood was ideal for construction and railway uses. It grows at altitudes of 1,600 to 3,000 meters in the moist temperate zone. Most of the massive cuttings of the nineteenth century were in the deodar forests; silviculturists learned only slowly that it is not only slow growing but also difficult to propagate. Unfortunately, it had no ready substitute, for the other conifers, though faster growing, were all far less durable. Mixed with the deodar, and increasingly dominant in the middle ranges 64

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at 1,800 to 2,600 meters in recent decades, is the kail or blue pine (Pinus excelsa or wallichiana). Above that, into the alpine zone, the Himalayan spruce (Picea or Abies smithiana)5 from 2,100 to 3,300 meters and the Himalayan silver fir (Abies webbiana or pindrow) from 2,200 to 3,300 meters were not under severe commercial pressure until the advent of high elevation roads after independence in 1947. One other type of tree became commercially valuable in the nineteenth century, the broad-leaved oak (Quercus), several species of which grow at widely ranging elevations in open stands on drier slopes. They have been used commercially primarily for building and furniture, but this has conflicted with villagers’ needs for oak leaves as fodder and mulch. Some of the most severe soil erosion in the region has resulted from deforestation on south-facing slopes—where only oaks grow well—on soil which is very dry until the monsoon rains pound it.

British Rule and the Expansion of Agriculture British administration of northern India took nearly a century to evolve into a relatively integrated system of land revenue, agricultural development, and timber harvesting. Beginning with the conquest of the lower Ganges basin in 1765, British power moved slowly upriver. The entire Ganges and Indus basins were not firmly in their hands until 1858. The hill districts of the western Himalayas were also annexed in stages. In 1816 British armies annexed Kumaon and Garhwal, expelling the Gurkhas, the ruling ethnic group of Nepal, Upper Garhwal they left as Tehri-Garhwal State under the autonomous control of the Raja of Tehri; the rest of the region became Kumaon Division of British India. The Punjab hills fell to the British only in 1849, after protracted maneuvers and finally open war against the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab.6 Here too the British took direct control over only part of the region. A treaty with the Raja of Kashmir left that region as a princely state. Immediately to its southeast, Chamba in the Ravi valley was also left to its ruling family, as were several smaller principalities in the hills around the new British summer capital of Simla. By the 1860s the modern political boundaries of the region were set in place, nearly in their present form except for the integration of the princely states into larger units after 1947. 65

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Forest depletion in the region, in both plains and hills, evolved in the wake of the expansion of agriculture. Before the British era large tracts in the lowlands had already been transformed from forest into agriculture, though in times of political and military disruption some of this land had reverted to degraded second growth forest. The richest and best watered lands in the U.P. districts below the tarai were the most fully exploited and densely populated. Districts in northwestern U.P., in the Ganges–Jumna Doab region, were marginally too dry for reliable annual wheat cropping and suffered periodic droughts. Population was thinner there and land clearing less systematic. The tarai itself supported extensive forests until long into the twentieth century. As soon as the British defeated local powers and dispersed their armies, they turned to improving agricultural yields and encouraging trade. They particularly fostered the expansion of marketable cash crops in the plains, primarily wheat, cotton, indigo, opium, and sugar. Cotton, indigo, and opium were marked primarily for foreign markets; as the century wore on, wheat and sugar also began to respond to demand from Europe.7 Not only was existing arable land turned to the newly profitable crops; previously fallow land began to come under the plow as well, wherever the Revenue Department could stimulate the hard labor of breaking new soil. Gorakhpur district in the northeastern corner of U.P., just below the Nepal border, typified the processes at work, though the scale of its transformation was greater than in many districts.8 There the British took control in 1801 and busied themselves with increasing the acreage under cultivation and harvesting the resulting profits for their friends, both princely and European. By 1830 an estimated one million trees had been felled and many others killed by the peasants’ slash and burn fires. In that year the District Commissioner reported that the district, until recently densely forested, held no more valuable timber, only overaged and scrub growth. His proposal was to give large land grants to British investors in order to bring more land under marketable crops. One entrepreneur, John Bridgeman, purchased 28,000 hectares in Calcutta in 1836, over half of which he brought into cultivation before 1850. A Mr Finch bought 36,000 hectares of second growth sal forest for cultivation, but his project failed after a few years’ effort.

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The most vivid expression of the land mania of the era was Lady Malkin’s purchase of 9,389 hectares in the district. She held the land for a few years but did nothing to change its use. One commentator wryly observed, “One wonders what the dainty Lady Malkin thought she was going to do with the 23,200 acres of Nagwa. Doubtless she was a regular visitor at Government House in Calcutta and had heard at dinner what a good thing was going for the asking.”9 Detailed studies of the long range changes in land use and rural social structure which resulted from this giddy era remain to be carried out, with the help of Revenue Department Proceedings. For now we can confidently conclude, on the basis of later Forest Department records, that the chief biological loss was tens of thousands of hectares of mixed hardwood forests whose primary cash earning species was sal. The railway builders who began work there in the 1860s found the supplies of sal far from adequate for their needs. The most dramatic change which the British introduced in the landscape in the first half of the century was an elaborate system of canals, designed to irrigate these districts and turn them into productive agriculture, especially in the Doab where rainfall was unreliable.10 Beginning in 1830 British civil engineers planned major canal systems to channel Himalayan waters through the northern Gangetic plain. By 1860 four hundred thousand hectares were irrigated by canal water in the Northwest Province; by 1878 that figure rose another 50 percent. Most of this land was turned to production of cash crops. Under these peacetime conditions the population of the northern plains, both rural and urban, increased steadily through the middle years of the century. Markets increased for timber, both for building purposes and for the fuelwood and other subsistence needs of the peasants. No statistical data of any sort were ever collected in the early colonial decades; but when the first Forest Department reports were written in the late 1860s, they reflected the small scale but very widespread inroads on the forests which an era of steady economic expansion entailed. Any woodlands adjacent to navigable streams or bullock cart roads were susceptible to clearing of the trees. And on any private land where trees were felled to make way for the plow, the owners were willing to sell the trees at low rates to local merchants, eager to have these impediments to agriculture removed.

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From the perspective of the towns the timber trade was socially complex, providing occupation for a variety of specialized traders. A report from Lucknow in 1875 gives our best insight into the small scale timber trade of the era.11 It would still be recognizable to anyone who knows the small scale timber and fuelwood trade today, for it has persisted alongside the larger scale transactions of a more highly technological age. Bamboo traders represented one caste, bringing bamboos down to Lucknow by boat. Charcoal burners bought miscellaneous wood in small lots for processing into charcoal and shipment to the city. They bargained almost exclusively with the zamindars, landowners willing to sell mixed timber from their private forests. This trade was monitored only when it crossed provincial boundaries, where amounts exported were measured and recorded. In the city the lakriwalas were a socially mixed group who traded only in timber, buying both milled lumber and unprocessed logs wholesale at river depots and retailing them around the city. Fuelwood, a separate specialization, was controlled by talwalas, who purchased odd lots of second growth trees from private forests, speculating on probable firewood prices in cities such as Lucknow. Shipping this wood by river or bullock cart to Lucknow, they wholesaled it to vendors of grain, salt, oil, flour, timber, and so forth for final sale around the city. In the hill districts of Kumaon and Garhwal the impact of the colonial system in the years between 1815 and 1857 was essentially similar. Traill, the British Commissioner who organized civil administration after the fighting was over, reported that the dense sal and bamboo forests of the tarai had hardly been cleared at all in previous years, but the Siwaliks and the valleys behind them had been considerably exploited. This was so despite the fact that the only communications in the hills were by a set of footpaths, often deteriorating and unreliable, through glens and up riverbeds. Several of the ancient trade routes into Tibet linked the only four towns of Kumaon, none of which had a population of more than 3,000. Many villages in the Kumaon hills had been depopulated under military pressure from the Gurkhas from the east and Rohilla soldiers from the submontane districts. The Gurkhas had levied heavy “taxes” on agriculture in order to pay their soldiers. Many villagers had left their homes; the result by 1815 was crumbling terraces and fallow farmlands. It was Traill’s challenge to reverse the tide. 68

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The British left northern Garhwal, present-day Uttarkashi and Chamoli districts, to the Raja of Tehri. In lower Garhwal and all of Kumaon they resolved land ownership records and revenue rates over the following decade, culminating with the first detailed cadastral survey of the hills in 1823. The major challenge was to encourage peasants to resettle the deserted villages and fallow terraces. The British commitment to maximum expansion of arable land, which these conditions elicited, rested on the regulation that anyone who cultivated fallow or waste-land would be declared its owner and assessed taxes at a nominal rate.12 Further, the 1823 Settlement established the basic modern system for control of wasteland, including both grazing lands and forests. Vast tracts of mountains, technically designated waste, lying between one village and another, had been used for subsistence grazing and gathering of fuelwood and other forest products. These lands, never a source of revenue under preBritish regimes, had never been surveyed or laden with any restrictions, since they were far more extensive than the hill population could use. In monetary terms they had no value. Under the rationalized administration of the British, village boundaries were demarcated in 1823, often along high, remote ridges. Villagers were guaranteed unrestricted use of the waste and encouraged to bring under the plow new lands adjacent to existing croplands.13 Once established by the Revenue authorities, this system for turning waste into plowed land remained in place until 1955; it was the first key to forest depletion in Kumaon and an important legal basis for peasants’ defense of their subsistence rights in the twentieth century. In addition to maximum encouragement of agriculture, Traill shared his generation’s determination to foster trade and transport. He repaired the small scale irrigation canals which had crumbled under the Gurkha occupation, and repaired and widened many hill paths, making even the road north to Almora passable for some bullock carts. He minimized and regulated the system of transit taxes which had inhibited trade in the hills as in the plains. By the late 1820s this policy was clearly effective when measured in terms of expanded economic activity. Revenue, tilled land and population had begun the steady increases which have marked the region with minor disruptions ever since. By the late 1860s in Kumaon as a whole, both cultivated land and net revenue more than doubled in most subdistricts.14 69

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Rural population also began the inexorable rise which by 1890 put severe pressure on food production on the small portion of the mountainous land which could be farmed. In Dehra Dun, for example, one of the less mountainous districts, the 1865 census showed 270 square kilometers under cultivation out of a total land area of 2,655 square kilometers. There the population had been estimated at roughly 17,000 in 1816 and 25,000 six years later. By 1865, at the first careful census, it reached 66,299.15 In the 1891 census the official figure for the district’s population was listed as 117,438. Because of the severe difficulty in the hills of calculating any statistics of humans, livestock or land, these figures must be taken as gross approximations. But they suggest steadily increasing pressure on both arable and forest lands, as do all their accompanying descriptive reports. The major escape valve in the twentieth century has been a massive migration of hill people into the cities of the plains, searching for salaried employment.16 No figures are available for the outmigration of the nineteenth century, but the 1896 settlement report for Garhwal revealed that the region, even the drier areas in its southwestern hills, had met all its grain and food needs throughout the century until the early 1890s. In 1890, and again two and four years later, the hills of Garhwal for the first time since 1815 could not meet their own needs for grain. The resulting inflation in market prices for grain seems to have precipitated the first large scale migration of hill men into the plains, setting a permanent pattern which linked the money economy of the hills to the wider economy of north India, in the peasants’ household budgets.17 The success of their early efforts to achieve economic expansion, extension of agriculture and rising revenues led the Commissioners into new commercial ventures by the 1840s and 1850s. The first was to encourage plantation cropping for export to the plains. Thus, by the midtwentieth century there was massive cultivation of fruits and potatoes for markets throughout India. But before World War I the only plantation crop of any significance was tea, for which the Siwalik hills of Kumaon, Dehra Dun, and Kangra north in the Punjab hills seemed well suited. In the Outer Himalayas farther east tea was already becoming a major source of export earnings, as Darjeeling and Assam teas began conquering world markets. In the 1840s many individuals with capital to invest in the western hills began speculating on tea there. These hills were well 70

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watered, their soil was adequately fertile, they were high enough to be protected from the worst intensity of plains climate, and they were easily accessible from many north Indian cities. In Dehra Dun the first private tea plantation was established in 1847, on 120 fertile hectares. Similar small plantations were organized in the hills farther east. Robert Fortune, who surveyed the region for its tea growing potential in 1851, reported that land was “plentiful, and of little value either to the natives or the Government.”18 North of Almora, in central Kumaon, he focused attention on village lands which even then were formerly but no longer cultivated and had reverted to scrub jungle. He argued that land brought under tea cultivation would become productive once again, bringing profit not only to the investor but to the poverty stricken villagers as well. Describing the typical villager in the Almora region, he asserted, “A common blanket has to serve him for his covering by day and for his bed by night, while his dwelling-house is a mere mud hut, capable of affording but little shelter from the inclemency of the weather.” By working on a tea plantation, “he would return home with the means in his pocket of making himself and his family more comfortable and more happy.”19 Eighteen years later a progress report on tea production in the region reported a total production of 18,684 kilograms, 7,522 kilograms from the Kaolaghir factory in Dehra Dun. Total net income for the plantation owners, both British and Indian, was ` 82,280 in 1869. This was not as rapid an expansion as its backers had hoped; several difficulties had become evident. The best soils seemed to be in Dehra Dun, but inadequate water supplies restricted tea cultivation. Considerably more ambitious canal and irrigation systems were a prerequisite of much more expansion of tea production. There were also labor problems, for the hill people had no experience in the complex work of growing and harvesting the tea.20 Finally, beyond Dehra Dun’s relatively easy access to marketing networks in the plains, the hills remained virtually as remote as in Traill’s time. One assessment saw Almora as the ideal tea processing center, but Traill’s road south to Naini Tal and then down the steep hills to the tarai would have to be further improved, at an expense which tea marketing alone could not afford. Nonetheless, over the next half century tea production continued to increase slowly in the U.P. and Punjab hills. By 1911 a total of 6,880 71

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hectares were under tea, producing 1,810,800 kilograms of tea. No other plantation crop in the western Himalayas even approximated that extent before independence, though this production did not remotely rival the transformation of the Bengal and Assam hills, where in 1911, 203,000 hectares of former forest were producing 109,668,000 kilograms of tea, dominating the export market.21 In the same period one other expression of the commercial and technological impact of the British empire made some inroads on the natural resources of the western Himalayas; this was mining. When the British arrived in Kumaoan, they found scattered copper and iron mines there, all operated on very primitive, small-scale methods. The first geological and mineralogical assessments of the region were very tentative and ineffectual, in view of the enormous complexity of the Himalayan rock. But the very scale of these mountains led mining engineers to predict that great mineral wealth was waiting in the Himalayas, asking only for aggressive investment of funds and technique. Captain Herbert, the Chief Surveyor, reported in 1829 that in Kumaon’s copper, lead, and iron mines “the actual produce ... is trifling in quantity, and inferior in quality,” producing only ` 1,500 in total annual revenue for the government.22 But improved methods could easily change this picture. In particular he recommended that the use of coal for smelting, which was the standard British method, must be set aside in favor of the Swedish technique of using charcoal. With this change in method and the import of a better blast furnace design from Europe, the Kumaon mines could be made more productive, rewarding both investors and government. Herbert assumed that the adjacent chir pine forests would be entirely adequate for the necessary supply of charcoal; he was in no position to see that problems of charcoal supply would soon become a major difficulty for smelting operations. Fourteen years later and a 160 mountainous kilometers to the north, G.S. Lushington presented a more ambivalent assessment of copper mining prospects on the Alaknanda branch of the Ganges, where the rajas of Tehri had mined for many years. On the one hand, “the climate is excellent, admirably adapted to the European constitution; water is good, and oak, fir and other timber trees abundant.”23 But copper reserves there were evidently close to being worked out, and transport difficulties down the Alaknanda gorge were formidable. On Lushington’s 72

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recommendation the government invested nothing further in prospecting in the higher ranges, centering its interests in the iron mines of the Siwaliks. By 1855 W.J. Henwood, chief surveyor and assay master of the tin mining industry of Cornwall, was brought by the provincial government to assess the Kumaon iron mines. His report on the forests and mines there was the first to lay urgent emphasis on the growing shortage of timber for charcoal in the vicinity of the mines. Anything over fifteen kilometers of transport was hardly feasible or economic for charcoal in the rugged terrain, and the combination of local and British charcoal production had ravaged the chir forests. The lower bhabar slopes were still heavily forested, but higher, near the mines, only a few stands of large trees too grand for charcoal production remained. Local operators using traditional methods and machinery lopped limbs from even the largest trees, crippling the giants by the thousands. British methods could exploit pine trees more fully, but even then only systematic replanting of the chir pine forests would assure a future supply of charcoal. This the provincial government had no capacity to do as yet, but in its capital, Lucknow, it was not easily deterred by Henwood’s fears. In response to his report, the Lieutenant-Governor insisted he was “satisfied that, for mining operations on any extensive scale, the supplies of fuel, both within the hills and on their borders toward the plains, will be found to be abundant for a long course of years.”24 The search for commercial expansion, agricultural production and increased revenue could lead both officials and investors to dismiss the issue of ecological degradation. But Henwood’s warnings proved correct before long. By the 1860s Kumaon’s copper and iron mines were in decline; their best seams of ore were running out and timber for charcoal was becoming prohibitively expensive. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 made it more profitable to import processed iron from England, even to markets in north India, than to continue investing in the Kumaon mines. Mining in these hills subsided to trivial levels thereafter;25 recent mining operations in the Siwaliks begun at independence have been more of limestone and other minerals which require no timber or other fuel for smelting. The main significance of the brief era of iron and copper mining was that it helped catalyze the discussion of long-range forest planning, and thus the establishment of a professional forestry service. 73

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Timber Harvests in the Pre-Railway Era In the midst of the debate over the mines’ impact on Siwalik forests, J.H. Batten, then Commissioner of Kumaon and the most influential person in the region, sharply attacked Henwood’s assessment of the chir forests. I venture ... to declare that the forests of Kumaon and Gurhwal [sic] are boundless, and, to all appearance, unexhaustible; and that they require no human care to preserve them.... The lower hills and Bhabur, at every iron locality ... can supply sufficient charcoal for the largest English furnace for a hundred years to come.26

Nonetheless, even this enthusiastic developer by 1855 concurred that restrictions must now be placed on some types of forest. The sal forests of the bhabar, though still vast, must not be wastefully used for fuelwood or charcoal; carefully harvested and replanted chir pine would be far more prudent. In higher elevations the deodar stands should be preserved against further exploitation. Even in the chir zone no more cutting of pine should be allowed by the government except for landowning peasants’ house building needs and the charcoal demands of iron smelters. Something must have happened to the Himalayan forests by 1855 to elicit Batten’s unprecedented call for government intervention in forestry management. Revenue demand, agricultural expansion, and commercial development had indeed influenced the pattern of timber use in the mountain districts, although these factors were not so dominant there as in some other regions, such as the districts which Richards and McAlpin analyze elsewhere in this volume. In the western Himalayas changes in vegetation patterns resulted far more from large-scale timber harvesting. The first era of deforestation was the 1840s and 1850s, a period of uncontrolled cutting before any systematic forest use planning began. In those years timber was demanded primarily for construction of the expanding cities of the Indus and Ganges plains. The extent of virgin forest cover in the vast Himalayan region at the beginning of this era was such that no one at first could imagine how quickly it would be threatened. The first British travelers in the mountains, who explored and mapped the region even before formal annexation, 74

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reported deep, lush coniferous forests in the mountains, guarded by the tarai’s redoubtable marshes, mosquitoes, and tigers.27 The first warning against this euphoria came from the observant Bishop Reginald Heber on his tour of north India in 1824–25, who noted in the bhabar and Siwalik tracts: Great devastations are generally made in these woods, partly by the increase of population, building and agriculture, partly by the wasteful habits of travelers, who cut down multitudes of young trees to make temporary huts, and for fuel, while the cattle and goats which browse on the mountains prevent a great part of the seedlings from rising. Unless some precautions are taken the inhabited parts of Kemaoon will soon be wretchedly bare of wood, and the country, already too arid, will not only lose its beauty, but its small space of fertility.28

Heber was correct. Even when the British first occupied Dehra Dun in 1815, private Indian timber contractors were transporting timber to the nearby plains at the rate of some 50,000 trees per year. In 1819 the Commissioner established transit duties on timber, farming the collection of these fees to merchants from the foothills towns. For example, for the years 1839–44 Atmageer, a contractor from Hardwar, purchased the right to collect timber duties for ` 35,500 per year. He was reported to have grossed ` 80,000 per year over that period, for there were no restrictions whatever on forest cutting.29 The result of this trade with urban markets was a steady depletion of the woodstock in the outer hills and the first interest in conifer timber from the higher mountains. By the early 1840s enterprising timber men, both British and Indians from major towns such as Lucknow and Meerut, began studying ways of using the Himalayan rivers to transport timber. At first there was little experience to draw on; timber cutting was entirely haphazard and unregulated. In the higher hills, where soils were less fertile and stable, major and even irreversible damage to standing timber could be done in a very short time. It seems likely that in British districts the deforestation was less sudden and severe before 1860 than in the adjacent princely states of the hills where civil administration of any sort was still rudimentary and the rajas as yet had little experience with modern marketing systems. The hill rajas, who were traditionally accepted by consensus as outright owners of all their forested lands, had usually used them as a source of 75

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rewards for their courtiers and payment for military service. Systematic harvesting of timber was a concept from another world. In the early 1840s an Englishman, a Mr Wilson, first exploited the great potential connection between the rajas’ methods of business and the lucrative markets downriver. The first to succeed by floating large numbers of deodar trees down the turbulent mountain rivers in the high water months. Wilson negotiated a twenty-year lease in 1844 with the Raja of Tehri-Garhwal, which for ` 400 annually allowed him to fell an unspecified number of trees.30 Later forestry reports refer to Wilson with ambivalence, admiring his entrepreneurial drive but appalled by the impression that in little more than a decade he managed to decimate the major stands of deodar in Tehri. Wilson’s deodars, destined for the expanding urban markets of the upper Ganges region, made their commercial profit and ecological loss as a reflection of the general economic expansion of the colonial era. In contrast, the deodars of the upper Chenab gorges of the Indus system farther northwest built the military defenses of the northwest in the early 1850s, immediately after the British conquest of the Punjab. As such, devastation of these superb stands was an immediate expression of the British imperial system. In 1849 the British occupied Sialkot, an old town strategically situated to control the upper Punjab plains from the gateway to Kashmir and the Northwest Frontier. British military authorities commissioned private traders to buy and fell timber from the western hill regions. The great deodar forests of Kashmir were harvested later to help build the prosperity of the Punjab. But deodar stands in nearer Chamba state were more accessible at first. By 1852 an Armenian entrepreneur named Aratoon negotiated with the Raja of Chamba, whose title to his estate had recently been confirmed by the usual treaty with the British, for the sale of large tracts in the Pangi area of the upper Chenab. Aratoon’s timber provided some material for the Sialkot cantonment, but the hazards which beginners faced in floating timbers for hundreds of miles down its dramatic gorge resulted in the loss of a large majority of the felled trees. A year later the British designated one of their own military engineers to take charge of the project. For many years still, the losses of logs on the Chenab, as on the other Himalayan rivers, were often a majority of the trees cut each season. 76

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But the military defense of the British Raj demanded this expense and sacrifice; the price of forest depletion seemed reasonable enough at the time.31 In sum, by the middle 1850s severe depletion of the then commercially valuable timber trees of the western Himalayas was already evident to many policy makers, and a debate had begun as to the most effective means of conserving the remaining hardwood forests. But the demand on the Himalayan forests was just beginning to be felt on a truly massive scale.

The Railway Building Era and the Forest Department The key to India’s integration with international commodity markets on a massive scale was the construction of a network of rail lines across the subcontinent beginning in 1853. This in turn was the key factor in the depletion of and later the systematic management of the Himalayan forests. The ecological consequences of railway construction were immediate and severe, beginning with India’s first line from Bombay on the west coast through the coastal hills in 1853, for which the teak forests of the Malabar coast, already severely reduced to meet the British Admiralty’s needs, were further decimated to produce sleepers.32 In the following years, as much in the effort to expand export production of cotton, wheat, and other crops as for any reason,33 the government of British India and private investors in England together created the greatest railway network in any colonial country. As one historian of India’s railways puts it, By 1860 there were 838 miles of track; by 1870, 4,771 miles; by 1890, 16,401 miles; and, by 1920, 37,029 miles ... India’s railway mileage by 1910 was six times that of China. In the broadest sense the system was designed for the purpose of connecting the principal ports with the major agricultural hinterlands and urban centers in order to draw goods out for export and to provide markets for imports.34

In 1859 the line up the Ganges from Calcutta was opened for 942 km to Allahabad, and by 1870 the principal cities of Punjab and U.P. were connected to the main lines. The first line to Bareilly, the eighteenth largest city in India, near the Kumaon foothills, opened in 1872. All of these lines were vital to the establishment of a regionwide and ultimately 77

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international market for lowland crops including cotton and grain.35 Secondary railway lines to more remote areas including the mountains were built later. Western Himalayan timber, bulky and very expensive to transport over long distances, did not therefore become an export commodity, nor could it compete with timber from other hill regions, such as the Vindhyas of central India, for use farther south. The primary impact of the railways on the Himalayan forests in the nineteenth century resulted from timber felling for production of sleepers and railway fuel. Some teak was still available from the Malabar coast for railway construction in the western region. And by the 1870s the great teak forests of upper Burma began to be harvested for export to India and elsewhere.36 But, as an official assessment concluded in 1877, “for the great Railway system of Northern India, teak sleepers cannot be thought of.”37 The costs of transport even on existing railway lines were prohibitively high. Some source of sleepers had to be found in north India itself to free the crop-marketing potential of the rich northern plains. The rich sal forests of the submontane districts were splendid candidates for this. They stretched on a thousand mile arc from the western tarai down into Bengal, they were easily accessible to the plains, sal’s tough fibers were particularly resistant to the white ants, and their lands— at first seemingly abundant—had soil and climate ideal for growing food crops. Revenue officials were eager to expand agricultural production; Railway Department planners were interested in maximum harvesting of sal stands for their uses. But by 1860 the sal forests were already badly depleted by the mixed market demand and totally unregulated system of cutting which the previous half century had witnessed. What sal forests remained were rapidly depleted in the submontane districts for production of sleepers.38 As yet no one had responsibility or authority to replant sal forests. Hence sal production dipped in the last third of the century and rose again only after 1900 when the first fruits of new sal plantations were mature enough for marketing. This was one of the major achievements of the Forest Department after its formal founding in the 1860s.39 Faced with the depleted stocks and rising costs of both sal and teak in the 1860s, the railway builders of northern India set their sights farther into the mountains. Men such as Wilson had shown over the previous 78

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twenty years that the deodar was also well suited to their needs. But the deodar stands were far more remote, situated only above 1,600 meters from western Nepal into Kashmir. Reliable large scale harvesting of deodar demanded far more complex processes of felling and transport than local timber contractors could manage by themselves. Exploitation of the deodar forests soon became the central focus of the first half century of the Forest Department’s work in the Himalayas, first for the continuing depletion of the deodar stands and later for the gradual stabilization of commercially valuable timber lands in the system of Reserved Forests.40 The height of demand on deodar for the railways came in the 1870s and 1880s, when the major lines were built in northwestern India. The single largest project of the early 1870s was the Rajputana Railway, which stretched 640 kilometers southwest from Delhi and required 800,000 sleepers. Nearly all were deodar, partly from the Jumna and partly from the adjacent Bhagirathi, the westernmost branch of the Ganges.41 Simultaneously the deodar forests of the Punjab hills and Kashmir were requisitioned for the new line northwest from Lahore to Peshawar on the Northwest Frontier, and then for the longest line of all, the Lahore–Karachi railway, which was designed primarily for the export of Punjabi wheat to Europe. The pressure was now at a maximum on the deodar forests of the upper Ganges and Indus basins. In all, by 1878, 2,495 kilometers of railway were in use in northern India and 372 kilometers more were under construction.42 For management purposes the railways’ needs had first claim on government forests; their demand could be planned and regulated for several years in advance. But when this demand was added to the markets for construction timber and urban fuelwood supplies, there was great difficulty in planning and financing annual timber harvests and maintaining consistent inventories. The annual harvest of trees in western U.P. fluctuated between a low of 78,000 and a high of 147,000 in the years around 1870; in the Punjab hills it fluctuated between 29,000 and 67,000.43 By the early 1880s the figures rose to approximately double that figure in both parts of the north.44 Faced with the intricate organizational challenge of regulating this production and increasingly aware of the danger that the Himalayan and submontane forests might soon be totally depleted, the Government of India designated Dietrich Brandis as its first Inspector-General of 79

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Forests in 1865. By then he had more than a decade’s experience in south Asia, primarily in the teak forests of upper Burma, where the British had first assigned him in the early 1850s. In the years after 1865 one of Brandis’s major concerns was to place controls on the logging of the Himalayas and use the urgent demand for those forests as leverage to establish a permanent management system for those states as part of the new national Forest Department system. Thirteen years later Brandis summarized the results of his early efforts to supply the northern railways, showing that the empire’s railway system had been inexorably extending its ecological frontier farther into the mountains. One must be prepared, he wrote, to negotiate systematically with the governments of Kashmir and Nepal for major future supplies of deodar and sal timbers respectively. For further construction and maintenance of the railways over 500,000 sleepers annually would be needed for some years to come. The forests remaining would be grossly inadequate for meeting that demand. If no alternative supply is found it may be necessary to cut … the last remaining stock of mature sal and deodar in the Government forests. Such a contingency must by all means be avoided; the few remaining forests under the control of Government in Northern India, which still contain large quantities of mature sal and deodar timber, must now be worked with sole regard to their maintenance and improvement as permanent sources for the supply of these woods.45

Fortunately, technical innovation promised the hope of a more satisfactory long term solution to this impasse. By that time several railway lines around India had begun to use sleepers imported from Europe, either creosoted conifers or even iron sleepers from England’s foundries. By 1880 this numbered nearly 200,000 units annually. Some specialists in India were coming to the view that in time all lines should be laid on iron sleepers; this task might well be undertaken by the fledgling iron industry of eastern India. But the Forest Department immediately saw that softwood conifers from the Himalayas offered an a bundant supply of raw timber, if only a satisfactory creosoting system could be designed using local raw materials. For many years after a beginning in 1863, the Forest Department experimented with methods of creosoting the abundant softer woods of the western Himalayas, specifically chir and kail pine, Himalayan spruce and silver fir. Brandis’s 1878 report predicted 80

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that technical problems could be solved, thereby providing “almost any quantity of sleepers ... annually, for the forests of the species mentioned are very extensive, well-stocked, and nearly untouched.”46 For forestry management this would be the key to the otherwise contradictory goals of maximizing profits from timber sales and improving the quality and sustained yield of the Himalayan forests. “The object will eventually be gained of utilizing the trees associated with deodar in the forests, and of thereby placing the working of these deodar forests upon a sound and satisfactory footing, while at the same time largely increasing the supply of indigenous sleepers.”47 Unfortunately for this strategy, pines, spruce, and fir ultimately proved to be not viable as sleepers. The softer woods failed to last well under the rails and had to be replaced too often to be used on any large scale. In consequence the chir pine forests of the Siwaliks and lower hills, and the Himalayan spruce and silver fir remained largely intact until World War I or later. The technological capacity of the colonial system was not yet capable of more than a selective impact on the vegetation of the mountain region.48

Timber Marketing and the Sociology of Forest Depletion The structure of the colonial administrative system and its associated technologies and marketing systems were one dimension of the ecological transformation of the western Himalayas. But in order to clarify how that system penetrated to any specific town, trade route, village or mountainside, the analysis must also note the indigenous socioeconomic system of the region, in particular the social composition of the timber merchant class and that of the employees, the contract labor, as they interrelated with the colonial regime on one side and village society on the other. This discussion can only begin to describe this intermediate level of the human systems which struggled for the use of the forests; fuller treatment will have to await a subsequent occasion. As the early years of British rule had already revealed, under the prevailing laissez-faire ideology policy makers preferred to encourage private timber contractors for meeting the empire’s needs. The Forest Department developed a variety of harvesting and marketing arrangements with private contractors, all of which also reflected the fact that 81

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the Forest Department could not possibly carry out each phase of the timber harvest and marketing by itself. Two alternative systems were used, with several variants on each; they were broadly labeled “departmental agency” and “private agency.” Under the first system, which the department often preferred if it could staff the work, its employees harvested the trees and transported them to depots, usually at the foot of the hills. Periodic auctions of the cut timber brought the department its major source of revenue and handed the wood to the merchants for transport and final sale. Under the second alternative, contractors bought the right to fell specified timber standing in the forests. Either the department marked each tree selected for harvest, or the right to all timber in a designated area was auctioned for clear cutting—a far less desirable alternative. The winning contractor then organized the entire operation, from mountainside to market.49 Either variation on the auction system placed responsibility for long range care of the forests entirely on the Forest Department’s shoulders. Contractors organized a single felling in each tract; their rights and responsibilities ended there. They did not own the timber lands themselves, and their operations were almost always on a small scale, with no long-range financial investment in what was a very volatile commercial market. Furthermore, the pattern of their ecologically destructive operations reflected the social structure of Indian trade and entrepreneurship. Fragmentary studies give some insight into the social composition of the timber merchants as a group. For the inland timber trade of northern India after 1860 British merchants were rare: the trade thereafter was almost entirely in Indian hands. The purchase and marketing of timber was the occasion for intense competition among various merchant castes and religious communities. An 1897 summary of Punjab’s timber trade indicates that there were a few “wealthy” contractors but does not stipulate who they were, what the scale of their capital was, or how many stages of the trade they controlled.50 A few were Sikhs, from the non-Hindu entrepreneurial sect of the region. Others represented several Hindu merchant castes, who invested in timber as only one of several lines of trade. They included Agarwal Banias, Khatris, and Aroras. From about 1900 the smallest

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Hindu merchant sect, the Suds, began moving toward their later dominance in the timber trade of eastern Punjab.51 Within this fragmented system each trading operation was controlled by a single kinship group, partly to assure control and secrecy in its internal network of commercial information. Contractors from the same caste or religious community frequently cooperated closely with each other in competition with members of other social groups. This helped solve the problem of the dearth of capital. Within each caste network a man’s name and his caste ties sufficed as collateral for short-term funds at the auctions. Without this, the ready cash for this highly competitive and speculative business would not be available, except occasionally at exhorbitant interest rates.

The Labor Force The transformation of society and economy which resulted from the gradual integration of the Himalayan hills into regional and international systems affected the labor force as much as the employers. We must not overlook the composition of the workforce for the timber harvest: which groups were recruited for the labor, and how the relatively highly differentiated tasks of felling, dressing, and transporting the timber functioned. Through the nineteenth century, labor for timber operations was primarily local in origin. Peasants who owned their land, as well as the landless service castes, the Doms, traditionally were required to provide begar, or unpaid labor for transport and trail maintenance.52 They were the primary wage labor available for timber operations, and anyone who owned land would resist timber work at crucial times in the agricultural cycle. In the late nineteenth century, as road networks improved in the mountains, a two-way shift in the labor force began to occur. Sons of peasant families in the hills began leaving for work in the cities of the plains or for the military. In the other direction landless laborers from western Nepal and later eastern U.P., Bihar, and central India began to appear in Kumaon looking for day labor.53 There was also significant specialization of labor, particularly among the sawyers, which led to further competition between the mountain

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people and outsiders. Roughly for a century sawyers from foothills districts in Punjab have been reputed as the most reliable and skilled in the region. But their availability was unpredictable; in Kumaon they were supplemented by others from Himachal and local sawyers. Other parts of the process had a very mixed and competitive labor force. In the Almora area, for example, Garhwalis from the higher mountains were used for carrying timber to stream beds or road depots, while increasing numbers of itinerant laborers from western Nepal were also hired. Increasingly the principle among the labor contractors was to use labor from a distance, to gain the advantages of controlling a rootless rural proletariat. Contractors increasingly concluded that local laborers were unreliable as well as insistent on higher wages than their competition. They were still tied to subsistence agriculture, less completely at the mercy of daily wages for their survival, and determined to harvest their own crops rather than trees at summer’s end. In consequence, the forests probably suffered as much as did local villagers when increasing numbers of itinerant loggers with no stake in the future of the forests were hired for their exploitation.

The Early Twentieth Century Brandis’s report on the Himalayas as a source of railway sleepers was written in 1878, the same year as India’s first fully developed Forest Law, which provided the legal basis for systematic management of government forests. From that year onward the system of reserved forests allowed the government to designate forests which were not yet used for subsistence and had potential commercial value as being under the Forest Department’s full control and management. The reserves were lands already under government ownership; they were to provide both the major supply of commercial timber and India’s major guarantee of ecologically stable forest cover permanently into the future. A second category was protected forests; this was a transitional legal category, designating government woodlands which would be surveyed and given full working plans or other final status in future years. Other forest lands, which have gone under various legal designations since then, included

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private holdings and village communal lands, whose permanent designation and uses would be determined later.54 In the following thirty-six years until the onset of World War I, forest use in the western Himalayas as elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent saw few dramatic changes. The Forest Department’s funds and energy were largely consumed in the intricate task of implementing their powers in the reserved forests. Timber had to be surveyed and boundaries marked; paths, access roads, and foresters’ huts had to be constructed; all of this had to be enshrined in each stand’s working plan. Endless disputes over nearby villagers’ access to the reserves had to be resolved, in settings in which Forest and Revenue departments often had conflicting interests. Time and again authorities had to negotiate at length with private owners to consolidate government holdings in forests which had been fragmented into many small holdings over the years. All of this had to be done simultaneously with maintaining the annual supply of timber for railway sleepers, the construction trade and fuel for the sugar refineries, urban marketplaces, and individual hearths.55 The railways’ demand remained relatively high and steady. Although fewer major lines were constructed after 1880, many small feeder lines remained to be built to extend the network into more remote rural areas. Further, by the 1880s as many second-generation sleepers as new ones were required for replacing those that had deteriorated on original lines. All this demand guaranteed the Forest Department with a basic flow of funds with which to finance its full range of professional activity. Shortly after the turn of the century came the next major breakthrough in the exploitation of the Himalayan forests, when improved methods of processing chir pine resin from the lower hills became available.56 Lower Kumaon became the major source of resin for many commercial and industrial uses, both in India and abroad. The resin industry remained on a small scale until 1920 when the government’s major processing factory was built near Bareilly in the aftermath of the war’s intense industrial demands. Hence, even this change falls largely outside the scope of our present project. Some of those funds were invested in the old sal forests below the hills in the form of north India’s first modern forest plantations. Reforestation had been the subject of intensive discussion within the Forest

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Department from the start. But the proper silvicultural techniques took some years to establish, and it was always difficult to find both funds and a labor force for the actual work of replanting. Sal proved relatively easy to regenerate, in contrast to the low rate of success in the early deodar forests. By 1914 in Punjab and U.P. together some 10,000 acres of forest lands were replanted. The showpiece plantation was the Changa Manga forests in a newly irrigated tract in Punjab, where as early as 1880 roughly 80,000 trees annually were harvested for the railways.57 Aside from Changa Manga nearly all successful reforestation in these years was in submontane districts along the tarai. In the mountains reforestation was far more difficult and its rate of success less predictable. Replanting at higher elevations came only later, under conditions of increased population of towns and villages and inexorably deteriorating conditions in village forests and grazing lands and private woodlands. Reserved forests were established one by one over the decades after 1880; few were demarcated in the mountain districts before the mid1890s. Gradually the reserves were stabilized; the main focus of any analysis of deforestation processes in the hills must be those forests which were left under the Revenue Department or confirmed as village lands. These forests, extensive throughout the mountain region, were to see virtually no planned silvicultural management until well after independence. Their changing vegetation cover was never documented in any detail; it is far more difficult to see with any precision. The key questions are difficult to assess: at what rate they became inadequate to the region’s subsistence needs and to what extent they contributed to soil depletion and disruption of water flow in the rivers. This study remains to be done, if it can be with any precision. In the villages, subsistence use of forests contributed primarily to the gradual deterioration of quality in nearby woodlots and grazing land, a very gradual process. While shifting agriculture, never as widespread in these hills as in some other parts of the subcontinent, steadily diminished over these years, the grazing of sheep, goats, and cattle became a massive threat to the growth of young trees and thus to the continued viability of the forests. The urban population of the hills was also rising steadily, bringing with it expanding demand for building timber, charcoal, and fuelwood. The first useful census figures come from 1872; from 1881 onward the 86

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regular decennial censuses were taken. They show that between 1872 and 1911 the old center of Almora grew from 6,260 to 10,560, while the new British hill resort of Naini Tal grew from about 7,000 to 10,270. Rural population data are far less reliable, but some indication of the trend is shown by district-wide data. The year 1914 was to initiate new pressures which took the Himalayan region into a dramatically different and more difficult era, for both its human population and its natural ecology. The war brought sudden and unprecedented demand for military timber. The understaffed Forest administration worked overtime to provide that timber without irreparably decimating the Reserves; there were disagreements after the war as to how successful they had been. The labor force of the hills was also severely strained until 1919 because these districts provided many of the recruits for the Indian Army. By the end of the war, relations between the Forest Department and the hill people were seriously strained. Shortly thereafter, when Mahatma Gandhi initiated the first nationwide NonCooperation Campaign against the empire, the hill people turned their protest on the restrictive forest laws as the expression of the colonial system which most directly touched their lives. From 1921 onward the issue of forest use became more highly politicized, and the ecological viability of the western Himalayas more seriously endangered.

Notes 1. The best general survey is O.H.K. Spate and A.T. Learmonth, India and Pakistan: A General and Regional Geography, 3rd ed. (London: Methuen, 1967). The standard regional work is Augusto Gansser, Geology of the Himalayas (London: Interscience Publishers, 1964). 2. See S.P. Raychaudhuri, et al., Soils of India (New Delhi: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1963). 3. Gerald D. Berreman, Hindus of the Himalayas, 2nd ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), chapter 2. 4. G.S. Puri, Indian Forest Ecology, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1938). 5. For a few species whose terminology has changed over the past century, both the nineteenth-century name and the more recently adopted name are indicated.

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6. For the pre-British history of Kumaon and Garhwal, see E.T. Atkinson, The Himalayan Gazeteer, 3 vols. (Allahabad: Government Press, 1882), vol. 2, chapters 3–7. For pre-British Himachal, see John Hutchison and J.P. Vogel, History of the Panjab Hill States (Lahore: Government Press, 1933). 7. M.I. Husain, “The Formation of British Land Revenue Policy in the Ceded and Conquered Provinces of Northern India, 1801–13” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1963–64); Thomas R. Metcalf, Land, Landlords, and the British Raj: Northern India in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979); Walter Neale, Economic Change in Rural India: Land Tenure and Reform in Uttar Pradesh, 1800–1955 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973). In Sir Auckland Colvin, Memorandum on the Revision of Land Revenue Settlements in the Northwest Provinces (Calcutta: Government Press, 1872), we find statistics on the expansion of cultivation, but they are approximate; and he explicitly excludes the Kumaon Hill Division as being too problematical to calculate. 8. C.M. Johri, Working Plan for the Gorakhpur Forest Division, United Provinces, 1944–45 to 1953–54 (Lucknow, 1949). 9. Ibid., p. 27. 10. Elizabeth Whitcombe, Agrarian Conditions in Northern India, vol. 1, The United Provinces under British Rule, 1860–1900 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972). Also Ian Stone, “Canal Irrigation and Agrarian Change: The Ganges Canal Tract, Muzaffarnagar, 1840–1900,” in K.N. Chaudhuri and Clive Dewey, eds, Economy and Society (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979). 11. William Hoey, A Monograph on Trade and Manufactures in Northern India (Lucknow: American Methodist Mission Press, 1880). 12. Atkinson, Himalayan Gazetteer, 3: 463–87, discusses the early Revenue Settlements of Kumaon. For full detail see G.W. Traill, “Statistical Sketch of Kamaon,” Asiatic Researches 16 (1828): 137–234. 13. A. Ross, Report on the Settlement of Dehra Dun (Agra, 1852). 14. J. O’B. Becket, Report on the Revision of Settlement in the Kumaon District… 1863–73 (Allahabad: Settlement Department, 1874). Key elements of this analysis which remain to be done, if they ever can be, are how much of the expansion of tilled land came at the expense of forested land and which species of trees were lost. Even the statistics of land under corps, though detailed from the 1870s onwards, are very unreliable. Several specialists on the subject have recently assured us that the intricacy and seeming completeness of agricultural statistics primarily reflect lower level bureaucrats’ desires to meet their superiors’ demands, rather than a reliable knowledge

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15. 16. 17. 18.

19. 20. 21. 22.

23.

24.

25. 26. 27.

28. 29.

of conditions on the land. For non-agricultural land the data are even less certain. Because waste land produced little revenue and was an afterthought in theories of economic and rural development, data-hunters’ attention to it was approximate, even arbitrary, until well after independence. B.H. Farmer, Agricultural Colonization in India since Independence (London: Oxford University Press, 1974). Chap. 1. This applies to the plains; in the mountains the picture is still more tenuous. G.R.C. Williams, Historical and Statistical Memoir of Dehra Dun (Roorkee, 1874), pp. 266–67. Frederick H. Gaige, Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975). E.K. Pauw, Report on the Tenth Settlement of Garhwal District, 1896, pp. 68–74. Robert Fortune, “Report upon the Tea Plantations of Dehra, Kumaon and Gurhwal, 1851,” in Selections from the Records of Government North-Western Provinces (Allahabad: Government Press, 1869), 5: 409. See also W. Jameson, “Government Tea Plantation,” in the same volume. Fortune, “Report,” pp. 420–21. Becket, Report, p. 63. Statement Exhibiting the Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India during the Year 1913–14 (London, 1915), p. 47. J.D. Herbert, “Report of the Mineralogical Survey of the Himalaya Mountains Lying between the Rivers Sutlej and Kalee,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 11 (1842): xxxiv. G.S. Lushington, “Account of the Experiment Carried on at the Pokree Copper Mine, Ghurwal,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 12 ( June 1843): 454. J. Strachey, “Note Regarding Forests and Fuel in Kumaon and Gurhwal,” Papers Regarding the Forests and Iron Mines in Kumaon (Allahabad, 1855), pp. 14–15. Pauw, Report, p. 9. J.H. Batten, “Minutes on Iron Mines in Kumaon,” August 1855, Papers Regarding the Forests and Iron Mines in Kumaon, pp. 7, 9. For greater detail see Richard Tucker, “The Forests of the Western Himalayas: The Legacy of British Colonial Administration,” Journal of Forest History ( July 1982). Reginald Heber, Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1849), 1: 274. “Private Forests in Dehra Dun,” Indian Forester (April 1884): 151–53.

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30. U.P.S. Verma, Working Plan of the Tehri Forest Division, Garhwal Circle, Uttar Pradesh, 1973–74 to 1982–83; V.B. Singh, Working Plan of the Uttarkashi Forest Division, 1961–62 to 1975–76, p. 43; Forest Lease of Chamba State, 1885. 31. L. Gisborne Smith, Report on the Forests of Pangi, Chamba State, 1891, pp. 6–8; Forest Lease of Chamba State, 1886. 32. For further detail see Richard Tucker, “Forest Management and Imperial Politics: Thana District, Bombay, 1823–1887,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 16 (September 1979), 273–300. 33. See Peter Harnetty, Imperialism and Free Trade: Lancashire and India in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1972), for cotton and content. See also Michelle Burge McAlphin, “Railroads, Cultivation Patterns and Food Grain Availability in India, 1860–1900,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 12 (1975): 43–60. 34. John Hurd, “Railways and the Expansion of Markets in India, 1861–1921,” Explorations in Economic History 12 (1975): 267. 35. John M. Hurd, “Irrigation and Railways: Railways,” in Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai, eds, The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). 36. Charles L. Keaton, King Thebaw and the Ecological Rape of Burma (New Delhi: Manohar, 1974). 37. Dietrich Brandis, “Memorandum on the Supply of Railway Sleepers of the Himalayan Pines Impregnated in India,” October 1878, p. 367. 38. A.C. Gupta, Working Plan for the Pilibhit Forest Division, Central Circle, Uttar Pradesh, 1971–72 to 1980–81, pp. 94–99. 39. By the 1890s there was a gradual change to the use of coal on India’s railways. No study has yet assessed the volume of timber fuel which could be dispensed with thereafter. 40. The standard history of the Indian Forest Service is E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, 3 vols. (London: John Lane, 1922–26). 41. Review of Forest Administration in British India for the Year 1870–71 (hereafter RFA), pp. 4–7. 42. Brandis, “Memorandum,” p. 372. 43. RFA, 1870–71, p. 29. 44. RFA, 1882–83, pp. 28–29; RFA, 1884–85, pp. 32–33. At the same time it was calculated that each mile of railway used 1,800 to 2,000 sleepers and the average life of a sleeper was about ten years. In later years fewer new railways were built, but the annual number of replacement sleepers steadily increased. Calculations of the net impact of this shift over the years have not yet been made.

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45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.

51. 52.

53. 54. 55.

56.

57.

Brandis, “Memorandum,” p. 376. Ibid., p. 377. Ibid., p. 383. Campbell Walker, “The Introduction of Saw Machinery into Our Indian Forests,” in Simla Forest Conference, 1875, pp. 69–72. Working plans for each forest division give full details of the system. E.M. Coventry, “Report on the Timber Trade in Punjab,” Revenue and Agriculture Proceedings, F. No. 75 of 1897 (March 1897), National Archives of India. Leighton Hazelhurst, Entrepreneurship and the Merchant Castes in a Punjabi City (Durham: Duke University Press, 1966). For further detail, see Richard Tucker, “The Historical Context of Social Forestry in Kumaon, Western Himalayas,” paper presented to American Association for the Advancement of Science, January 1982. Working plans for each forest division give details. Stebbing, 2: 461–84. Forest Department reports in the later years present an additional puzzle, concerning the amount of timber harvested for fuelwood, sugar refineries, hill towns and villagers’ subsistence. The figures suggest that in many years as much fuelwood as commercial timber was harvested, but the statistics fluctuate widely and irregularly. RFA, 1901–02, p. 28; RFA, 1908–09, p. 48. This important issue will be explored more fully in a future paper. See United Provinces Forest Department, Progress Report on the Resin Industry in the Kumaon and Utilization Circles, annual publication since 1918; and E.A. Smythies, “The Resin industry in Kumaon,” Forest Bulletin No. 26 (Calcutta, 1914). RFA, 1882–83, pp. 31–32.

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IV The Historical Context of Social Forestry in the Kumaon Himalayas∗

O

ver the past decade the inexorable deforestation of the Third World has preoccupied those working on planning and research in many centers. It has become common knowledge that a firewood famine has hit the large portion of humanity who still use wood fuel for cooking and heating.1 In fact, the Third World’s efforts even to grow adequate food are jeopardized by the shrinking of forest resources. Villagers in many countries perceive that their subsistence is threatened first by private timber traders and second by governmental bureaucracies. Rural social conflict for centuries centered on access to agricultural land, but in the late twentieth century it increasingly focuses on forest and grazing rights. Especially where modernizing bureaucracies have laid systematic claim to management of nonagricultural lands, conflict between villagers and foresters has become a repeated dilemma for resource planners. In many peasant societies within the last ten years, planners have designed agroforestry, social forestry, or community forestry programs in attempts to harness the cooperative energies of foresters and villagers to sustain their fuelwood supplies.2 There have been some notable successes in expanding woodlots of fast-growing fuel and fodder trees. In many of the new social forestry efforts in Africa and southern Asia, however, we do not yet have clear information on the results of the pilot projects or, almost as important, on their socioeconomic dynamics. *Originally published as “The Historical Roots of Social Forestry in the Kumaon Himalayas,” Journal of Developing Areas, 18(3) (April 1984), pp. 341–56.

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Far more is involved in what happens in any social forestry project than just the professional tools and objectives of foresters and the annual material needs of the villagers. The broader setting includes the division of forestland ownership and use, and power struggles—struggles between landed and landless villagers, between rural and urban people, between hill forests and plains markets, or between village communities and governmental machinery. Furthermore, most social forestry plans have little historical perspective on the roots of conflict among villagers, forest contractors, and professional foresters. The participants themselves, however, have long memories of competition and conflict. These memories are evoked regularly when foresters enforce restrictive laws, contractors underpay local labor or overcut timber, or villagers gather fuelwood after midnight. In Third World countries now politically freed from a colonial past, there is yet another factor in history’s ecological legacy. There, as in Europe, peasant resistance to outside authority has been a repeated feature of rural life.3 Governments’ gradual extension of their powers of taxation and land-use regulation, including the extraction of forest wealth, long antedated the West’s adventures in extracting the Third World’s forest wealth. Colonial regimes had world markets at hand, however, making it profitable to control forest resources in the colonies.4 The first colonial forestry service was established in Dutch Indonesia in the 1840s, for export of teak to Europe. Shortly thereafter, in the 1850s and 1860s, when railways and expanding urban markets led to sudden shortages of marketable hardwoods, the British organized India’s forest service, but effective reforestation and sustained-yield management of India’s hardwood forests came into direct conflict with peasants’ traditional uses of the forested hill tracts. The forest law of 1878 declared that the twin and equal goals of forest management were to be peasants’ needs for fuel and fodder and wider commercial markets. Hence, out of the British experience in India came the best-documented history of relations between villagers and foresters and thus the history of the fuelwood crisis. One of the earliest confrontations, dating from at least 1916, arose in the Kumaon hills of the western Himalayas. It led to one of the earliest formal village forestry systems in India, and it remains one of the most intensely debated social forestry programs in existence. 93

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Forestry in the Kumaon Himalayas The present state of Uttar Pradesh (or U.P., as it is usually called) dominates the central Ganges plains. Its fertile but overused soils sustain nearly 100 million people. The Ganges basin as a whole supports well over 200 million people. India’s ability to feed itself depends to an important degree on the food raised in the Gangetic plains, and that ultimately depends on the ecological stability of both the tilled plains and their semiforested watersheds primarily in the Himalayan districts of India and Nepal. As the Himalayan forests have declined, so has their capacity to mitigate flooding from the annual monsoon rains and to store the rains for gradual release into the branches of the great river during the long dry season. In the unusually severe flood year of 1978 the Indian government spent approximately one billion dollars in floodcontrol and flood-relief programs. The recent national commission on floods reported that the area of land subject to flooding nationwide expanded from some 20 million hectares in 1971 to an alarming 40 million hectares a decade later.5 For the downriver districts of the Ganges system, then, the stakes in watershed stabilization in the Himalayas are indeed high. The eight hill districts of U.P. are thus crucial, for they control headwaters of several major branches of the Ganges system, and they have been under central government control since the British conquest in 1815. Four of those districts, collectively called Garhwal, had a separate history during the colonial era, because much of the area was controlled by the Maharaja of Tehri, not directly by the British.6 The four present districts of Kumaon were far more directly influenced by colonial economic and administrative development. Not surprisingly, political struggles over control of forest wealth were far more intense in Kumaon, both at the district level, where nationalist politicians joined Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Campaigns by protesting the forest law; and at the village level, where local landowners struggled to keep forest use under the control of village councils rather than the Forest Department. Before modern logging began in the mountain region in the 1840s, the subsistence population of the region placed no significant burden on its forest resources. In pre-British times there was no system of individual ownership of nontilled land.7 The local rajas held the power 94

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to allocate forest use, but forest and grazing lands were so much vaster than the villagers’ demands on them that they were generally treated as an unregulated commons. Even during early British times, dense malarial jungle in the tarai at the foot of the hills prevented much commercial penetration except along the main river routes. In most of settled Kumaon, both population and agriculture expanded slowly enough before World War I that villagers had little trouble finding wood products and grazing lands to meet their daily needs. Traill, the British commissioner who established the legal precedents for land and resource use there in the 1820s, encouraged villagers to reclaim deserted agricultural terraces and open new fields to the plow.8 One technique was to grant outright ownership to any villager who would continuously plow former village common lands. Beyond that, nothing was done to stabilize control of grazing and forest lands. In the early revenue settlements cadastral surveys were limited to lands in or near settled villages. All other lands, formerly controlled by the local hill rajas, were so extensive that neither villagers nor revenue officials as yet paid much attention to ownership or usufruct claims. The first signs of change appeared in the 1840s, when British timber merchants began harvesting conifer forests in the upper reaches of several Ganges tributaries.9 By the late 1850s Traill’s successor, Ramsay, began systematically organizing timber management in the lower Siwalik hills, hoping to concentrate logging and new settlement there and limit indiscriminate logging on the more fragile soils of the higher mountains. His moves were well timed, for the great era of railway construction, beginning in north India in the 1860s, generated a demand for hundreds of thousands of trees annually, a demand that continues today. The government of British India organized the colonial world’s first and ultimately most sophisticated Forest Department in the 1860s, primarily to manage the supply of timber for India’s vast railway network and for other long-range commercial uses.10 The early foresters had little doubt that the villagers’ subsistence needs could also be well met if efficient systems of forest use were established. India’s first comprehensive Forest Act in 1878 was designed for that dual purpose. Despite its multipurpose intentions, the 1878 Act produced a polarization between the Forest Department and villagers that accelerated the decline of forests. Until then there had been almost no regulation of 95

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villagers’ access to any forest for grazing, fuelwood, construction timber, and their other needs. Now, however the Forest Department was empowered to designate reserved forests, a process that took several decades to complete. In the reserves villagers no longer had “rights,” but only “privileges,” which could be restricted according to the foresters’ assessments of the forests’ needs.11 The foresters were becoming specialists in timber production like their counterparts in Europe and North America. In their determination to control the reserves, they constructed a hierarchy from British professional foresters down to forest guards recruited from local villages, who became the first police force of any sort in the history of the hills. From their training programs to their uniforms the forestry hierarchy emphasized efficiency, discipline, and authority. The villagers of Kumaon soon came to see the Forest Department primarily as a machinery of repression. Their natural response was either to evade the forest rangers and guards, which was rarely difficult in the wide-ranging hills, or to bribe or intimidate the low-paid guards into overlooking what were now labeled “forest offenses.” By 1880, senior British foresters were well aware that many of their employees were corruptible, but within the authoritarian framework they were rarely able to do much about it. This factor, as much as silvicultural necessity, caused their preoccupation with forest offenses and the punishment of offenders.12 The 1878 law did not give the Forest Department the same authority over unreserved forests. These tracts, including many small blocks of degraded forests near village agricultural lands, had little commercial potential. Over the years they have gone under various titles; for simplicity here they will be given two labels: Civil Forests, administered by the Revenue Department and available for expansion of agriculture, and Panchayat Forests, controlled by the villages, many of which had already lost much of their tree cover and served primarily for low-productivity grazing of village livestock. Together those unreserved forests were critical for the village economy, as well as for the soil and water resources of the hill region as a whole. As later events were to show, the Civil and Panchayat Forests remained almost entirely unplanned in their use. All that could be said for the system was that it eliminated the need for direct confrontation between foresters and villagers in the unreserved forests, but the lands themselves slowly deteriorated. 96

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Before World War I the major issue was what the system of reserved forests meant for the Pahari or hill populace. We can make some estimations of the relative benefits and disadvantages of the reserves for the villagers and their perceptions of the system’s operation. The first reserves in the Kumaon were a series of small tracts that were demarcated in the 1890s, primarily as fuelwood reserves for several expanding colonial towns and military cantonments in the hills.13 Their total extent was only a few thousand acres, and they were designated in high timber where there were relatively few pressures from nearby villages. The principal issue there concerned the timber contractors and commercial logging. The system of timber extraction necessitated close cooperation between the Forest Department and the contractors. In some reserved forests the logging work was done by the Forest Department itself, and the timber sold in annual auctions at foothills depot towns. More often the Forest Department did not have the personnel to carry out logging on its own; instead, it auctioned the right to harvest marked trees in preannounced tracts each year. The winning bidders sent their own crews into the hills to cut the purchased trees. Several aspects of the contracting system led villagers to conclude that they were under pressure from a hostile alliance, even though the foresters rarely perceived the situation in that light. First, very few of the contractors were hill men before 1920; traders with the necessary capital plus access to lowland trading networks were from Meerut, Lucknow, Bareilly, or other cities of the U.P. plains. The Pahari people’s traditional resistance to interference by outsiders was reinforced by the awareness that both contractors and forest managers held authority and wealth based in the plains. Further, under the system of auctioning standing timber, contractors became notorious for bribing or intimidating local forest guards and removing far more trees than they had formally been allocated. There was little the Forest Department could do or chose to do about this pattern, which has persisted to the present. Although Forest Department files include voluminous records of villagers stealing wood or fodder, letting livestock graze on reserved forests, or setting fire to dry grasslands, the files say virtually nothing about illegal actions of the contractors. Another issue also appeared around the turn of the century to cause conflict between the commercial and subsistence interests; this one has 97

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become increasingly intense in recent years. One purpose of the reserves was to enable the Forest Department to replant forests that would be commercially valuable and would stabilize the soil and water regime. From the first forest plantations of the late nineteenth century, the predominant method of reforestation has been monoculture, usually species of little use to local villagers. The most valuable timber species of the plains and foothills was sal (Shorea robusta), a broadleaf hardwood which was the Railway Department’s perennial first choice for sleepers (crossties) on its north Indian system. In the Siwalik foothills and the tarai jungles there were few permanent villages. Hence there was little conflict with villagers over the sal plantations before World War I. A second type of monoculture tree plantation has caused far greater conflict since the early years of this century. In the middle elevations of settled Kumaon the dominant conifer is the chir pine (Pinus longifolia), which produces the finest resin on the subcontinent. Resin tapping on a commercial scale began around 1906, and by 1920 the Forest Department had built India’s largest resin-processing factory near Bareilly, not far below outer Kumaon. For the Forest Department and its labor contractors, the chir forests held the promise of sustained, largescale revenue; resin products were filling a steadily expanding range of uses around India and in industrial Europe. For the villagers, however, the chir pine had little attraction. Its needles formed a thick mat on the forest floor that inhibited the growth of grasses for their livestock. Its wood was less desirable for fuel and timber than other species. Above all, chir competed with several species of oak (Quercus spp.) that gave leaves for fodder and mulch, and limbs for construction and fuel. Where the oak forests have not been renewed or adequately protected in the Kumaon hills, the village economy has become increasingly precarious. Annual forestry reports for the hill region made persistent efforts to demonstrate that the chir forests and resin industry were highly beneficial to the villagers by providing wage labor, in a region where other sources of money wages had only begun to penetrate. Nevertheless, the department’s arguments and their elaborate supporting statistics at best only mitigated the villagers’ discontent. Private merchants who purchased resin-collecting contracts evidently preferred to import outside labor, from the plains or other hill regions, just as they did for much of 98

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the timber labor. Outsiders would work for lower wages, and they were more “reliable,” not being tied into the local agricultural cycle’s labor demands.

The Political Challenge of the Nationalist Movement Many forces were operating in the hills to transform the pattern of nonagricultural labor. Indirectly these forces produced destructive effects on Kumaon’s forests during and after World War I, and this in turn precipitated the Social Forestry movement there in the 1920s. The first open conflict arose over the tradition of begar, or unpaid coolie labor, which the colonial regime had adapted from its predecessors, the Princely States of both hills and plains. Begar was the north Indian term for corvee labor, which had been required of all landowning peasants in lieu of money taxes. In the Kumaon hills a vast majority of the male population were landowning small peasants, living in a rather more egalitarian society than in the plains below. In a region where there were almost no motorable or all-weather roads, begar was demanded by the British to meet the needs of both government officials and private travelers on tour. A hunting holiday might require forty or more porters for two couples. Forest and revenue officers on tour usually moved with less elaborate trains, but they were more frequent. Villagers were required to provide unpaid begar whenever it was demanded, regardless of the point in the annual agricultural cycle. In the early years of the century nationalist leaders began to question the justice of this system. When World War I broke out, the system came under sudden and intolerable pressures. Thousands of hill men left with the Garhwal Rifles for military duty around the empire. Thousands more were needed for the emergency timber harvests required for wartime use. By 1915 the first young nationalist political leaders of the Kumaon hill towns found it a worthy issue. Protesting against begar, they called it forced labor and demanded the end of the “feudal” system. In 1916 an organization was founded in the hills which established teams of coolies to work for set wages, and by 1919 the first Congress political spokesmen in Naini Tal and Almora joined the struggle to abolish begar, with the 99

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blessing of nationalist leaders such as Gandhi and C.F. Andrews.14 One of the new spokesmen was Govind Ballabh Pant, the rising young lawyer and journalist from Kumaon who later became chief minister of U.P. after independence. By 1919 there was a clear threat of labor strikes. The provincial government responded quickly, organizing a new system of paid coolie labor in 1921.15 In the early 1920s, the begar system was phased out in the hills long before this occurred in some of the Princely States of the plains below. Repercussions of the begar controversy on the forest conflict were severe, however. Forest Department officials used the coolies, both on official tour and on holiday, and they were often the only officials on the spot, making arrangements for other British travelers to tour the hills and stay at Forest Department rest houses. Further, as the Forest Department’s administrative cadre had expanded to manage the reserved forests, its demands on coolie labor had expanded correspondingly. The tightening link between the begar controversy and the expansion of reserved forests led toward the greatest ecological disaster in Kumaon’s history, the forest fires of 1921, whose damage was keyed to the specific composition of forests at various elevations. Facing increased pressure on the forests for both commercial and subsistence uses, the Forest Department continued to survey woodlands for expansion of the reserves. Between 1911 and 1916, they completed working plans for a vast increase in the reserves, which they had the legal power to implement under the 1878 law. Under wartime pressures, the Forest Department initiated these “New Reserves” by 1916, most of them in the middle hills, at the same elevations as the most dense villages and productive agricultural land of Kumaon. Time and again in the modern management of India’s forests, the danger of open hostility between officials and villagers has been at its greatest just when reserves are established, villagers’ access to them is restricted within a short transitional period, and their grazing and gathering are forced into new molds. Unfortunately for the hills of Kumaon, the New Reserves were established at a time of maximum political and climatic stress, for the war years were unusually dry, exacerbating the food scarcities brought on by the war.

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The hot dry months between February and June are the most difficult of the year for forest management, even in ordinary years. This is the season when villagers burn the dry grasses to encourage vigorous new growth of fodder in the early monsoon rains of June and July. There is always danger that the grass fires will spread into the forests, destroying young seedlings or even mature trees. The year 1916 was a dangerous one for initiating new forest reserves. The dry months that year saw the first example of forest fires set by the Pahari people not just for their annual grazing cycle but to protest the new restrictions. Forest Department records and other materials make only terse references to these fires, but the acreage burned that year included thousands of acres beyond the usual annual grass fires.16 It was an ominous precedent for the fires of 1921. After the war’s end in late 1918, political tensions between the colonial government and the Indian National Congress led to the first national Non-Cooperation Campaign, led by Mahatma Gandhi and based on his principle that it was patriotic to resist illegitimate and repressive colonial laws. By early 1921 many districts of U.P. were in ferment and the provincial government in Lucknow feared the worst from peasant protest movements. In Kumaon the protest centered on the begar controversy until that was resolved, but then it quickly shifted to the forest reserves, which seemed to the Pahari people to strip away their ancestral subsistence rights.17 The early months of 1921 were the hottest and driest in many years. By January, young Congress leaders were urging the population to resist what they called the abrupt and arbitrary new forest regulations. In this incendiary atmosphere, the hills were suddenly in flames. Within a few weeks, in March and April, thousands of acres of forest in Kumaon burned out of control, and many more forest areas burned as far northwest as the Kangra valley of the Punjab hills.18 The most intense fires were in the young sal plantations of the lower hills, where thirty years’ Forest Department work was destroyed almost overnight. Dry pine forests of the higher hills vanished in smoke as well. The provincial government, the Forest Department, and Congress leaders all were appalled at the damage. Congress spokesmen insisted

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that no one had intended such a holocaust. The Forest Department responded that the fires showed an organized effort of the Kumaoni people and their leaders to destroy their own future in an ignorant effort to undermine a progressive administration. The anguish of professional foresters, helpless to preserve their wooded heritage, was just beginning. The U.P. government under seemingly revolutionary pressure in all parts of the province established a commission of inquiry to recommend measures that would defuse the danger in the hills before the next dry season. The Forest Grievance Commission toured extensively through Kumaon, interviewing officials, Congress spokesmen in the towns, and village landowners in the hills. The issue of grazing rights was especially controversial in the testimony gathered by the commission. Villagers complained that grazing areas left open to them in the new reserves were far less than their livestock required and were often far distant from the villages.19 The Forest Department responded that regeneration of the forests, whether natural regrowth or artificial planting, absolutely necessitated closing recently logged tracts to grazing for several years at a time. Its defense was that nearly all forests in Kumaon were open to grazing for all or part of every year, and the closures were carefully rotated so as not to cause villagers hardship.20 The commission’s report largely sided with the villagers and their political spokesmen in the hill towns. It recommended in effect that the new reserves be taken from the Forest Department and either returned to the Revenue Department or given directly to the villages for control by their panchayats, the village councils. Henceforth forests should be designated either Class I, which were of little commercial value but might be significant for preserving vital watersheds, or Class II, which held commercially valuable stands of timber but had few demands from villagers. In the first case, very little would be done to manage the forests, beyond occasional inspection by the Revenue Department. In the second, the Forest Department would retain control but be stripped of its powers to regulate grazing or the lopping of oak branches, except in very limited regeneration areas.21 Everyone knew that the Revenue Department, if given control of forest areas, would allow steady expansion of agriculture at the expense of tree 102

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cover in these undemarcated forests. It could do little else, for without the Forest Department’s expertise it had no capacity to administer them as forests. Nor was it often interested: agriculture, not timber, brought returns to the Revenue Department. Forest Department spokesmen pleaded with the commission not to be stampeded into a decision that would consign many hillsides to permanent barrenness. Nevertheless, the commission listened to the Revenue officials, who were responsible for civil order as well as finance, and to Congress leaders and village spokesmen, all of whom found the reserved forests a convenient target. The government in Lucknow eagerly agreed to the proposal after minimal debate; the commission’s report had the political virtues of being decisive and clear-cut. From early 1922 onward, thousands of acres of reserves were no longer systematically managed as forests.22 The Forest Department concluded in 1922: Under existing circumstances the ultimate disappearance of these forests is quite certain. The intelligentsia of Kumaon appear to think that the community will shortly become so alive to their own interests that they will themselves undertake protection. What agency is going to control the irresponsible Kumaonis is not stated. This department does not share the comfortable convictions of these leaders.23

The New Village Forests As the 1920s wore on, the Forest Department had to modify its bitter sense of loss in the face of the movement to establish panchayat control over the Class I forests. The 1922 policy had stated that the areas returned to that designation, henceforth usually called Civil Forests, should be run wherever possible by village panchayats, “communal rules, if possible, being eventually introduced.”24 This was the beginning of social forestry in the Himalayan region, for the Forest Department was urged to make its technical services available for assistance to the villages, if they chose to request the foresters’ advice. By the mid-1920s the Forest Department, faced with the reality of the changed situation, adapted its strategies in a somewhat more conciliatory direction. It began encouraging a program of forest-extension education, to attempt to alert villagers to what it saw as their long-range interest. In the words of a 1926 report: 103

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Improvement can now only come by the education and growth of public opinion.... It was the intelligentsia of Kumaon who fanned the flame of anti-Forest feeling and the fact that they are now reported to be on the road to appreciating the dependence of Kumaon for its existence on its forests is small consolation for the damage they have encouraged.25

This was a skeptical recognition of what many others had come to insist— namely, that no strategy of forestry management could possibly thrive without the committed cooperation of the nearby villagers. Yet the village forests were still not being served well. Extension education under the Forest Department was poorly funded and largely neglected for many years, while the department turned its primary energies to preservation and sustained-yield logging of those forests still under its control. It was not often invited to advise villages that began attempting to manage their own degraded woodlands. The titles “Village Forests” and “Panchayat Forests” are not descriptive labels but legal designations. They do not indicate which vegetation pattern the land supports but define which organizational entity has control of them. Even in the 1920s most Panchayat Forests had at best only a few scrub trees; any village was severely disadvantaged from the start if it wanted to grow a new crop of timber or fodder trees. Organizationally, however, the opportunity was there after 1929, the year when the provincial government set up procedures for organizing village forest panchayats. The government designated one Revenue Department official as Kumaon Forest protection officer and sent him to Madras to study the southern presidency’s system of village forests, which had been the first in India some twenty years before. After his return, his work was to tour the hill region encouraging villages to establish forest panchayats.26 Organizationally the work was not easy. The protection officer had to determine whether each projected forest panchayat would encompass lands of one or several villages. He had to resolve landownership disputes between individuals or villages on forest and grazing lands where many boundaries had never been precisely established. At least in contrast with today, he was empowered to act quickly, making binding decisions on the spot. That done, he had to arrange for all the affected landholders to elect a three- to nine-man panchayat. When established, a forest panchayat had the power to sell products from its lands and the 104

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punitive power to fine trespassers or seize their cutting tools or cattle. The Forest Department was to be available for technical advice only. Under this system the hope that any forest panchayat would manage its trees and grasses well depended on an intricate set of relations: between the Revenue Department’s forest protection officer and the Forest Department, between government officials and villagers, between frequently competitive villages, and within the faction patterns of each village. The 1922 legislation had taken one more step designed to defuse tensions: it formed the Kumaon Forest Advisory Committee to work with the government on forest management and appointed influential citizens of the hill districts to it. Meeting several times a year, from 1930 onward the committee encouraged the forest panchayat movement, and so increasingly did officials, sensing the political importance of the panchayats. By 1937, 182 villages had forest panchayats, and though the district commissioner had the power to dissolve any forest panchayat for corruption, crippling factionalism, or inactivity, only a handful were ever actually dissolved. In addition, several hundred other villages formed unofficial forest panchayats in the 1930s, preferring to avoid the formalities of official supervision.27 The Forest Department was rarely consulted by either sort of panchayat, for its priorities were still at odds with villagers’ needs. Even in its most detailed administrative reports, the department in later years has devoted only a few paragraphs to the subject, having concluded that panchayat forestry was outside its sphere of responsibility. A pattern of administration by avoidance was evolving: the various interests whose cooperation was essential for effective natural resource management chose to minimize conflict by minimizing their working contacts with each other. Over the years after 1930, some forest panchayats in the oak and long-needled pine belt of Kumaon had some success in spite of all these obstacles, regulating grazing so as to improve the fodder crop or harvesting their own timber and investing the profits in village-improvement projects. In the higher mountain districts of the north many of the conifer and oak forests were less degraded and retained great financial potential for commercial harvest after 1930. In some northern areas, the local culture of the villages also seems to have stressed consensual 105

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decision making as well. Some forest panchayats in remote Pithoragarh District are said to have been effective for many years in regulating the subsistence system of their hills. One experienced rural-development specialist in rural Pithoragarh asserts that this success was the consequence of the absence of roads there. The lack of motorable roads until recently, he notes dryly, prevented outside contractors from devastating the mountainsides and, equally important, discouraged visitation of the higher hills by officials with the capacity to impose delays and bureaucratic objections on the villagers.28 World War II and the difficult transition to independence brought new pressures to the forests of the western Himalayas, and any new pressure had at least indirect influences on the viability of village forestry.29 The Forest Department was required to harvest timber far in excess of the thirty- to eighty-year cycles that its working plans had established, but by 1945 its evaluations of its own wartime operations concluded that little permanent damage had been done in the reserved forests. The severe damage had occurred in neither government nor village forests, but in the remaining miscellaneous woodlands under private ownership. Under wartime conditions prices for fuelwood and construction timber in the urban markets of northern India rose to unprecedented levels. Private contractors could make fortunes in one season by dealing directly with individual owners, often bypassing the Forest Department entirely. Nevertheless, villagers and political organizers in the hills often insisted that there was little difference between independent contractors and those who worked closely with the Forest Department, bringing in outside labor to purchase and market timber from the department’s auctions. As early as 1930 or so, the timber auctions began to be the scene of confrontations between local people and the forester–contractor coalition. Villagers would picket auctions or demonstrate against what they called the oppression of foreign rulers in league with unscrupulous commercial interests from the plains. There were also threats of labor boycotts at the lumbering sites in the hills, but these were evidently not carried out. Patriotic sentiment in Kumaon was coming to have a combined anti-British and anti-plains character.30 The war years left a legacy

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of Pahari people’s hostility to the contractors over labor policies as great as its hostility to the Forest Department’s powers. None of this changed much after the transition to independence though it brought Indian forestry professionals into complete control of the forest service in 1947.

Trends since Independence The end of British rule in 1947 did not mean an abrupt break in the administration of India’s forests, since the professional cadre of the Indian Forest Service had been transformed into a largely Indian unit over the previous twenty years, and many people considered that the U.P. forest service was the elite of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, the broad context of forest use was changing with the advent of representative democracy. From 1947 onward foresters had to respond more directly to elected officials and the men who had put them in power, men who often were eager to reduce or eliminate the forest restrictions that had become associated with arbitrary colonial rule. Moreover, the new government under Prime Minister Nehru was committed to rapid industrialization and agricultural expansion. Even the formerly marginal hill region saw accelerated road building and population expansion from the 1950s onward. From 1901 to 1951 the hill population had grown by 46 percent; from 1951 to 1981 it grew another 80 percent.31 With these trends came the extension of tilled land onto ever more marginal hillsides, usually at the expense of denuded commons, and with little innovation in farming methods. The same territory was asked to grow more food, at the expense of designated forest lands.32 In this setting any effort to grow more fuelwood and fodder on village forest lands faced severe obstacles. In the years after independence there were two major changes in the legal structure of Kumaon village forests. The first concerned the private forests. Because of the dismal record of their cutting during the war, foresters and others around India pressed successfully for legislation giving the government the right to manage private timber stands. In 1952, the U.P. government transferred management of each private forest to either the Forest Department or the village forest panchayats.33

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The second change was to end the neglect of the civil forests, for they too were reaching the point of total denudation. For many decades the Kumaon Nayabad and Waste Land Act had encouraged villagers to open new soil to the plow (the nayabad land); in return they ultimately gained full ownership of the tilled plots. This policy of the Revenue Department, which dated from Traill’s time in the 1820s, long since had been outdated by the disappearance of trees from the civil forests. In 1957, new legislation declared that no further nayabad grants were to be made. Finally, in 1964 another law transferred the civil forests to village control, wherever villages could follow stipulated procedures so as to qualify for panchayat forest management. All other civil forests were given to the Forest Department for management. Hence, since 1964 there have been two major categories of forest lands, those under commercial management by the Forest Department and those primarily for subsistence use controlled by the villages.34 The steady increase in the number of forest panchayats is indicative of the rural population’s interest or at least their resistance to bureaucratic control. At independence in 1947, the official panchayats alone numbered 741; a year later that had grown to 1,043. By 1966 there were 2,185, controlling an average of approximately one square kilometer each.35 The Forest Department was eager to gain control of the maximum possible extent of civil forests. One of its goals was to manage the vanishing oak forests more effectively, but in this context its continuing orientation towards the villagers is evident. As one recent working plan expresses it, the oak stands … are very important forests, as they act as a store house of water and are the source of many a perennial spring and thus help to maintain the water supply. Depredation on these forests by men and cattle has resulted in drying up of many springs and acute water shortage in many villages during summer months.36

From its inception the forest service in India has been committed to improving the quality of forest land.37 By the 1970s, however, after long decades in which foresters and villagers had often been adversaries, some foresters’ commitment to maintaining viable watersheds had hardened into a description of the villagers’ actions as “depredation of

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the forests.” A recent Forest Department study of the timber resources and watershed preservation strategies of the hill districts concludes that the forests under village control, fully one-third of the total forested area, have had no systematic management. It concludes: “The productivity capacity of these forests is not being utilized either for timber and firewood or for fodder.... The transfer of these forests to the forest department and their proper management to meet the demands of the people is an urgent necessity.”38 Under the long shadow of the decades’ struggle with the hill people, however, even the most sophisticated initiatives of the Forest Department are bound to meet great skepticism in the panchayats. This is even more true since 1973, when the village protest movement saw a resurgence in adjacent Garhwal, as the highly publicized Chipko movement. For a decade now, village women in upper Garhwal have been working with local organizers and allies as far away as New Delhi to end all commercial logging in the hills and provide both trees and jobs for the Pahari villagers before attempting to answer any other demand on the Himalayan forests. Chipko organizers have recently expanded their organization to work with forest panchayats in many villages of Kumaon and are looking beyond to the entire mountain region as far northwest as Kashmir.39 They charge the contractors with pervasive corruption in overcutting the trees in their contracts and underpaying their laborers. Their critiques of the Forest Department have been uncompromising and the department has responded with attitudes ranging from wariness to open hostility. Under these conditions, how do the forest panchayats operate today? Can there be effective cooperation between villagers and the Forest Department? The first detailed studies at the village level in Kumaon show that few forest panchayats have effective management programs yet.40 Part of the difficulty lies in the excessively bureaucratized approach of the government. Each forest panchayat has the power to designate part of its lands for social forestry management. Once a panchayat has defined certain lands, however, the proposal must go to the Revenue Department for a survey of its records to guarantee that the tract in question is in fact panchayat owned. This title check has often taken up to five years, leaving the villagers discouraged at the start. Even when it

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moves quickly, the villagers then have little control over their project. Forest officers usually form the details of a management plan, and in many cases villagers seem to know little or nothing of the plan and participate little in its formulation. Over the years the growth of elaborate governmental regulations has been designed in part to control what outsiders see as corruption or gross favoritism within the villages, though some villagers perceive the fight for control of profits as consistent with traditional social behavior on the land. Difficulties abound on both sides. There are profits for powerful villagers in work such as building boundary walls or fences. In all too many cases where planning has moved into action, aggressive panchayat chairmen control these valuable contracts for themselves or their families or castemates, undercutting all efforts at genuinely cooperative management. Beyond this there are still other barriers for foresters and villagers to surmount in order to work effectively together. In another move against corruption, regulations stipulate that any profits coming to the panchayats from sale of forest produce must be banked by officials. This is usually done in the form of five-year savings certificates, which gain favorable rates of interest but postpone the village’s effective use of its benefits almost indefinitely. Under these patterns, it is no wonder that most foresters see the social forestry program as one of the least desirable assignments they can have, rather than as a challenge to bring about effective working relations with villagers against the grain of a century’s habits.41 Where the social forestry program is taking hold in Kumaon’s villages, the key seems to be a familiar one. Unusually effective and evenhanded village leadership must be matched to a crusading forester who is unusually alert to the ways in which his professional style may inhibit active response from the villagers. Beyond this, third parties, such as local teachers, social workers, and perhaps even Chipko organizers, may be starting to play important catalytic roles in some areas. Still, progress has been slow against the background of over fifty years’ experience with forest panchayats, which usually would prefer to work separately from the professional foresters. Some forests are actually contributing more than they once did to rural subsistence; others still have major potential in their soils. More often, however, the social forestry 110

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program in Kumaon has not yet turned the corner toward preserving both a major watershed of the Ganges system and the viability of rural life in the hills.

Notes 1. Of the recent publications on the subject, none has alerted the wider public more effectively than Erik Eckholm, Losing Ground: Environmental Stress and World Food Prospects (New York: W.W. Norton, 1976). 2. For valuable surveys see Douglas F. Barnes, Julia C. Allen, and William Ramsay, Social Forestry in Developing Nations (Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1982); D. Wood et al., The Socioeconomic Context of Fuelwood Use in Small Rural Communities, Special Study no. 1 (Washington, DC: Agency for International Development, PPC, 1980); Michael Cernea, Land Tenure Systems and Social Implications of Forestry Development Programs, Staff Working Paper no. 452 (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1981). 3. References to forestland conflict abound in studies of European rural history. See Peter Linebaugh, “Karl Marx, the Theft of Wood, and Working Class Composition,” Crime and Social Justice (Fall–Winter 1976): 5–16. In France alone, forest protests erupted periodically for some 200 years. For examples, see Louis Clarenc, “Le Code forestier de 1827 et les troubles forestiers dans les Pyrenees centrales au milieu du XIXe siecle,” Annales de Midi 77 (1965): 293–317; John Merriman, “Les Demoiselles de l’Ariege,” in 1830 in France, ed. Merriman (London: Franklin Watts, 1975); and Ted W. Margadant, French Peasants in Revolt: The Insurrection of 1851 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 41–46. For references to structurally similar conflicts in Third World settings, see James Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), pp. 63–64, 135–36. 4. Richard P. Tucker and J.F. Richards, eds, Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth-Century World Economy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1983). 5. Report of the National Commission on Floods (New Delhi: Government of India, 1980); Raj Kumar Gupta, “Deforestation and Floods,” in International Society for Tropical Ecology, Souvenir, Silver Jubilee Symposium, 1982, pp. 32–41. 6. For the human ecology of the region see Raj Kumar Gupta, “Social-Economy of the Himalayan People in Relation to the Forests of Garhwal Himalayas,” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, India 33, sec. B, pt. 1 (1963), pp. 104–14.

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7. E.T. Atkinson, The Himalayan Gazetteer (Delhi: Cosmo Publications, reprint, 1973), vol. 2, chaps. 6, 7. 8. G.W. Traill, “Statistical Sketch of Kumaon,” Asiatic Researches 16 (1828): 137–234. 9. V.B. Singh, “Working Plan of the Uttarkashi Forest Division, Uttar Pradesh, 1961–62 to 1975–76,” p. 43. 10. For fuller detail on the period before World War I see Richard P. Tucker, “The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914,” in Global Deforestation, eds Tucker and Richards, pp. 146–66. 11. For the system in recent form, see Gerald D. Berreman, Hindus of the Himalayas: Ethnography and Change, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), chaps 1, 2, and 8. 12. United Provinces Forest Department, Annual Administration Reports (hereafter UPFDR) give precise details on the numbers of arrests and convictions. 13. Each Forest Division was provided with detailed working plans for its reserved forests; these plans carry full detail on management of the reserves. 14. Samuel E. Stokes, “Begar in the Hills,” in National Self-Realization, ed. Stokes (Madras: Ganesan, 1921), pp. 131–47. 15. United Provinces, Legislative Council Debates, on several dates from 16 December 1918 through 22 March 1922, carry the controversy in detail. 16. Harry G. Champion, “Working Plan for the Forests of the Central Almora Forest Division, 1921,” pp. 139–42; UPFDR, 1916–1917, p. 7. 17. For a fuller account of the political campaigns until 1947, see Richard P. Tucker and Ajay S. Rawat, “Forest Protests and the Freedom Movement in Kumaon,” in press. 18. UPFDR, 1921–1922, pp. 7–9. 19. United Provinces, Reports on the Native Press, 1921, p. 201. 20. UPFDR, 1920–1921, pp. 6–7. 21. Ibid., 1921–1922, pp. 1–2. 22. Report of the Kumaon Forest Grievances Committee (Lucknow: United Provinces Government, 1922). 23. UPFDR, 1922–1923, p. 9. 24. The Leader (a daily newspaper in Allahabad), 5 July 1922. 25. UPFDR, 1925–1926, p. 2. 26. Ibid., 1929–1930, p. 3. 27. Ibid., 1936–1937, pp. 1–3; F.C. Ford Robertson, Fifteen Years’ Forest Administration in the United Provinces (Lucknow, 1942), p. 120.

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28. These observations and others are based on my personal interviews in Kumaon, October 1981. 29. For a fuller analysis of the impact of the Depression and World War II, see Richard P. Tucker, “The British Empire and India’s Forest Resources: Assam and the United Provinces, 1914–1950,” in The World Economy and the World’s Forests in the Twentieth Century, eds J.F. Richards and Richard P. Tucker (forthcoming). 30. UPFDR, 1930–1931, pp. 4–5. 31. Report on the Task Force for the Study of Eco-Development in the Himalayan Region (New Delhi: Planning Commission, 1982), p. 10. 32. Vimal Kishor and Raj Kumar Gupta, “Economy of a Typical Western Himalayan Watershed: An Analysis for Eco-Development,” Dehra Dun, 1982. 33. UPFDR, 1952–1953, pp. 1–2, 38–42. 34. Working plans of each Forest Division since 1964 give statistics on the distribution of each type of forest. 35. UPFDR, 1948–1949, p. 3, and 1965–1966, pp. 1–2; Report of Kumaon Forests Fact Finding Committee (Lucknow, 1960). 36. B.N. Dwivedi, Working Plan of the Naini Tal Forest Division, 1978 (Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Government, 1978), p. 111. 37. This was reinforced once again in 1982, when the distinguished commission of planners appointed by the central government to study the mountains declared, “Commercial exploitation for national industries, pulp, packing cases [should be met] only after subsistence needs of the local population have been met and ecological safeguards are fully satisfied” (Report of the Task Force for the Study of Eco-Development in the Himalayan Region [New Delhi: Planning Commission, 1982], p. 28). 38. P.N. Gupta, Afforestation, Integrated Watershed Management, Torrent Control, and Land Use Development Project for U.P. Himalayas and Siwaliks (Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, 1979), p. 28. 39. In addition to several excellent accounts of the movement written by its organizers, most of them unpublished, see Bharat Dogra, Forests and People: The Efforts in Western Himalayas to Re-establish a Long-lost Relationship (Rishikesh: Himalaya Darshan Prakashan Samiti, 1980). For a more recent analysis, in the context of Garhwal regional politics, see Gerald D. Berreman, “Identity Definition, Assertion, and Politicization in the Central Himalayas,” in Identity: Personal and Socio-Cultural, Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology no. 6, ed. Anita Jacobson-Widding (Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell International, 1983).

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40. S.L. Shah, “Ecological Degradation and the Future of Agriculture in the Himalayas,” Presidential Address, Indian Society of Agricultural Economists, December 1981; and S.L. Shah, “Socio-Economic, Technological, Organizational, and Institutional Constraints in the Afforestation of Civil, Soyam, Usar, and Waste Lands for Resolving the Fuel Wood Crisis in the Hill Districts of Uttar Pradesh” (Almora: Vivekananda Laboratory for Hill Agriculture, 1982). 41. For an outstanding recent example of systematic prescriptions to overcome similar difficulties throughout Asia, see Christopher Gibbs and Jeff Romm, “Institutional Aspects of Forestry Development in Asia,” Asia Society/USAID Conference on Forestry and Development in Asia, Bangalore, India, April 1982.

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V The Evolution of Transhumant Grazing in the Punjab Himalaya∗

I

n modern times, colonial systems have reorganized the use of the Third World’s natural resources in intricate ways and transformed the ecological balances between indigenous peoples and their landscapes. One of the most dramatic of these changes has been the conversion of large areas of the Third World’s forests into crop lands or monoculture tree plantations to meet demands for industrial raw materials and consumer goods in the West (Tucker and Richards, 1983; Richards and Tucker, 1986). But in many mountain and hill tracts, the changes caused by logging of commerical timber have evolved in intricate counterpoint to traditional local land-use systems which inhibit regeneration of the forests. Intensive grazing, especially by goats and sheep, has been a key contributing factor in non-tropical mountains in the developing world, as it has over the centuries in many areas of the Western world. In temperatezone mountains under colonial management, inexorable processes of soil erosion and pasture degradation have resulted from interactions between the pastoral economy and colonial institutions. ∗ This article was first published in Mountain Research and Development (MRD): Tucker RP. 1986. The Evolution of Transhumant Grazing in Punjab Himalaya. Mountain Research and Development 6(1): 17–28. It is reprinted here with kind permission of the co-copyright holders, who retain the rights of reproduction: the International Mountain Society (IMS) and the United Nations University (UNU), c/o MRD Editorial Office, Bern, Switzerland (www.mrdjournal.org).

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This chapter considers those processes in a region of the western Himalaya, in what is now the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, which was under British administration for a century until Independence in 1947. The discussion focuses not on the forest depletion which has resulted from timber extraction but on the decline of forest and pasture resources associated with the livestock economy. Nowhere else in the Himalaya is the grazing economy more complex, the profits from it more bountiful, or the ecological implications more critically important. Sedentary farmers at lower elevations maintain their own mixed livestock. Migratory Gujar graziers from the plains below take their buffalo herds through the valleys of Himachal on their routes to summer pasture every year. And most important, Gaddi shepherds pursue the largestscale transhumant sheep and goat herding in the entire Himalayan region. The mountains of Himachal supported a complex interaction between sedentary agriculture and transhumant grazing long before the British arrived. Then, during the colonial century, British administrators attempted to channel and later to restrict grazing in government forests, primarily to preserve tracts for regeneration of trees, but with very limited success. Since Independence the state government has continued the broad policy laid down in colonial times, still with mixed results. In the long run the interactions among regime, rural economy, and ecological base have produced a slow downward spiral which, while depriving no one of subsistence, has not fully satisfied anyone.

The Pre-colonial Setting Himachal Pradesh extends from the northwestern ranges of the high Himalaya and the borders of Kashmir southeastward to the Siwalik foothills which fall to the fertile plains of Punjab (Figure 1). In the colonial era Himachal was in part administered as districts of Punjab and in part left as autonomous Princely States. The hill districts were only peripheral to the centers of population, agriculture, and commerce in the plains. But, ecologically speaking, Himachal is not peripheral at all, as it bears enormous importance for both northwestern India and eastern Pakistan. Its portion of the Himalaya constitutes the upper watersheds of four major branches of the Indus river system: the Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, and 116

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Figure 1: Location Map (Lori A. Sklut, cartographer, Clark University)

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Chenab rivers. Subsistence for tens of millions of people downriver depends on the viability of its mountain forests, meadows, and terraces. Trends in the mountain region, therefore, have been as vital for the downriver population as for the hill people themselves. Rising from the plains, the Siwalik hills are only a few hundred meters high; they are formed largely of unstable sandstone and gravels deposited over the millennia by runoff from the high ranges behind them (Kayastha, 1964). Their tree cover is dominated by chil pine (Pinus longifolia), with intermixed stands of heavily lopped ban oak (Quercus incana) which villagers use for timber, fuel, fodder, and leaf mulch (Champion and Seth, 1968). The grass cover in the understory of the open forests provides pasture for livestock from the adjacent plains and local villages; in winter it also supports transhumant flocks which migrate down from the high ranges. This combination has resulted in some of the most severe grassland degradation and soil erosion in all of northwestern India. North of the Siwaliks, the fertile Kangra valley runs transversely for about half the length of Himachal; beyond Kangra the high ranges rise. Before the British arrived, the town of Kangra was the most powerful political center of the mountain region with the densest rural population (Hutchison and Vogel, 1933). Behind the valley the first granite Himalayan range, the Dhauladhar, rises dramatically to over 4,500 m. To its north lie the Pir Panjal, and then the Great Himalayan ranges, where the migrating flocks spend the summer. At the lower elevations, at around 1,500 m, a transition begins from chil pine forests to mixed stands of kharsu oak (Q. semecarpifolia) and several rhododendron species on the wetter slopes, and to the great Himalayan conifer forests. First come deodar (Cedrus deodara) and kail pine (Pinus excelsa), the major timber trees of the region until recently. Above 3,000 m they gradually give way to Himalayan spruce (Picea morinda) and silver fir (Abies webbiana or pindrow), which thrive as high as 4,000 m. At their upper limits, alpine pastures are flanked by stands of paper birch (Betula utilis) and pencil cedar (C. tortulosa). Above this the central Himalayan ranges from Pangi and Zanskar eastward to Lahaul and Spiti rise to 6,000 m and more, and include the upper watersheds of the Indus tributaries. In these mountains, serious deforestation and man-made soil erosion have occurred almost entirely since the mid-nineteenth century. Before then human settlement in the region was sparse and concentrated 118

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in the river valleys below 2,500 m. Even today the population of Himachal is overwhelmingly rural, over 90 percent living outside its scattered towns. Before the economic expansion which accompanied the colonial era, the forests were exploited lightly, and only close to villages or to major rivers where timber could easily be floated downstream. Grazing land was far more extensive than the needs of its livestock population. Major river valleys were controlled by lineages of rajas, some of which extended back a thousand years or more, but their capacity to extract the rich mountain resources was narrowly limited (Hutchison and Vogel, 1933). However, the land tenure systems which evolved in the rajas’ domains set traditions that decisively shaped resource use in the colonial century and later. The hill rajas held personal control of all land. Arable land was bequeathed hereditarily to individual farming families. Rights for use of forest and pasture, where the resource was abundant and its use very light, were dispensed by the rajas to courtiers, military supporters, or others. The rajas ordinarily granted small fields and limited local grazing rights but kept the vast remaining areas of largely unutilized mountain land for their own use as hunting grounds. Royal gamekeepers were posted to guard against encroachment (Lyall, 1874; Punjab District Gazetteers, 1924–25). In all of this the role of the state in regulating the livestock economy and extracting a modest income from it was imbedded in the unique system of livestock ecology in the region.

The Pastoral Cycle The livestock of the Punjab hills has had two major components; the first was non-migratory domestic animals kept by farmers in the permanent villages of the lower hills. There, largely in the chil pine and oak belt, soils are relatively fertile and the climate is mild enough year-round to allow adequate terraced farming. Cows, sheep, goats, and a few horses grazed on the commons near the tilled fields. The forested hills and village grazing runs which flank each valley gave adequate fodder even in the winter months. The second component was the yearly cycle of crop and livestock management of the Gaddis, the sheep and goat herders, whose survival 119

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depends largely on transhumant herding. (For ethnographic details, see Ibbetson et al., 1911; Newell, 1955, 1967, 1970; Nitzberg, 1970; Parry, 1979; Phillimore, 1981.) Some Gaddis, originating centuries ago in the Brahmaur sub-district of Chamba, maintained permanent homes in the mountains there at elevations up to 2,500 m and higher. Their grazing territory has covered most of present-day Himachal, spreading gradually farther northward into summer alpine pasture and southeastward into winter grazing grounds as their livestock numbers have increased and fodder resources deteriorated. The area of the mountains where Gaddi flocks dominate merges in complex and largely unstudied ways with the territories of other groups: in Jammu and Kashmir to the northwest (Casimir and Rao, 1985) and northern Pakistan beyond that (Zarin and Schmidt, 1984). It then spreads northward to the dry reaches of Ladakh, and eastward to Kinnaur district on the Tibetan border, with its winter grazing grounds in the foothills of the boundary area between Himachal and Uttar Pradesh (Gairola, 1947; Himachal Pradesh Grazing Committee Report, 1970). The Gujar buffalo herders of this extensive region spread throughout much of Himachal Pradesh as well as adjacent states, but this chapter does not attempt an analysis of their cycles. Most Gaddis have practised mixed farming and shepherding, since almost none have held extensive enough arable land to provide a full year’s food supplies. In the high villages of the Chamba region the short growing season and poor soils have compounded the problem. Hence, many Gaddi families over the past hundred years have established permanent homes in the low Kangra valley, especially in Dharmsala and Palampur sub-districts (Parry, 1979). Yet even there the tiny individual farmsteads, often less than a full hectare, have forced the Gaddis to maintain their flocks of sheep and goats. Subsistence cropping has long been supplemented by market-oriented grazing. The Gaddis’ economy, and thus its ecological impact, has been sensitive to market conditions in the wide Punjab below, to a degree which has been underestimated because it has never been fully calculated. One published study gives a broad indication that the Gaddis’ flocks have been highly profitable, making them the most prosperous single group with land-based incomes in the hills (Bormann, 1980). 120

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For economic and ecological reasons, nearly all Gaddi flocks have included both sheep and goats. Sheep are maintained largely for their wool, which is sheared at least twice annually: in the spring before the upward migration to alpine pastures, and in the fall upon their return. In many cases a third shearing is done in the late winter in the lowlands, postponing the spring shearing until June in the hills (field data, FredeTucker and Tucker, 1984–85). The shearers keep a percentage of the wool as pay; the rest the shepherds sell to trading-caste middlemen from the plains who resell it at the great market to the southeast in Panipat. The commercial system for wool from Himachal once it has left Gaddi hands has not been studied, but the high rate of profits for the shepherds has been clearly established. According to Bormann, each sheep produces at least one kilogram of wool annually, which the shepherd sells for Rs 25–45, depending on its color and quality. Some of the Gaddis’ goats are sheared once annually, to provide the coarse wool which is woven into rain-resistant blankets and glacier boots for the shepherds’ migrations. But this is a minor element of the goats’ value. More important is the milk which is a staple of the shepherds’ diet on migration. Of greatest financial value is the meat: up to 40 percent of the goats in each flock are sold in the cold months at markets in the lower hills, as are some sheep (Bormann, 1980). A goat or sheep sold for slaughter brings Rs 150–450, depending on its size and quality. The profits from grazing make a dramatic difference to Gaddi families’ income. The shepherd households in Bormann’s 1980 survey earned an average of Rs 597 from agriculture, in contrast to Rs 2,744 for nonshepherd families. But the average net income from herding was Rs 5,240. Thus, with cash income from their sheep and goats dominating the money flow of many Gaddi households, they have been very responsive to market conditions since the cash nexus expanded in the hills at the start of British rule, and their flocks seem to have expanded when prices were relatively high. The Gaddis have both provided for their own needs and responded to market demand by evolving a complex annual transhumant migration cycle. Recent field data suggest that for Gaddi families anchored in the Kangra valley, three distinct migratory strategies have developed (field data, Frede-Tucker and Tucker, 1984–85). The first migration is hardly more than local, yet it is essential for the regeneration of village 121

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pasture during the wet monsoon months. In villages on the Dhauladhar flanks, families send their livestock, mainly cows and buffalos with some sheep and goats, upward to the high pastures below the passes, at distances rarely more than half a day’s walk from their permanent homes. The villagers maintain makeshift shelters there, which are rebuilt each monsoon season. Men, women, and children all participate in the work of caring for the livestock as well as harvesting high-altitude grass for winter fodder. The family agricultural cycle need not be disturbed; there is constant interaction between the permanent homes and the temporary shelters. A second and longer migration route begins in permanent villages lower in the Kangra valley, from which families move their flocks across the Dhauladhar passes as soon as the snows melt, to solidly built summer homes beyond on the slopes of the Ravi River. Men precede their families north with the flocks, and their families follow in time to harvest winter wheat planted on steep terraces the previous September. The third pattern is the most dramatic and difficult, since it exploits the northernmost alpine region in summer and the most inadequate foothill areas in winter. It is also the most commercialized and lucrative, as its dominant purpose is to produce wool and meat for lowland markets. From permanent homes in the Kangra and Chamba areas professional year-round shepherds leave their families behind and guide their flocks northward over the Dhauladhar from Kangra and over the Pir Panjal from both Kangra and Chamba, into the regions of Pangi and Lahaul, which together constitute the watershed of the Chenab River. The routes and distances vary greatly from one flock to another, and the vegetation changes from conifer forests and lush meadows to the dry, sparsely forested region of the north, beyond the reach of monsoon storms. Two or more shepherds may combine their flocks into composite sizes of 300 to over 1,000. In the summer pastures the alpine vegetation is similar to that of western Tibet, of which Lahaul is in some ways a westward extension (Mani, 1978). The flocks graze as high as 5,000 m on pastures susceptible to severe summer droughts, often spending as little as two to four weeks at their northernmost locations before retreating southward in September ahead of the winter’s first snows. Life for these shepherds and their flocks is no easier in the winter, for they must travel hundreds of kilometers southeastward into shrinking, overgrazed lands among the 122

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settled agricultural villages and government forests along the borders of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states. Of the three variations on Gaddi transhumance, this last is the one most closely associated with overgrazing in summer pastures, along migratory routes, and in winter grazing lands. There is no clear evidence of any overgrazing pressure in these mountains until after the British occupation began in the mid-nineteenth century. When the closely associated patterns of overgrazing and land-use disputes began to appear, they first arose in the outlying low hills where the settled farming population was most dense and competition for winter pasture was most severe. This centered on the Siwalik hills and the Kangra valley, where governments had actively regulated both pasture use and social relations long before the British arrived. There, in the autumn Gaddi flocks passed through villages to glean the stubble from newly-harvested fields, and the peasant owners provided the shepherds with food. In return, fields were fertilized for the following year’s crops, a crucial element of the agricultural cycle. Each Gaddi flock then settled for the winter in the Siwaliks. At this point the government played a vital role. Toward the west the Raja of Chamba, as overlord of all Gaddis, sent his agent, always a Gaddi, to western Kangra to assign a run to each flock for the cool months (Lyall, 1874:51). Most flocks returned to the same run annually, but an aggressive shepherd who found new pasture could negotiate with the raja’s agents for the right to graze there. The raja’s official, as arbiter of the commons, received payments according to the size of each flock. These payments, in effect, legitimized and regulated the role of each user of the resource: government, peasant, and shepherd. Beyond the reach of the Chamba raja, in the southeastern hills around the Sutlej valley, other Princely States such as Mandi and Bilaspur held control, but only over winter grazing. They had no traditional ethnic connections with the Gaddis, and saw them entirely as outsiders to be seasonally accommodated (Singh, 1912; Wright, 1917).

British Colonial Administration In the early nineteenth century many of the kingdoms of the hills came under the domination of the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab plains, which exacted tribute or annual revenue from the rajas, and used some timber 123

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for urban and military construction (Lyall, 1874:22). But the Sikhs never made significant changes in administration or land tenure systems in the hills, and traditional systems were left largely intact. During the same decades British imperial power was extending northwestward up the Ganges basin. The Sikh wars of the 1840s ended with European victory and thus British control of the Punjab hills in 1849. From that date modern resource exploitation and management in the mountains began. The colonial administrative map of the mountains became rather intricate. The new regime allowed various hill rajas to continue administering their former states under British supervision, most notably the rajas of Jammu-Kashmir and Chamba. But key regions of the eastern hills, as well as the Kangra valley in the west and the high mountain zone, were all administered directly by the British. The first priority of the new government was to stabilize and extend agriculture; the second was to exploit and sustain the mountain forests (Barnes and Lyall, 1889). The initial task, an intricate one, was to codify land tenure systems: to assign rights of ownership and use to tilled, grazed, and forested land as a basis for revenue collection. The underlying purpose of the early settlements was to reconcile the preBritish systems of collective land tenure with principles of private property and individual responsibility for tax payments. Barnes, the officer who conducted the 1854 Land Settlement of Kangra district, first surveyed and recorded the ownership of arable land. Though a painstaking task, this was relatively straightforward. More serious difficulties lay with the control and regulation of non-tilled land or “waste,” which seemed far in excess of foreseeable needs. Barnes dismissed this issue by giving full grazing rights to individual peasants for small plots adjacent to their villages, and by granting the landholders of each village collective ownership of large grazing and forest areas (Barnes and Lyall, 1889; Anderson, 1898). He made a rough attempt to draw boundaries through these ranges, arbitrarily allotting all land on each side of a ridge to the village below, though many villages’ commons had previously overlapped. He left no detailed survey of the commons, in contrast to his precision on tilled land, for only crop-producing land was to be directly taxed. Addressing the needs of the transhumant graziers, the 1854 settlement guaranteed that Gaddis who did not own land in a village still

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retained their grazing rights, and cancelled the grazing fees which had previously formalized their rights to pasture. Gaddis seem to have been quick to exploit their strengthened position, in response to an expansion of the market economy which was occurring at the same time. Military and political stability in the region after 1850 led to a rapid extension of trade between the hills and the Punjab plains and a rise in prices of marketed goods. This included wool and mutton, and the Gaddis responded quickly. Within a decade the market value of each animal is said to have risen sharply, and the numbers of sheep increased steadily as well. Leading Gaddis began charging others at increasing rates for the use of their winter pastures, as well as looking for profitable new pasture (Lyall, 1874). In the Palampur area of eastern Kangra valley, where British planters had begun buying waste land to plant tea estates, the shortage of unclaimed grazing land quickly began to drive prices up and raise competition between sedentary villagers and shepherds (Anderson, 1887; Kangra Gazetteer, 1924–25). The 1850s and 1860s were also the period when commercial timber cutting put sudden, intense new pressure on non-agricultural land in the high mountains. In the deodar and kail belt there was a vast demand for timber after 1850, first as building material for the towns of Punjab and by the 1860s as sleepers for the great railway network being constructed in the plains (Tucker, 1982, 1983). The government at first put out its orders to private contractors, but their work was so crude and wasteful that this system was abandoned after a few years. Uncontrolled cutting by contractors, plus expanding grazing in the forests being cut, together led to the first modern crisis of forest and pasture management in the western Himalaya. The existing Settlement and Revenue Department was entirely inadequate to deal with the new land-management issues. Hence, the first national Forest Law for British India was passed in 1865 and the Indian Forest Service was established under German foresters imported to implement it. A combined German and British forestry cadre set out to improve long-term forest management and guarantee future watershed stability, timber stocks, and subsistence supplies of fuelwood and fodder (Stebbing, 1922). The 1865 law was the first attempt to give the government indisputable power to regulate most forests and pastures, which the earlier land settlements had failed to provide.

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Settlement officers in the 1860s and 1870s recognized that timber stands, once cut, would never regenerate unless grazing was curtailed, since planting forests by hand was not feasible in the hills. Barnes’s successors in Kangra recognized that by giving away the government’s claim to ownership of the commons he had deprived them of the power to regulate forest and pasture lands. Lyall’s revision of the land settlement system in 1874, and then the forest law of 1878, effectively gave the government that power. From 1878 onward a system of Reserved and Protected Forests was constructed, enabling the Revenue and Forest departments together to regulate most forest and grazing lands. The Punjab government compiled local lists of grazing rights in the early 1880s, and on that basis adopted in 1897 a forest settlement for Kangra District to complement and complete the existing land settlement (Schlich, 1882; Anderson, 1898). The core of the grazing settlement was the lists of each shepherd’s pasture area, and a permissible maximum size for each flock. Every migratory Gaddi was to pay three fees annually: one for his winter pasture, a second on migration, and a third for alpine summer grazing rights (Anderson, 1887; Wright, 1917). In addition, the specific migration route for each flock was stipulated and flocks were required to move five miles per day on migration, stopping only one night in any location. This system was designed to codify existing practices; the settlement report outlined local traditions and agreements in great detail. By giving an entire social and ecological cycle formal status backed by government, it began a new era in the management of the commons. The Gaddis were now faced with a new set of fee-collecting agents, and they naturally responded with evasive strategies. Guards might be bribed by liquor, meat, or money, or one shepherd with a flock below his maximum allowance could take another’s excess animals as his own, so that they both could avoid fines. The guards could retaliate by over-counting a flock or threatening a shepherd with lengthy discussions at the regional forester’s office. In some instances the shepherds began attempting to avoid the check-posts entirely. The pastoral cycle in the hills was becoming more regulated and more laced with conflict between government and shepherds. But there came to be an important gradient from low hills to high mountains: both ecological pressures and 126

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government involvement were becoming more intense in the winter pastures and along migration routes than in summer pastures. Where the flocks mixed with intensively tilled lands in the lower hills, difficulties of management rose most rapidly from the late nineteenth century onward. The extension of tilled land into former pasture was not a major factor in the increased pressure on fodder reserves, for both human population and total arable land expanded slowly before 1920 (Anderson, 1898). There were restrictions on opening new land to the plough, the most important dating from the 1854 settlement which had stipulated that any new ploughing must have the agreement of all landowners of a village; this was extremely difficult to obtain (Lyall, 1874; Barnes and Lyall, 1889). Nonetheless, land pressure slowly grew in the chir pine forests (Thorburn, 1898; Wright, 1917). Competition for winter grazing lands, which seems to have been restricted to parts of western Kangra in the 1850s, gradually spread eastward. The geology of the southeastern Siwaliks made the problem especially ominous in its scope, for here the unstable sands and alluvial detritus were exceedingly fragile, and rates of erosion were among the highest in all of India (Kayastha, 1964; Arya, 1968). Migratory graziers including Gaddis and the Gujar buffalo herdsmen, who were beginning to spread eastward from Jammu (Casimir and Rao, 1985), were an important element of the challenge. A bewildering variety of grazing fees had grown up over the years, varying from British to Princely districts, and from government to village councils to private landowners. British officers attempted to simplify and standardize the fee structures, with some success (Wright, 1917). But others attempted above all to place a limit on the numbers of sheep and goats arriving each autumn, not only to limit the amount of pasture consumed but also to reduce the numbers of tree branches lopped for fodder (Singh, 1912; Grieve, 1920; Mohan, 1934; Arya, 1968). The large landowners of Bilaspur state finally attempted a more radical response to the migratory flocks. Situated on the lower Sutlej River, where it funneled many flocks down from summer pastures in high Lahaul and Bashahr, Bilaspur experienced particularly heavy pressure each autumn in the early years of this century. In 1919 the raja announced a policy of barring the migrants from crossing his borders at all. Had he held to that position until October, open conflict would probably 127

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have resulted, for the herdsmen arriving from the north had nowhere else to survive the winter. But hurried consultations with British officials averted the crisis: the Bilaspur authorities backed down, and no district since then has attempted the impossible task of totally resisting the migration (Glover, 1921:12). Pressures on the migration routes, not only biotic but social and administrative, were also slowly rising. As early as 1864, in the first detailed survey of the Punjab mountain forests, Hugh Cleghorn had watched at the Waru Pass on the Dhauladhar crest as many large flocks poured northward into the Ravi valley, leaving degraded vegetation in their wake (Cleghorn, 1864:97–104). Thirteen years later, Sir Dietrich Brandis, the Inspector General of Forests, described the impact of the annual migration in a side-branch of the Beas below Kulu. The lower part of the Tirth valley presents a lamentable scene of desolation, the slopes on either side ... being furrowed by torrents and scarred all over by landslips and incipient ravines, which indicate that grazing and burning are destroying rapidly the natural covering of the hill sides. (Brandis et al., 1877:4)

The Tirth stream joins the Beas at a precipitously steep point in its gorge. But farther north into Kulu the valley widens into broad rice terraces flanked by splendid stands of deodar and kail, with spruce and fir forests above them. There, as late as 1914, the forest settlement officer assessed that forage was adequate for both local flocks and Gaddi migrants (Coldstream, 1914). But his superior, on tour there two years later, was alarmed at the steady deterioration of pasture, especially in the high government forests above the valley. There the local populace of Kulu practised local transhumance on a scale far beyond their subsistence needs, while the professional shepherds moved quickly through the valley toward the high pastures of Lahaul. He proposed severe restrictions for the local flocks, since he shared a guiding principle of the region’s forestry management: that only the true professional shepherds should operate on a commercial scale; all others should use wood and fodder from the forests only to the extent necessary for their own subsistence (Hart, 1916). In the Kulu valley of the upper Beas, the jewel of Westerners’ imaginations and hopes for the region, it was left to the young official C.G. Trevor 128

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in 1920 to devise a Working Plan which might reconcile all the conflicting claims on the forests and pastures. Trevor, later to become India’s Inspector General of Forests, surveyed the area and concluded that the forests above Kulu villages were in a “deplorable” condition, with no regeneration for at least fifty years past. He favored a strict ban on new cultivation in the higher forests, in order to preserve the unique grandeur of untouched tracts. There ... the beams of the sun scarce penetrate the gloom beneath these mighty trees, where save for the crow of the pheasant and the tap of the wood-pecker all is still. Beneath the shade of the silver fir the giant Himalayan lilies lift their heads of lovely flowers and diffuse their fragrance through the forest. (Trevor, 1920:18)

His proposed ban would restrict local flocks, not migrants. By now the paths and timings of the migration routes were evidently functioning well enough through the valley. But the condition of the wide meadows nearing the Rohtang Pass above had not yet been ascertained. As the most important pass from the outer hills into the alpine region, it had been under severe pressure in recent decades. But foresters’ fellings did not reach the approach to the pass until after Independence; hence, their attention had not yet turned that high in any systematic way. To the north of the Pir Panjal range beyond the Rohtang, and a series of other high passes, lies the summer territory of the fulltime shepherds in the alpine zone of Lahaul and Pangi in the upper Chenab River. Degradation of pastures had begun in Lahaul, in part because of a rise in long-distance trade through the region. Since the 1850s, population expansion and prosperity on the trade route northward to Ladakh and western China had increased the demand for building timbers in the very limited kail forests near Kyelang, the district capital. The interaction between timber cutting for local use and migratory Gaddi grazing was significant. The forest settlement officer warned as early as 1888 that when the pine forests were cut, Gaddi flocks began to graze the stump land, effectively preventing new forests from growing (Anderson, 1888). Another forester down the Chenab in Pangi reported at about the same time that though the Gaddis had no grazing rights in government forests, they often “trespassed” there, cutting new paths on crumbling slopes where forest guards could not reach them (Smith, 1886:5). 129

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Along the main branches of the Chenab, the Forest Department had begun the task of sorting out the rights of local, permanent villagers from those of the government and of the transhumant graziers. Early departmental documents indicate that at that time there was more than adequate summer pasturage for the Gaddis above the village commons, and more particularly on the left bank of the Chenab, where few permanent villages were located (Anonymous, late 1870s; Wace, 1901:3). In some side valleys there were already signs of increased flooding and soil erosion. Yet the British were reluctant to intervene aggressively along the Chenab, for local villagers and migratory shepherds had long ago worked out a system of dividing the pasture which seemed to function relatively well. Any effort to regulate relations in greater detail would have cost more than departmental budgets could afford, and would have raised the level of friction between forest guards and villagers. This the Forest Department was willing to avoid, partly because of increasingly troublesome circumstances below in Kangra. During the later nineteenth century the human population of the Punjab hill tract grew far more slowly than the number of livestock. Rising pressures on the land thus reflected grazing conditions more than expanded agriculture (Hart, 1916; Phillimore, 1981). In the Kangra region two important patterns were emerging: a steady expansion of total livestock, including Gaddi flocks, and equally alarming, an increasing percentage of goats in the flocks (Wright, 1917). Goats adapt to more varied and inhospitable conditions than sheep. They are more destructive to young vegetation, browsing high and intensively on tree seedlings. They can survive on less nutritious vegetation, and they adapt better to the summer heat and monsoon rains of the low hills. In harsh winters or dry summers they lose less body weight; in the winter meat-selling season they sustain a much higher market price than the lean sheep (Gorrie, 1937b; Bormann, 1980). The trend toward more goats in Gaddi flocks indicates a decline in available pasture nutrition, resulting in an increase in soil erosion. In response to these trends the Punjab authorities began using the system of grazing regulation in an attempt to influence the size and composition of flocks. In 1915 the autumn migration tax, which had been at Rs 2 per hundred animals and had not distinguished between goats and

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sheep, was separated into a fee of Rs 6 for 100 goats and Rs 4 for 100 sheep, and a similar fee was set for the winter grazing grounds (Kangra Gazetteer, 1924–25; Punjab Erosion Committee, 1931). This was explicitly an effort to reduce the total livestock migrating down from Chamba into western Kangra, and also the first attempt to press shepherds into giving up goats in favor of sheep. In 1916 a tax was also placed on sedentary goats and sheep (Punjab Erosion Committee, 1931). The controversy over the use of the government’s taxation powers to regulate environmental pressures had begun. From the end of World War I onward, the rising pressures were not only social, biotic, and administrative, but also political. By 1918 Mahatma Gandhi was assuming control of the Indian National Congress and the freedom struggle, and Congress workers were organizing rural constituencies in many parts of India. Protests against taxes and administrative restrictions were becoming widespread. In hill regions they centered on the most obvious restriction—the forest law, especially as it limited grazing on government lands (Tucker, 1982, 1984). In Kangra there was steady pressure from landholders to transfer management of demarcated forests from the Forest Department, which restricted grazing, to the Revenue Department, which granted new agricultural permits. The Kangra forest officer, who was responsible for determining which Reserved Forests should be closed to grazing for purposes of regeneration, was virtually paralyzed by the situation (Hart, 1916). He was required to consult with villagers in detail about which boundaries could be established for closures without disrupting daily life. But by now he was finding that the Kangra valley people opposed the closure system at so many points that almost no silvicultural system could be successfully invoked. The Punjab government, anxious to mitigate the sting of its enhanced grazing fees, arranged for the Forest Department to relinquish some forest reserves in the period around 1920 in exchange for the power to close others to grazing (see details in Punjab Forest Reports, 1919–23). In Punjab as a whole the hills remained peripheral to the major centers of population, food production, and political controversy. But by the 1920s the irrigation systems of the plains districts, which were making the Indus basin the breadbasket of India, were increasingly threatened

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by soil erosion in the Siwaliks. Hence the center of debate on grazing policy shifted there during the 1920s (Holland, 1928; Coventry, 1929; Gorrie, 1937a). The Punjab Forest Department had led the effort for erosion control since the 1860s (Baden-Powell, 1879), in large part because erosion was intimately connected with overgrazing and the resulting failure of harvested forests to regenerate. A rising sense of urgency from the late 1920s onward led the Punjab government to search for new strategies which could renew forest cover through more effective livestock policies, and the Gaddis’ interests were directly implicated. In 1928 it appointed the soil conservation specialist, L.B. Holland, to do a systematic study of the causes of erosion in the Siwalik hills. As had his predecessors, Holland singled out overgrazing as the most important source of pressure, and proposed stringent restrictions on seasons and locations where grazing should be allowed (Holland, 1928; Coventry, 1929). Holland’s report stirred a public controversy so intense that the government appointed a special committee to hold public hearings in the districts most affected. The Punjab Erosion Committee, whose report was published in 1931, centered its attention on the Siwaliks and Kangra, as well as the rather different issues related to overgrazing in the dry region around Rawalpindi far to the northwest. Data on the shifting balance of sheep and goats in transhumant flocks, or on the balance between migratory and sedentary livestock, were still very difficult to obtain (Gorrie, 1937b:18–20; Mohan, 1933). Nonetheless, the committee concluded that since 1916 there had been a significant reduction in the numbers of non-migratory livestock, though no decline in the Gaddis’ flocks. The broad picture of pasture resources was not reassuring. Most who testified agreed that, although the extent of pasture had remained largely constant, its quality had continued to deteriorate on both village and government lands. And public dissatisfaction with the Forest Department’s role remained widespread. The Deputy Commissioner of Kangra, one of the first Indians to hold that important post, voiced a frequent charge: “The general belief in the district is that the Forest Department is doing absolutely nothing to improve grazing or to check denudation” (Punjab Erosion Committee, 1931). It was a harsh judgment, but it indicated the prevailing degree of alienation.

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There was little pressure from any interest group to raise fees on sheep or curtail the Gaddis’ flocks, for farmers needed their manure. But many who testified, including landholders in the valley, agreed that the tax on goats should be increased, even though goats were a far larger proportion of sedentary farms’ flocks than of the migrants. The 1930 livestock census counted the farmers as owning 180,231 goats and 54,503 sheep, while the Gaddis herded 141,377 goats and 234,688 sheep. A Gaddi spokesman, in rebuttal, insisted to the committee that the goats were essential, for their hair provided the waterproof blankets which they used on their migrations; furthermore they also provided milk, which the sheep did not (Punjab Erosion Committee, 1931). The committee’s work came to little; its hearings demonstrated that the elements of the public whose interests were affected were rapidly learning the techniques of pressuring the government not to tighten restrictions. Its various suggestions for policy changes produced little action, for by the 1930s the government no longer had the capacity to implement new resource management policies. It was inhibited by the severe staffing shortages of the Depression years, and by rising political discontent. Although no formal political campaign based at Congress headquarters to the south had much impact in Kangra or the outer hills before 1939, Kangra’s villagers registered the general malaise (Sharma, 1977). In 1937 the Punjab government reviewed the situation once again, for as the Lieutenant-Governor stated in launching the Garbett Commission, “My object is to get the system to work in such a way as to make it as little unpopular as possible. Particular care should be taken to avoid anything in the way of harshness or rigidity of system where not absolutely necessary” (Punjab Government Garbett Commission, 1938:102). Concentrating again on erosion in the Siwaliks, the new commission reaffirmed that few improvements could be made in either the livestock pattern or the cycle of soil erosion until some equitable system of limiting the number of livestock could be devised. Confronting the rules regarding winter grazing of Gaddi flocks in the Siwaliks, it concluded that the problem of reducing the migratory flocks but not local livestock was too complex to resolve, and suggested that the rise in grazing fees which the previous commission had established be rescinded, for popular opposition had increased more than the effective impact of 133

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the higher rates would justify. Instead Garbett and his colleagues (four Indian members of the Punjab legislature), searching for a new approach to balancing ecologically sound management with equitable access to forage, proposed a novel system. All Gaddi flocks should be listed on a common register. The maximum carrying capacity of the land for sheep and goats should be determined. Finally, that number should be divided into individual quotas, with prohibitively high fees set for animals in excess of the quotas. But nothing more could be implemented in the remaining preIndependence years. The war period between 1939 and 1945 strained all administrative services to the limit, and political tensions with Congress left the government unwilling to take any further unpopular actions, even so much as raising a grazing fee. This drift coincided with the wartime economy, which produced steep rises in the price of both wool and mutton. The Gaddis are reported to have increased their flocks rapidly, exacerbating the environmental pressures which would face the successor government at Independence (Parmar, 1959).

Since Independence The dilemmas of the grazing economy have remained unresolved since 1947, in a context changed by a basic political reorganization, in those hills as throughout India (Mahapatra, 1975). Himachal Pradesh became a separate state in 1948, when the Princely States of the hills, newly annexed by Nehru’s government, were declared as a state separate from Punjab. Eighteen years later, in 1966, Kangra district and its outriding areas were also separated from Punjab and added to Himachal, setting the state in its present form, geographically far better integrated than before (Sharma, 1977). Its legislature has had final authority over land and resource policy, and each district has been represented, thus giving the grazing interest a direct voice in the politics of livestock management. The state government appointed further commissions to study the grazing problem in 1959 and 1970. The first was chaired by B.S. Parmar, a forester and former subordinate of R.M. Gorrie, the distinguished British soil specialist who had done much to focus attention on the Siwaliks a half-generation before. The Parmar Report was explicitly a 134

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response to the flood of graziers’ petitions to the state government in Simla since 1948, demanding more open access to Reserved Forests or lower grazing fees (Parmar, 1959:12). As a counter-move representing the deep alarm of the Forest Department, Parmar uncompromisingly asserted, ... these graziers with their large flocks, which are ever on the increase, have always been conspicuous enemies of the forests particularly in hill tracts. In a forest tract, in which their flocks graze in a concentrated manner or through which they pass, undergrowth vanishes, regeneration is no more, seedlings are eaten away, shrubs and bushes are munched and even the saplings cannot escape uninjured. They have been a constant headache to the Forest Department and in spite of the best efforts their number had been on the steady increase. (Parmar, 1959:14)

Parmar’s proposals reiterated well-known strategies of raising grazing fees and further restricting livestock rights in Reserved Forests, though he recognized that this would elicit heavy political opposition. In addition, he reflected the largely post-Independence effort to improve the quality of livestock, proposing that the state government reinforce its efforts to improve breeding and raise the profits from each animal’s milk production. But he saw little possibility of encouraging improved breeding of sheep and goats as a means of reducing the impact of migratory flocks. Parmar’s proposals further heightened the grazier’s opposition to governmental restrictions, and the higher fees which he had demanded were not imposed. In the following decade the expansion of small-scale farming continued to reduce grazing lands. And the great Bhakra Dam on the Sutlej near Bilaspur heralded the era when Himachal’s hydropower potential would be exploited, putting more grazing and arable land under water behind each new dam. In 1967 the state government organized a meeting in Bilaspur where its representatives and the shepherds agreed to reduce the percentage of goats in the flocks, allowing the shepherds to add sheep in compensation. But the following year the government dropped the negotiations and instead proposed only to reduce the permissible number of goats by 20 percent (Bormann, 1980). Under these deteriorating political relations another commission was established, this one more sympathetic to the shepherds’ dilemmas. Its 1970 report highlighted two rising pressures on them. First, private owners of winter grazing lands in the Siwalik districts were charging 135

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steadily rising fees to Gaddis who came from Lahaul’s highlands and needed to continue winter grazing on their lands (for background, see Walters, 1922:13–15). Second, village councils on the migration routes for some of the same flocks, from the Simla area downward, were also raising their passage fees rapidly, using the powers which Barnes had granted them over a century before (Punjab Forest Report, 1939–40). As a result, Gaddi profits were being siphoned off to other interests along their way, and the incidence of flocks grazing illegally in the government forests was consequently rising. The Commission found it very difficult to propose politically viable strategies. It condemned the escalating grazing fees on private and village lands, but once again proposed that on government lands the fees on goats, as well as on the rapidly rising population of water buffalo, should be raised. Beyond this it could suggest little, for it faced an intensifying dispute as to what the local circumstances actually were. All sides were coming to realize that reliable and adequately detailed data on livestock and grazing resources were very difficult to obtain. On most major issues the commission proposed an intensive five-year effort to gather systematic data on the grazing system, while existing management systems remained unchanged. Since then no major commission has been formed and, indeed, the existing management system has continued to function largely as before. This has been the only politically feasible outcome, reflecting as it does an uneasy balance of political forces in the state. What can be concluded regarding the actual management of flock size and composition and the long-term impact on the ecology of the mountain region? The first question is anthropological, not silvicultural. Little has been written on the Gaddis’ strategies of flock management. But Phillimore reports that the Gaddis themselves believe that transhumance is declining, partly because fathers now find it more difficult to recruit their sons for the hard migratory life. They are particularly troubled about rising social and biotic pressures in the winter pasturelands. But they tend to blame the Forest Department’s closures of Reserved Forests, rather than the expansion of subsistence agriculture, flooding of grazing lands for hydroelectric dams, or declining pasture quality (Phillimore, 1981:109–110; Casimir and Rao, 1985). Recent data from the high summer pastures (field data, Frede-Tucker and Tucker, 1984–85) suggest a slower but inexorable rise in pressures 136

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there as well. For shepherds summering in Lahaul the problem is not bureaucratic or financial so much as climatic. Grazing fees paid to the Forest Department as they move northward (presently Rs 0.20 for each sheep and Rs 0.40 for each goat, with the newborn exempted) remain relatively very low, and arrangements for payment are easily made at established checkpoints. But in the arid northern climate, any season following inadequate winter snows, as in 1985, or any summer when the light monsoon showers fail entirely, reduces eligible pasturage to the vanishing point. Flocks must move among the high peaks almost constantly, and in 1985 they were forced to begin the return southward almost a month early. As they arrived at the farms below the passes, crops were still standing and fields not yet ready to glean. Finally, what are the ecological consequences of these trends? Information on this is far from systematic, though available fragments all indicate a slow deterioration in all the elements of the picture: quality of vegetation, diversity of plant species in the pasture lands, and tree regeneration in forests which are not closed periodically to grazing. Presently operative Working Plans for nearly all Reserved Forests of the region point to the loss of biotic resources in their ranges. In the outer Siwaliks which overlook the Punjab plains, data on vegetation and soils have been plentiful since the anti-erosion campaign became intensive in the late 1920s. At that time Coventry described the trend toward vegetation types associated with drier soils, and the underlying permanent loss of soil fertility (Coventry, 1929:6–14). Gorrie’s studies in the later 1930s pointed up the greatly increased rates of water runoff and soil erosion on denuded slopes (Gorrie, 1937a:581–582). Gorrie was persistent, continuing his studies throughout the Second World War. Shortly before the war ended, he and his assistant, Parmar, studied the outer Dhauladhar slopes closely, and documented that along migration routes toward the first passes, turf was being torn away and hillsides were becoming less stable (Parmar, 1959:14). Recent field studies have confirmed these patterns of distress in the winter pasture areas, documenting impoverished nutritional quality in the vegetation as well as soil loss (Gupta et al., 1963; Kapoor, 1973; Christiansen, 1981; Cioffi, 1981). Data on the pastures of Lahaul and Pangi are less extensive and precise. There, beyond the monsoon rains and the highest tree cover, large 137

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flocks must pass the summers almost steadily on the move over the fragile uppermost watersheds of the major rivers. The botanists Polunin and Stainton (1984:20) have indicated that grazing has eliminated many plant species from the meadows, but that the vast pasturelands still present a highly varied picture, from fields of alpine flowers in some stillvirgin meadows, to the severely reduced vegetational complex of other, heavily grazed pastures. Unfortunately, no department of government has active responsibility for studying or managing these highlands. Hence they evolve largely unknown to anyone but the Gaddis themselves.

References (All publication places are in India unless otherwise specified.) Anderson, A., 1887: Report on the Forest Settlement in the Kangra Valley. Lahore, Government Press. ———, 1888: Settlement of Lahaul Forests in the Kulu Sub-Division of the Kangra District. Lahore, Government Press. ———, 1898: Final Report of the Revised Settlement of Kangra Proper. Lahore, Government Press. Anonymous, late 1870s: Papers on the Demarcation of Chamba Reserved Forests. Lahore, Government of Punjab (typescript). Arya, S., 1968: Working Plan for Nahan Forest Division. Simla, Government Press. Baden-Powell, B.H., 1871: Punjab Forest Administration Report, 1870–1871. Lahore, Government Press. Barnes, G.C. and Lyall, J. B., 1889: Report of the Land Revenue Settlement of the Kangra District, Punjab. Lahore, Government Press. (Identical to Barnes’ first Settlement Report, 1854.) Bormann, H.-H., 1980: Shepherding in the Dhaula Dhar. Palampur, Indo-German Development Project. Brandis, D., Baden-Powell, B.H., and Stenhouse, W., 1876: Suggestions Regarding the Demarcation and Management of the Forests in Kulu. Calcutta, Government Press. Casimir, M.J. and Rao, A., 1985: The pastoral ecology of the nomadic Bakrwal of Jammu and Kashmir. Mountain Research and Development, 5(3): 221–232, Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. Champion, H.G. and Seth, S.K., 1968: A Revised Survey of the Forest Types of India. New Delhi, Government of India.

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Christiansen, T. et al., 1981: Report on Erosion Hazard of the Area of the IndoGerman Dhauladhar Project. German Agency for Technical Cooperation, Giessen, West Germany. Cioffi, P.J., 1981: Effects of livestock on vegetation. The Wildlife of Himachal Pradesh, Western Himalayas. School of Forest Resources, Orono, Maine, U.S.A., pp. 115–119. Cleghorn, H., 1864: The Forests of Punjab. Roorkee, Engineering College Press. Coldstream, J., 1913: Revised Settlement of Kulu Subdivision. Simla, Government Press. Coventry, B.O., 1929: Denudation of the Punjab Hills. Indian Forest Records, XIV, Part II. Das, E.S. and Gupta, G.C., 1967: Problem of grassland improvement in the hills of Western Himalayas. Indian Forester, 93: 22–26. Eardley-Wilmot, S., 1906: Notes on a Tour in the Forests of Jammu and Kashmir in 1905. Calcutta, Government Press. Gairola, J.P., 1947: The Ghaggar River catchment area. Indian Forester, 73: 82–83. Glover, H.M., 1921: Report on the Forest Settlement, Sutlej Valley, Bashahr State. Simla, Government Press. Gorrie, R.M., 1937a: The foothills grazing problem in India. Agriculture and Livestock in India, 7: 579–584. ———, 1937b: Forest Working Plan for Mandi State Forests, 1937–56. Lahore, Government Press. Grieve, J.W.A., 1920: Note on the economics of nomadic grazing as practised in Kangra District. Indian Forester, 46: 332–340. Gupta, R.S., Khybri, M., and Singh, B., 1965: Run-off plot studies with different grasses with special reference to conditions prevailing in the Himalayas and the Siwalik region. Indian Forester, 91: 128–133. Hart, G.S., 1916: Note on a Tour of Inspection in the Kulu and Kangra Forest Divisions, Punjab. Simla, Government Press. Himachal Pradesh Grazing Advisory Committee, 1970: Report. Solan, Himachal Pradesh Government Press. Holland, L.B., 1928: Report on Denudation and Erosion in the Low Hills of Punjab. Lahore, Government Press. Hutchison, J. and Vogel, J.P., 1933: History of the Punjab Hill States. 2 Vols., Lahore, Government Press. Ibbetson, D., MacLagan, E.D., and Rose, H.A., 1911: A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. Lahore, Government Press, Vol. II.

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Kapoor, D.P., 1973: Fifth Working Plan for the Kulu and Seraj Forests. Simla, Government Press. Kayastha, S.L., 1964: The Himalayan Beas Basin: A Study in Habitat, Economy and Society. Varanasi, Banaras Hindu University. Lyall, J.B., 1874: Report of the Land Revenue Settlement of the Kangra District, Punjab. Lahore, Government Press. Mahapatra, L.K., 1975: Pastoralists and the modern Indian State. In Leshnik, L.S. and Sontheimer, G.D. (eds), Pastoralists and Nomads in South Asia.Heidelberg, West Germany. Mani, M.S., 1978: Ecology and Phytogeography of High Altitude Plants of the Northwest Himalaya. New Delhi, Oxford University Press. Mohan, N.P., 1934: Revised Working Plan for the Forests of the Hoshiarpur Forest Division, 1933–34 to 1950–51. Lahore, Government Press. Newell, W.H., 1955: Goshen, a Gaddi Village in the Himalayas. In Srinivas, M.N. (ed.), India’s Villages. Calcutta, West Bengal Government Press, pp. 51–61. ———, 1967: Report on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Census of India 1961. Vol. XX, Part V-B. Simla, Government of India Press. ———, 1970: An upper Ravi village: the process of social change in Himachal Pradesh. In Ishwaran, K. (ed.), Change and Continuity in India’s Villages. New York, U.S.A., Columbia University Press, pp. 37–56. Nitzberg, F.L., 1970: Land, labor and status: the social implications of ecologic adaptation in a region of the Western Himalayas of India. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Parmar, B.S., 1959: Report on the Grazing Problems and Policy of Himachal Pradesh. Simla, Government Press. Parry, J., 1979: Caste and Kinship in Kangra. Routledge, Kegan, Paul, London. Phillimore, P.R., 1981: Migratory graziers and their flocks. In The Wildlife of Himachal Pradesh, Western Himalayas. School of Forest Resources, Orono, Maine, U.S.A., pp. 98–110. Polunin, O. and Stainton, A., 1984: Flowers of the Himalayas. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Punjab District Gazetteers, Kangra District 1924–25, 1926: Lahore, Government Press. Punjab Erosion Committee, 1931: Report. Lahore, Government Press. Punjab Forest Administration, 1870–1947: Annual Reports. Lahore, Government Press. Selected years. Punjab Government (Garbett) Commission, 1938: Report. Lahore, Government Press. Samler, W.H.G., 1935: Revised Working Plan for the Kulu Forests, 1934–35 to 1973–74. Lahore, Government Press.

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Schlich, W., 1882: Suggestions Regarding the Demarcation and Management of the Forests in Kulu. Calcutta, Government Press. Sharma, Ranbir, 1977: Party Politics in a Himalayan State. New Delhi, National Publishers. Singh, Durga, 1912: Forest Settlement Report of (Kahlur) Bilaspur State in the Simla District. Simla, Government Press. Smith, Gisborne, 1886: Report on the Forests of the Upper Ravi River. Lahore, Government Press. Stebbing, E.P., 1922: The Forests of India. John Lane, London, Vol. I. Thorburn, S.S., 1898: Introduction. In Anderson, A. (ed.), Final Report of the Revised Settlement of Kangra Proper. Lahore, Government Press. Trevor, C.G., 1920: Revised Working Plan for the Kulu Forests, 1919–20 to 1943–44. Lahore, Government Press. Tucker, R.P., 1982: The forests of the Western Himalayas: the legacy of British colonial administration. Journal of Forest History, 26(3): 112–123, Durham, N.C., U.S.A. ———, 1983: The British colonial system and the forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914. In Tucker, R.P. and Richards, J.F. (eds), Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth Century World Economy. Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., U.S.A., pp. 146–166. ———, 1984: The historical context of social forestry in the Kumaon Himalaya. Journal of Developing Areas, 18(3): 341–356. ———, 1986: The British Empire and India’s forest resources: the timber lands of Assam and Kumaon, 1914–1950. In Richards, J.F. and Tucker, R.P. (eds), The World’s Forests and the Global Economy in the Twentieth Century. Wace, M.E., 1901: Revised Working Plan of the Pangi Forest Division. Lahore, Government Press. Walters, O.H., 1922: A Revised Working Plan for the Kangra and Hoshiarpur Divisions, 1920–21 to 1929–30. Lahore, Government Press. Wright, H.L., 1917: Report on the Forest Settlement of the Mandi State Forests. Simla, Government Press. Zarin, M.M. and Schmidt, R.L., 1984: Discussions with Hariq: Land Tenure and Transhumance in Indus Kohistan. Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley, U.S.A.

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VI The British Empire and India’s Forest Resources: The Timberlands of Assam and Kumaon, 1914–1950∗

I

n each forested region of India the first era of massive deforestation occurred shortly after it was absorbed into the British Empire, at a time of transition in the area’s political economy. Whatever the time for each area, from roughly 1770 to 1860, it was a period of new commercial possibilities for timber sales or alternative cash crops, with no public agency yet in place to enforce any systematic timber management or balanced land use policy. Then gradually, as the imperial bureaucracy became established on the land, greater planning and efficiency of forest use evolved, especially after the Indian Forest Service was established in 1865. The nineteenth century saw massive land clearances for agricultural expansion, but in the later decades there was also careful demarcation and detailed assessment of major timber stands, first in the commercially valuable forests accessible to transport lines and urban centers, and gradually farther into the periphery of the subcontinent in the formerly inaccessible Himalayan mountain regions of the Northwest and Northeast.1

∗ Originally published as “The British Empire and India’s Forest Resources: The Timberlands of Assam and Kumaon, 1914–1950,” in World Deforestation in the Twentieth Century, J.F. Richards and Richard P. Tucker, Eds. pp. 91–111. Copyright 1987 Duke University Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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A second great wave of deforestation came in the 1940s with the demands of World War II and the transition to independence for India and Pakistan in 1947. This chapter will focus on the years leading to and encompassing the second era, in which timberlands reflected the series of global cataclysms that began in 1914. It will assess the impact on the extent and composition of two vulnerable forest regions: the conifer and broad-leafed forests of the western Himalayas and the subtropical mixed forest lands of Assam in the northeast. Both are crucial for the watersheds of major north Indian rivers: northwestern Uttar Pradesh on the upper Ganges and Assam astride the Brahmaputra. Both are adjacent to dense lowland agricultural populations with their demands for forest products. Both were subject to the bureaucratic and economic forces of the British Empire, and therefore to global events. Both by now have suffered severe ecological degradation. But the two areas’ specific patterns of resource exploitation have been very different. The deforestation of Assam has resulted from the complex of political and cultural factors that led inexorably to the explosions of 1983; its political and ecological downward spiral promises only to continue in the future. The western Himalayas, in contrast, have seen a longer and slower decline of their forest cover, and their recent social and political history has been much less turbulent. There the mountains have been washing away with a slower steadiness, and local peasant protests specifically focusing against commercial timber operations have become a familiar aspect of the scene since the early 1920s. By tracing trends in these two contrasting but equally fragile environments, this essay will highlight the dynamics of land policy, economic development, demographic and ethnic movements, and settings of landscape and vegetation in Uttar Pradesh and Assam.

The Timber Belt of Kumaon West of the Nepal border lie the Himalayan mountain districts of Uttar Pradesh, or U.P., as the state is known by English and Hindi speakers alike. (Under the British Raj before 1947, it was called the United Provinces; hence U.P. then as now.) The state as a whole dominates the upper plains of the Ganges basin. With a population now passing 143

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100 million, it faces intense pressure on its fertile alluvial soils. From the early nineteenth century both subsistence and commercial agriculture expanded into the forested belt below the outermost Himalayan hills. But in contrast with the vast expansion of tea plantations in Assam, capitalist export agriculture never became an important element of the Himalayan hills in the northwest. Again in sharp contrast to Assam, there was little shifting agriculture to wear away at the vitality of the forest. And there has been no great peasant migration from the fertile though crowded U.P. plains to the thin soils of the hills. Instead peasant agriculture in the hills has seen the steady multiplication of individual farm plots, often terraced; the intensification of livestock grazing; and a considerable outmigration to the plains. The changing extent and composition of these hill forests has been largely a reflection of commercial forestry management under the terms of the 1878 Indian Forest Law, plus subsistence pressures related to settled agriculture and transhumant grazing. In the U.P. forest region of Kumaon2 three distinct zones of topography and vegetation must be considered for any assessment of ecological change during this period. The belt that daunted settlers throughout the colonial era is the tarai, a malarial swamp that lies just below the outermost hills and accumulates heavy rainfall during the monsoon months of June through October. The tarai effectively discouraged plains people from expanding northward until the antimalaria campaigns of the 1950s, thereby serving as a buffer zone for the hills. Timber cutting was a far more profitable venture, for the Himalayan foothills from somewhat west of U.P. and for 2,500 kilometers south-eastward as far as Assam produce vast quantities of sal (Shorea robust) timber, a versatile broad-leafed hardwood that has always been the chief object of north Indian forestry management. Under British rule the sal forests of the north began to be cut in the 1770s, as soon as Calcutta grew large enough to require building timber and fuelwood from farther reaches of the Ganges basin. Even a thousand miles inland from the Bay of Bengal the elevation in the tarai is hardly above 300 meters. Immediately beyond the jungle belt rise the Siwalik hills, the outermost range of the Himalayas; in Kumaon their steep slopes reach to summits above 2,000 meters. From there other ranges of roughly similar height roll roughly 100 miles northward, cut by the gorges of several Ganges tributaries, until beyond the Ganges 144

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headwaters the High Himalaya towers to over 6,000 meters. The dominant forest community in this region, with elevations between 500 and 2,300 meters, centers on the chir pine (Pinus longifolia), especially on the dry south-facing slopes where reproduction of other species is extremely difficult in the long dry months before the monsoon rains. Above the chir belt—at elevations of 1,800 to 3,600 meters, which begin to approach alpine conditions—several other conifers dominate: small stands of the prized deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) in the northwest, the kail or blue pine (Pinus excelsa or wallichiana) both of which were widely lumbered by 1900, and the softer woods of the West Himalayan spruce (Picea smithiana) at 2,100–3,300 meters and silver fir (Abies pindrow) at 2,200–3,300 meters. These stands have been important for general timber supplies for the regional market, though the spruce und fir were not cut on a large scale until the era of aggressive economic development that began after independence. The years before 1914 were a period of consolidation of forestry management in northern U.P. based on the 1878 forest law, which with amendments has been the basis of Indian forestry ever since. Until then bureaucratic management of the land was entirely in the hands of the revenue officials, centering in the district collector’s office. Neither before, nor at any time since then, did the revenue authorities have the staff, training, or interest to manage forest or grazing lands in any detail. Their interest lay with agriculture: revenue from crop production was the fiscal mainstay of the districts. Even after 1878 the collector retained the power to grant small parcels of forest land to peasants who proved able to plough it; the Forest Department was rarely able to prevent the slow depletion of its acreage. The Revenue Department’s principal interest remained the expansion of agricultural production, not by intensification of production on existing tilled fields but by cutting into pasture and forest as the hill populace gradually expanded and families produced additional labor. The 1878 law did empower the Forest Department to survey and set aside reserved forests where timber stands could be commercially profitable and managed for a perpetual crop of trees or where the forest was so remote that it had no potential for crops and where, as on steep, fragile mountainsides, its preservation was necessary in order to stabilize watersheds. The process of establishing the reserves was painstakingly 145

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slow, occupying much of the foresters’ time in the following years. By the early 1890s large reserves were established in the lowland chir belt, and timber harvests primarily for railway sleepers (crossties) provided the main source of the department’s budget. Higher into the Siwaliks a few thousand hectares were reserved to assure an adequate fuelwood supply for the growing European towns in the hills. The chir pine belt in the Siwaliks and beyond was left to the slow processes of livestock grazing and encroachment for new crop terracing until after 1900, for chir had no commercial uses yet. Shortly after 1900 one of the most important innovations in the history of Kumaon appeared: the beginning of commercial resin tapping, for which the chir pine was ideal. Methods of distilling chir resin were crude at first, and transport of the product from the factory at Bhowali at an altitude of 1,500 meters was difficult. Large-scale resin production became a key element of the forest economy only after 1918, but its promise spurred the foresters on to establish large new reserves in the middle hills, out of forests that had remained since 1878 in the interim category of Protected Forest, under the minimal management of the Revenue Department. The New Reserves, as the 1911 to 1916 areas were called, promised to expand the Forest Department’s scale of operations and profits dramatically. But local, national, and world events conspired to disrupt these plans, with severe and permanent degradation of the Kumaon forests as the ultimate consequence. Stresses on the broader economy of the hills during World War I were the key to the forests’ postwar crisis. The war produced severe pressures on India’s productivity, but the direct effect on the forests was fairly limited. In the early stages of the war little timber was mobilized for the struggle in Europe. But by 1917 the wartime Indian Munitions Board’s timber branch ordered structural timbers for bridges, piers, buildings, and so forth from the Forest Department, primarily for shipment to Egypt and Mesopotamia. New port facilities had to be created for these shipments in Bombay, Karachi, and Rangoon. Railway building, mostly also in Egypt and Mesopotamia, used almost 2,700 kilometers of wooden sleepers, at approximately 3,000 sleepers per kilometer.3 Little of this timber was taken from north India; forests nearer the coasts were adequate to meet the sudden demand. The indirect impact of the war on the U.P. hills was more significant. Throughout the war the 146

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Forest Department’s budgets were curtailed and younger staff members left for military service until the end of 1918. Consequently, planned harvests in the forest reserves did not meet the targets for each year that had been set in the forests’ Working Plans. The planned rotations (of as much as 150 years for the slow-growing deodar) were designed to cull diseased and “overaged” trees, thereby gradually improving the health and productivity of the forests. In other words, in terms of the production of commercially valuable species the war was a setback in the management of the reserves: by the silvicultural standards of the time too few trees were cut and too little revenue was generated.4 The wartime labor shortage extended to another sphere as well, the daily labor of timber cutting and transport. Thousands of men from the Kumaon and Garhwal hills left for military service; the exploits of several of their regiments are still remembered vividly in the traditions of the British army. Other Pahari men (pahar is a Hindi word for hill or mountain) migrated to the north Indian plains for wage labor there, accelerating a flow that has continued to the present and that has provided the single largest source of cash income for farm families of the hills. This would have had little significance for the vegetation cover of the Himalayan hill region—the first aerial photographs in the 1930s would not have registered any thinning tree cover—except for the political tensions that resulted from the labor shortage and added an entirely new dimension to the ecological affairs of the hills. For forest labor, including the work of resin tapping, men could earn a small daily wage. Indeed, the Forest Department perennially pointed to this cash flow as a vital source of subsistence income for the Pahari economy. In contrast the traditional porter labor throughout the hills and even in many plains areas of north India, begar as it was usually called, was unpaid. India’s traditional form of corvee labor, it was justified by both rajas and the British Raj as the equivalent of land taxes. But Mohandas Gandhi had returned permanently to India in 1915, and others like C.F. Andrews joined him in declaring that begar was the empire’s method of extracting free labor from unwilling landowners, humiliating them by this “feudal” exploitation. By 1916 the first active workers of the Indian National Congress in the Kumaon hills organized a new scheme of wage payments for coolie labor. Many hill peasants joined in threatening to boycott all further begar demands. Because this 147

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coolie labor was the sinew of local administration (the region had no motorable roads and few tracks wide enough even for bullock carts until after 1920), the Kumaon administration under Commissioner Wyndham moved speedily after the Armistice in Europe. By late 1920 a new system of entirely paid porterage in the Kumaon districts was ready to be introduced.5 But it was too late to avoid the spread of political tension to the broader arena of Gandhi’s first Non-Cooperation Movement, the 1920–1922 nationwide confrontation with the British Raj. The movement featured civil disobedience against laws that Congress leaders believed unjust, and no injustice was deeper than that which deprived the masses of their inherent right to subsistence. For the people of Kumaon nationalist protests were unprecedented and galvanizing. To them the forest law was the pure expression of the immorality of British law, for it had given the Forest Department the right to exclude villagers and their livestock from reserves when the department considered it necessary for the growth of new seedlings. The New Reserves of 1911 to 1916 were the visible symbol of oppression. One of the most difficult moments in relations between foresters and peasants, anywhere in India and later in other parts of the Empire as well, was the moment when a new reserve was declared and fenced. The new restrictions could be made palatable to nearby villagers only by careful communication between officials and villagers during the transition period. The war years in Kumaon left little time for announcing the new reserves or making the small adjustments that might satisfy the village people. Moreover, the first months of 1921 were the hottest and driest in many years. By early March, the season when villagers traditionally burned the dry grasses of the hills to produce a faster, more lush new growth in the monsoon rains, the forests of the western Himalayas were in extreme fire danger. In a few weeks in March and April many thousand acres of resinous chir pine in the New Reserves and large plantations of young sal trees at lower elevations flared out of control. The U.P. government had already come to fear mass peasant uprisings in the plains districts, and the hill fires, suddenly the worst in modern India’s history, led the government to urgent action. A special commission under Commissioner Wyndham surveyed the entire range of Pahari grievances about the 148

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forest law, and by the dry season of 1922 the government adopted its recommendation: the New Reserves were to be canceled and their administration returned to the Revenue Department.6 The Forest Department’s outraged protests were set aside, despite their warning that forests left to the revenue officials would be given no silvicultural treatment, no reforestation, and no measures against soil erosion. But the damage was now twice done. Many Civil Forests, as they were henceforth called, had hardly a tree on them by the 1960s when they were turned over either to village councils or once again to the Forest Department. The intricate economic and political forces triggered by World War I had taken their ecological toll. The war had another major consequence of a very different sort: it precipitated intensive efforts to find industrial uses for “India’s forest wealth,” as an influential book of the time called it.7 Consequently a variety of tree species that had previously been considered of no commercial value began to be logged, and new uses for familiar species were developed. India’s forests were entering the industrial age, and their exploitation was beginning to be much more complex. World War I brought Britain to the sober realization that the crown jewel of her empire, India, could no longer be assured of the safe supply lines to Britain that had determined imperial policy for a century. With military threats from other powers compounded by rising transport costs of European goods the Indian Empire would henceforth be advised to look to its own industrial resources more seriously than in the past. Moreover, Indian industrialists had begun to challenge their British counterparts, while Gandhi’s Congress was boycotting imported cloth. In an ideological parallel, Adam Smith would soon give way to John Maynard Keynes, and the government of British India would begin to take a more positive role In India’s industrial economy.8 The clearest indication of more active governmental involvement in the timber economy concerned the chir pine. Since the turn of the century foresters in U.P. had been eager to exploit the revenue potential of resin manufacture. Immediately after the war the Forest Department constructed India’s most sophisticated resin-processing plant outside the city of Bareilly, which lay south of the tarai beyond Kumaon’s southeast corner.9 The Forest Department defended the expenditure of its funds on a large-scale industrial plant by assuring its critics that the factory would 149

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bring a new era of productivity to the Siwalik chir belt and prosperity to the local villagers, and also by insisting that no private entrepreneur could be found with adequate capital to set up a plant large enough to be profitable; But was the Bareilly plant immediately profitable? As soon as it began operating, it produced the dominant share of India’s total production of resin products and in addition began exporting to Europe. Several small-scale, privately financed resin-processing plants farther northwest toward Kashmir, where the chir pine belt ends, could only supply local markets in the growing towns of Punjab. But profitability was another matter. As an experiment in innovative technology and somewhat speculative financing, the Bareilly plant soon proved to be inefficient in some operations, and costs remained obstinately high into the mid-1920s. The advocates of the old principle that government should not intervene in the industrial economy were ready to counterattack. In the U.P. legislative assembly during the budget debate over the Forest Department in 1923, the defenders of laissez-faire industrialization challenged the foresters’ move into industrial marketing.10 The debate ended inconclusively: the Bareilly factory remained in operation and proved so successful that it still dominates India’s resin industry. But the U.P. Forest Department adopted great caution in launching any further expensive forest products industries. Yet the resin venture did exemplify what the Indian Industrial Commission had recommended at the end of the war: industrial self-sufficiency for the country. Research on the industrial uses of timber had begun in India in the early 1870s with the effort to creosote railway sleepers made from soft conifer such as chir so that they would withstand the attacks of white ants and the competition from European wood and iron sleepers. The effort bore little success for many years. But by the turn of the century the need for other experimentation on forest products was a major impetus to establish the Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehra Dun, at the westernmost corner of the U.P. Siwaliks. In short order the FRI became the colonial world’s premier research station and a model for later centers in Britain’s tropics. But the resistance to governmental interference in commerce and industry meant that prior to 1914 its work was primarily silvicultural: developing the systematic forest botany on which twentieth-century forestry management is built. Only after the war did industrial experimentation flourish at the FRI.11 When its vast modern 150

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headquarters were built in the early 1920s, its experimental laboratories were allotted a large acreage. Research on resin products remained at Bareilly, but during the 1920s research began at the FRI on a wide variety of possible new tree products. The exploitation of many new tree species became a major possibility especially from forests such as mixed broadleaf tracts in the tarai that previously had been ignored except for their fuelwood potential. U.P. and other provinces appointed a new officer, the forest utilization officer, whose days were spent not so much in surveying the reserves as in studying the chemical and physical properties of each timber, and beyond that, in discussing potential market demands. Forestry was moving into marketing and publicity, and this too took an administrative budget that the old guard in the government attacked. If the annual balance sheet of the Bareilly resin plant was open to challenge, the profitability of the forest utilization officers and their ventures into creating future markets in India and abroad was at first negative. This might be acceptable in corporate finance, the conservatives argued, but it was not an acceptable use of the public treasury. Neither side clearly won this debate on the industrialization of India’s forests in the 1920s, for this was only an early stage of the transformation of industrial policy and the role of the public sector. As for the government’s role in exploiting natural resources, the results by 1929 were modest. Had the years of relative prosperity and a rewarding marketplace continued longer the “progressive” foresters might well have scored greater successes. But when the bottom dropped out of the timber market by early 1930, and a decade of depression was followed by another world war and the subsequent transition to an independent government, nearly all expansion of the forest products industry was halted for 20 years and more. The ecological consequence was that lowland mixed broadleaf forests, and similarly the spruce and fir stands of the higher Himalayas, were given a long reprieve from the pressures of commercial forestry. Only the 1950s, which are beyond the scope of this study, transformed them. The decade since 1918 had seen the full professionalization of the Indian Forest Service. Specialties of great importance for the long-run character of commercial forests were reaching their maturity. One of the most important examples was the vexing problem of how to regenerate the great sal forests, which had become the core of timber supplies for 151

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India’s railways when northern deodar supplies were depleted in the late nineteenth century. It had proved very difficult to find the optimal pattern of light and moisture in which sal seedlings would thrive; more articles were written in professional journals and more study tours of the tarai forests were organized on this than on any other subject. Regeneration success rates were considerably higher by the late 1920s, assuring the continued supply of sal sleepers for maintenance of India’s great network of rails when imports of European sleepers faded away. The sal forests from northwest of U.P. all the way to the heart of Assam in the Brahmaputra valley were becoming a showpiece of modern forestry practice in India. But railway supplies were a controlled market; ever since the 1860s both quantities and prices had been determined not by fluctuations of price levels on an open market but by contracts negotiated between the Railway Department and the Forest Department. Other timber harvesting, for the urban fuelwood and construction markets of north India, had always been determined far more by open market demand and the perpetually unstable price levels of a volatile market. Research on price levels and the timber market before the 1950s has barely begun for Third World countries. In India available data are massive but poorly coordinated. Only two rough pictures for the 1920s are available now.12 The immediate post-1918 period for about three years saw a slump in timber demand and large unsold inventories of timber in Forest Department storage. This in turn meant lower operating budgets for forestry. The next decade on the whole saw higher price levels and expanding demand for timber. Despite this demand, with generally unstable markets in the colonial economy over the decade,13 timber marketing remained a volatile, high-risk investment for private entrepreneurs. Forest Department reports frequently indicate the difficulty the department faced in attracting private bidders at its timber auctions. Only a few Indian timber merchants succeeded in building personal fortunes before 1929, in stark contrast to the timber fortunes that became commonplace throughout the Himalayas in the 1940s and 1950s. Management of the sal and chir forests had become professional and routinized. The U.P. forest service was the most prestigious in the country. After the Kumaon debacle of the early 1920s acreage under reserves 152

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changed little until after independence. Private forests were a relatively small percentage of the tree cover. And except for inaccessible conifer stands of the remote high forests of the north, nearly all remaining woodlands of any quality were under regular management. (This contrasts dramatically, as we will see, with the forests of Assam, whose commercial exploitation was still in its early stages.) Annual statistics of total timber production in U.P. in the 1920s show a remarkably steady output, expanding somewhat but not fluctuating widely. During the war production had been steady at 8 to 9 million cubic feet annually. After the slight postwar dip, production reached a decade high of 11.3 million cubic feet in 1924, and remained close to that until 1929.14 Comparing the prosperous years of the 1920s with the Depression years that followed gives some indication of the effect of national and international market conditions on north Indian regional timber production. To set the context it is worth noting that international timber exports from the British Indian Empire suffered sharply in the early Depression years, as did most raw materials from most primary producing countries. Within India price levels generally fell by over 40 percent between September 1929 and March 1933.15 Agricultural exports, which constituted the bulk of India’s export earnings, were particularly hard hit. Total export earnings fell from $610 million in 1929 to $181 million three years later. In the case of tea, a plantation crop that had replaced subtropical forest in Assam and elsewhere in the northeast (discussed below) both production and export price levels fell dramatically for several years. As for timber, exports from British India were entirely restricted to Burmese teak and mixed tropical hardwoods from the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Andaman timber sales had roughly doubled during the 1920s, supplying specialized European markets for furniture material. During the Depression years, income declined by over 30 percent, but since prices presumably fell, this seems to indicate relatively stable production volume. Burmese teak exports had for years been very volatile. Production had hit as much as 60,000 tons in 1912–1913; it then fluctuated between 14,000 and 29,000 tons by 1931. Timber export earnings were also hard hit: total figures fell from a high of Rs 135 million in 1928 to a 1932 low of Rs 26 million. In sum, the Depression reduced 153

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both harvests and profits from specific forests, but these were confined to peripheral corners of the imperial possession.16 The Depression’s effects on the forests of U.P. were more indirect. From the 1924 timber production of 11.3 million cubic feet, a low was reached in 1931 with 8.2 million, but by 1937 figures recovered to 11.2 million.17 All in all, this was a far less severe fluctuation than any food crop’s exports suffered. The relation between quantity and price levels has not yet been carefully studied, but an oblique indicator, total departmental income, varied equally little except for moderate declines in the early 1930s. This suggests that timber prices on local and regional markets in the north, despite sharp short-term fluctuations that troubled small-scale investors, were about as stable as long-term demand. In the U.P. in these years the major change was the largely unmeasured depletion of Civil Forests and private woodlots for fuelwood, and this in turn reflected the demographic trends of the time. India’s population had risen at relatively low rates throughout the nineteenth century, even in the area of greatest concentration, the Ganges basin. But the last great check, the influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1919, was now behind. Decennial censuses beginning with 1921 show far faster population increases, even in the hills.18 These in turn inexorably raised firewood consumption, as even our very approximate statistics demonstrate. By this time fuelwood consumption had outstripped commercial logging in total biomass use, as it was doing in most Third World countries. Thus a full analysis of the impact of global economic structures on Third World forest use must ultimately come to grips with the controversies over indirect casual connections between colonial political economies and the Third World demographic explosion. This chapter can only skirt that debate, moving directly to effects on fuelwood and forest cover. From a 1914–1915 figure of 7.7 million cubic feet of fuelwood, the province’s Forest Department increased its cutting to 24 million in 1918–1919, and as high as 30.6 million in 1923. Thereafter it stabilized just below 25 million cubic feet throughout the Depression years. As one would expect, demand for fuelwood was inelastic; the impact of world depression on the single largest use of wood was minimal. And since these statistics represent only fuelwood provided through Forest Department channels, giving no indication of cutting from Civil Forests or private woodlots, the subsistence demand on U.P. forests must have been 154

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several times the commercial demand. This was registered only in the long slow decline in the density and regeneration of the Himalayan hill forests. Within the Reserved Forests there was constant concern over maintaining long-range rotational cuttings of timber through the 1920s. Under the fiscal austerity of the government from the mid-1920s onward and with the constant efforts to retrench stall and administrative costs that characterized the entire last two decades of British India, no new British foresters were trained after 1925 and total departmental staff was cut by as much as one-third after 1929. The ecological effect of all this is a matter of dispute. On the one hand, the quality of silvicultural work on the reserves unquestionably suffered, as fewer and fewer professionals were available for a still vast acreage of forest. On the other hand, because foresters were always reluctant to allow unsupervised logging by haphazard or unscrupulous contractors, some important reserves were harvested at far below their scheduled rates. Did this inhibit the long-run sustained-yield maintenance of sal and other stands, or did it provide a buffer supply for meeting the intense demand of the war years that followed? Most likely the most important factor was the last, the years of breathing space that the slack harvests of the 1930s gave the trees before they were sacrificed in vast numbers to the war machine. The opening assertion of this essay was that the 1940s were the second era of massive cutting in India’s forests. From the beginning of 1942 onward timber management was placed on an emergency basis, with supplies and prices from the Reserved Forests strictly controlled by the Wartime Mobilization Board and the Forest Department.19 Timber for bridges, harbors, railways, buildings, and many other uses placed all foresters and their timber stands under severe strain. Schedules of rotational harvesting were accelerated greatly. But by early 1945, when the end of the struggle was in sight, the national forestry board concluded that harvests under its command had been orderly, and no long-range ecological damage had been done to the reserves. No one seems to have disputed their assessment.20 In the private sector the story was grimly different. There could be no serious attempt to control urban price levels for construction wood, and particularly for fuelwood. Scarcities of wood in north Indian cities were severe throughout the war, and private contractors made the most of 155

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rapidly rising prices. Private forest owners eagerly sold their standing trees for easy windfall profits, and investors made fortunes in a single season in timber contracting.21 In Nainital, the chief town of Kumaon, local citizens nearly rioted in 1942 against the contractors and so began a process of confrontation between peasants and contractors that is intensifying even today. The Forest Department was appalled by the carnage.22 By early 1945 it began pressing for nationalization of all private timber as the only hope of preserving the small woodlots that still dotted the landscape. The result was the U.P. Private Forests Act of 1948, but private owners had several years in which to turn their trees into rupees before the “confiscation,” as they saw it, could be accomplished. By the time the new national forest law was passed in 1952, there were few trees left on the former private lands, and not many more in the Civil Forests, which had become scrub grazing grounds for scrub livestock. Only the reserves were still in reasonably head thy condition, and they would come under increasing pressure from all interests in the accelerated economic development of the Five Year Plans.

Forest Depletion in Assam, 1941–1947 On the easternmost fringe of the Himalayan ranges, where the Brahmaputra has made its great arc to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal, Assam’s dense forest belt has been under siege since the early nineteenth century.23 In contrast to U.P., whose total land area of 294,413 square kilometers in 1930 included only 13,512 square kilometers of government forest, Assam’s 142,854 square kilometers included 53,950 square kilometers under government forest control, one of the highest percentages in India. A large portion of this was inaccessible from the outside world, and particularly from commercial and demographic centers until very recently. This summary will center on two of Assam’s three major forest regions, both in the Brahmaputra basin. In the lower reaches, on rich alluvium, stand forests of sal, the farthest eastward extension of the great sub-Himalayan sal belt. Because of the perennially warm, moist climate these are the finest quality of all sal stands. The down-river districts of Kamrup and Goalpara boast the most 156

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extensive stands; the adjacent low hills of Darrang and Goalpara also have large sal reserves. All are of great economic value. Farther northeast, as the gorges become steeper and the hills higher and less accessible, lie Lakhimpur and Sibsagar districts near the borders of Burma and China. These still-remote forests now grow mixed subtropical broadleaf evergreen trees. In earlier times they grew various potentially marketable species; during the late colonial era the foresters’ principal attention focused on the towering hollong (Diptero-carpus marocarpus).24 Even more than in most parts of India, the history of Assam’s forests has been intertwined with the intricate ethnic and cultural patterns of the state.25 The remote high hills of Assam and adjacent regions are home to a wide variety of tribal groups whose subsistence has been based primarily on shifting agriculture, or jhum, as it is locally known. Until recently tribal populations were thin enough so they presented no fatal threat to the mixed forest, if left to themselves. But the Brahmaputra lowlands supported a much more dense, rapidly growing, and culturally different populace of Hindu rice farmers. In the twentieth century Assam has had the fastest-growing population of any state in India: from 3.3 million in 1901 to 15 million in 1971, nearly all of the growth before 1947 occurring in the lower areas of settled agriculture.26 Further, the traditional settlers of the lowlands are Assamese speakers, while the tribals speak a totally separate set of languages. Most challenging of all, down-river in Bengal lies perhaps the densest rural population in the world; by the late nineteenth century Bengali peasants, most of them Muslim, began drifting up-river into the fertile Assamese forest fringe. The British Raj had only rudimentary administrative operations outside the lowlands of Assam, and transport, commerce, and industry were less developed than in other parts of India. Even before World War I, one cause of depletion of Assam’s vegetation was the steady encroachment of immigrant peasants on the forest and jhum lands of lower Assam.27 The other transformation, one that quickly penetrated far into the hills, was the tea industry. After 1833, when the East India Company’s new charter allowed foreigners to own rural land in India, European tea planters quickly bought Assam hill land. By 1871, 700,000 acres were owned by the planters, though as yet only 56,000 acres were actually producing tea. By 1900 there were 764 working tea estates in Assam, producing 145 million pounds of tea annually for export.28 Most of the 157

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plantation workers were outsiders; by 1900, 400,000 alien workers had been brought into Assam under appalling conditions. The ethnic struggle for land in Assam, then, was a four-way conflict, and beyond this the tea planters for many years held the dominant financial and political leverage. No wonder that the Forest Department, though separated from the Bengal Forest Department in 1874, had succeeded in demarcating only a few thousand acres of lowland sal as Reserved Forest by 1914. The tea industry of northeast India is a classic case of a foreigndominated plantation economy that controlled a colony’s land use patterns and was highly sensitive to markets in the industrialized world. When we consider the impact of World War I on Assam’s forest lands, the most immediately evident factor is the wartime prosperity in the tea industry. Prices in Europe rose, dividends to the planters for their role in aiding the war effort rose correspondingly, and acreage under cropping extended rapidly. The first years after 1918 saw a brief oversupply in England’s warehouses and a minor depression in the Assam hills, but this was succeeded by a decade of prosperity and further expansion of the acreage under tea.29 The Depression hit the tea industry heavily. The all-India wholesale price index for tea dropped by 53 percent in four years. By 1933 the tea industry responded with an international system regulating supplies, which assured a rebound of profitability by 1934. Economic strength continued to increase until the war, at which point, although Assam was threatened by great military danger, the tea industry entered another era of wartime prosperity. The British government controlled all tea production and consumption beginning in 1940, and from early 1942 the rising competition of Indonesian tea was ended by the Japanese occupation there. The tea industry in Assam and adjacent northern Bengal expanded another 20 percent by 1945. What was the impact on Assam’s forests? Tea planting continued to expand onto lands previously in government forest, village commons, or private ownership. The tea industry also slowly came to have a stake in the adjacent forests, because massive amounts of wood were required for tea chests. Throughout the nineteenth century the planters preferred birch chests imported from Scandinavia; plywood technology was not yet available in India. Later the Japanese began supplying tea chests for northeastern India. 158

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World War I brought intensive efforts to substitute Indian wood for the whole range of forest product imports. The Forest Department experimented with Assamese species for sleepers on which to lay the lines of new railways that moved, painfully slowly, up the gorges toward Sibsagar and Lakhimpur. They had little success in this quarter, but the war spurred more successful efforts to begin a plywood industry in Assam. By the early 1920s several sawmills were opened along the Brahmaputra valley, experimenting with various subtropical woods from upper Assam. Here lay a significant contrast with the simultaneous efforts to build a resin industry in U.P. In Assam the Forest Department was still a fledgling; there was no possibility of finding either capital or personnel within the department for the necessary sawmill experiments. Attracting private capital from Calcutta was the only possible course. In the early 1920s several Calcutta firms (controlled by Marwari or Bengali businessmen, not Assamese) were given long-term leases on exceptionally favorable terms, in order to encourage the commercialization of the upper Assam forests.30 This indicated a fundamental, widely shared view of the balance between agriculture and forest lands in Assam, which was different in degree from attitudes toward land use in far more densely settled U.P. “Wasteland,” a term generally designating land not under settled agriculture or forest reserve, was a great opportunity for settling immigrant peasants. In Assam the Revenue Department, for whom “nonproductive” land was truly a waste because it produced no taxes, consistently pressed for opening more land to the plow. The Forest Department acquiesced on the principle that peasants’ need for land that could be terraced for wet rice and other grains should take first priority in land allocation.31 The foresters were as oriented to development as their confreres in other agencies. They would not disagree with the government’s 1938 report, which stressed “that indigenous people alone would be unable, without the aid of immigrant settlers, to develop the province’s enormous wasteland resources within a reasonable period.”32 However, by 1920 the Forest Department also realized that in the long run this would threaten timber supplies and watershed stabilization. Hence the department began to accelerate the painstaking survey of vegetation and land-potential classification in previously unclassified government forests, especially so as to delineate sal forests which arguably should be kept from the plow. 159

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This was also a pragmatic response to the growing up-river flood of Bengali Muslim peasants. In lowland Goalpara district the population had risen by 2 percent between the 1891 and 1901 censuses; in the next 10 years it rose by 3 percent. From there the settlers moved up-river, occupying Nowgong and Kamrup district wastes; by this time they were beginning to challenge tribal lands as well. They had on their side the general British assumption that settled agriculture was a far more productive use of land than jhum. In the 1920s the movement began to reach upper Burma, where lowland peasants had no experience of the climate and agricultural patterns. Despite these difficulties, land hunger and political pressures continued to force Bengali peasants eastward, and when East Pakistan was created in 1947 from eastern Bengal, a new wave of Hindu peasants moved from Muslim Pakistan into Assam. In the 20 years ending in 1950 some 1,508,000 acres were turned to settled agriculture by the immigrants. How was all this reflected in the timber extraction of the government forests? Before the early 1920s the Assam Forest Department was a small cadre, a few officers whose work was limited to serving short-term commercial demands, mostly in the sal districts. One report, surveying the 75 years before 1925, complained that “the provision of staff and improvements in the forests have depended upon the profit of each year, and not one single budget presented by the Department has even emerged without large cuts by Finance.”33 The government forests of the 1920s which had long been awaiting survey and reservation, were so burdened with peasants’ rights that purchasing those rights threatened to be prohibitively expensive for the government. Nonetheless, it was a boom period for Assam’s forests. During the highly profitable years from 1925 to 1929, the reserves increased by some 400 percent, largely in the sal belt. But for the following decade severe retrenchments in staff and budget left Assamese forestry virtually where it had been in 1918, except that shifting cultivation in the Unclassed State Forests of the hill regions was inexorably expanding. World War II brought major changes in forest production. Between 1939 and 1945 timber production in the reserves more than doubled, while fuelwood cutting there more than tripled. The height of this pressure came after 1942 when heavy concentrations of troops moved up the Brahmaputra valley to stem Japanese forces in Burma. Profits rose far 160

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more dramatically still: total receipts for railway timber rose five times, and military timber use raised eight times more revenue. Much of the profits went into the hands of private contractors from Calcutta as well as the Assamese towns, just as happened in U.P. at the same time. The majority of the contractors were small operators who simply cut and exported logs using only hand tools. With the exception of the two larger sawmills established in the early 1920s, no timber processing was done within Assam. Thus the extreme inefficiency and wastefulness of lumbering continued well toward the present. In one way the war made major changes in forestry technology, not only in Assam but throughout the Himalayan region. Especially in Assam the war effort required new motor roads as well as emergency rail lines. These roads were used by motor lorries and by jeeps, some of which are still in operation almost 40 years later. Foresters in U.P. agree that the motorization of forestry that happened during the war years was a turning point in the mobility of foresters, bureaucrats, and politicians alike. No longer thereafter did foresters spend nine months each year in their reserves; they became more familiar with desk work and more remote from their forests. The scale of timber exports could now be increased to meet the economic demands of independence. New roads could be used, as in many parts of the tropics since that time, by peasants looking for new land to till. Assam’s forests, having been put under sudden new pressures before 1945, underwent yet another major trauma in 1947, when the influx of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan moved westward into the Calcutta region and northeastward into Assam at the same time that transport lines for Assamese timber were severed at the Pakistani border. The sudden new pressure of the immigrants accompanied severe disruption of the state’s administrative machinery and its forest management. The valuable sal forests of Sylhet in the south became part of Pakistan just when the Forest Department had to face severe political pressures to de-reserve existing forest tracts. From an ecological perspective, some commentators suggest that this was a period of temporary reprieve from commercial logging, especially in upper Assam. The full picture of the transition in Assam’s land use during the immediate aftermath of independence is still not entirely clear.34 But it can safely be concluded that the political 161

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and ethnic turmoil of that period led to similar, but more intensive, conflicts in recent years, on a steadily shrinking base of land and vegetation. The recent political turmoil there has made regular economic and administrative life very difficult; the forests are among the victims.

Conclusion To what extent should we speak of these changes as being related to international economic forces? It may be more appropriate to refer to the whole complex of political, military, and economic structures of the dying years of colonialism. The two great wars and the devolution of political power in South Asia were dominant forces in the second and fifth decades of the twentieth century. Market forces were more prominent between 1918 and 1939, but in U.P. and Assam there was little international export of timber. The only export plantation crop of significance was tea, which slowly expanded its acreage, encroaching largely on forests; the boom years for tea had been the nineteenth century. But here Assam’s tie-in to international markets directly affected timber use too. Though Assam grew little teak or exportable tropical timber, production of packing cases and the plywood industry began to emerge in the 1920s. The Assam government’s development policy encouraged this, but it was soon caught in the Depression. The worldwide economic crisis had effects placing Assam in the mainstream of troubles facing the “primary producing” areas: low prices, low production, management cutbacks. Parallel to all this were powerful local factors; first of these was the growing pressure of peasant immigration, which in turn was related to new political pressures centering in the new Muslim League state government after the 1937 elections. Ecologically, though, we may come to somewhat different conclusions. All the negative vocabulary of economics for the 1930s may be inappropriate for trends in vegetation and land use. Slack markets meant less pressure for production in plantations and forests, though reduced labor probably increased subsistence pressure on the Assamese hills from the industrial unemployed. Similarly in the U.P. hills, reserved forest targets were not met in the 1930s, and resin production fell somewhat;

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Forest Department profits declined and management of the forests was reduced. At least by planning standards, this provided a reserve stock of timber for meeting wartime demands. The massive cuttings of 1942 through 1945 were under strict control in government forests. But in the private economy of civilian life, the usual profiteering for urban demand showed the severe price inflation caused by scarcity, which meant a financial boom and ecological disaster on private lands, continuing into the time around the 1949 Private Forests Act. The disruptions of independence in Assam were far greater, when East Pakistan took Sylhet and cut off markets for Assam’s tea and timber.

Notes 1. Richard P. Tucker, “The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914,” in Global Deforestation and the NineteenthCentury World Economy, eds, Richard P. Tucker and J.F. Richards (Durham, N.C., 1983), 146–66. 2. For convenience I shall use the term Kumaon, though the forests under consideration include both the broadleaf belt at the foot of the hills (the Western Division Forests in colonial terminology) and the coniferous forests of the Kumaon Division, which encompassed the pre-1947 civil districts of Nainital, Almora, and Pauri Garhwal. The people of Garhwal would probably object to this distinction. 3. Anonymous, India’s Contribution to the Great War (Calcutta, 1923), 124–26; De Witt Ellinwood, ed., India and World War I (New Delhi, 1978), 141–76. 4. Working Plans of those years from each forest division give full details. 5. Richard P. Tucker, “The Historical Context of Social Forestry in Kumaon, Western Himalayas,” Journal of Developing Areas 18 (April 1984), 341–56. 6. Ibid., 346–48. 7. E.A. Smythies, India’s Forest Wealth (London, 1925). 8. B.R. Tomlinson, The Political Economy of the Raj, 1914–47 (Cambridge, 1979), chaps 3–4. 9. R.G. Marriott, Resin Industry of Kumaon, United Provinces Forest Department, Bulletin no. 9 (Allahabad, 1937); United Provinces Forest Department, Annual Progress Reports on the Resin Industry in the Kumaon and Utilization Circles (Allahabad, annual from 1918).

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10. United Provinces, Legislative Council Debates, 1923. 11. E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, vol. 4, ed. H. Champion and F.C. Osmaston (London, 1962), chap. 8; A.C. Chatterjee, Notes on the Industries of the United Provinces (Allahabad, 1920); and Anonymous, Forest Research and Indian Industry (Delhi, 1936). 12. See Government of India, Annual Return of Statistics Relating to Forest Administration in British India, for full statistical tables (hereinafter cited as SRFABI). 13. Tomlinson, Political Economy of the Raj, chap. 4. 14. Stebbing, Forests of India, vol. 4, chap. 10; for detailed statistics, see Progress Reports on Forest Administration in the United Provinces, annual (hereinafter cited as PRFAUP). 15. P.S. Narayana Prasad, “The World Depression and India,” Indian Journal of Economics (October 1935): 121–44; C.H. Lee, “The Effects of the Depression on Primary Producing Countries,” Journal of Contemporary History (1969): 139–55. 16. See SRFABI, annually, for details. 17. See PREFAUP, for annual statistics; Stebbing, Forests of India, vol. 4, chap. 21. 18. See the figures for the hill districts of U.P. in the Government of India’s decennial censuses. 19. Reconstruction Committee of Council (Government of India), Second Report on Reconstruction Planning (New Delhi, 1944); Stebbing, Forests of India, vol. 4, chap. 9. 20. Herbert Howard, Post-War Forest Policy for India (New Delhi, 1944); R.D. Richmond, “Post-War Forest Policy for India,” Empire Forestry Journal 23, 2 (1944): 103–9, and 24, 1 (1945): 52–55. 21. For a survey of the results, see Report of the Tarai and Bhabar Development Committee (Allahabad, 1947). 22. See several discussions in PRFAUP, 1945–49. 23. P.D. Strachey, “The Development of Forestry in Assam in the Last Fifty Years,” Indian Forester (December 1956): 619–23; H.P. Smith and C. Purkayastha, Assam: A Short History of the Assam Forest Service, 1850–1945 (Shillong, 1946). 24. M.C. Jacob, The Forest Resources of Assam (Shillong, 1940). 25. For the region’s general history, see E.A. Gait, A History of Assam, 2nd. ed. (Calcutta and Simla, 1926), for a British perspective; and the fuller study by Amalendu Guha, From Planter Raj to Swaraj: Freedom Struggle and Electoral Politics in Assam, 1826–1947 (New Delhi, 1977).

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26. Myron Weiner, Sons of the Soil: Migration and Ethnic Conflict in India (Princeton, 1978), chap. 2. 27. Ibid.; for the context in land tenure law, see J.N. Das, An Introduction to the Land Laws of Assam (Gauhati, 1968). 28. Sunil K. Sharma, “Origin and Growth of the Tea Industry in Assam,” in Contributions to Indian Economic History, ed. T. Raychudhuri (Calcutta, 1963); also Guha, Raj to Swaraj, 14; Weiner, Sons of the Soil, 88–92. 29. Percival Griffiths, The History of the Indian Tea Industry (London, 1967), 35–76. 30. For details, see Government of Assam, Progress Reports on Forest Administration in Assam, annual, 1919–25. 31. This principle had been supported from the beginning of forest management in Assam, as elsewhere in India. See Dietrich Brandis, Suggestions Regarding Forest Administration in Assam (Calcutta, 1879); B. Ribbentrop, Notes on an Inspection of the Forests of Assam during January to April 1889 (Simla, 1889). 32. Guha, Raj to Swaraj, 261–62. 33. Smith and Purkayastha, Short History, 42. 34. Bertram Hughes Farmer, Agricultural Colonization in India since Independence (Oxford, 1974), 13–17, 28–31, 56–59.

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VII The Depletion of India’s Forests under British Imperialism: Planters, Foresters, and Peasants in Assam and Kerala∗

I

n the centuries after Columbus reached the Caribbean islands and da Gama arrived on the coast of India, Europe’s economic and strategic expansion, one fledgling nation-state rivaling another, was the driving force in domesticating the natural world. In its fundamental legacy, colonialism helped shape a globe whose once vast wildlands are now almost entirely managed to one degree or another. Even the great riverbasin civilizations of India and China, home to dense populations before the European era, had extensive wild hinterlands of mountain, jungle, and desert until the past century. But the joint efforts of indigenous people and Western interlopers have now nearly completed the transformation.1 Forests and grasslands have retreated massively before the expansion of settled agriculture, and nowhere more dramatically than in India, where step-by-step between the 1770s and 1850s, Britain established its Raj, or imperial regime. From this perspective British rule in India, like other Western empires elsewhere in the developing ∗Originally published as Richard P. Tucker, “The Depletion of India’s Forests under British Imperialism: Planters, Foresters, and Peasants in Assam and Kerala,” in Donald Worster (ed.), The End of the Earth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. 1 Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

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world, must be seen as an elaborate system of resource extraction and allocation, determining not only who was to have access to nature’s wealth but what pattern the biotic systems themselves would ultimately take by the time India gained independence in 1947. This system of natural resources management was by no means monolithic or unchanging, nor did the British entirely control it. Throughout the imperial era, the British administered two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent directly but left the remaining third under the autonomous rule of over five hundred indigenous aristocratic houses, the “Native Princes.” Within this framework an intricate system of administration and economic change evolved, so varied that almost any generalization about India as a whole in that era is nearly foolhardy. But one theme stands out in the subcontinent’s history: the steady expansion of land under the plow, at the expense of forest and grassland.2 A recent study which covers most of the subcontinent shows that over the years between 1890 and 1970, more than thirty million hectares of land were transformed from forest and grassland into areas of crop production and settlement; the amount of land being cultivated rose by over 45 percent. In the same years the population of the same area grew by 147 percent. Hence arable, grassland, and forest resources all shrank severely for each person in what is now Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.3 During these decades the agricultural produce of the subcontinent increased dramatically, though probably not enough to keep pace with the expanding population. More alarming was the loss of the resources of non-arable lands, but until recently few people seriously weighed these costs against the gains in arable acreage. On the one hand, revenue and agriculture administrators measured their success on the basis of the taxation which derived from crop production. On the other hand, the rural 2

In this, India has typified global trends. See Richard P. Tucker and J.F. Richards, eds, Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth-Century World Economy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1983); and J.F. Richards and Richard P. Tucker, eds, World Forests and the Global Economy in the Twentieth Century (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, forthcoming). 3 John F. Richards, Edward S. Haynes, and James R. Hagen, “Changes in the Land and Human Productivity in Northern India, 1870–1970,” Agricultural History 59, no. 4 (October 1985): 523–48.

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populace had to be fed. In India’s monsoon climate, with its extremes of wet and dry seasons, the relief or prevention of famine was a major challenge to the imperial rulers. Until the end of the colonial era India followed a strategy of expanding acreage under hoe and plow, at the expense of grassland and forest, rather than intensifying production on existing acreage. The villagers of forested regions struggled to maintain their traditional subsistence uses of the forest against the incursions of the market economy, but they were more successful in expanding agriculture than in maintaining their forest resources. Only among the founders of the Indian Forest Service, set up in the 1860s to administer the exploitation of government forests, did a few voices warn that a more stable balance among forest, grassland, and tilled land must ultimately be achieved. It was not until after India achieved independence in 1947 that its new leaders turned seriously to intensifying agricultural production on existing arable lands and thereby somewhat stabilizing a balance between forest and arable acreage. When they did, they had the advantage over their foreign colonial predecessors of having new agricultural technologies which had been developed in the Western world especially after World War I,4 and they faced the sober reality that India was nearing the end of its reserves of potentially arable land: The luxury of moving beyond existing agricultural frontiers onto new lands was no longer theirs.5 By 1947, India’s forests were depleted not only by expanding crop production but also by both commercial timber operations and plantation cropping for European markets. Foresters and planters were two of the most significant exotic species introduced into India from Europe. Like imported botanical species competing with indigenous flora, these two human groups became competitors with villagers for access to the land. Many elements of the history of forest reduction in modern India can be understood from a survey of the work of foresters and planters. Both were major actors in the drama of the British Empire as a system of resource management and exploitation. 4

G.B. Masefield, A Short History of Agriculture in the British Colonies (Oxford: Clarendon, 1950). 5 Benjamin Farmer, Agricultural Colonization in India since Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).

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The landscape of India had been shaped by highly developed political and economic systems for many centuries before the first Europeans appeared there. Nonetheless, in the early nineteenth century many of its forests remained virtually untouched, especially in mountain areas. Early British travelers lyrically praised the grandeur of its landscapes under the monsoon climate (their contemporaries in North America believed that their forests would provide abundant resources for many centuries to come). The towering Himalayan mountains on the north supported almost impenetrably remote forests of conifers as well as tropical forest on the northeast fringes in Assam. And at the opposite end of India, on the jagged hills or Western Ghats of the Kerala coast, other travelers occasionally struggled through steaming jungles which seemed similarly limitless. Two British engineers who penetrated the ghats to survey the region’s natural wealth in 1817–19 were captivated by the wanton beauty of the hills. The larger portion of this desolate region is covered with lofty and luxuriant green forests in every direction.... The whole scene is truly sublime; a large portion of this wild tract has not been explored from the want of guides, and the difficulty of penetrating such wild extensive regions.6

Yet by 1947 few of those forests remained unmeasured and undisciplined. Where tea and coffee planters could work and foresters could plan, a more restricted and ordered patchwork of forests remained at the end of British rule. In other hill areas of the Indian subcontinent, the depletion of forests was affected in similar ways by the expansion of peasant agriculture and the agricultural and forestry policies of the British. But the additional pressure applied by plantation cropping of perennial crops for world markets was largely limited to two peripheries of the subcontinent. In the nineteenth century coffee and tea became India’s dominant export plantation crops and were grown almost entirely in the northeastern hill region of Assam and the Nilgiri Hills and Western Ghats of Madras and Kerala in the deep south. Thus Assam and Kerala provide the two foci of this study. 6 Benjamin S. Ward and P.E. Connor, Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Travancore, 1863), pp. 205–6.

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Assam: Plantations, Immigrants, and Deforestation On the eastern fringe of the Himalayan ranges, where the Brahmaputra River has made its great arc to the southwest toward the Bay of Bengal, Assam’s dense forest belt has been under siege since the early nineteenth century.7 By 1900 Assam’s 55,156 square miles included 20,830 under government forest control, one of the highest percentages of any state in India. Until very recently, moreover, a large portion of this was inaccessible from the outside world, and particularly from commercial and demographic centers. The British Raj had only rudimentary administrative operations outside the lowlands of Assam, and transport, commerce, and industry were less developed there than in other parts of India. This meant that the great forest zone of upper Assam was depleted more slowly than most parts of India; but it also meant that the government had less capacity to control the combined surge of tea plantations and immigrant peasant frontiersmen than it might have wished. Even more so than in most parts of India, the history of Assam’s forests has been intertwined with the intricate ethnic and cultural patterns of the state.8 The remote high hills of Assam and adjacent regions are home to a wide variety of tribal groups, whose subsistence has been based primarily on shifting agriculture.9 Until recently tribal populations were thin enough that they presented no fatal threat to the mixed forest, if left to themselves. But the Brahmaputra lowlands supported a much denser and rapidly growing, culturally different populace of Hindu rice farmers. 7

P.D. Strachey, “The Development of Forestry in Assam in the Last Fifty Years,” Indian Forester (December 1956): 619–23; H.P. Smith and C. Purkayastha, Assam: A Short History of the Assam Forest Service, 1850–1945 (Shillong, India, 1946). For geographical context, see H.P. Das, Geography of Assam (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1970); and O.H.K. Spate and A.T.A. Learmonth, India and Pakistan, 3rd ed. (London: Methuen, 1967), pp. 600–10. 8 For the region’s general history, see E.A. Gait, A History of Assam, 2nd ed. (Calcutta and Simla, 1926); and Amalendu Guha, From Planter Raj to Swaraj: Freedom Struggle and Electoral Politics in Assam, 1826–1947 (New Delhi: Indian Council of Historical Research, 1977). 9 M.D. Chaturvedi and B.N. Uppal, A Study in Shifting Cultivation of Assam (New Delhi: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1953).

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In the twentieth century Assam had the fastest growing population of any state in India: from 3.3 million in the 1901 census to 15 million in 1971, nearly all of the growth before 1947 occurring in the lower areas of settled agriculture.10 Further, the traditional settlers of the lowlands are Assamese-speakers, while the tribals speak a totally separate set of languages. Most challenging of all, downriver in Bangladesh lies one of the densest rural populations in the world. By the late nineteenth century Bengali peasants, most of them Muslim, began surging upriver into the fertile Assamese forest fringe. Even before World War I, one cause of depletion of Assam’s vegetation was the steady encroachment of these immigrant peasants on the forest lands of lower Assam.11 The other cause of transformation, one which quickly penetrated far into the hills, was the tea industry. The tea plantations of northeast India are classic examples of a foreign-dominated plantation economy which controlled a dependency’s land-use patterns and was highly sensitive to markets in the industrialized world. After 1833, when the East India Company’s new charter allowed foreigners to own rural land in India, European tea planters quickly bought large tracts of hill land in Assam and adjacent north Bengal. Most tea plantations were established by clearing natural forest on lands purchased from the government of British India; others were commandeered from village commons or bought from other private owners. By 1871 the tea planters owned 700,000 acres, of which 56,000 acres were already producing tea. By 1900 there were 764 working tea estates in Assam, producing 145 million pounds of tea annually for export.12 Most of the plantation workers were outsiders, for local farmers and tribals were unwilling to submit to the regimentation of the plantation. By 1900, some 400,000 low-caste and tribal workers from farther west had been brought into Assam under appalling working conditions. Removed from their subsistence in ancestral soil far to the 10 Myron Weiner, Sons of the Soil (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), chap. 2. 11 For the context in land tenure law, see J.N. Das, An Introduction to the Land Laws of Assam (Gauhati, 1968). 12 Sunil K. Sharma, “Origin and Growth of the Tea Industry in Assam,” in T. Raychaudhuri, ed., Contributions to Indian Economic History (Calcutta, 1963); also Weiner, Sons, pp. 88–92.

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west, they became a rural proletariat whose only base of survival was the company: they were housed in company barracks, fed by company kitchens, and worked on the companies’ rigorous terms.13 For many years the tea planters held dominant financial and political leverage in Assam, preventing their critics from mounting effective pressure to mitigate their labor policies,14 and preventing the state’s Forest Department, their competitor for control of forest lands, from gaining control over wide forest areas. The impact of World War I on Assam’s forest lands centered on wartime prosperity and expansion in the tea industry. Prices in Europe rose, acreage under tea in Assam extended rapidly, and dividends to the planters rose correspondingly. The first years after 1918 saw a brief oversupply in England’s warehouses and a minor depression in the Assam hills, but this was succeeded by a decade of prosperity and further expansion of the acreage under tea.15 The global Depression of the 1930s hit the tea industry heavily. The all-India wholesale price index for tea dropped by 53 percent in four years. The planters reduced production by firing many plantation workers, men whose only livelihood was wages from work on the estates. Some returned to their homes farther west, but others moved into adjacent government forest land as squatters, growing crops in clumsy imitation of local shifting cultivation. In their desperation they damaged forest and soil cover wherever they went. Meanwhile the tea planters turned their attention to their markets. By 1933 the industry created an international system to regulate and, when necessary, limit production; this assured a rebound of profitability by 1934.16

13

For a recent sociological analysis, see A.C. Sinha, “Social Frame of Forest History: A Study in Ecologic and Ethnic Aspects of Tea Plantation in the North Eastern Himalayan Foothills” (Unpublished paper, 1985). 14 R.K. Das, Plantation Labour in India (Calcutta, 1936), chaps, 2–3. 15 Percival Griffiths, The History of the Indian Tea Industry (London, 1967), pp. 35–76. 16 For the global context of these trends, see V.D. Wickizer, Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa: An Economic and Political Analysis (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1951), pp. 155–257.

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Hardly had the tea industry emerged from the Depression that Assam faced another war beginning in early 1942. This war brought great military danger to Assam, but it also brought wartime profits to the tea planters again. The British government controlled all tea production and consumption from 1940 onward, and the rising competition of Indonesian tea was ended by the Japanese occupation of the islands. The tea industry in Assam and northern Bengal expanded another 20 percent by 1945. When in 1947 eastern Bengal downriver was designated part of Pakistan, the tea industry of Assam went through another period of painful disruption, but in the long run its international markets were assured. Whenever markets for tea were strong enough to enable expansion of plantation acreage, forest cover was correspondingly reduced. Moreover, directly or indirectly, tea cultivation contributed to the commercialization of the remaining forests, as the timber industry emerged. This process can be clearly seen through the work of the Assam Forest Department, the planters’ major European competitor for control of forest lands.17 Provincial forest departments had been established throughout British India in the 1860s; the Bengal Forest Department included in its reach the upper Brahmaputra basin until Assam’s foresters became a separate cadre in the early 1870s.18 They confronted great reserves of potentially valuable timber. In the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra, on rich alluvium, stand forests of the great hardwood sal (Shorea robusta), the easternmost extension of the great sub-Himalayan sal belt. Because of the perennially warm, moist climate of lower Assam, these are the finest quality of all sal stands. The downriver districts of Kamrup and Goalpara boast the most extensive stands; the adjacent low hills of Darrang and Goalpara also have large sal reserves. All are of great economic value, providing the wood particularly for railway sleepers or ties. Farther northeast, as the gorges become steeper and the hills higher and less accessible, lie the Lakhimpur and Sibsagar districts near the borders of Burma and China.

17

The standard history of the Indian Forest Service and its work is E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, 3 vols. (London, 1922–5). 18 Dietrich Brandis, Suggestions Regarding Forest Administration in Assam (Calcutta: Government Press, 1879).

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In these still-remote forests can be found mixed subtropical broadleaf evergreen stands, including various potentially marketable species. During the late colonial era the foresters’ attention focused principally on the towering hollong (Dipterocarpus macrocarpus).19 The combined interests of planters, imported laborers, and immigrant farmers placed such heavy and escalating pressure on the forests of Assam that the Forest Department there was one of the weakest in India’s provinces. Assam’s Revenue Department consistently pressed for opening more land to the plow, believing that settling immigrant peasants in the hills would stimulate economic growth while simultaneously relieving social and even political pressures. The Forest Department acquiesced on the principle that the peasants’ needs for land which could be terraced for wet rice should usually take first priority in land allocation.20 The foresters would not publicly disagree with the government’s 1938 report, which stressed “that indigenous people alone would be unable, without the aid of immigrant settlers, to develop the province’s enormous wasteland resources within a reasonable period.”21 However, as early as 1920 the Forest Department had realized that in the long run this would threaten both timber supplies and watershed stabilization. Hence the department began to accelerate the painstaking survey of vegetation and classification of land-use potential in previously unclassified government forests, especially so as to delineate sal forests which arguably should be kept from the plow. This was also a pragmatic response to the growing upriver movement of Bengali Muslim peasants. In lowland Goalpara district the population had risen by 2 percent between the 1891 and 1901 censuses; in the next ten years it rose by 3 percent. From there the settlers moved upriver, occupying forest lands in Nowgong and Kamrup districts; by now they were beginning to challenge tribal lands as well. They had on their side the general British assumption that settled agriculture was a far 19

M.C. Jacob, The Forest Resources of Assam (Shillong: Government Press, 1940); Gustav Mann, Progress Report of Forest Administration in Assam for the Year 1874–5 (Calcutta: Government Press, 1875). 20 B. Ribbentrop, Notes on an Inspection of the Forests of Assam during January to April 1889 (Simla, India: Government Press, 1889). 21 Guha, Planter Raj to Swaraj, pp. 261–2.

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more productive and stable use of land than slash-and-burn cropping. In the 1920s the movement began to reach Upper Burma, where lowland peasants had no experience with the climate and agricultural patterns. Despite these difficulties, land hunger and political pressures continued to force Bengali peasants upriver, and when East Pakistan was created in 1947 out of eastern Bengal, a new wave of Hindu peasants moved out of Muslim Pakistan into Assam. In the twenty years ending in 1950 the immigrants turned some 1,508,000 acres of forest into settled agriculture. How was all this reflected in timber extraction from the government forests? Before the early 1920s the Assam Forest Department was a small cadre, a few officers whose work was limited to serving short-term commercial timber demands, mostly in the sal districts. One report, surveying the seventy-five years before 1925, complained that “the provision of staff and improvements in the forests have depended upon the profit of each year, and not one single budget presented by the Department has ever emerged without large cuts by Finance.”22 By the 1920s government forests which had long been awaiting survey and reservation were so burdened with peasants’ rights that purchasing those rights threatened to be prohibitively expensive for the government. Nonetheless, the 1920s were an optimistic period for Assam’s forest managers. During the highly profitable years from 1925 to 1929, the acreage in reserves increased by some 400 percent, largely in the sal belt. But in the Depression decade severe retrenchments in staff and budget left Assam’s forest management able to cover little more than it had in 1918, while shifting cultivation in the unclassed State Forests of the hill regions was inexorably expanding. As so often happens in the developing world, foresters saw themselves fighting a losing battle, against their superiors on one side and villagers on the other. World War II brought major changes in forest production. Between 1939 and 1945 timber production in the reserves more than doubled, while fuelwood cutting there more than tripled. The height of this pressure came after 1942, when heavy concentrations of troops moved up the Brahmaputra valley to stem Japanese forces in Burma. Profits rose far more dramatically still: total receipts for railway timber rose five times, and military timber use raised eight times more revenue. Much of the 22

Smith and Purkayastha, Assam, p. 42.

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profits went into the hands of private contractors, from Calcutta as well as the Assamese towns. With few exceptions the contractors were small operators who cut and exported logs using only hand tools, an extremely wasteful process. And with the exception of two sawmills established in Assam in the early 1920s, no timber processing was done within the province. Thus the extreme inefficiency and wastefulness of lumbering continued well toward the present. The war made major changes in forestry technology, not only in Assam but throughout India’s Himalayan region, for the war effort required new motor roads and emergency rail lines. The roads were used by trucks and jeeps, some of which are still in operation over forty years later. The motorization of forestry which happened during the war years was a turning point in the mobility of foresters, bureaucrats, politicians, and peasants alike. The scale of timber exports could be increased to meet the economic demands of independence. And new roads could be used, as in many parts of the tropics since that time, by peasants looking for new land to till. Assam’s forests, having been put under sudden new pressures before 1945, underwent yet another major trauma in 1947, when the influx of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan moved westward into the Calcutta region and northeastward into Assam, at the same time that transport lines for Assamese timber were severed at the Pakistani border. The sudden new pressure of the immigrants accompanied severe disruptions of the state’s administrative machinery and its forest management. The valuable sal forests of Sylhet district in the south became part of Pakistan, just when the Forest Department had to face severe political pressures to de-reserve existing forest tracts. From an ecological perspective, the late 1940s was a period of temporary reprieve from commercial logging, especially in Upper Assam. The full picture of the transition in Assam’s land use during the immediate aftermath of independence is still not entirely clear.23 But it can safely be concluded that the political and ethnic turmoil of that period led 23 Farmer, Agricultural Colonization, pp. 13–17, 28–31, 56–9; Progress Report of Forest Administration in the Province of Assam for the Year 1947–48 (Shillong, India: Government Press, 1948).

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to similar, but more intensive, conflicts in recent years, on a steadily shrinking base of land and vegetation. Immigrant Bengali peasants, longestablished Assamese Hindu rice farmers, and hill tribals now struggle to maintain a foothold on the land, often resorting to open violence.24 Forest managers after independence struggled to maintain a remnant of the forest cover, more for commercial purposes than for preservation of the natural biota.

Kerala: The Shrinking Forests of the Southwest Coast On the other subtropical fringe of India a similar process of commercialization took place, as large areas of natural forest were cleared in response to commodity markets in Europe. As in Assam, in what is now the state of Kerala, relations between peasants and planters became severely strained, and the abundant natural forests were severely depleted in the course of colonial economic expansion. In their biotic profusion Kerala’s forests, like the Brahmaputra basin forests, add priceless diversity to the subcontinent’s natural endowment. These mountains, called the Western Ghats, stretch along the entire west coast from north of Bombay. Rising abruptly from the Arabian Sea to elevations of 3,000–8,000 feet, they then slope gradually eastward into the Bay of Bengal. Their western-facing slopes crowd the Arabian Sea, leaving only a narrow coastal belt, which varies up to forty miles in width. Their flanks produce a series of steep short rivers which have deposited rich alluvium at their feet to supplement the otherwise poor soils of the coastal region. From early June through September they confront the monsoon storms, catching up to 200 inches of rain; thereafter there is virtually no moisture for the following eight months. The hills and valleys bask in steady high humidity and temperatures, while only the highest peaks are ever touched by winter frost.25 24

S.K. Dass, “Immigration and Demographic Transformation of Assam, 1891–1981,” Economic and Political Weekly (10 May 1980): 850–9; G.S. Ghurye, The Burning Caldron of North-East India (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1980). 25 Spate and Learmonth, India and Pakistan, pp. 673–81.

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Along the coast, in the backwater estuaries of the many short rivers, mangrove forests once covered large areas.26 But like other mangrove wetlands globally, these have been inexorably drained for such uses as rice cultivation over the past two hundred years, to feed one of the densest population concentrations in the subcontinent. Coastal backwaters lead upward into the sharply cut foothills of the ghats, where a second broad ecological stratum on the lower hills rises to about 4,000 feet and is largely based on lateritic soils. These soils leach and harden when forests are stripped, gradually losing their capacity to support vegetation.27 The dominant forest community of these hills is one of richly varied subtropical species, semievergreens on the lower slopes and true evergreens on the higher hills.28 These forests provided many products for the premarket subsistence economies of the hills. As in all tropical forests, great floristic variety meant that in most locations few trees of any single species grew, and few species had any commercial use in urban and international markets until the nineteenth century. Since this forest was mere “waste,” in the market’s terms of reference, it was vulnerable to being removed in favor of plantation crops. In the third and highest ecological zone of Kerala both natural vegetation and land tenure have been markedly different from that of the zones below. The lush, tangled mountainsides of subtropical evergreen vegetation were one of the subcontinent’s richest floras when early British travelers struggled to penetrate them.29 These high hills constitute the upper watersheds for Kerala’s westward-flowing rivers. Disruption of the natural vegetation produces accelerating flooding and erosion in the 26 F. Blasco, Les mangroves de l’Inde (Pondicherry, India: Institut Français, 1975); C. Caratini, G. Thanikaimoni, and C. Tissot, “Mangroves of India: Palynological Study and Recent History of the Vegetation,” Proceedings of the Fourth International Palynology Conference, Lucknow 1976–77, 3 (1980): 49–59. 27 G. Kurian, “Some Aspects of the Regional Geography of Kerala,” Indian Geographical Journal 17 (1942): 5–8. 28 Jean-Pierre Pascal, Les forêts denses humides sempervirentes de basse et moyenne altitudes du sud de l’Inde (Pondicherry, India: Institut Français, 1983). 29 Francis Buchanan, A journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar, 3 vols. (London: Cadell and Davies, 1807).

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densely settled region below, in a cycle that has recently become annual, expensive, and tragic. The evolution of this tragedy has been inseparable from the erosion of tribal life in the hills. Until the late nineteenth century there was little settled population in the higher hills; peasants and townsmen from lower elevations toward the coast feared that the vaporous airs of the cool, moist mountain climate would be disastrous to their health. Only a complex of tribal groups on the fringes of Hindu culture inhabited the dense jungles and high grasslands, for the most part practicing shifting agriculture on lands which no one had ever declared the property of any private individual.30 Historically this coastal zone was largely isolated from the great centers of population and agriculture in the wide river valleys of Tamil Nadu (British India’s Madras) to the east. The western coast evolved a series of little kingdoms at its river mouths, kingdoms whose kings and landed gentry traded pepper, cardamom, and a few other crops to Arab and other traders for export to world markets.31 A series of small ports toward the north comprised the Malabar coast, known to Europe from medieval times onward. Lengthy rivalries among the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British ended with British annexation of Malabar in 1792 and its incorporation as Malabar District of Madras Presidency.32 From then until independence in 1947, Malabar’s fortunes, both political and environmental, were shaped by the British regional government headquartered in Madras.33 30

P.R.G. Mathur, Tribal Situation in Kerala (Trivandrum, India: Kerala Historical Society, 1977). 31 For the general history of the region, see L.M. Panikkar, A History of Kerala (Annamalainagar, India, 1960); or A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History (Kottayam, India: National Book Stall, 1967). See also John Edye, “Description of the Sea-Ports on the Coast of Malabar ... and the Produce of Adjacent Forests,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 2 (1835): 324–77. 32 N. Rajendran, Establishment of British Power in Malabar, 1664–1799 (Allahabad: Chugh Publications, 1979). 33 For the pattern of human ecology on the eastern and western slopes of the ghats, see Joan P. Mencher, “Kerala and Madras: A Comparative Study of Ecology and Social Structure,” Ethnology 5, no. 2 (April 1966): 135–71.

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Farther south toward Cape Comorin, the most powerful of the Kerala kingdoms, Travancore, rose to prominence in the early 1700s. It remained autonomous throughout the British era, and not until 1956 was it amalgamated with Malabar and the smaller Princely State of Cochin (which lies between Malabar and Travancore) into the presentday Kerala State. The southern half of Kerala developed its own approach to resource exploitation, including its forests. The Princely States in general had the reputation of being far slower to modernize and establish links to the outside world than those districts which the British administered directly; in many parts of India they were backwaters that preserved the older hierarchies and rituals of aristocratic landholders against the blandishments of capitalist wealth and efficient bureaucracy. We might therefore expect the forests of the Travancore hills to have been less heavily exploited than the neighboring tree cover to the north. The truth on the Kerala coast, however, is more complex and paradoxical. In important ways the British in Malabar avoided any economic development which might affront the entrenched landed elite there, while the rajas of Travancore endorsed capitalist transformations of their lands and forests, hiring British administrators to modernize their state and encouraging export crop plantations to supplant economically unremunerative forests.34 By 1947 economic development, and thus the pressures on the forest cover, was further advanced in Travancore than in Malabar. Before the British conquest of Malabar in 1792, the region had suffered the worst political turmoil and military depredations of its history. Tipu Sultan, the powerful Muslim emperor of Mysore to the northeast, had fought through the ghats to the Malabar coast. The high-caste landlords (jenmis) who had consolidated their power earlier in the century had fled south beyond Tipu’s armies; their low-caste tenants had been left without either their protection or their oppressive demands for produce. After the British defeated Tipu, the entire system of claims on arable and forest had to be reconstructed.

34

R.N. Yesudas, British Policy in Travancore, 1805–59 (Trivandrum: Kerala Historical Society, 1977); Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847–1908 (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1976).

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Lacking their own trained cadre of tax collectors, the European conquerors relied on the old landlord class to collect and remit tax payments. The new Malabar government declared that the jenmis were full owners of the land, not only arable but “waste” or forest land eastward into the hills as well; henceforth tenants’ rights to subsistence in Malabar were among the weakest of any district in British India. For more than a century thereafter these conservative landlords controlled Malabar’s land exploitation. They were slow to open new land to cultivation, and discouraged their tenants from moving upward into the forest. Further, under Malabar’s joint-family property law, sale of land was extremely difficult, and until well into the twentieth century little land became a marketable commodity. Entrepreneurs wanting to grow new crops for distant markets found it almost impossible to begin in coastal Malabar.35 Higher into the hills, however, lies the Wynaad plateau, where events moved very differently after 1830. Wynaad is a distinctive feature of Malabar: between the coastal lands and the high peaks, it is an undulating plateau, its broad fields cut by many low hills. In the early nineteenth century it was one of the most malarial areas of the region; its population density was considerably lower than that in the coastal lowlands.36 Though landlord claims to the land of Wynaad were theoretically strong, Wynaad was too remote to interest them. Even Tipu Sultan had not built any all-weather roads from Wynaad to the coast. Commander James Welsh, who succeeded in controlling the area only when he put down the last tribal rebellions there in 1812, wrote in his campaign diary of the difficulty of trapping rebels in such impenetrable terrain. His words express a sense of wonder at the lushness and potential productivity of the Wynaad forests.

35

T.C. Varghese, Agrarian Change and Economic Consequences: Land Tenure in Kerala, 1850–1960 (Bombay: Allied, 1970); T. Shea, Jr., “Barriers to Economic Development in Traditional Societies: Malabar, a Case Study,” Journal of Economic History 9 (1959): 504–22. For a critique of the broader socioeconomic implications of the jenmis’ power and the government’s role in sustaining that power, see Government of Madras, Malabar Special (Logan) Commission, 1881–1882, Report, 2 vols. (Madras, 1882). 36 G. Gopalan Nair, Wynad: Its Peoples and Traditions (Madras, 1911).

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This part of the country is strong, wild and beautiful, consisting of a number of small hills, covered with jungle, and separated by narrow valleys, in which there are neither rivers nor paddy fields. Yesterday we passed through a narrow defile, nearly a mile in length, in which we discovered trees of such enormous height and magnitude, that I am fearful of mentioning my ideas of their measurement.37

The British fascination for Wynaad and its economic potential had begun to evolve. By the 1830s coffee planters began to discover that its climate and soils were well suited for their interests. But they first had to purchase land from some clearly defined owner, either private or the government, and some powerful jenmi landlords to the west began to assert their formerly shadowy claims. But the British commissioner by then was strong enough to overrule their claims in 1841. His reasons revealed what was at stake: “From its temperature and the salubrity of its climate, it is peculiarly adapted for the settlement of Europeans, and I need not dwell upon the important consequences that would follow from the planting of an European colony in such a position.”38 In the following years, some higher hill land in Wynaad came under peasant or tribal cultivation with concomitant revenue for the government; the rest was either purchased by British coffee and tea planters who cleared the forest, or it ultimately became forest reserves managed for timber production. In the centuries of European trade with the Kerala coast since 1500, international demand for spices and coconuts had added new species to Kerala’s flora and increased the concentration of others. But sudden, intensive forest clearance began only in the 1830s with the appearance of plantation monocrops, first coffee and then tea. The Madras government, determined to increase revenue by selling wasteland for new cultivation, found ready buyers in the first coffee planters. A few experimental patches in the 1830s led to a rush of coffee planters after 1840, despite the total lack of good cart roads which made export of the beans to coastal ports slow, difficult, and expensive. By 1866 more than two hundred coffee plantations had been established on 14,613 acres; two-thirds of the acreage was owned by Europeans, the rest by Indian investors from the coastal towns. This was progress to European eyes. As the planters’ chief ideologue of the time expressed it, 37 38

James Welsh, Military Reminiscences (London: Smith, Elder, 1830), p. 14. Quoted in Varghese, Agrarian Change, p. 26.

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A great and important interest has thus sprung up in Wynaad, many thousands of pounds having been sunk in it, and very greatly increased wealth has resulted to the neighbouring countries of Malabar and Mysore.... A community cultivating 15,000 acres of such products as coffee and cinchona, employing and feeding thousands of labourers, bringing wealth into the country, and paying taxes, has a right to just and effective laws for the regulation of labour, and significant staff to administer the laws, and good main lines of road through the district.39

Elephants and other wild animals were being brought under control. The breeding grounds of the malarial mosquito were being drained, shrinking the habitat of that great enemy of progress. And mountain hideaways could be denied to potential human rebels against established government. In Manantoddy, where a tribal rebellion early in the century had centered, there were fifty-three coffee estates by 1866.40 From the coffee planters’ perspective, the provision of wages for the laborers was not in the least beneficial for the civilizing process on the land. In forests where the only previous subsistence laborers had been occasional Kurumbar tribals with their shifting agriculture, now dense settlements of coolie laborers were being established. Men from coastal Malabar were reluctant and unreliable coffee workers, and the hill tribals flatly refused to submit to the regimentation of the plantations. But from the districts east of the ghats Tamil-speaking untouchable laborers could be imported in adequate numbers for clearing the forest and cultivating coffee. As in plantation areas throughout the colonial world, the biotic transformation could not be accomplished without a corresponding social transformation.41 Contract labor, its terms dictated by the planters’ capital, was the key to intensive forest clearance. Even in the railway era after 1860, the Malabar government still refused to commit major funds to construct roads and bridges, so the planters spent their own funds on a campaign of building cart roads, bridges, and embankments through Wynaad and southward. The peak of this building, and of coffee production in Malabar, came in the 1860s; 39 Clements R. Markham, Report on Wynaad Coffee-Planting District (London, 1866), p. 2. 40 Ibid., pp. 10–22. 41 Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).

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then suddenly a disease far more devastating than malaria crippled the coffee boom. In 1868 the first Indian coffee planter discovered a new blight on his plants. Reported earlier on the coffee plantations of Ceylon, the blight spread rapidly through Kerala’s coffee regions, and by 1876 most coffee there had been destroyed. If the planters were to survive, they had to change to other crops. Cinchona, which had already been experimentally intercropped with coffee in some areas, was one possibility. Throughout the tropics, the nineteenth-century expansion of plantation monocropping was accompanied by a rising incidence of malaria, which threatened to debilitate the labor force and undermine the plantation economy. Cinchona, a genus of trees and shrubs whose bark produced the only known suppressant for malaria, had been introduced into Asia early in the century from its original home in the Andes.42 Wynaad coffee planters began experimenting with it in the early 1870s, but it entered the international market after the superior quality cinchona from Ceylon and Dutch Java, and never succeeded in competing effectively with them. In the long run cinchona acreage in Kerala never became significant.43 In the hills of South India tea ultimately became the viable alternative to coffee over large areas, and was more successful than coffee at higher elevations. Coffee had rapidly invaded the middle hills between 3,000–4,000 feet, but tea could grow as high as 7,000 feet into the highest ranges of Kerala’s ghats.44 The East India Company’s first tests with tea in the south were made around 1840. But as a major investment there, it lagged far behind Assam, and large-scale production in Kerala began only 42

For the British strategy throughout the Empire, see Lucille H. Brockway, Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens (New York: Academic Press, 1979). For the struggle against malaria in the Ganges valley of northern India, see Ira Klein, “Death in India, 1871–1921,” Journal of Asian Studies 32, no. 4 (August 1973): 639–59; and in western India, D.K. Vishwanathan, Malaria and Its Control in Bombay State (Poona, India: Chitrashala Press, 1950). 43 Nair, Wynad, pp. 41–7. 44 M. Viart, Contribution a l’étude de l’action de l’homme sur la végétation dans le sud de l’Inde. (Thèse d’Ingénieur-Docteur, Université de Toulouse, 1963), pp. 4–5, 13–19.

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after 1870, during the worst of the coffee blight. In the long run, though coffee survived as the major plantation crop in Wynaad, tea proved far more important farther south, especially in Travancore, where it is hardier and prospers on poorer soils. The British Resident in Travancore encouraged tea planting along with coffee from 1840 onward. Under a new Indian Prime Minister, new laws enabled the raja’s agents to sell forest lands efficiently, and then tea cultivation could spread rapidly. The heart of Travancore’s tea country was the Peermade hills, a region of escarpments and tangled forests so dramatic that traditionally only tribals had inhabited its mountainsides and river valleys. Then the pioneer planters appeared. They were a closely knit network of British missionaries, planters, and officials interested in both immediate profits and retirement homes. Henry Baker, the son of an Anglican missionary who had arrived in the Travancore lowlands in 1819, had worked with tribals in the lower hills since 1843. When the Travancore government began granting “waste” or uncultivated hill lands to planters in the 1860s, a large free grant went to Baker. Other planters moved in from Ceylon as the coffee disaster accelerated there, attracted by the virgin lands of the Travancore hills. Officials were equally interested in investment opportunities. John Daniel Munro, grandson of the first British diplomatic representative to the court of Travancore, established estates in the Peermade hills in the 1860s, which remained in his family for eighty years.45 On the London end of the trade, the 1862 Companies Act led to a change from many small family firms in the import sector to the concentration of capital in limited liability corporations with hired management. Similarly in Kerala, individual tea estates in the early years were relatively modest in size, usually between two hundred and five hundred acres. But as the century wore on, the business began to be dominated by a few large firms, often with corporate connections to estates in the hills of Ceylon as well. Large-scale capitalization had not mattered decisively in the earlier years when coffee plantations were being set up, for hill wasteland had cost little or nothing, cultivation and processing could

45

Heather Lovatt, A Short History of the Peermade Vandiperyan Plantation District (privately published, 1970), pp. 6–10.

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tolerate unskilled labor, and work was only seasonal; coffee plantations there as elsewhere could be competitive in international markets even on a very small scale. But with tea the process was different. Maintenance of the tea plants, harvesting the leaves, and processing them for the market are all year-round activities, and require considerably more specialized skills. With more capital at their disposal, corporate planters were better able to finance the change from coffee to tea and organize stable labor recruitment from intensely populated Tamil districts of Madras. Typical of the new twentieth-century agricultural economy was the Travancore Tea Estate Company, which began in 1897 with a capital base of £150,000. With that core, it consolidated several family estates and opened new areas as well, clearing the high forest as it went.46 British planters aggressively lobbied the governments whose land policies concerned them. As early as 1874 they founded the Peermade Planters Association; by the 1880s it held an annual Planters Week in Travancore, with the raja presiding over its discussions. Similar efforts were ripening farther north and in the adjacent Nilgiri Hills as well, culminating in the United Planters’ Conference in 1893, when local associations merged to form UPASI, the United Planters Association of South India. In Travancore as well as the British districts the tea and coffee interest lobbied systematically for liberalized wasteland sale regulations and tighter labor control laws. The major result of the planters’ lobby was its environmental impact: rapid forest clearance to make room for tea, especially in central Travancore, in the two decades before war broke out in Europe.47 The conditions of the labor force on the plantations in these years varied somewhat, but most planters resisted reforms imposed by the government just as their colleagues in Assam did.48

46

Ibid., pp. 18–20. Ibid., pp. 23–6. See also Usha Joseph, “History of the Central Travancore Planters Association,” in Central Travancore Planters Association Centenary Souvenir (Kottayam, India, 1970); and United Planters Association of South India, 1893–1953 (Madras: MacMillan, 1953). 48 See Royal Commission on Labour in India (Whitley Commission), Report (Calcutta, 1931), chaps 19–23; D.V. Rege, Report on an Enquiry into Conditions of Labour in Plantations of India (Delhi: Government Press, 1950), chaps 1–3. 47

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What losses in the land’s resources did this trend imply? In the early days of coffee planting, little was known about which soils and drainage patterns were most favorable for the bushes, or which climatic conditions were necessary in order to ensure financially viable operations. Plantations were attempted at elevations over the entire spectrum from 400 to 4,000 feet, and from the fertile alluvial soils of the bottom lands to hilltops with soils so thin and lateritic that they were adequate only for the tribals’ light shifting cultivation. Many of the early plantations failed financially, their lands reverting to second-growth scrub forest with severely degraded vegetation. More alarming still was the effect of deforestation on the higher hills, which constituted the watersheds both of the series of rivers which flow westward and of the great Cauvery river system to the east. As hilltops were stripped of their trees, rivers began flooding more severely during the rains and drying up sooner in the long dry season. Moreover, their flood waters carried increasingly high loads of silt into lowland channels. Beginning with the pioneering forester and natural historian Hugh Cleghorn around 1860, a few voices warned of disastrous erosion, landslides, and flooding stream beds as high ridges were stripped of their forests.49 Finally in 1913 the Travancore government passed its first law limiting the extent of tea and coffee planting: there was to be no new cultivation within fifty yards of any streambed or within one-fourth mile of the crest of any hill; nor was livestock grazing to be allowed in natural second-growth forests, since that would severely inhibit regrowth of the vegetation. This first law was generally ignored in practice for many years, but at least it provided a first legal precedent and an ecological standard for later governments to follow. The combined appearance of coffee and tea transformed wide areas of Kerala’s middle hills into plantation monocrops by the first years of this century. The years after 1900 witnessed the coming of a third major plantation crop, rubber, whose role in shrinking the natural forest would 49

Hugh Cleghorn, The Forests and Gardens of South India (London: Allen, 1861); Dietrich Brandis, Memorandum on the Demarcation of the Public Forests in the Madras Presidency, 15 August 1878 (Calcutta, 1878); Dietrich Brandis, Suggestion Regarding Forest Administration in the Madras Presidency (Calcutta, 1883); and T.F. Bourdillon, The Forest Trees of Travancore (Madras, 1893).

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be as important as coffee and tea. Like these crops, rubber is a perennial crop, but it grows well on the low-elevation terrain which coffee trees and tea plants dislike. On many hillsides, from virtually sea level to 3,000 feet, uniform stands of rubber trees replaced natural forest. With the advent of bicycles in the 1870s, the industrial economies’ demand for rubber tires led tropical botanists to study several species of trees which produced rubbery latex. Kerala, like other locations in tropical Africa and Asia, had an indigenous candidate. But none had the qualities of Brazil’s Hevea brasiliensis, which came to dominate the world supply of natural rubber for industrial uses after 1900. The Brazilian government, aware of its potential, banned export of the tree. But the British smuggled out seedlings to Kew Gardens in 1873, and from there introduced them into Ceylon and then Malaya. In 1879 the first seedlings were brought from Ceylon to Malabar, where foresters at the Nilambur teak plantation grew them experimentally.50 The first Hevea brasiliensis rubber trees were planted in Travancore in 1904. By 1917, at the height of Europe’s wartime demand for rubber, Travancore had 29,640 acres (12,000 hectares) under production, and Malabar and Cochin between them had another 17,290 acres (7,000 hectares).51 At first this rubber production was almost entirely for European markets, since automotive transport and other industrial demand in India were still in their infancy. The rubber plantations were controlled almost entirely by British firms. But after India became independent, the picture changed greatly. In 1960 India as a whole grew 333,600 acres of rubber trees, of which the majority, 201,000 acres, were in Kerala. But by then little, if any, rubber was exported: The entire production, processed locally, met only 43 percent of India’s internal demand.52 By the time Kerala was created in the merger of Malabar, Cochin, and Travancore in 1956, its remaining forest cover was under pressure 50 Robert Cross, “The American India-rubber Trees at Nilambur,” Indian Forester 7 (1881–2): 167–71; R.L. Proudlock, Report on the Rubber Trees at Nilambur and at Calicut, South Malabar (Madras, 1908). 51 “Industrial Crops of Kerala,” Journal of the Madras Geographical Association 12, no. 1 (1937): 1–8. 52 Viart, La végétation dans le sud de l’Inde, pp. 160–2.

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both from one of India’s densest rural populations and from the export plantation system. Rubber and other commercial tree crops, grown and harvested by both private landowners and the government’s Forest Department, were threatening to replace the last remnants of natural subtropical jungle in southwestern India. Even timber, especially the costly teak, was a commodity so valuable that it was becoming the object of large-scale theft.53 Equally alarming, the process of cutting down those forests and planting new crops was causing severe soil erosion and degradation of watersheds.54 To small farmers downstream from the high hills, Cleghorn’s warnings a century before were starting to have daily meaning as their clean water supplies dwindled. During the 1940s the transition of the Indian subcontinent through world war into independence, coupled with its partition into the two separate countries of India and Pakistan, was profoundly traumatic not only for the half billion humans who lived through the drama, but for the other species, notably the forest trees, which shared the subcontinent with them, notably the forest cover. Assam’s forests experienced the trauma perhaps as intensely as any, situated as they were on the border of British India’s defenses against Japanese armies in Burma, and upriver from the great Hindu–Muslim conflict in Bengal in 1947. Both tea growing and timber harvesting were deeply disrupted in the transitional years; both had to be reconstructed in the 1950s. In the aftermath of independence, however, a counterevent occurred which is easily overlooked by observers of India’s deforestation: the official designation of great new regions as Reserved Forests to be managed by the professional foresters. Many rajas in their Princely States had reserved large forest areas as their personal hunting reserves. They lost these reserves after 1947, and Prime Minister Nehru took a personal 53

For a common recent occurrence, see the 1984 timber-smuggling scandal in southern Malabar, India Today, 31 July 1984, 52. 54 See M.A. Oommen, ed., Kerala’s Economy Since Independence (New Delhi: Oxford University Press and India Book House, 1979); for a systematic critique of recent forestry management, see C.T.S. Nair, Mamman Chundamannil, and E. Mohammad, Intensive Multiple Use Forest Management in the Tropics: A Case Study of the Evergreen Forests and Teak Plantations in Kerala, India (Peechi, India: Kerala Forest Research Institute, 1984).

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interest in saving many of them as permanent forest and wildlands.55 From a 1947 total of 22.97 million acres (9.3 million hectares) covered in a recent study of India’s vegetation patterns, by 1972 the system expanded by 119 percent, to 42.48 million acres (17.2 million hectares) in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.56 The actual tree cover on those lands varied, of course, from remnant natural jungle in remote mountain and hill zones, to almost total denudation in many arid regions. The term “forest” was by then more a legal than a descriptive term. But at least the legal system of land use in the independent nations provided the basis for a belated surge of concern over ecological degradation, when the worldwide environmental movement of the 1970s began to accelerate.57 This then was the ambiguous environmental legacy of empire. Like most colonialists, the British in India expanded agricultural lands at the expense of a forest mantle which had once been far greater than the needs of its human population. European legal institutions and technology accompanied the intercontinental market economy in penetrating even remote mountain and jungle lands, turning forests into commodities. Planters, traders, and landlords benefited; peasants may have benefited in some ways too, but tribals and plantation workers clearly suffered. And by 1947 nearly all of the vegetation map of India was determined by the intricate structure of power which had evolved under the British Raj. The lands of the subcontinent were almost entirely domesticated, under the most complex system of resource extraction which any European empire ever established in the developing world.

55

For background, see Richard P. Tucker, “Resident Populations and Wildlife Reserves in India: The Prehistory of a Strategy,” in Patrick West and Stephen Brechin, eds, Resident Populations and National Parks in Developing Nations: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (forthcoming). 56 Richards, Haynes, and Hagen, “Changes in the Land,” p. 545. 57 Richard P. Tucker, “India’s Emerging Environmentalists,” Sierra (May–June 1984): 45–9; for a detailed survey, see The State of India’s Environment, 1984–85: The Second Citizens’ Report (New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment, 1985).

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VIII The Commercial Timber Economy under Two Colonial Regimes in Asia∗

Introduction

I

n many countries of the developing world there is now a vocal movement to prohibit further clearing of primary forest. Commercial timber companies, ranging from small-scale sawmills for local markets to multinational corporations exporting timber products worldwide, have been charged with primary responsibility for the alarming decline of tropical and sub-tropical forest resources. Yet our understanding is severely limited: little information is readily available regarding the evolution of commercial timber extraction in the tropics. In many areas serious forest depletion began under colonial regimes, which varied widely in the role they assigned to private logging investors. This chapter discusses some aspects of timber contracting and marketing in two contrasting colonial settings: the Himalayan forests of northern India under British rule and the Philippine Islands’ rainforests during the American occupation. The history of the private sector timber economy in Europe, North America and Australia is well documented, as evidenced in papers presented at the Australian forest history conference. This literature can potentially provide lines of analysis and comparison for understanding ∗Originally published as Richard P. Tucker, ‘The Commercial Timber Economy under Two Colonial Regimes in Asia’, in John Dargavel et al., eds, Changing Tropical Forests: Historical Perspectives on Today’s Challenges in Asia, Australasia and Oceania. Canberra: Australian National University, 1989, pp. 219–30.

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both individual firms and national or international timber markets in the tropical world. But in some fundamental ways the tropical world differs from the temperate. For one, most tropical countries share a legacy of recent colonial rule which shaped their governments’ interactions with private timber firms, both local and foreign. This brief analysis of two colonial cases attempts to suggest contrasting patterns of that interaction.

Timber Contractors in the Western Himalayas under British Rule Throughout the colonial century before India became independent in 1947, timber extraction was largely controlled by the government through the British colonial forest service. Private sector marketing was carried out by commercial contractors, but markets were almost entirely domestic, not international. Timber licensees did not own tracts of timber lands, nor did they negotiate long-term logging contracts. In the typical case they won at auction the right to a single season’s harvesting of a specified tract of government forest. Consequently there were few, if any, cases of private companies employing professional foresters or investing in long-term silvicultural management of their resources. Thus private contractors had only one goal: to maximize short-term profits in a highly competitive and volatile market, with no long-term concern for the resource. Sustaining the forests was left to the government’s foresters, who saw themselves as defenders of rational timber management against a class of unscrupulous, opportunistic manipulators of the market. Successive forest laws in 1865, 1878 and 1892 established government ownership of nearly the entire forest cover of India. One of the greatest timber banks was the hardwood tracts of the Himalayas from Kashmir south-eastward to Nepal’s western border. In that region, as elsewhere in the colonial world, policy makers’ options were shaped by the pre-existing social and economic patterns of rural and urban life. The hills region had traditionally been a periphery of power centres in the plains below, and the populace of the hills saw political and commercial intrusion into their homeland as threats to be resisted. Most hill people were small farmers. There were no major urban centres in the timber belt, and few merchants capable of raising the capital necessary to compete 192

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for the profits which came from timber auctions. Until the region-wide economic expansion of the 1920s the timber contractors in the hills were all ethnic outsiders, their bases in commercial centres in the plains and their interests totally removed from those of hills society. In order to understand timber extraction from Himalayan watersheds, we thus must know something of the commercial life of cities in the plains, whose entrepreneurial classes long predated British rule. The commercial history of that region is now being written, but no study has, as yet, specifically looked at the timber merchants. Fortunately one account of forest products marketing early in the British era survives. In 1875 William Hooey was appointed tax commissioner of Lucknow, now the capital of India’s state Uttar Pradesh. He began his work by surveying the ethnic and commercial structure of the city and its hinterland, including the trade in construction timber, firewood and charcoal, and other forest products. Hooey’s report shows that the trade in wood products was like the rest of Lucknow’s economy: highly segmented; highly stratified by caste and ethnic group; and intensely competitive, especially where resources or markets were limited. One subcaste traditionally cut trees on private woodlots north towards the Himalayas; another controlled the traditional role of carrying the wood to market in bullock carts; other specialized social units were associated with retail lumber sales, fuel distribution, and so forth. This was hardly an entrepreneurial setting in which capital accumulation, technical innovation or investment in land was likely to occur. An important new dimension of timber marketing emerged after about 1850, in the years when British demand for massive amounts of railway and construction timber resulted in the first widespread destruction of Himalayan hardwood forests. Logs were floated down mountain rivers to foothill locations where new railheads and timber depots were set up. Those riverside points grew into a series of timber-milling towns along a 500 mile arc. Though their commercial history has not been carefully studied, it is clear in general that these towns have been critical links in the extraction of the mountains’ resources, particularly in the interactions between Indian entrepreneurs and imperial forest managers. Mercantile speculators who entered the highly competitive and financially risky game of the timber auction faced unpredictable retail markets but the possibility of great profits. Contractors jealously guarded their 193

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records from public view; it has not yet been possible to reconstruct the histories of individual firms. Official forestry records rarely revealed details of the contractors’ operations beyond some individuals’ names. Nonetheless a tentative picture emerges. In the era between 1850 and 1920 the major contractors for Himalayan hardwoods were centred in the larger, older cities of the plains. The first prominent contractor, who operated throughout the 1850s, was an Armenian merchant from Lahore in the Punjab, who cut the great deodar cedar stands of Jammu and Kashmir for building military outposts facing the North-west Frontier, and later for the region’s new railways. British foresters respected the consistency and honesty of his work, in contrast to his competitors, whom they regularly criticized for overcutting their allotments, bribing local officials and violating the terms of their labour contracts. (All of these charges have been persistently levelled against many contractors ever since.) Efficient logging and honest commercial transactions became the only criteria for evaluating a contractor’s work. A few other names emerged by 1900 on this list, including a large Muslim contractor from Meerut, north-east of Delhi. In each case they were entire outsiders to hills society, linked to the Himalayas’ resources and population in strictly limited, strictly commercial ways. The forest protest movement of recent years, centred in the Garhwal Himalayas, expresses the long-evolving consequences. Beginning in the early 1970s mountain villagers have concertedly resisted the incursion of contractors from the plains, in the name of their prior claim to timber and stable watersheds. The social clustering of the contracts broadened after World War I, in a decade of steady population expansion and economic growth throughout northern India. For the first time local entrepreneurs from Hindu commercial castes in the mountains gained prominence in the hills towns, largely through profits from timber contracting. In Simla, the summer capital of British India, the Sud merchant caste of the lower Punjab hills produced several prominent timber-based families. By a generation later, in the 1950s, Sud families were leaders in commerce, law and other professions in Simla, and nearly dominated commercial and political life in more than one town between there and Delhi. 194

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Farther north-west the great deodar forests of Kashmir continued to be harvested. There a unique phenomenon occurred: the rise of the only British timber firm of northern India, the Spedding Company. In the 1920s Spedding marketed Kashmiri hardwoods throughout the Indus River basin, and possibly as far as Karachi, Bombay and even East Africa. British foresters found him highly professional and reliable. They naturally preferred working with Spedding to manoeuvring with his local competitors. But by the late 1920s British businessmen throughout India could see that the country was headed towards independence, and began preparing to divest their interests or transfer local management to Indian partners. In Lahore Spedding gradually turned over the firm to a Punjabi protege, Dinga Singh, who had begun his career as a junior clerk in the head office. At independence in 1947 Lahore became part of Pakistan and was cut off by a militarized national boundary from its timber sources up-river. Dinga Singh, and other Hindu merchants like him, fled to New Delhi and other cities to the east, re-establishing their fortunes as best as they could. Dinga Singh was exceptionally successful: by then known as the ‘Timber King of the Punjab’, he and his sons diverted their capital into several other branches of commerce and industry. Like other timber merchants in recent years, they gradually moved out of that high-risk field into other more stable, less controversial work. Similar stories appeared through the hill region to the east. Concentrated wealth and rapid social mobility could be most easily attained through exploitation of the hills’ leading source of profit, timber contracting. In Naini Tal, the regional capital for the Kumaon hills just west of Nepal, the most successful entrepreneur of the same era, Dan Singh Bisht, was a man who rose from obscurity in the remote mountains north-east of there to become the leading philanthropist of Naini Tal district in later years. The final decade of imperial British rule saw massive military, political and economic upheavals, which were reflected in the region’s timber economy. From the outbreak of World War II in 1939 timber contractors made great windfall profits from wartime conditions. The imperial resources allocation board controlled all timber harvests closely, accelerating cutting to meet the war’s enormous strategic needs. Timber and labour contractors’ agendas were full. Meanwhile the civilian 195

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economy was strained; throughout northern India timber was scarce and prices skyrocketed. Forest department records report that timber merchants bought virtually the last remaining privately owned woodlots’ logs in the region, selling for top prices in urban markets. Instant fortunes were made. By the end of the war, and then through the tumult of Pakistan’s creation and the transition to Indian control of the forest service, the administrative controls governing the harvesting and marketing of timber were badly shaken. In sum, the social and mercantile patterns of timber marketing in northern India combined with British India’s forestry law and management to produce the post-independence class of timber extractors. They specialized in speculative investment, knowledge of urban retail markets and exploitation of labour. This branch of the commercial economy became accessible to a wide range of players, and the stakes and rewards were high. Their markets were regional—possibly reaching as far down the Ganges as Calcutta or down the Indus to Karachi—but not international. And they faced essentially no foreign competition. Combined with these entrepreneurial traditions, government management of forest resources did not encourage the emergence of privately owned modern lumbering technology or private timberland management. The efficiency and long-term planning perspectives available to modern timber companies never evolved there, but neither did the capacity to clearcut vast tracts of natural forest in a short time. Roughly the opposite set of conditions was true in the Philippine Islands, where American colonial forestry interacted with the entrepreneurial elite of Manila.

The Timber Export Trade of the Colonial Philippines In sharp contrast to British India, the Philippines under American rule was transformed after 1900 from a timber importer into the foremost timber exporter of Southeast Asia until the later 1960s. From the Forest Law of 1904 onwards, U.S. colonial policy set about to modernize the logging industry as rapidly as possible, through close cooperation between the Bureau of Forestry and large-scale timber corporations, both foreign and domestic. Philippine logging came to be dominated by a 196

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capital-intensive, technologically modern sector. Great profits accrued to the major investors, but the rainforests of the islands were depleted at an increasing rate by the allure of international markets. Just as in other colonial settings, early American foresters in the Philippines inherited a pre-existing logging economy which shaped their efforts to modernize and regulate timber production. For several centuries that production had included the export of rainforest hardwoods to markets in China and around Southeast Asia. That trade centred on several species of dipterocarps, known in the islands as lauan. These were the dominant species of the rainforest; their systematic extraction would damage entire ecosystems. Through the three centuries of Spanish colonial rule before 1898, the export trade was never large enough to dominate the local small-scale trade, and the timber economy was never well documented. A 1916 report shows it already in transition, and indicates the complexity of what the new regime inherited. In that year an American forester characterized the industry as falling into three categories according to size and complexity of operations. First and smallest were the hand-powered shops of the local retail trade throughout the islands. Reflecting the overall character of the commercial economy, all of these firms were Filipino or Chinese. Second in scale were the small power mills, with stocks of thousands or tens of thousands of feet of rough and milled lumber. These were more varied in scale, and were owned by Spaniards, Filipinos and Chinese, as well as a couple of American and European firms at the larger end. Finally, the new era of colonial industry had brought large specialized mills, mostly American or British in capital but also one owned by Spaniards, one by Chinese and one by a Filipino–Spanish partnership. The American foresters’ goal was to modernize the Filipino firms; the local entrepreneurs’ goal presumably was to maximize profits while suffering minimal control over their operations. The American transformation of the upper end of the hierarchy had begun immediately after the U.S. occupation was consolidated. In 1900 the forestry profession in the United States was in its infancy. Graduates of the major forestry schools were a small cadre; whether in government or private industry, they were closely in contact with each other. One of the pioneers, George Ahern, was the founder of forestry in 197

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the Philippines. Until his retirement in 1914 he worked aggressively for rapid modernization of the islands’ timber harvests along American lines. Looking back on his years there in 1917, he wrote: We found in 1900 vast stretches of unmapped and sparsely inhabited forests, which contained a large number of unknown and non-merchantable tree species. No effort had been employed to make any use of these great forests. Communities living in sight of virgin forests imported lumber from abroad.

Indeed, despite its great forest riches, the Philippines had become an importer of building timber in the nineteenth century. Like many of the rapidly expanding ports of the southern Pacific rim, Manila was being built with Douglas fir and redwood timber from the American coastal ranges. In Manila the colonial regime acted quickly, adopting a forestry law of Ahern’s design and establishing the Bureau of Forestry in 1904. The Bureau was given the authority to regulate commercial logging by granting concessions to harvest timber from specified tracts. If a company applying for a concession could demonstrate that it had adequate capital, machinery and management for the task, it could receive a licence for ten to fifty years. The Bureau made most of its large-scale grants on these terms so as to encourage the expansion of the industry, looking particularly for firms with the most advanced technology and strongest capitalization. It also granted short-term leases, usually for one year, which were meant for local use. The Bureau of Forestry forged close working relations with logging companies, especially American firms in the early years. Major American firms began operations in the islands as soon as the forestry law was in place, for Ahern knew his commercial counterparts well. Immediately in 1904 the timber industry of the American North-west launched the first modern lumber company in the Philippines, the Insular Lumber Company. Insular took advantage of the new law to gain a 300 square kilometre timber concession in the dipterocarp forests of Negros island, which was beginning intensive forest clearing for sugar plantations. As one forester observed six years later, full of enthusiasm about the new technology: On the Insular Lumber Company concession, the operations are an exact copy of the lumbering operations of a large company in Seattle, Washington, and the

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sawmill, of 100,000 board-feet daily capacity, is as thoroughly fitted up with upto-date appliances and as well run as almost any mill in America. All this is a new venture, believed to be utterly impossible a few years ago.

In contrast with the existing logging methods in the islands, which used only rough axes for cutting and carabao (water buffalo) for hauling the timber to water, Insular and other American firms rapidly made the islands the most advanced in tropical Asia in lumbering technology. The supervisory role of Americans in every aspect of logging operations was at first pervasive. Boss loggers, superintendents of logging railways, sawyers, saw filers and yard bosses were generally Americans. All other workers were local, including those trained for various semi-skilled jobs. Insular, for example, by 1911 employed 800 Filipino and Chinese labourers under 18 American supervisors. Another U.S. firm almost equally as significant in the evolution of Philippine tropical forestry, was the Cadwallader-Gibson Company, which launched a long-lasting operation on Manila Bay at the same time. Cadwallader-Gibson worked closely with the Bureau over the years to refine the system of logging rules, and to train Filipino recruits at the nearby national School of Forestry after its founding in 1910. The Bureau also cultivated close relations with Filipino loggers, teaching and encouraging them to expand and modernize their operations. In this work the foresters were entirely in tune with the general tenor of American colonialism in Manila, where entrepreneurs from the U.S. and their local counterparts evolved much closer working relationships than in many colonial systems. One broad consequence was the strengthening of the Manila elite’s power to dominate land use after independence in 1946. The way the Filipino–American lumbering connection evolved in the inter-island trade, and its role in transforming lowland dipterocarp forests into agriculture, are indicated by an important early concession, a 1905 grant to the Mindoro Lumber and Logging Company. This firm was a subsidiary of a Manila milling company; the likelihood is that this was a Filipino-owned operation with direct connections to Ahern’s forces. It was becoming an important actor in the second category of firms: medium-scale coastal logging for the rapidly expanding Manila market, a dimension of the timber industry which Filipino and Chinese, not foreign, loggers controlled. 199

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Mindoro island’s north-eastern lowland forests lie easily accessible to the nation’s major urban market in Manila; its various hardwoods have been increasingly in demand on international markets in recent years. The island’s population in 1903 was only 28,300, most of it clustered around several small ports. Northern Mindoro thus was one of the country’s most attractive targets for loggers. The 1905 license gave the Mindoro Lumber and Logging Company the exclusive right to commercial logging on a tract of 85 square miles along the east coast, which was mostly untouched dipterocarp forest. The company’s sawmill took mostly lauan, but handled smaller amounts of several other species as well. In the forest it relied in the old way on carabao to haul logs to water for floating. But it also used some newly imported American equipment, including heavy American axes for felling and a portable sawmill for cutting logs into lumber for shipment to Manila by small steamer or sailboat. In Manila’s booming construction market it had no trouble finding buyers for its products. The result of these operations was a rapid expansion of timbercutting, primarily for domestic markets before 1914. Official figures estimated that production rose from 40 million board-feet in 1901 to 112 million in 1913. After World War I was over, the foresters and the larger commercial firms turned their ambitions more to international markets, as the regional economy of the entire Pacific basin was expanding steadily in the 1920s. Ahern’s ambition had been to make the Philippines an exporter of timber by marketing in the burgeoning ports of Nagasaki, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney, as well as in the United States. Insular Lumber’s 1904 concession, as managed by Seattle-based A.P. Clark, Ahern’s close friend, became the basis for introducing lauan onto international markets as ‘Philippine mahogany’. By 1920 lauan began replacing American timber in the ports of the western Pacific. By the early 1920s the Philippines’ timber export trade was owned one-third each by Filipino capital, American investment and a mixture of other Western and Asian firms, primarily British and Chinese. Most Philippine mahogany exports were destined for the U.S., for panelling, doors and furniture in Pacific coast markets. A less extensive trade developed with the north-eastern states, including the Grand Rapids furniture makers in Michigan, who began purchasing lauan from New York 200

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importers after 1918. This coincided with the declining availability of true mahogany from the Caribbean basin. The dipterocarps were specialty woods, harvested primarily for foreign markets. For more mundane building lumber within the country, and increasingly for wood pulp, the Philippines continued to import softwood supplies, especially redwood and Douglas fir from the northwestern U.S., as well as railroad ties from Australia, though the latter were being reduced by the increased Philippine production. Over the long run, Philippine timber imports dropped from 16 million boardfeet in 1907 to just over 2 million in 1941, the final peacetime year of American rule. The political setting changed significantly in 1935, when a new constitution brought the islands Commonwealth status and internal autonomy, one step short of independence. The new government set about legislating to defend Filipino commercial interests against foreign competition, especially Chinese. But the special ties with U.S. lumber interests were carefully preserved. New legislation provided that only Filipino or U.S. firms could be given long timber leases. Other foreigners could no longer legally participate to more than 40 per cent of a firm’s capital. By 1939, as the Depression was lifting but the Pacific was drifting towards war, the nation’s sawmill industry, with an estimated $15.5 million capitalization, was divided among several national investments: 42 per cent was U.S. capital, 25 per cent was Filipino, 12 per cent was Chinese, 7 per cent was British, and still only 4 per cent was Japanese. The most rapid diversification of markets in the 1930s had been in Europe, where red lauan and many other specialty woods were expanding their markets. But the U.S. remained the largest single market. Cultivating that market, the Bureau of Forestry issued a booklet in 1939 which reminded its potential buyers: When you buy Philippine lumber, you are helping not only the Filipinos, but also the American lumbermen in the Philippines and the American machine manufacturers in the United States.

The nationalist message was never clearer. American and Philippine lumber industries, both investments and markets, remained intricately intertwined. 201

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The ultimate consequence was severe depletion of export timber supplies, but military and political factors played key roles in that ultimate outcome. Japanese occupation of the islands from 1942 to 1945 resulted in devastation of the national economy, destruction of cities, and demolition of the timber industry and its sawmills. The immediate postwar years saw rapid reconstruction of Manila and other cities, mostly by Filipino lumbermen but with the loan of American equipment. American companies were reluctant to reinvest, leaving a great portion of the industry to advanced local firms with effective political connections in Manila. Filipino firms were thus able after independence in 1946 to take over an increasing share of the rapidly expanding Pacific-wide markets. Through the 1950s and 1960s the Philippines was Southeast Asia’s largest timber exporter, but its vast forest resources were depleted so severely that exports began a rapid decline before 1970. Experienced onlookers in the 1950s were appalled at the picture. The most emphatic was Tom Gill, generally considered the pre-eminent U.S. tropical forester of his generation. Addressing the Philippine Lumber Producers Association at the end of a 1959 tour of the Islands’ forest lands, Gill described: Some weeks ago I visited Cebu, Bohol and Negros. Parts of these islands made me think I was back again in Korea, North China, or the man-made deserts of Mexico. For I saw thousands upon thousands of hectares of cut-over, burned-over and abandoned land, pock-marked with red and yellow scars of bare earth at the mercy of sun, wind and rain.

American colonial forestry had stressed rapid expansion and modernization of the timber industry, as well as taking advantage of international markets, in contrast to their counterparts in northern India. But both finally lost control of the political and administrative leverage which shaped forest use. Whether one pattern or the other held more ecological hope in the long run is a separate issue, too complex to consider here.

References Detailed documentation may be found in the author’s following papers:

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‘The British Colonial System and the Forests of the Western Himalayas, 1815–1914,’ in Richard P. Tucker and J.F. Richards, eds, Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth-Century World Economy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1983). ‘Forest Depletion in the Himalayas under British Administration: The United Provinces and Assam, 1900–1950,’ in J.F. Richards and Richard P. Tucker, eds, World Deforestatioon in the Twentieth Century (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988). ‘Forest Exploitation in the Philippines, 1900–1950,’ forthcoming.

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IX Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves in India: The Prehistory of a Strategy∗

S

ystematic integration of local people into wildlife planning is a relatively new effort. Yet in most of the world there is very little true wilderness where wildlife does not coexist with human and domestic animal populations. Given this elementary fact, it is puzzling that a strategy that encompasses domestic as well as wild animal populations has taken so long to evolve. We are compelled to review the history of the conservation movement in each country to see the political, cultural, and natural setting in which the movement developed and to determine which constituent groups have played important roles in the movement, and what their priorities and preoccupations have been. Many dimensions of wildlife conservation were constructed first in India and later adopted in other parts of the British Empire. The struggle to preserve India’s wildlife heritage began more than a century ago, at the height of the imperial era, when its wildlands were coming under severe pressure from an ever denser population of humans and livestock. Under siege, the early conservationists favored only wildlife, and not until well after India became independent in 1947 were resident populations, either human or livestock, considered in detail. By then a series

*Originally published as “Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves in India” from Resident Populations and National Parks by Patrick West and Stephen Brechin. © 1991 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

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of attitudes toward peasants, tribes, and their livestock in relation to wildlife had evolved, providing the basis for more elaborate discussions of resident peoples in recent years. The subject encompasses both agencies of the imperial regime and private civic associations; it includes both forest officials and hunternaturalists, and both British colonialists and Indian aristocrats. Together their first priority over the years after approximately 1870 emerged as the effort to stave off extinction for big game species, which centered on the design and enforcement of laws controlling hunting and poaching. Until recently, it left little room for detailed understanding of the peasant and tribal communities’ local needs in wildlife areas. Research focused on wildlife and habitat, and was rarely integrated with the human and livestock population. Following the colonial era, India went to war and succeeded in gaining self-rule in the 1940s. With their departure in 1947, the British also left principles for integrating the rhythms of wild and domestic life deeply embedded in India’s approach to wildlands management.

The Rise of Modern Forestry and Game Management Fundamental to the course of British rule in India was the inexorable expansion of arable land, at the expense of natural vegetation cover (Tucker and Richards 1983; Richards et al. forthcoming). The achievement of increased agricultural production was a guiding moral and even the Forest Service maintained throughout the era that in any conflict between forest preservation and agricultural expansion, the food needs of the rural populace must have precedence. Agriculture and urbanization expanded at the cost of massive forest depletion from the late eighteenth century onward (Stebbing 1922–1926). In each region the British quickly constructed military cantonments, civilian settlements, and new transport facilities, all providing commercial markets for timber. Then, in 1854, the great era of railway building commenced. Over the next thirty years Asia’s finest railway network was constructed, consuming vast tracts of hardwood forest for supporting the rails and fueling the engines (Guha 1983; Tucker 1982).

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In response to the massive cutting, high ranking officials established the Indian Forest Service in 1865, marking the first step toward wildlands conservation in the subcontinent. Foresters’ three functions were profitable timber cutting, preservation of remaining forests, and providing for villagers’ subsistence needs. The commercial function was the most successful, due to the high profits, praise from the higher reaches of government, and promises of more adequate departmental budgets. The third charge, to understand and meet the needs of resident peasants and tribals, was the function that the forest service was least equipped to carry out. In part this arose from the colonial character of the regime. The heart of the issue, for forests and later for wildlife, was the system of Reserved and Protected Forests established in 1878. These reserves were given to the Forest Department to cut selectively or, in more remote and fragile areas, to preserve without cutting. The forestry hierarchy was empowered to establish restrictions on local use of the forests wherever necessary to assure regeneration of timber supplies. Thus emerged a competition between peasants who had never before been restricted in their access to fuelwood and fodder, and officials imbued with a tradition of enforcing detailed regulations. Management by restriction was expressed in many ways, including the standardized forms in departmental annual reports that compiled statistics of each year’s forest offenses, fines imposed, cases brought to court, and cases resolved (Tucker 1986). The preoccupation with legal forms and illegal actions bore heaviest on the forest rangers and guards. Of low rank, they had little motivation for controlling forest offenses; they could be tempted to blackmail other peasants with threats of punishment, or could easily be bribed. Later as gun licensing and anti-poaching laws were set into place, poachers learned the unwritten rules of the game against the forest guards as quickly as firewood gatherers had. By 1900, the Forest Department regulated access to the Reserved Forests not only for wood and fodder but also for game. It issued gun licenses to villagers (as distinct from sport hunters from outside) explicitly to defend their fields and livestock from predatory wild animals. In these and other ways the foresters’ relations with the village economy were complex, not entirely adversarial.

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The Nongovernmental Conservation Movement In the same years a movement was launched to declare certain Reserved Forests closed to all human exploitation, so as to preserve endangered game species from extinction. This fledgling national parks movement saw little legitimate place for any human or livestock residents in the vicinity of endangered game. From its inception, major impetus came from voluntary organizations outside official government agencies. In 1883 the Bombay Natural History Society was founded, providing a meeting place for wildlife enthusiasts both Indian and Western, both private and official. Sponsoring field studies of animals, fish, and birds of the subcontinent, the Society quickly established standards respected internationally for the recording of natural history. Equally important, it became a hunters’ club and emerged as imperial India’s national lobby for controlled hunting. Provincial game associations appeared in the same years, the first and most influential being the Nilgiri Game Association, founded in 1879 in the hills of south India and dominated by tea planters. More than one important nature reserve in the Nilgiris today was formerly a teaplanter’s reserve whose wildlife habitat was protected by the Nilgiri Game Association (Bedi and Bedi 1934; Phythian-Adams 1893, 1927, 1929, and 1939). By 1900 another powerful Indian component of the conservation movement emerged: several leading “Native Princes,” rajahs who began to realize that game species were being rapidly depleted in the ancestral hunting reserves. In close parallel to European aristocratic tradition, an essential element of Indian courtly life was the social ritual of shikar, the aristocratic hunt, which re-enacted both the warrior’s fighting prowess and his social dominance in peacetime (MacKenzie 1988). In the nineteenth century important rajahs regularly hosted British hunting parties, a social and diplomatic coalition that produced appalling slaughter of game because improved technology was now available from Europe (Burton 1952; Phythian-Adams 1939). Several major rajahs began adapting British India’s game laws to their own hunting reserves; some hired professional game managers. But there was a difference from British India. Most rajahs held unfettered personal 207

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authority to frame and enforce laws in their domains. Being autocrats, rooted in medieval times, they tended to levy harsh and instant punishment on poachers in their personal reserves (Stracey 1963). One of the most powerful, the Maharajah of Kashmir, summarily removed the human population from the Dachigam deer reserve in the high mountains in about 1910; in British India, the government had no such power (Holloway et al. 1969). The movement primarily emphasized avoiding extinction of endangered quadrupeds, and secondarily regulating hunting of those birds and animals that still flourished in safe numbers. The legislative means to achieve this were laws linked to the forest laws. First, they prohibited taking valuable animals and provided penalties for breaking the new restrictions. Second, they provided a licensing system which for a fee legitimized a hunter, like a fuelwood gatherer, in claiming the resource if local foresters considered it to be in adequate supply. For British India as a whole, the Forest Law of 1878 enshrined many provisions regulating shooting. In the same year several provinces put in place complementary legislation designed to protect specific endangered species, including elephants and one-horned rhinoceros (PhythianAdams 1939; Gee 1950). Enactment was one thing, however; implementation was far more difficult.

The Acceleration Movement, 1918–1939 World War I and its aftermath brought fundamental changes to India. Among them were greatly accelerated threats to its wildlands and consequently new initiatives from the nature protection movement. The war led immediately to a dramatic rise in commercial game poaching because of greatly increased access to sophisticated breechloading rifles (Phythian-Adams 1939). The war also brought the automotive era to India, constructing new road networks into forested areas previously accessible only by foot, horse, or elephant. By the early 1920s many new cars appeared in India; the era of the townsman-hunter was beginning, and new technologies made possible more wanton killing than even the mass shikars (Seshadri 1969). 208

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In these years India drew heavily from other continents in shaping its strategies, and, in turn, contributed considerably from its own path-breaking experience, for its leading conservationists had close ties at high levels in Europe. The international parks movement began with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, but after the virtual elimination of the native population in North America, parks were never faced with the problem of resident human and livestock populations to nearly the degree that park planners would face elsewhere. The North American model in this way was a risky one to adopt in the colonial countries of the tropical world, but this became evident only slowly. In 1900 the European colonial powers launched a series of international conferences to plan wildlife reserves (Boardman 1981). The first conference, held in London, produced the first wildlife convention for Africa, stressing the need for more effective regulation of hunting. In 1933 conservationists met again in London to design the landmark International Convention for the Protection of the Fauna and Flora of Africa. The links between that conference and India led in both directions: Indian models for colonial wildlife management were used in the conference discussions, and the new convention spurred two years of major changes in India itself. In 1934 the Indian National Parks Act became law, embodying many years’ experience of game laws and their implementation. Regarding resident peoples in protection areas, the Act defined which human visitors could enter the game reserves, with which licenses and at which seasons. But this focused on sport hunters; regarding resident tribal and peasant populations, it was almost silent. A year later Corbett Park, India’s first modern national park, was established, covering ninety-nine square miles of prime tiger habitat in the Terai jungles at the foot of the Himalayas (Burton 1951a). The problem of resident human and livestock populations there was not severe, for the incidence of malaria was so high that only a scattering of Tharu tribals, immune to the anopholes mosquito, could survive the monsoon rains there (Ford-Robertson 1936). The new law and its first park came at a difficult time for wildlife management, for funds to administer forests and game reserves were shrinking in the Depression years, making it ever more difficult to guard 209

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against poachers. In response the United Provinces Wildlife Preservation Society, assisted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), organized a major conference in New Delhi in 1935 (Burton 1953). The familiar conservationist theme dominated each province’s report. Endangered species must be preserved at all costs. More national parks were needed. Budgets for control of poaching must be increased. In addition, leading wildlife enthusiasts were beginning to explore the implications of how habitats could be reconciled with a human presence, and in particular, what the economic implications might be for villagers in and near the new game reserves. First were the universally accepted principles that gave farmers rights of subsistence and self-protection near forests, and access to wood and grasses. But their licensed guns, used for crop protection in the nights before harvest, enabled the farmers to turn into predators in other seasons. One forester urged more sport hunters to hire the best local shikaris to guide them in the wilds, arguing that this would give an income to poachers and establish at least momentary control over them. The question of poaching for subsistence, and beneath it the issue of resident peoples in wildlands, often concerned the habitats of the tribal peoples who had long been the primary inhabitants of India’s hill regions. Though their subsistence patterns varied widely with the ecological setting, many were bird and animal hunters. With the fast-accelerating market for bird meat at elite dinner tables and bird feathers on international markets, many tribes had their first access to cash incomes from snaring game birds and selling them to urban-based traders. By the 1920s, this commercial trade had gained massive proportions, endangering many species of game birds (Abdulali 1942; Ogden 1942). Conservationists alarmed at this trend blamed not the tribals themselves, for many British held a romantic and paternalistic view of the tribals. Instead, they centered their wrath on the urban traders and exporters who callously exploited both the game and the hunters. The New Delhi conference reflected this in declaring that traders in birds must be stopped; if the market for bird poaching could be curtailed, tribals would no longer be corrupted (Burton 1953). Shifting cultivation, the other aspect of tribal life that had a direct impact on wildlife habitat, was a very different problem, and British officials 210

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had long insisted with near unanimity that it had reached a dangerous scale. Tribals must be encouraged or pressured to settle into permanent tilling of individually owned plots. In sum, foresters and conservationists were confronting the intricate web of tribal life as the market economy, and population increase began to change the basis of tribal subsistence. Peasants presented a very different set of dilemmas, not the least of them the regulation of their livestock. The New Delhi conference in 1935 repeatedly raised the dangers of epidemic cattle diseases spreading to hoofed wildlife. Conference participants were convinced that these epidemics, of both domestic and wild cattle, were becoming more severe and frequent as India’s domestic cattle population inexorably increased. Two broad approaches arose to confront the challenge of cattle disease. First was to organize large-scale vaccination campaigns (Burton 1953). This approach assumed that limiting the cattle population was virtually impossible, and it implied a willingness to improve the conditions of domestic populations in or near important wildlife habitats. But the principle was not pursued in any detail; no study resulted on how resident peoples’ subsistence systems could be balanced with the remaining wildlife. The second approach to the livestock problem at the New Delhi conference was more fully consistent with the conferees’ largely negative approach to the claims of resident villagers. Several speakers urged strict limitations on the number of cattle allowed to graze in the sanctuaries during the hot, dry months and then the monsoon rains, when grass resources were at the most delicate stages of their growth cycles. Only as many cattle should be admitted as would not endanger the fodder needs of the wild ungulates. This principle gave the needs of wildlife precedence over those of domestic cattle, in contrast to the accepted principle that humans in the villages must have access to reserves for legitimate subsistence needs. In sum, by 1935 the conservation movement had achieved mature studies of wildlife species and their habitats, had designed detailed laws to assure the preservation of rare fauna, and was increasing its awareness of the full range of life in critical ecosystems. Serious attempts at a detailed understanding of adjacent human and livestock populations, or their interactions with wildlife ecology, had hardly begun. 211

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World War II and the Transition to Independence The decade of the 1940s was a difficult time for total self-rule to come to India. The World War II brought devastation to wildlife interests as great as the first had done. Once again guns by the tens of thousands flowed into rural India as a consequence of the war, enabling many more peasants to become hunters and poachers than ever before (Stracey 1963). During the war the Forest Service was stretched to the limit of its resources of money and men. All its energy had to be turned to harvesting timber as war material, wherever possible, by accelerating rotational cutting schedules. Some foresters departed for the war, leaving the management of forests severely understaffed, and wildlife protection had to remain an afterthought for the next six years. The end of the war led quickly to independence under the new Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Two major segments of the subcontinent became Pakistan, but what remained in India encompassed most of the major wildlife areas of the subcontinent. The tensions of these transitions had discouraging effects. In the Terai jungles of the north, Corbett National Park had been clearly delineated, and no part of it could now be alienated for the plow. But new lands had to be found for resettling masses of Sikh and Hindu refugees from West Pakistan, and only some of them could take farmland from which Muslims had been evacuated; therefore Forest Department lands were designated (Anonymous 1947). Today, four decades later, large areas of what had been Terai forests support extremely successful ex-Punjabi farmers, across the border from similarly cleared foothill jungles in Nepal. Clearing forests for settlement of Sikh refugees was at least an administratively orderly operation; other events were not. In many parts of India, game was besieged by hunters. In both British and Princely districts, peasants went on a rampage of poaching, for the old regimes were dead; what better way to celebrate than to violate their most galling laws (Seshadri 1969; Stracey 1963; Prakash and Ghosh 1976). The first decade of India’s independence brought a fundamental shift in her economic and political priorities, toward accelerated economic development both rural and industrial. The 1950s saw a major expansion in the acreage under crops; by the end of the decade, virtually all viable agricultural soils and much marginal land came under the plow 212

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(Farmer 1974). In addition, regional marketing networks and expanding urban centers, particularly in hill areas, placed new pressures on forest and wildlife zones. Closely linked with agricultural expansion in a monsoon climate with its long, dry season was the launching of India’s great multipurpose hydropower dams. In the Himalayan foothills, the first of the great dams, at Bhakra, was completed in 1960, inundating farm and forest land. East of there the Ramganga River flowed into the Ganges through part of Corbett Park. When its dam was completed in 1972, the finest grazing area for the park’s wildlife was lost in order to meet the human needs of the plains district downriver (Kandari and Singh 1982). Wildlife planners and foresters watched the construction of the high dams with mixed emotions, recognizing the need to harness the power and regulate the rivers, yet seeing more clearly than the engineers the threat to watersheds and wildlife. In this setting, the arguments for the economic benefits of wildlife habitat took on new sophistication, for as Burton argued for the BNHS, reforestation would benefit not only wildlife but village agriculture and hydroelectric dams’ watersheds as well (Burton 1951b). Fortunately, Nehru, who exercised enormous power until his death in 1964, understood the urgency of preserving India’s compromised wildlands. As an urban and cosmopolitan man he cultivated a romantic vision of the potential harmonies of peasant and tribal life. The leading Indian conservationists, whether the rajahs or the urban-based naturalists in Bombay and elsewhere, had personal access to Nehru. The social basis of the pre-independence movement had survived the difficult years largely intact, and also remained influential in the international conservation network through the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (Burton 1950). Together with Nehru they constructed a new and far more ambitious legal and administrative structure for wildlife preservation. In 1949 Nehru established a National Wildlife Board. Its constitution charged it “to preserve the fauna of India and to prevent the extinction of any species and their protection in balance with the natural and human environment” (Burton 1953: ix). The emphasis was still on preservation of endangered species, but the board’s principles could be understood to encompass the needs of resident peoples in the vicinity of refuges. In the 1950s many additional national parks and wildlife refuges were 213

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established; their administrations posed difficult questions of priorities. Wildlife management remained a secondary branch of the Indian Forest Service. There was no separate professional track for wildlife biologists, and Forest Department budgets remained chronically inadequate to support wildlife research and management. Finally, shortly after 1980 the central government resolved that wildlife management should be separated from forestry and made an autonomous agency (Saharia 1982). The conservationists’ desire for greater professionalization of wildlife managers was achieved, but at the cost of adopting a more fragmented approach to balancing wild and domestic life. The growth of more aggressive rural political lobbies in recent years has led in that direction, for rural and “backward” constituencies have increasingly learned to exercise their leverage in India’s structurally democratic system. Because many major wildlife habitats are also tribal areas, the rise of tribal political movements has great potential significance (Singh 1982). As tribal habitats have become degraded in recent decades, the conflict between tribals and state forest departments has intensified. In this political setting it has become less adequate for any forester or wildlife manager to stress merely the destructive aspects of tribal hunting traditions, although P.D. Stracey’s wildlife textbook for forestry trainees in 1963 still took that perspective, reflecting the discouragement of his long years in the service. “Forest dwelling communities are invariably inveterate hunters and have in most areas practically annihilated the game animals and birds by indiscriminate hunting and snaring. It is surely time to instill in the tribal mind a respect for the basic game laws of the country” (Stracey 1963). By the 1960s the old ambivalence of hunters, foresters, and conservationists toward the tribals was hardening into an almost total hostility as the habitat inexorably declined. This in itself was reason to search for fuller understandings of the forest peoples’ subsistence as they struggled to avoid cultural extinction.

Bibliography Abdulali, H. 1942. “Partridge Snaring by Wandering Tribes.” Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 43: 659.

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Anonymous. 1947. Report of the Tarai and Bhabar Development Committee. Allahabad: Government Press. Bedi, R. and R. Bedi. 1934. Indian Wildlife. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers. Boardman, R. 1981. International Organization and the Conservation of Nature. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. Burton, R.W. 1950. “A Bibliography of Big Game Hunting and Shooting in India and the East.” JBNHS 49: 222–241. ———. 1951a. “Wild Life Reserves in India: Uttar Pradesh.” JBNHS 49: 749–754. ———. 1951b. “The Protection of World Resources: Wild Life and the Soil.” JBNHS 50: 376. ———. 1952. “A History of Shikar in India.” JBNHS 50: 843–869. ———. 1953. The Preservation of Wild Life in India. Bangalore: Bangalore Press. Ford-Robertson, F.C. 1936. Our Forests. Allahabad: Government Press. Gee, E.P. 1950. “Wild Life Reserves in India: Assam.” JBNHS 49: 82. Guha, R. 1983. “Forestry in British and Post-British India: A Historical Analysis.” Economic and Political Weekly, October 29, 1882–1896; November 5–12: 1940–1947. Holloway, C.W., G.B. Schaller, and A.R. Wani. 1969. “Dachigam Wild Life Sanctuary, Kashmir: Status and Management of the Kashmir Stag Cervus elephus hanglu: Report.” IUCN Eleventh Technical Meeting, vol. 3. New Delhi: IUCN. Kandari, O.P. and T.V. Singh. 1982. “Corbett Park, India: An Exploratory Survey of Habitat, Recreational Use and Resource Ecology.” In T.V. Singh et al., eds, Studies in Tourism, Wildlife Parks and Conservation. New Delhi: Metropolitan Press, 244–246. Ogden, F.G.D. 1942. “Partridge Snaring by Wandering Tribes.” JBNHS 44: 299. Phythian-Adams, E.G. 1893. “Nilgiri Game Association Report.” JBNHS 8: 535. ———. 1927. “Game Preservation in the Nilgiris.” JBNHS 32: 339–343. ———. 1929. “Game Preservation in the Nilgiris.” JBNHS 33: 947–951. ———. 1939. “The Nilgiri Game Association, 1879–1939.” JBNHS 41: 374–396. Prakash, I. and P.K. Ghosh. 1976. “Human-Animal Interactions in the Rajasthan Desert.” JBNHS 75: 1260. Richards, J.F., et al. Forthcoming. Land-Use and Vegetation Changes in South and Southeast Asia, 1700–1980. Saharia, V.B. 1982. “Human Dimension in Wildlife Management: The Indian Experience.” In J.A. McNeely and K.R. Miller, eds, National Parks, Conservation, and Development: The Role of Protected Areas in Sustaining Society. Proceedings of the World Congress on National Parks, Bali, Indonesia, October 11–22, 1982. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 190–196.

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Seshadri, B. 1969. The Twilight of India’s Wildlife. London: J. Baker. Stebbing. E.P. 1922–1926. The Forests of India. Vol. 1 of 3 vols. London: John Lane. Stracey, P.D. 1963. Wild Life in India: Its Conservation and Control. New Delhi: Department of Agriculture. Tucker, R.P. 1982. “The Forests of the Western Himalayas: The Legacy of British Colonial Administration.” Journal of Forest History 26 (3): 112–123. ———. 1986. “The British Empire and India’s Forest Resources: Assam and the United Provinces, 1914–1950.” In J.F. Richards and R.P. Tucker, eds, World Deforestation in the Twentieth Century. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Tucker, R.P. and J.F. Richards, eds. 1983. Global Deforestation and the NineteenthCentury World Economy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

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X Non-timber Forest Products Policy in the Western Himalayas under British Rule∗

Foresters in India will gradually understand that they are expected to make the utmost of the estates intrusted to their charge for the benefit of the present generation, while steadily improving the capital value and productiveness of their estates; and this will lead them eagerly to seek information regarding the various trees and shrubs which may be turned to account. Dietrich Brandis, 1874

Introduction: The Methodological Problem

T

he history of forest exploitation in the South Asian subcontinent emerged as the leading aspect of studies in environmental history in the region in the early 1980s. For nearly a decade analysis has centred on the extraction of timber by the colonial and post-colonial state and the social conflict which resulted from that system’s challenge to the traditional rights and practices of village communities.1 The imperial system has been seen largely in terms of timber-cutting, conservation and commercially oriented silviculture; the village-level resistance has been seen primarily as a defence of grazing and timber rights.2 This work has ∗ Originally published as “Non Timber Forest Products Extraction in the Western Himalayas under British Rule,” in Richard Grove and Vineeta Damodaran, eds., Nature and the Orient: Essays on the Environmental History of South and South–East Asia. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 459–83. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

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gone far towards clarifying the issues central to political conflict between village communities and the local extensions of imperial control and management. However, the discussion has tended to be shaped by the colonial system’s own frame of reference: it has been silent concerning the wide variety of minor forest products which have always been vital to both the floral diversity of forested areas and the subsistence systems of the people of the forest. European foresters imported into India a classificatory system which defined as ‘Minor Forest Products’ (MFP) all products which did not produce large-scale market sales or revenue for government. Their system of scientific research relegated the vast majority of forest products to an insignificant corner of their agenda. This market orientation was one major reason for their failure to comprehend the character and scope of twentieth-century peasant and tribal resistance movements. It is therefore important to retrace the evolution, scope and limitations in the Forest Service’s non-timber forest products policy and evaluate the extent to which the Forest Department attempted to regulate the gathering and sale of MFPs. It seems likely that in many places their rhetoric about managing the extraction of MFPs was not matched by any significant effort on the ground. If this was the case, then in fact the conflict between the Forest Department and villagers did not extend to most non-timber forest products. It is important for our retrospective of those decades to transcend the limited categories of those times. This chapter highlights the need to reconstruct rural people’s ‘traditional’ use of non-timber forest products in the western Himalayas, a mountain region where the evolution of modern forestry systems is now familiar but the social ecology of forest use has been very little studied. To the extent that the interaction of these systems can be historically reconstructed across the wide variety of local circumstances over the subcontinent, it will become possible to shed brighter light on the evolution of relations between the state, the market, villages and forest ecosystems. This reconstruction of rural social ecology is not a simple matter to achieve. Written documentation from colonial times is thin because of the relative lack of interest among the literate who knew their own botanical resources well. To compound the problem there has been little research on ethnobotany which could help to broaden our understanding of forest productivity beyond a 218

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near-exclusive emphasis on timber products. There are indications that tribal and peasant systems were very differently influenced by colonial forest policy. Ramachandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil have applied the broad distinction between hunter–gatherers with their systems of shifting cultivation, on the one hand, and settled cultivators on the other, to suggest the differential impact of the colonial state.3 The implications of this approach now need to be drawn out in local studies of varied ecosystems around the subcontinent. Even this approach will not cover the entire spectrum of the problem, since it is limited to human interactions with the flora of forest regions. The next step would be to add studies of the human uses of forest fauna. This would include domestic livestock, whose grazing the Forest Department struggled to comprehend and regulate. There has been general agreement that this was a major dimension of the forester–villager conflict, varying with traditions of livestock management.4 It would also include wild fauna, ‘wildlife’ in its usual sense, connoting birds and animals. The traditional hunting patterns of rural populations, aristocratic hunting reserves and ritualized hunts or shikar, and the commercial market hunting of this past century would be covered by this aspect. This too is not a separate story in the full picture of competing human uses of nature and their ecological consequences, but it is separable for purposes of the present discussion, in part because analytical studies are only now emerging.5 Finally, for both peasant and tribal areas, the question of population/ land ratios lurks behind any analysis of rural history and environmental change. It is difficult to assess, in part because virtually no useful statistics of human or livestock numbers exist before the advent of colonial censuses (and livestock censuses until the present remain notoriously unreliable). It is also a treacherous issue, easily misunderstood. Sheer numbers of consumers are not the issue so much as the changing demand for various products of the natural landscape. Demand is largely shaped by the social distribution of access to resources, most notably land tenure systems. Landholding elites were a far less significant factor on the landscape of the western Himalayas than, say, the Kathmandu region of the Nepal Himalayas beginning in the eighteenth century, and the rulers of local hills kingdoms rarely, if ever, restricted their subjects’ access to the common resources of mountain forests. The new systems 219

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of regulation imposed by British rulers were a dramatic departure from previous history, and second, demographic pressure had not yet presented society, government and ecosystem with the problems which are inherent in an increasing scarcity of socially valued natural resources. In sum, the great escalation of human and, therefore, livestock populations since the nineteenth century is fundamental to the question of social and ecological change. But since the complexity of population–environment dynamics is still only vaguely understood (for India or anywhere else), it remains merely a shadowy factor in the following discussion.

The Pre-colonial Setting: The Western Himalayas Any analysis of the historical interactions between humans and nature functions within a tension among political–administrative units, cultural regions and biogeographical regions. Moreover none of these can be neatly spelt out, except for the bureaucratic boundaries defined by modern governments. But for the purposes of this chapter, the western segment of the Himalayan region can be taken as the mountain zone south-east of the Khyber Pass and west of the Sarda river (India’s boundary with western Nepal). More specifically it is the present-day hill districts of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, with some reach into adjacent areas of Jammu and Kashmir. Its southern boundary is the transition zone of the Terai, the formerly dense lowland forest zone at the foot of the Siwalik hills. The northern boundary of the zone is less easy to define usefully. For most purposes its farthest extent during colonial times was the snowy passes marking the transition into the Tibetan highlands. This is particularly appropriate for historical ethnobotany. But in any case any discussion of the human use of biological resources in pre-colonial times must be very tentative, since no systematic study has yet been carried out for this mountain region. Much therefore must be speculation, based in part on the survival of earlier extraction systems long into the colonial era. The social dimension is largely a question of the customary law of common property systems and collective patterns of use of non-timber resources. In the western Himalayas, over a period of over two thousand years, Hindu farmer castes gradually 220

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expanded their settlements and terraced agriculture up the alluvial soils of the region’s many river valleys. Hill peasants practised mixed cropping systems on their terraces, primarily for local use but in some situations, and to a limited degree, for monetized regional markets as well. In principle ownership of all land including arable lay with the hill rajas. But, in practice, peasant households generally maintained use of their terraces down the generations, and landholding was distributed relatively equitably, with far less of a presence of a landholding elite than in many parts of lowland India.6 Equally important, farm families maintained a mixed livestock regime, as household animals grazed in the open forest commons, and commercial herds managed by seasonal transhumance. The latter was especially true of the Himachal districts, where Gaddi farmer-shepherds herded large mixed flocks of sheep and goats from winter pasture in the chil or chir pine forests of the Siwalik foothills to the Himalayan alpine pastures for the summer monsoon season.7 To compound the region’s complexity Gujar water buffalo herders, originally from Jammu, gradually extended their transhumance range eastward as far as the outer hills of Garhwal.8 All of these systems of animal husbandry and social differentiation added up to one of the world’s most intricate tapestries of use of oak and conifer forest and grassy hillsides. Pre-colonial regimes regulated customary grazing rights in a very limited way, only to the extent of extracting a modest revenue plus the ritual of obeisance to authority. Ratios of land to people and domestic animals were so generous that there is little evidence of ecological deterioration before the nineteenth century. In sharp contrast to peasant systems was the specialized human ecology of hunter–gatherer groups and those who employed shifting or cyclical cultivation systems in forest regions. In the Himalayas, as in many parts of the world, these tribal economies utilized an extremely complex variety of non-timber forest products, and their systems of botanical knowledge were both subtle and intricate. In the western Himalayas, however, even before the nineteenth century shifting cultivation was restricted to a very few locations, especially the Terai forests of the lower border of Kumaon. There, Tharu tribals, more resistant than other populations to the malarial ravages of anopheles mosquitoes, continue to subsist in forests where no other human genetic stock could survive year-round before the advent of DDT and massive forest clearance 221

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in the 1950s.9 Though colonial revenue and forest administrators universally condemned these systems of vegetation and soil use, nearly all examples which they attempted to suppress were not in this region of north-west India but in the wetter forests of the eastern Himalayas and tribal hill districts of central India and the Nilgiris of the south.10 One further dimension must be added to a full analysis of resource extraction in order to define the context of non-timber botanical resource use. This is the historical expansion of marketing systems, longdistance trade routes, and consumer demand for the traded products. This encompasses both social and spatial dimensions. Socially its segments are suppliers, traders and consumers, which have been little analysed for that region; only the rural suppliers, the harvesters of the botanical riches of the hills, will be touched in this analysis. In the spatial dimension it includes trade routes and market towns. At least two different kinds of hill towns emerged over the centuries: hill settlements with periodic local markets, where locally based entrepreneurial castes interacted with peasants and tribals; and distant markets below the hills, linked by middlemen from different social groups rooted in the lowlands. Important among the latter was a line of foothills towns which, by the nineteenth century, became the key timber transit points of north India’s forest products industry. Local and distant markets were linked with each other as well, in ways which are ethnographically less well understood for the Indian Himalayas than for Nepal. As a total set, these markets have been the key transition points in the western Himalayas, as in all mountain–lowland interaction systems around the globe. For the western Himalayas these marketing systems had complex and shifting pre-colonial histories, buffeted by irregular political and military movements. They certainly experienced long-term expansion under the Pax Brittanica of the nineteenth century, though this subject too has not been studied in any depth.11 Taken together these contextual uncertainties leave us free from older stereotypes of a steady-state rural ecology before the European arrival, but necessitate being tentative in drawing a new pattern of conclusions regarding systematic changes in the extraction and possible depletion of the biological riches of mountains in colonial times.

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British Forest Administration In the aftermath of the East India Company’s 1815 victory over the Gorkha armies of Nepal, British revenue officials moved into lower Kumaon and began surveys of the forest wealth of the outer Himalayas. From then on their primary interest lay with the commercial and revenue potential of a few species of timber trees, plus a few other species such as bamboos which could be marketed on a large scale. Forty years later, at the time of the founding of the colonial Forest Service, it was already conventional to relegate all other botanical resources to the category of ‘Minor Forest Products’—minor, that is, in monetary terms, though by no means minor in the range and diversity of biological species or their human uses for rural subsistence and some trade. It must be asked whether British interest in these products was minor or peripheral, and whether their efforts to regulate them or even to collect systematic data on them were incidental to their major interests. If this was so, then the use of these many resources of the forest probably evolved largely from an increasing rural population’s demands on shrinking commons. It would also be the case that the political conflicts of this century did not encompass a struggle over access to most non-timber forest resources. In tribal zones elsewhere in the subcontinent, many pre-colonial communities were gradually and profoundly undermined. But in a mountain region populated largely by farmers and shepherds, these particular consequences of colonial rule seem to have been far less damaging. In the Punjab hills, which came under British control after the successful military campaigns of the late 1840s, early revenue settlements began a process of defining and cataloguing nontimber forest resources, a process which was less systematic than pragmatic. Economic botany was bound to develop faster than ethnobotany as a field of inquiry. The forest laws established a system of reserved and protected forests. Reserved forests were to be managed primarily to protect the natural forest or to produce commercial timber; protected forests were intended to meet nearby villagers’ needs as a higher priority. Thus for non-timber forest products the reserved forests in principle would preserve the understorey in all its variety, while in the protected forests the District

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Forest Officers and their rangers would ideally monitor the availability of minor products, encourage their optimal growth, regulate their harvest and sale, and collect duties for the government. A third class, generally called ‘shamilat’ in the Punjab hills, was the commons adjacent to villages; there the villagers themselves would exercise formal authority. In the Punjab hills the arduous, time-consuming effort of reviewing actual patterns of forest use, codifying them, and thereby implicitly establishing a social philosophy, was finally settled in the last years of the nineteenth century, in a series of forest settlements, for each administrative jurisdiction. In order to establish administrative uniformity and expedite the otherwise endless work officers came to adopt similar lists of villagers’ rights in the forest, but with significant variations from one jurisdiction to another. These lists reveal a social and economic ideology which attempted to allow villagers to maintain both material subsistence and religious ritual. At the same time the regulations were designed to restrict severely and systematically forest products harvesting for sale or monetary profit. In reserved forests the lists were very limited; but in protected or second class forests, where local subsistence was a high priority, the discussions were lengthy and detailed. These were the regulations from which we can infer the fine grain of the working lives of the District Forest Officers and their staffs of rangers and guards. These are the lists which suggest to us the day-to-day working relations between imperial authority and local subjects—regulations which villagers would tolerate as far as they could, evade wherever the risk was not too high and rebel against when survival seemed at stake. Products other than trees and shrubs fell under a general principle of control. The regulations for Hamirpur District, in this regard virtually identical to all others, stated, ‘No forest produce acquired in the exercise of these rights of user, except bamboos, fruits, flowers, medical roots and leaves may be sold or bartered.’12 Long lists of trees, leaves, bark and brushwood, leaves and bark of creepers, grasses of several kinds, fruits, flowers, medical herbs, and finally honey, were identified as open to unrestricted local use except when a maximum of one-third of any forest was closed for several years for reforestation. In other words many non-timber products in these areas of small-scale settled farming were normally excluded from governmental management and control. To make the analysis more difficult, the western Himalayas were 224

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administratively complex; large areas outside the British districts were left as intact Princely Hill States. These states tended to maintain the older forms of discretionary management more nearly intact until they were administratively absorbed into independent India or Pakistan in 1947. But most of them, under diplomatic pressure from the British, gradually adopted approximations of the British forest management system. The effect of this on the management of non-timber forest products is even more uncertain than for the districts of British India, but some indication can be gained from the forest rules which Chamba and Bashahr states adopted by 1900. These rules stated that reserved forests would be under the direct control of a British Forest Conservator appointed by the raja, whereas unreserved forests were under the raja’s control. In reserved forests the villagers had rights only to building timber, fodder grass and fuelwood. In the raja’s forests villagers had rights to ‘the collection and sale of dry and fallen timber and inferior trees for fuel, grass, wild animals, birds, honey, wax, fruits and flowers, taking care that such collection is effected in such a manner as not to injure the forest’.13 The mutual value of such cooperation between local rajas and British administrators was exemplified in the tiny state of Guler in the Punjab foothills, where duties from sale of both timber and bamboos to traders from the plains were divided, giving three-fourths of the revenue to the raja and one-fourth to the British-run Forest Department.14 In sum, both British India and the princely states under British influence experienced a trend towards managed forest ecosystems, with an accommodation between European and traditional systems of use. On the British side, where systematic documentation was a virtual compulsion, there was to be a gradual accumulation of knowledge, especially on the economic aspects of botany. But that presupposed some development of systematic taxonomy, based on collections painstakingly made in the field.

Forest Botany: Research and Training India in the eighteenth century was exotic to the Europeans in every way, and no one found it more so than botanists and natural history enthusiasts. Italians, Swiss, Spanish, French, Dutch, Germans, Swedes, 225

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British—virtually every variety of European—were collecting on explorations all over the world. Many passed through Calcutta on their way to and from Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the last decades of the century. By 1800 the Calcutta Botanical Garden was taking shape as the coordinating point for botanical explorations throughout British and princely India.15 Calcutta in turn was linked to London under Sir Joseph Banks’s influence as President of the Royal Society and patron of the empire-wide Botanical Garden at Kew outside London. Economic botany was the major motive underlying colonial natural history, expressed especially in the search for commercially profitable crops, most notably tea. In the Punjab hills tea was gradually introduced as far as Palampur in the Kangra valley.16 (In this region it is significant that because of the importance of commercially oriented pastoralism in the drier north-western plains from Delhi onwards, and into the entire range of the western Himalayas, grasses were also potentially important for research.) Saharanpur, a quiet town not far from where the Yamuna and Ganges flowed out of the mountains, became a convenient launching place for geographical and geological expeditions into the great watersheds of the region. Several early explorers left their plant collection at Saharanpur with George Govan, Civil Surgeon there, who cleared a 40-acre botanical garden from the open jungle.17 His successor, J.F. Royle, established Saharanpur as the botanical centre for northwestern India, coordinating with the Calcutta Garden and emphasizing the experimental planting of horticultural crops for plains, woodlands and hills. His successor, William Jameson, Superintendent from 1841 for thirty-three years, centred his energy on encouraging the introduction of new crops into the lower Himalayan hills. When the next generation finally took over in 1876 it was J.F. Duthie who made his mark as a taxonomist of fodder grasses. Medical plants were also an important category of MFPs, for they were obviously of great interest to pharmacologists, and no culture carried a more profound or complex understanding of the many species and their uses than India. Throughout the following decades the British supported work on medical botany, reflecting the origins of several botanists’ careers as East India Company surgeons.18 Work was coordinated from the Calcutta Botanical Garden. Its first major publications were E.J. Waring’s Bazaar Medicine of 1860 and his Pharmacopoeia of 226

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India of 1867, which remained the standard work in English for many years. Waring’s work was praised for enabling the British in India to avoid importing drugs from Europe. But in addition to the practical uses of indigenous medical drugs, this research (however limited in staff and scope) gained scientific standing internationally, establishing the Raj as an important link in an international network of research on tropical medical botany. By the early 1900s the Calcutta Botanical Garden was working in collaboration with Duthic, who had moved to Dehra Dun for his senior years, and internationally with Kew Gardens as well as two American institutions, the Smithsonian Institution and the Missouri Botanical Garden.19 However, the study of Ayurvedic and folk medicine remained peripheral in colonial British science, in part because those traditions embodied much broader cultural knowledge than simply botanical taxonomy, and European taxonomists of the Enlightenment traditions had become rigorously narrow in their definition of their work, partly because research would have to be carried on in bazaars as much as in hill forests and in part because the research would require greater respect for Sanskrit and vernacular traditions than most late Victorians would tolerate.20 Though the Government of India established an Indigenous Drugs Committee in 1896 to encourage systematic cultivation and use of indigenous medical plants, it was so weakly funded that it remained little more than a curiosity at the cultural fringe of the empire.21 Beyond this, in an era when even the basic building blocks of the ecology of plant communities were being assembled at a painstakingly slow pace, few botanists could yet think about entire plant and animal communities. Of course India was in no way unique in this, for international sources of information, methods or broad conceptual structures for integrated ecological studies were only beginning to appear in the mid-nineteenth century.22 In the meantime, what were the practising foresters doing? Some of the recruits to the Forest Service were enthusiasts of botany in its broader sense and contributed to the publication of Forest Floras for the subcontinent. Moreover they soon learned that the propagation and regeneration of timber species required knowledge of the life-cycles of those species, which was inseparable from the interactions of all species in specific plant and animal communities. Early British surveys of Himalayan 227

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forest botany began to reveal which non-timber products interested the men of the Raj. Hugh Cleghorn, who was sent from Madras to survey the timber resources of the Punjab hills, travelled more extensively through the western Himalayas than any other early British officer. His 1864 report set a high standard of detail and precision for the trees species of the region. Though his major concern was the environmental damage caused by intensive, unregulated logging of the timber trees of the mountains, most of all the deodar cedar forests, his eye was quick: his report included a long list of tree and shrub species and their uses. Yet even this versatile and energetic official’s catalogue revealed the limits of British interests. He noted the uses of nuts and fruits of those trees, but little else. The few tree species he discovered which had medicinal uses he merely listed by botanical and vernacular names, not stating their medicinal properties specifically.23 Another decade of this work was sufficient to produce the first systematic Forest Floras for each region of the subcontinent. The Forest Flora of North-West and Central India appeared in 1874, largely the work of J. Lindsay Stewart in the Punjab plains and hills. Stewart coordinated work on his Flora with Kew Gardens, where research for the economic botanies of many parts of the empire was being coordinated.24 Dietrich Brandis finished Stewart’s work when Stewart died. Recognizing the emphases and pragmatic uses of a work like Stewart’s helps to reveal the priorities and limitations of colonial ecological science. Brandis was explicit: it ‘includes only the more important trees and shrubs; ... it has been written, not for botanists, but for practical men, especially for those who have the care of the public forests’.25 Some observers had wanted an even simpler volume, a practical handbook for the field. Brandis identified them as … those who hold that the sole legitimate duty of forestry in India is to provide fuel and timber, and that the forester has no concern with bark, lac, gums, resins, caoutchouc, wax, oil, dyes, fruits, and other marketable products of trees and shrubs. Such views will continue to be maintained until it comes to be acknowledged that the principle aim and object of forest management in India is the formation of public estates, to be managed so as to secure large benefits to the country of an indirect nature, as well as a continuous and increasing yield of all descriptions of forest produce necessary to supply the requirements of the people and their export trade.26

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In other words Brandis and his founding colleagues of the Indian Forest Service saw themselves as interested in far more than simply timber products, because meeting the subsistence needs of forest villagers was as much their responsibility as meeting more distant and monetized market demand. Yet their practical perspective was limited to tree and shrub species, and was for some time largely commercial in contour. It would take decades more work to expand it towards the much more complex scope of entire forest botanies. Even a generation later Osmaston’s major taxonomic work, Forest Flora for Kumaon, of 1927 was limited to trees, shrubs and woody climbers. This in itself was rather formidable, for it had taken him fourteen years to compile precise details on 290 tree species, 321 shrubs and 112 woody climbers in 94 families. The explorers a century before had not been wrong; the Himalayan flora were indeed vast and varied. The very complexity of the botany to be studied helped insure that the specialists would not venture into the still more complex and multi-faceted work of compiling systematic data on the social uses of the mountain and foothills flora. That would be to cross the boundary into the human sciences, which would have required an entirely additional range of techniques, skills and cultural sensitivity.27

The Minor Forest Products Branch at the Forest Research Institute The First World War made heavy demands on India’s timber resources for military uses and highlighted the strategic importance of the empire timber reserves. In the aftermath the Government of India took the decisive step of expanding the modest research and training facilities at Dehra Dun into the monumental buildings of the Forest Research Institute (FRI) and its long adjacent avenues of botanical gardens. This investment in the early 1920s was the time when the forestry priorities of the Raj would show whether a biologically (and culturally) broad range of non-timber species would finally gain serious emphasis. There were tantalizing economic possibilities on that front. Various annual reports of the Minor Forest Products Branch reported that vast but little-tapped resources of non-timber species were available for control and exploitation. 229

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This was only a semi-educated guess, for the research remained to be done. As well as presenting routine arguments for expanded budgets the reports perpetuated the familiar stereotype of the virtually limitless resources of the Himalayas, and in the 1920s the official reports did not yet broadcast any warning that commercially attractive species were becoming scarce or their sources remote. Among the Institute’s priorities, minor forest products remained from the beginning a very minor branch indeed. MFP research and product development efforts were initiated shortly after 1910 when R.S. Pearson was appointed Forest Economist at the FRI. An energetic man, he could not fill his time entirely with timber trials, so he added non-timber species to his agenda, searching for sources of commercially viable paper pulp and tanning materials. But, as his successor H. Trotter put it in 1925, that work was soon almost totally eclipsed by timber experiments; the MFP laboratory became the perennial ‘Cinderella of the Economic Branch’.28 The commercial timber economy took a long downward turn in the early 1920s, and, as a result, the restricted research budget at the FRI was allocated almost solely to timber testing and marketing. After 1922 no one was appointed officer in charge of MFP for many years. Perennially underfunded and understaffed, the MFP Branch’s work of gathering and cataloguing was extremely constrained and often nearly haphazard. Very little was done to explore the rural people’s knowledge and use of these products. Trotter’s 1925 report sheds light on this lack in explaining the weakness of the MFP Branch at the FRI. The real fault ... lies in the inability of the Divisional Officer to get into touch with the trade and vice versa. The majority of the minor forest product industries are purely local at present. Leases or privilege rights are given year after year to small contractors and villagers, who carry on in exactly the same way as their greatgrandfathers did and in many cases their methods are of the crudest description. The result of this is that genuine buyers on a large scale are seldom able to get into touch with these small suppliers.29

Trotter was committed to modernizing a decentralized and diffuse trade system and giving it uniform scientific standards. He was more concerned with the trade than with the sources. Four years later another assessment of the FRI made the same emphasis more emphatically still: utilization of minor forest products would not prosper until the 230

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Institute worked much more closely with foresters in the provinces and with the traders wherever they were.30 But minuscule budgets made even that impossible, to say nothing of allowing the specialized researcher staff in Dehra Dun reach farther into the mountains to the realities of village life. Little changed during the penurious years of the Depression and then the tumultuous years of Second World War and the transition to independence. Even as late as 1965 a select committee which evaluated the entire FRI operations reported that the full-time staff numbered only four botanists, whose research had been allowed to expand to unsystematic coverage of more products than they could handle. The products under study were only a modest list in themselves: principally camphor, two species of citronella grass, and three medical herbs. The committee recommended that the MFP staff should be expanded, that they should take over chir pine tapping from the Silviculture Branch, and intensify research on products which ‘are of high value or which have been earning foreign exchange’. They could expand their work on medical plants by establishing links with other institutes like the Central Medical Plants Organization and the Central Drugs Research Institute, as well as the pharmaceutical and chemical industries which had been increasingly aggressive in forest areas. In other words the Institute’s central administration had marginalized this work and its own staff had been sluggish in their work.31 Research priorities were repeated in the Institute’s training programme for Forest Service recruits. Their two-year curriculum included only brief surveys of ‘minor’ forest species in Forest Botany and Forest Utilization, in which they used Troup’s Indian Forest Utilization. This was hardly more than an afterthought in the curriculum. Then, presumably, individuals carried on further work on location, but that was beyond the formal administrative structure of the Service. In other words the conceptual structure was not oriented toward subsistence issues, thus limiting ability to comprehend villagers’ realities. Nonetheless, in spite of all these limitations, the central records of the Forest Service do reveal some patterns of evolving use, monitoring and management of non-timber forest products in the western Himalayas during the decades before independence. 231

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Management of Non-timber Products The Floras provided systematic definitions of minor forest products as well as discussions of them by category, for British India as a whole.32 Ideally any analysis should consider them in terms of specific species and their biotic communities and extents, and their specific social uses. But this merging of perspectives has not yet happened, except in a few fragmentary cases, most of which are not from north-western India. The following discussion therefore is a preliminary approach to compiling the elements of data for that region. Several non-timber botanical products became so important commercially that the Forest Service produced a steady flow of research and publications, as well as developing their management in great detail. In effect they became major forest products, since they were vitally important sources of revenue for the Forest Departments of the provinces. Several were highly significant in the western Himalayas and their adjacent lowlands. One category of commercially major non-timber forest products was bamboo. This was complex in both its botanical and social implications. Bamboos are one of the most varied useful plants of the Himalayas and the Indian subcontinent; Pearson counted 100 species in 1912. Many bamboo species are indigenous to the Himalayas, growing in different elevation zones, from the Terai forests below the mountains to the outer hills and intermontane valleys, then up to 8,000 feet and higher. Their exploitation and marketing can be seen clearly in the Punjab Siwaliks below the Kangra valley, from a report of 1904. There, as elsewhere in the lower hills, bamboos had a wide variety of traditional uses in the village economy and in money transactions at regional markets.33 In an arc from Nurpur to Kutlehr, bamboo thickets varied from pure bamboo forests to scattered clumps in mixed forests. Cleared, carefully managed clumps could yield up to forty strong new shoots in a monsoon season, but poorly slashed and cluttered clumps were congested and choked with dead and malformed shoots. Systematic cuttings could encourage more healthy growth, available for both local and market use. Thus careful management could benefit all potential users. From the early 1870s onwards Forest Departments launched detailed studies of life-cycles and management strategies for several species of bamboo; the 232

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resulting bibliography became one of the richest for all of South Asian botany.34 No wonder Brandis reported that 15–20 per cent of all forest revenue from the Kumaon and Garhwal hill came from bamboo sales.35 By the time he toured those hills in 1881 many areas near villages were seriously overcut, while more remote areas were virtually untouched. Timber and bamboo contractors cut carelessly from the bamboo clumps, leaving 3–5 feet of stem which led to hopeless tangles and declining quality of the stock. Harvested stems more and more frequently shrivelled before they reached markets, and villagers’ sources for their own use were being crippled. What could be done? It proved entirely possible to manage the clumps of the 40 feet tall Dendrocalamus strictus to achieve far greater regeneration and growth, and produce more sustainable results by four criteria: ecological health, village use, market consumption and government revenue. Forest Department regulations indicate how this was done. In blocks of concentrated bamboo growth, where bamboo quality had declined, forest rangers prohibited cutting of first-year stems or any cutting above 1 foot from the ground. Old stems and clutter near the roots were removed. When rotational harvests were organized the great bamboo revived quickly and everyone benefited. In Hoshiarpur District, in the Punjab segment of the Siwalik hills, similar reports appeared. There, in the north-west corner of its range, bamboo canes grew in several dense forests. In the 1880s rotational harvesting in forests which had been declared reserved in 1879 was producing 600,000 canes per year. Farmers were allowed to graze their livestock for nine months each year, outside the monsoon, and to cut as much bamboo as necessary for their own use.36 In 1891–96 the Forest Department sold 251,000 bamboos. Traders who purchased bamboos and cut clumps themselves usually cut haphazardly and destructively, so the Forest Department attempted to cut the bamboos with their own labour, and haul them to auction depots at Pathankot and Gurdaspur. But Departmental budgets were inadequate for so ambitious a scale of work, so the traders were soon invited back to purchase bamboos on locations where they had just been cut. But, just as with perennial Forest Department struggles against timber contractors, this system offered ‘facilities for irregularities to subordinate establishment’, which is to say bribery and intimidation of forest labourers by the contractors was common.37 233

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These reports, however, probably mask complex difficulties in the silviculturists’ relations with both commercial contractors and villagers, for they rarely indicate anything about the socioeconomic dimension of the work. The contractors are rarely named in forestry documents, so that readers might know their social identity, economic scale, or geographical base. One exception was a commercial catalogue of 1930 which named eighty bamboo contractors who supplied the cities of the Punjab and Delhi. These men, the critical link between rural supplies and urban markets, were based in Montgomery, Lahore, Hoshiarpur, Ambala and Delhi, which represented commercial transit towns below the hills, major Forest Department depots and the largest urban markets of north-western India. Their names reveal that they were primarily Muslim, but also Sikh and Hindu. Many of them were also long-term timber merchants, while after 1920 a few were men of the Himalayan hill towns. All the others were outsiders to the hills, with no ties to montane society and environment except monetary ties.38 Despite all the frustrations of fluctuating demand and unreliable private traders, the bamboo thickets of the Punjab Siwalik forests probably recovered gradually from the totally unregulated cutting for market demand in the last half of the nineteenth century. What impact the more orderly management system had on village life is less clear. Supplies seem to have been adequate in that region to meet both village and urban needs; indeed, the Nurpur bamboo forests were regularly undercut from a lack of market demand. Labour rates were low: workers were paid no more than Re 1 per 100 bamboos cut and loaded. But the social significance of any wage rate was determined partly by how the labourers perceived those rates; in the Punjab hills there was no evidence of severe discontent or anti-government protest on this issue. It may be appropriate to conclude that in the years before independence bamboo supplies were adequate for the hill people, and that the commercially most important species had at first been threatened by mid-nineteenth century market prosperity under the Pax Britannica but were able to recover very successfully under effective management. But the record is very murky regarding the likely tensions among local villagers, outside commercial interests and forest staff. Hence it remains difficult to assess how well prepared complex human relation to the bamboo forests for the 234

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great pressures which developed after independence, in an era of rapid economic and demographic expansion.39 A second commercially important forest product was widespread in this region: katha. Called cutch elsewhere, katha is the heartwood of the Acacia catechu tree. Its uses are many: dyeing and tanning in Europe and the Americas, in traditional folk medicine for mitigating fevers and other purposes, and throughout India for chewing with betel leaf. Atkinson’s encyclopaedic report on the resources of the Kumaon and Garhwal Himalayas revealed that katha dye had been collected for centuries by the Doms, landless untouchable castes of the hills. From November to May, the entire non-monsoon season, they searched the hills for the acacia tree for its red heartwood which they chipped and boiled into a dye for sails and fishing nets. In the 1870s the annual export from that region averaged 120 tons, giving many otherwise indigent families their major source of cash income.40 An 1892 report indicated that the quality of the heartwood could not be predicted until a tree was felled and cut into; thus it was a very wasteful operation. But licence fees were very low, so contractors purchasing katha from the Forest Department could make big profits.41 Here was yet another example of damage and depletion caused by individuals playing the market. Other products began to appear on Forest Department lists as well, but coverage of them was more fragmentary, primarily because their commercial value was minor. This is not to say that their importance for village life and biological diversity was minor. It does suggest that the Forest Department’s declared right to manage the contracting and sale of them in protected forests seems have been infrequently imposed. One broad category of these products was medical herbs.42 Herbs represent the widest variety of species for human use of any category in the mountain region.43 Forestry and Botanical Survey documents usually indicated the provenance of each species and its methods of harvesting, preparing and storing. The full range of the herbs’ human meanings, encompassing such dimensions as their ritual uses and sacred significance, was excluded from the explicit concerns of forest botanists.44 One sharp indication of the rulers’ growing awareness of the fiscal value of these products appeared just at the time of Indian independence in 1947, when Nehru’s government was absorbing princely states large and small into an integrated national administration. It also shows 235

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the increasingly legalistic character of rural administration, and perhaps most significantly it gives one of the first indications that market demand for medical herbs was leading to their disappearance at their source locations. The Raja of Chamba state, which controlled the middle reaches of the Ravi river (a branch of the Indus to the west of Kangra) decreed in March 1947 the ‘Chamba Minor Forest Produce Exploitation and Export Act’,45 which specified that the Raja’s foresters, local revenue officers and village officials had the authority to grant or refuse, or revoke, licences to gather and sell medical herbs. The government’s fiscal interest was specific it was decreed that villagers must pay Re 1 for each permit to collect medical herbs, urban Chambaites must pay Rs 25, and non-residents must pay Rs 50 for a three-month season. Renewals would cost Rs 25 yearly. The decree enumerated fifteen controlled species and defined ‘collection of herbs’ as ‘picking up, digging, extracting out of earth, culling, separating or cutting from the bushes, plants or pods’. The language of the law reveals the emergence of a fear that overexploitation of the enumerated species was becoming a danger. It warned that no permit-holder should ‘so act as to retard further development of the said produce or render it extinct from further growth’. Further, if ‘any permit holder is exploiting any area in a manner highly detrimental to the source of supply or so as to render natural reproduction impossible’, the permit could be restricted or revoked. Fines of up to Rs 300 and imprisonment of up to three months gave the law teeth.46 Like other management documents, sadly, this one indicates nothing about the castes or genders of the herb collectors, the social identity of the traders, or the ultimate markets for these species of herbs. Nor does it suggest anything about whether the right to harvest the herbs was allowed to landholders only, or also non-landed jatis such as Doms, or annual migrants through these areas.

Conclusion: Peasant Resistance? Two major constraints over the local use of minor forest products emerge as especially important over the last century. These involved growing scarcity and growing control by the state both before and after

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independence. The latter issue, in particular, was a potentially powerful political factor and soon entered the agendas of those parts of the population as were involved in non-violent resistance. Many forest resistance campaigns are now well documented, both of a local kind and those stimulated by satyagrabas linked to the freedom movement. Many were about basic broad principles of access, especially related to building timber and grazing. In all likelihood only in tribal ( jhum) subsistence systems were particular MFPs important enough to village life and of enough interest to the Forest Department (and possibly scarce enough?) to produce open confrontation. However, this is a topic demanding further research. What evidence of scarcity emerges from the colonial and postindependence documentation? This is difficult to measure. It is clear that in recent years botanists are increasingly recommending controlled plantations of medical herbs, fearing that traditional methods of gathering are endangering their natural sources in the mountains. They describe increased marketing demand, by both the traditional peasant marketer system and modern pharmaceutical manufacturers, both placing potentially dangerous pressure on sources. Botanists now frequently assert that it is necessary to ban unregulated harvesting.47 The Forest Research Institute has itself made some efforts at intensive cultivation of herbs. But this work is difficult and expensive; and only fragmentary efforts have been possible as yet.48 Here again local research should prove valuable.

Notes 1. For early discussion of these issues see Richard Tucker, ‘Forest Management and Imperial Politics: Thana District, Bombay, 1823–1867’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 16 (1979), 273–300; see also Richard Tucker, ‘The Depletion of India’s Forests under British Imperialism: Planters, Foresters and Peasants in Assam and Kerala’, in D. Worster (ed.), The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History, Cambridge, 1988, 118–41. 2. The most systematic discussion of these issues to date has been Ramachandra Guha, The Unqutet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Delhi, 1989.

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3. See Ramachandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil, ‘State Forestry and Social Conflict in British India’, Past and Present (May 1989), 141–77. 4. See Richard P. Tucker, ‘The Evolution of Transhumant Grazing in the Punjab Himalaya’, Mountain Research and Development, 6, 1 (1986), 17–28, on the most important and complex mountain transhumance system on the subcontinent. Recent studies of Rajasthan also describe the human ecology settings in which public policy has attempted to intervene. 5. See Richard P. Tucker, ‘Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves in India: The Prehistory of a Strategy’, in Patrick C. West and Steven R. Brechin (eds), Resident People and National Parks: Social Dilemmas and Strategies in International Conservation, Tucson, 1991, 40–50, for a brief overview. 6. Guha’s summary for the eastern districts (Kumaon and Garhwal), in The Unquiet Woods, especially pp. 14–21, also largely holds true for Himachal (designated as the Punjab Hill States in colonial times). 7. See Tucker, ‘Transhumant Grazing’. 8. Ten or more scholars now have unpublished materials on various aspects of Gujar herding and farming; these remain to be coordinated and published. See also forthcoming Ph.D. on Gujar anthropology by Brinda Dalal, University of Cambridge, Department of Social Anthropology. 9. See the work of Loki Pandey and Ajay Rawat’s research in progress. 10. Colonial analysis added to the confusion by commonly designating some Hindu farmer castes of the hills as ‘tribes’, notably the numerically strong Gaddis of Himachal. The label was entirely inappropriate in relation to systems of land and resources use. 11. This may be an appropriate extrapolation from such work as Christopher Bayly’s study of the larger market centres of the Gangetic basin, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770–1870, Cambridge, 1983. 12. Anon., Hamirpur Jagir Record of Rights, Lahore, 1904, 2. 13. A Collection of Forest Rules of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province, Lahore, 1907, 116–19. 14. E. Sheepshanks, Forest Settlement Report for Jagir Forests of the Rajas of Goler, Dada Siba, Nadaun and Kutlehr in Kangra District, Simla, 1913, 9. 15. The standard survey is I.H. Burkill, Chapters on the History of Botany in India, Delhi, 1965. For the Calcutta garden, see page 21ff. See also Deepak Kumar, ‘The Evolution of Colonial Science in India: Natural History and the East India Company’, in John M. Mackenzie (ed.), Imperialism and the Natural World, Manchester, 1990, 51–66. 16. The only commercial crop of that region which promised any hope of finding export markets was tea. By the 1840s experimental plantings spread

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17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22.

23. 24.

25. 26. 27.

west from Darjeeling through the Kumaon hills as far as the Palampur area in the central Kangra valley. No study has yet traced that story in detail. But for a comparison see A.C. Sinha, ‘Social Frame of Forest History: A Study in The North Eastern Himalayan Footbills’, Social Sciences Probings (1986), 236–63. For sketch of the Saharanpur Garden’s evolution, see Burkill, History of Botany in India, 29–34, 75–85, 149–51. Burkill, History of Botany in India, 31–4. K.R. Kirtikar and B.D. Basu, Indian Medical Plants, 6 vols, 1918, Reprint, Dehra Dun, c. 1980. Kumar, ‘Evolution of Colonial Science’, 61; Burkill, History of Botany in India, 137–9. For a detailed account of British interest in indigenous medical traditions in Bengal, the centre for imperial policy, see Poonam Bala, Imperialism and Medicine in Bengal: A Socio-Historical Perspective, New Delhi, 1991. Bala shows both deep-running interest and severe constraints in that Presidency. Kirtikar and Basu, Indian Medical Plants, vol. 1, lxv. Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: The Roots of Ecology, San Francisco, 1977, traces the rise of ecological science within its broader cultural and ideological context. H.H.T. Cleghorn, Report on the Forests of Punjab and the Western Himalaya, Lahore, 1904. See L.H. Brockway, Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Garden, New York, 1979; and forthcoming book by Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: The History of Kew Gardens, New Haves, CT. J. Lindsay Stewart and D. Brandis, The Forest Flora of North-West and Central India, London, 1874, ix. Ibid., x–xi. In tribal areas of the subcontinent—though this did not apply significantly to the western Himalayas—one basic reason why the growth of economic botany did not expand into studies of ethnobotany was cultural: the Europeans’ pervasive assumption that shifting cultivation, which embodied forest peoples’ complex knowledge and use of hundreds of plant and animal species, was both culturally primitive and ecologically destructive. No historian has yet undertaken a careful retrospective study of the evolution of colonial analyses of shifting cultivation. It might begin with the varied writings of the 1870s, such as J.L. Laird, ‘On Coomrie Cultivation’, Indian Forester (hereafter Ind. For.), 1 (1875–6), 11–15, or Dietrich Brandis’s writings of that period.

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28. H. Trotter, ‘Minor Forest Products Section’, in Development of India Forest Resources, Calcutta, 1925, 31–5. 29. Ibid., 34. 30. Forest Research Institute, Report of the Forest Committee, Simla, 1929, 27–8. 31. Report of the Second Expert Committee on the Forest Research Institute and Colleges, Dehra Dun, Dehra Dun, 1965, 42–7. 32. See G. Watt, Commercial Products of India, Calcutta, 1908; R.S. Troup, Indian Forest Utilization, Calcutta, 1913; and R.S. Troup, The Work of the Forest Department in India, Calcutta, 1917. 33. See Pearson’s description, in E.F. Pearson, ‘Sub-Himalayan Forests of Kumaon and Garhwal’, Selections from the Records of the Government of the North West Provinces, 2nd Series, No. 5, Calcutta, 1869, 125–52. 34. For an early survey of bamboo ecology and bamboo markets around India and Southeast Asia, see S. Kurz, ‘Bamboo and Its Uses’, Ind. For., 1, 3 ( January 1876), 219–68; and 1, 4 (April 1876), 335–61. 35. [Dietrich Brandis], ‘On the Treatment of Bamboo Forests’, Ind. For., 16 (1890), 147–52. 36. Gazetteer of the Hoshiarpur District, 1883–84, Lahore, 1884, 105. 37. G.S. Hart, Report on the Forests Comprising the Kangra Forest Division with a Working Plan for their Management for Twenty Years, 1903–4 to 1922–3, Lahore, 1904, 18, 25–6, 30–41. 38. [S.L. Tulsi], The Commercial Directory of Punjab and Delhi, 1929–30, Lahore/Delhi, 1930, 2, 89–90. 39. Forest Department documents reveal much less about use of smaller bamboos of higher elevation, the ringals, presumably because there were adequate supplies for village use and much less market demand below. But this deserves a more painstaking search through records of villages and their forests at the middle elevations. 40. E.T. Atkinson, The Himalayan Gazetteer, Allahabad, 1882, Reprint, New Delhi, 1980, vol. 1, 775. 41. F.R. Branthwaite, ‘Cutch and Its Adulterants’, Ind. For., 18 (1892), 184–5. 42. Barks and fruits from a variety of trees were often important on MFP lists, for example myrabolams harvested for European markets. See Pearson, ‘Sub-Himalayan Forests of Kumaon and Garhwal’, 129–34. But none of these were important in the western Himalayas. 43. A leading present-day authority, S.K. Jain, wrote in 1968 that in India as a whole some 2,000 species of herbs were used as aromatic and medicinals, many of them endemic. But at that date only fragmentary beginnings of ethnobotanical surveys had been made, in contrast to his seventeen-years’ work in economic botany for the Botanical Survey of India. See S.K. Jain, Medical

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44.

45.

46.

47.

48.

Plants, New Delhi, 1968. The Anthropological Survey of India similarly has even now stressed other aspects of physical and cultural anthropology, and at least for the north-west region has barely touched ethnobotany. For a commonly used definition of the zones, see N.C. Shah and M.C. Joshi, ‘An Ethnobotanical Study of the Kumaon Region of India’, Economic Botany, 25 (1971), 414–22. The Act is reprinted in Himachal Pradesh Code, Simla, 1947, vol. 1, 223–6. The Chamba law was in turn based on a similar but less fully explicit law adopted in Mandi state in 1941. See its text on pages 227–9. The 1941 law of Mandi state listed eighteen threatened species, of which only three appear on the Chamba list. The implication is that an increasingly wide variety of species, stratified by elevation and other factors, were coming under pressure. For example see R.L., Sinha, ‘Industrial Potential and Planned Exploitation of Indian Medical Plants in Relation to Conservation of Hill Eco-Types in U.P.’, in G.S. Paliwal (ed.), The Vegetational Wealth of the Himalayas, Delhi, 1984, 241–5. Plants are used for alkaloids, medicines, pesticides, contraceptives and abortifacients, foods and beverages, and industrial products. About 70 per cent drugs of drugs used in Indian indigenous pharmacology are available in UP. See also J.K. Maheshwari, ‘Some Thoughts on the Endangered Flora of the Himalayas’, in Paliwal,Vegetational Wealth of the Himalayas, 256–68. See Proceedings of the First Forestry Conference, Dehra Dun, December 6 to 10, 1973, Delhi, 1979, vol. 1, 115.

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Index academic discipline of forest history, xi Agarwal, Anil, xiii Ahern, George, 197, 200 Andrews, C.F., 100, 147 Aratoon, 76 Arnold, David, xv Arunodaya, 25 Assam’s dense forest belt, 156–157, 170–177 Baker, Henry, 185 Banks, Sir Joseph, 226 Batten, J.H., 43, 74 Bazaar Medicine, 226 begar, 99, 100, 101, 147 Beinart, William, xvi Bisht, Dan Singh, 59 Bombay Association, 17 Bombay Forest Inquiry Commission, 24 Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), 207, 210 Bombay Presidency Association, 20 Brandis, Dietrich, 45–46, 79–80, 128, 217, 228–229, 233 Bridgeman, John, 66 The British Empire and the Natural World, xvi Burmese teak exports, 153–154 Calcutta Botanical Garden, 226–227 Central Drugs Research Institute, 231

Central Medical Plants Organization, 231 Centre for Science and Environment, xiii Changa Manga forests, 86 Chipko movement, xiii, 58 Chiplunkar, S.H., 23 Clark, A.P., 200 Cleghorn, Hugh, 128, 187, 228 colonial forest administration, in Kumaon, xiv, 95–99. See also Kumaon Himalayas, forestry in; timber belt of Kumaon commercial timber economy contractors for Himalayan hardwoods, in British era, 194 dimension in timber marketing, in British era, 193–194 government ownership of forest area, 192 history of private sector timber economy, 191–192 timber contractors in the western Himalayas under British rule, 192–196 timber export trade in Philippines under American rule, 196– 202 Commonwealth Forestry Library, Oxford, xi Companies Act (1862), 185 Corbett Park, 209, 213

242

index

Dalzell, N.A., 11–12 Damodaran, Vinita, xv depletion of forests. See specific headings Douglas, William O., 56 Duthie, J.F., 226 Environment and Empire, xvi Fergusson, Sir James, 20 Forest Act (1878), xii, 24, 46–47, 93, 95, 100, 208 Forest Bill (1980), xiii forest depletion, in Assam (1941–1947), 156–162 Assam’s dense forest belt, area, 156–157 due to encroachment of immigrant peasants on forest lands, 171, 173–174 land use in 1920s, 159–160 tea industry, impact on forests, 158, 171–174 timber extraction from government forests, 174 World War II and, 160–161, 175–177 forest depletion, under British reign Assam’s dense forest belt, 170–177 Kerala’s forests, 177–190 landscape of India, 169 natural resources management, 167–168 Forest Flora for Kumaon, 229 The Forest Flora of North-West and Central India, 228 Forest Floras, 227 Forest Grievance Commission, 102 Forest Grievance Committees, 51

Forest History Society (FHS), xi Forest Law (1865), 21 forest management, colonial period, xii. See also forest management, in Bombay, pre-British and British times forest management, in Bombay, preBritish and British times, 8–16 aftermath of protest against local control, 30–34 British agricultural and forestry policy, 8–9 Dalzell’s tenure as conservator, 11–12 experimental rules, 14 Gibson’s tenure as conservator, 10–11, 13 infringement of private commercial rights, 13–14 and Maharashtrian politics of 1870s, 16–30 ownership pattern, 12–13 question of forest ownership, 9–10 Shuttleworth’s tenure as conservator, 12 teak forests, 9 village elites vs forest managers, 15–16 wood tax, 9–10 Forest Research Institute (FRI), Dehra Dun, xii, 55, 57, 150, 229–231 Gadgil, Madhav, 219 Gandhi, Mahatma, 87, 100, 131 Gangetic forests, 41 Gibson, Dr, 10, 13 Gorrie, R.M., 134 Govan, George, 226 Governor, Tory, xii

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Green Imperialism, xvi Grove, Richard, xv, xvi Guha, Ramachandra, xiv, xv, 219 Heber, Bishop Reginald, 36, 75 Henwood, W.J., 73 Herbert, Captain, 72 Himalayan forests. See also western Himalayas, during British rule cash crop cultivation (apple), 56–57 and Chipko movement, 58 chir pine forests, 39 commercial exploitation and deforestation, 39–40 coverage of western, 38–40 deodar forests, 39 early colonial forest use, 40–42 early history, 36–38 fir and pine trees, 39 and First Five-Year Plan (1951– 56), 54 foresters vs villagers, 46–54 forest panchayat movement, 52–53 hardwood trees, 39 historical pattern of timber operations, 39 Kumaon’s new reserves, 47–51 modern forest management, 45–46 oak trees, 39–40 railway construction, impact of, 44 Reserved forests and Protected forests, 46–50 sal forests, 41, 49 since independence, 54–59 Siwalik Range of foothills, 38 smelting operations, impact of, 43

timber and market economy, 42– 44 timber-cutting ban, 59 turning point in the ecology of, 56 Holland, L.B., 132 Hooey, William, 193 Hughes, Lotte, xvi Imperial Gazetteer, 30 Indian Forestry Institute, 30 Indian Forest Utilization, 231 Indian National Parks Act (1934), 209 Indian revolt of 1857, 16 Insatiable Appetite, xvi International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 213 International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), xi Jameson, William, 226 Joshi, G.V., 17 Kerala’s forests, depletion of aftermath of independence, 189– 190 cinchona production, 184 coffee plantation, 182–184, 187 crops traded, 179 geography and climate, 177–178 history, 180–181 rubber plantation, 187–189 tea plantation, 185 tribal life, 178–179 Wynaad forests, 181–182 Kesari, 25 Kew Gardens, 227–228 Keynes, John Maynard, 149 Kumaon Forest Advisory Committee, 105

244

index

Kumaon Himalayas, forestry in during British era, 95–99 categories of forests, 96 and Chipko movement, 109 Civil Forests, 103 forest department vs villagers, 96 historical perspective on, 93 impact of Forest Act (1878), 95–96 method of reforestation, 98 new forest reserves, 100–101 new village forests, 103–107 Panchayat Forests, 104–105 regeneration of forests, 102–103 reserved forests and reserved forests, 96–97 resin tapping, 98 settlements on Kumaon, 95 Social Forestry movement, 99– 103, 110 system of timber extraction, 97 timber trade, 105–106 trends since independence, 107– 111 Village Forests, 104–105 Kumaon nationalist protests, 148 Local Self-Government Act, 17 Lushington, G.S., 72 Maharashtrian politics of 1870s, 16–30 case against the forest department (1880), 23 change in political context, 16–17 climatic changes and socioeconomic imbalances, 18–20 commercial marketing of forest products, 27 concept of local control, 24–26

establishment of Reserved and Protected forests, 21–22, 26 Forest Act of 1878, 24 forest law of 1865, 21 impact the famine years on, 20 inquiry commission report on control of forests, 26–30 Local Self-Government Act, 17 system of forest preservation, 22– 23 Temple’s tenure, 19–20 Mahratta, 24 Malkin, Lady, 67 mamlatdars, 15 Minor Forest Products Branch, FRI, 229–231 Minor Forest Products (MFP), xv, 218 Modernizing Nature, xvi Munro, John Daniel, 185 national forest resolution (1952), 53 Native Opinion, 24 Natural Premises, xv Nature, Culture, Imperialism, xv Nature and the Orient, xv Nehru, Prime Minister, 107, 189, 212 Nilgiri Game Association, 207 Non-Cooperation Campaign (1931), 52 Non-Cooperation Movement (1920– 1922), 148 non-timber forest products policy, of Forest Service, 218 bamboo forests, 232–234 botanical research, 225–229 changes in population/land ratios, impact, 219–220 colonial times, 223–225

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Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, 229–231 human ecology of hunter–gatherer groups, 221–222 human use of biological resources in pre-colonial times, 219– 221 livestock populations and, 219– 220 management aspects, 232–236 medical herbs, 234–235 non-timber botanical resource use, context of, 222 peasant resistance, 236–237 rural people’s ‘traditional’ use of non-timber forest products, 218–219 settlements and terraced agriculture, pre-colonial times, 221 Siwalik hills, 233–234 study of Ayurvedic and folk medicine, 227 traditional hunting patterns, 219 Nulkar, K.L., 24, 29 Pant, Govind Ballabh, 100 Parmar, B.S., 134 Pastoral Politics, xv Pathak, Shekhar, xiv Pearson, R.S., 230 Peermade Planters Association, 186 People’s Association of Poona, 17 Pharmacopoeia of India, 226–227 Philippine logging industry, under American rule, 196–202 Bureau of Forestry, 198 Cadwallader-Gibson Company, 199 export of rainforest hardwoods, 197

forestry law, 198 Insular Lumber Company, 198–199 Mindoro Lumber and Logging Company, 199–200 in 1920s, 200 in 1930s, 201–202 supervisory role of Americans, impact, 199 Poona People’s Association, 19, 23, 34 Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, 3 Punjab Erosion Committee, 132 Punjab Himalaya during British era, 123–134 cycle of crop and livestock management of the Gaddis, 119– 123 and forest law (1865), 125–126 grazing regulation, 124–126, 134–138 growth of human population, 130 Kangra valley people, 131 land control, 119 Land Settlement of Kangra district (1854), 124 major timber trees of the region, 116–118 management of flocks post independence era, 134–138 market-oriented grazing of sheeps and goats, 120–121 migration routes during summer, and regulation, 126–129, 136 Parmar Report, 134–135 Pir Panjal region, 118 policy of tax on goats, impacts, 133–134 pre-colonial setting, 116–119

246

index

Siwalik foothills, 116–118, 123, 132 tea plantation, 226 Trevor’s reforms, 128–129 Punjab’s timber trade, 82–83 railways, primary impact on the Himalayan forests, 77–81 deodar forests, 79–81 sal forests, 78–81 Rajan, Ravi, xvi Ranade, M.G., 17 Rangarajan, Mahesh, xvi Raval, Shishir, xvi “Resident Peoples and Wildlife Reserves,” xvi resin industry, 85 Royle, J.F., 226 sal forests, 49, 86, 841 railways, primary impact on, 78– 81 Sangwan, Satpal, xv Shuttleworth, A.T., 12 Sierra Club, xii Singh, Bawa Dinga, 59, 195 Singh, Chetan, xv Siwalik Range of foothills, 38, 73, 75, 116–118, 123, 132, 144, 233– 234 Smith, Adam, 149 Stewart, J. Lindsay, 228 Stracey, P.D., 214 Sultan, Tipu, 180–181 tea industry, of Assam, 157–158 Temple, Richard, xii, 3, 19 Thana controversy, over forests, 1–3 Thana Forest, early nineteenth century, 3–8

commercial forestry, 7–8 demography, 3 exploitation of hardwood forests, 5–6 forested area, percentage, 3 forest tribes, 4–5 lumbered tracts, 5 railroads, impact of, 6–7 subsistence economy, 4 timber merchants, impact of, 6–7 village economy, dependency on forests, 4 wastelands, 3 Thana Forest Association, 23, 25 Tharu tribals, 221 timber belt of Kumaon, 143–156 chir pine belt, 145–146, 149–150 distinct zones of topography and vegetation, 144 export earnings from timber sales, 153–154 fuelwood consumption, 154–155 hill fires, 147–148 and industrialization of India’s forests, 151–153 management of sal and chir forests, 152–153 planned harvests in the forest reserves, 147 private forest owners, 155–156 and resin manufacturing, 149– 151 sal forests, 144 shortage of forest labor, impact, 147 Siwalik hills, 144 timber management in 1940s, 155 timber production in U.P. in 1920s, 153

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timber industry, xi composition of the work force, 83–84 in the pre-railway era, 74–77 Punjab’s timber trade, 82–83 railway era, 77–81 Traill, G.W., 40 Travancore Tea Estate Company, 186 Trevor, C.G., 128 Trotter, H., 230 United Provinces Wildlife Preservation Society, 210 The Unquiet Woods, xiv U.P. Private Forests Act (1948), 53, 156 Upper Level Conifer Research Institute, Simla, 57 Waring, E.J., 226 Waste Land Act, 108 Welsh, James, 181 western Himalayas, during British rule colonial administrative system and marketing systems, 81–84 control of waste land, 69 early twentieth century, 84–87 expansion of agriculture, 65–73 forest depletion in, 66 geography of, 61–63 in hill districts of Kumaon and Garhwal, 68 landforms, vegetation, and subsistence, 61–65

mines’ impact on Siwalik forests, 73, 75 private tea plantation, 71–72 railway era and forest department, 77–81 rural people’s ‘traditional’ use of non-timber forest products, 218–219 timber harvests, in the pre-railway era, 74–77 timber operation and trade, 64– 68, 75–81 wildlife conservation acceleration movement (1918– 1939), xi, 208–211 in Africa, 209 and modern forestry management, 205–206 New Delhi conference of 1935, 210–211 nongovernmental conservation movement, 207–208 post independence, 212–214 provincial game associations and game law, 207–208 and regulated access to the Reserved Forests, 206 Wilson, Mr, 76 Wyndham, Commissioner, 48, 148 Wyndham Committee, 52 Yellowstone National Park, 209

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About the Author Richard P. Tucker is Adjunct Professor of World Environmental History at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, USA. He is a specialist on the environmental history of India, which is a progression of his earlier work on the freedom movement in Maharashtra. His first book was Ranade and the Roots of Indian Nationalism (1977). Recently, he has studied the global neoimperial impacts of the United States in Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (2000). He is presently the coordinator of an international network on the environmental impacts of war and mass violence; his first work in this area was co-edited with Edmund Russell, Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War (2004).

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