(i) The First World War and the Second World War had a major impact on forests.
(ii) In India, working plans were abandoned at this time, and the forest department cut trees freely to meet British war needs.
(iii) In Java, just before the Japanese occupied the region, the Dutch followed ‘a scorched earth’ policy, destroying sawmills, and burning huge piles of teak logs so that they would not fall into Japanese hands.
(iv) The Japanese then exploited the forests recklessly for their own war industries, forcing forest villagers to cut down forests.
(v) Many villagers used this opportunity to expand cultivation in the forest.
(vi) After the war, it was difficult for the Indonesian forest service to get this land back.
Railways: The spread of railways from the 1850s created a new demand for timbers. To run locomotives, wood was needed as fuel, and to lay railway lines sleepers were essential to hold the tracks together. Each mile of railway track required between 1,760 and 2,000 sleepers. From the 1860s, the railway network expanded rapidly. By 1890, about 25,500 km of track had been laid. In 1946, the length of the tracks had increased to over 765,000 km. As the railway tracks spread through India, trees were felled and deforestation intensified. As early as the 1850s, in the Madras Presidency alone, 35,000 trees were felled annually for sleepers. The British government deployed contractors destroyed trees and supplied the required quantities of timbers. Forests around the railway tracks witnessed an intense deforestation.
Shipbuilding: By the early nineteenth century, oak forests in England were disappearing and it affected the timber supply for the Royal Navy. English shipbuilding industry needed a regular supply of strong and durable timber, and the imperial power needed to be protected and maintained with a powerful navy. By the 1820s, colonial contractors were sent to search for the forest with timbers in India. Within a decade, trees were being felled on a massive scale and vast quantities of timber were being exported from India.
Agricultural expansion: In the colonial period, cultivation expanded rapidly for a variety of reasons. Increase in population resulted in the demand for more foodgrains. Peasants expanded the boundaries of cultivation, clearing forests and breaking new land. The British directly encouraged the production of commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat and cotton. There were demands for these crops in the nineteenth-century European markets; food grains were needed to feed the growing urban population and raw materials were required for industries. In the early nineteenth century, the colonial state thought that forests were unproductive with wilderness. It brought the unproductive land under cultivation to increase the agricultural products and revenue for the state. So between 1880 and 1920, cultivated area rose by 6.7 million hectares and this process effectively involved the deforestation.
Tea/Coffee plantations: It was always in the agenda of the colonial rule in India to bring the unproductive forests land under cultivation and plantations. In India, large areas of natural forests were cleared for tea, coffee and rubber plantations to European markets. The colonial government took over the forests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. The plantation fields were enclosed and cleared of forests, and planted with tea, coffee and rubber.
Adivasis and other peasant users: The Adivasis and peasants collected forest products and grazed their cattle. The source of their livelihood came from forest produce and agricultural products. The colonial government proposed to reserve two-thirds of the forest in 1905. It affected the shifting cultivation, hunting and collection of forest produce by the Adivasis. The Adivasis and other peasant communities regarded the forests as the gift of the Earth and even engaged watchmen to keep a vigil over their forest resources. The colonial forest conservation for timbers, plantations and expansion of cultivable lands reduced the Adivasis and the peasant users to a status of mere labourers. They were now hired by the forest department to cut trees, and make smooth planks for the railways and they were not allowed to cut these trees to build their own houses.
The similarities between colonial management of the forests in Bastar and Java were:
i. Forest laws were made in Java and Bastar in India to restrict villagers’ access to forests. Villagers were also displaced without any notice or compensation.
ii. Timber could be cut for only specified purpose (like making river boats or constructing houses, and only from specific forests under close supervision.
iii. Villagers were punished for grazing cattle, transporting wood without a permit, or travelling on forest roads with horse carts or cattle. Permits were issued to the villagers for entry into forests and collection of forest products.
iv. Forests in Java and Bastar followed a system of forestry known as ‘scientific forestry’.
v. In countries, the Forest Acts meant severe hardship for villagers.
vi. Their everyday practices — cutting wood for their houses, grazing their cattle, collecting fruits and roots, hunting and fishing became illegal.
Shifting cultivators: Shifting cultivation (swidden agriculture) was affected severely by the colonial forest laws. It is a traditional agricultural practice in Asia, Africa and South America. In local languages, it is called as lading in Southeast Asia, milpa in Central America, chitemene or tavy in Africa, and chena in Sri Lanka. In India, dhya, penda, bewar, nevad, jhum, podu, khandad and kumri are some of the local terms for the shifting cultivation. In this cultivation method, parts of the forest are cut and burnt in rotation. Seeds are sown in the ashes after the first monsoon rains, and the crop is harvested by October-November. Millet crop in central India and Africa, manioc in Brazil, and maize and beans in Latin America are grown. Colonial foresters regarded this practice as harmful for the forests. They argued that the shifting cultivation destroyed the growth of trees useful for railway timber. This traditional cultivation practice also made it harder for the government to calculate taxes. Therefore, the government decided to ban shifting cultivation and destroyed the livelihood of the cultivators.
Nomadic and pastoralist communities: In India, Adivasi communities traded elephants and other goods like hides, horns, silk cocoons, ivory, bamboo, spices, fibres, grasses, gums and resins through nomadic communities like the Banjaras. With the coming of the British, however, trade was completely regulated by the government. The British government gave many large European trading firms the sole right to trade in the forest products of particular areas. Grazing and hunting by local communities were restricted. In the process, many pastoralist and nomadic communities like the Korava, Karacha and Yerukula of the Madras Presidency lost their livelihoods. Some of them were described as ‘criminal tribes’, and were forced to work instead in factories, mines and plantations, under government supervision.
Firms trading in timber/forest produce: The British government gave many large European trading firms the right to trade in the forest products. Grazing and hunting by local people were restricted. In the process, many pastoralist and nomadic communities lost their livelihoods. Some of them were branded as ‘criminal tribes’ and their movements were regulated within the forest areas.
Plantation owners: The colonial government took over the forests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests, and planted with tea or coffee. Plantation owners realised that forest land could be converted into plantation fields for more profits. They occupied forests and exploited natural resources meant for the tribal communities.
Kings/British officials engaged in shikar: Before the introduction of colonial forest laws, tribal communities survived by hunting deer, partridges and other small animals. The forest laws prohibited this customary practice and punished the violators for poaching. Under colonial rule, due to intense hunting practice, various species became almost extinct. The British saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society. They wanted to civilize India by killing dangerous animals. They encouraged killing of tigers by giving rewards. Over 80,000 tigers, 150,000 leopards and 200,000 wolves were killed for reward in the period 1875-1925 on the grounds that they posed a threat to cultivators. Gradually, the tiger came to be seen as a sporting trophy. The Maharaja of Sarguja alone shot 1,157 tigers and 2,000 leopards up to 1957. A British administrator, George Yule, killed 400 tigers. Initially certain areas of forests were reserved for hunting.
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