Between 1880 and 1920 forests cover in the Indian subcontinent declined by 9.7 million hectares, from 108.6 million hectares to 98.9 million hectares. Discuss the role of the following factors in this decline: a) Railways b) Shipbuilding c) Agricultural expansion d) Commercial farming e) Tea/Coffee plantations f) Adivasis and other peasants users

a)Railways 

  • A new demand was created in the 1850s due to rapid expansion of Railways.
  • For the movement of imperial soldiers and to carry out trade for the colonial government, railways were very important.
  • To hold the railway tracks together and to lay railway lines, sleepers were used which were made of trees grown in forests. 
  • Moreover, wood was also used as fuel to run the railway locomotives.
  • Railway network started increasing rapidly from the 1860s and by 1890; more than 25,000 Km of track was laid.
  • The length of the railway tracks had reached more than 7,65,000 Km in 1946.
  • More and more trees were felled as the railway tracks kept increasing.
  • In Madras Presidency, 35,000 trees were felled to make sleepers, in the early 1850s.
  • Around 1,760 to 2,000 sleepers were needed while building just a single mile of railway track.
  • For supply of required quantities contracts were given by the government to individuals. 
  • This led to indiscriminate cutting of trees by the contractors.
  • Soon the forests around railway tracks started vanishing.

b)Shipbuilding 

  • Without a regular supply of durable and strong timber, ships could not be built in England.
  • In England, the oak forests started disappearing by the early nineteenth century.
  • The Royal Navy faced problems with the supply of timber.
  • Ships were extremely important for projecting the power of British, for carrying out trade and for protection of the imperial power.
  • In India, the forest resources were being explored by the search parties in the 1820s.
  • India became an important source for exporting timber to England, massive quantities of trees were felled within a decade which contributed to the decline of forest resources in India.

c)Agricultural Expansion 

  • Breaking new land, forests were cleared by peasants when demand for food started rising due to increase in population over centuries.
  • Due to different reasons, cultivation started increasing rapidly in the colonial period.
  • Growing of commercial crops like cotton, wheat, sugar, jute were encouraged by the British.
  • In Europe, in the nineteenth-century, the demand for crops and food grains were increasing rapidly to feed the growing population.
  • Area under cultivation grew by 6.7 million hectares, between 1880 and 1920.
  • Colonial government thought that the forests were not productive, hence they believed clearing forests for agricultural cultivation would increase the income and revenue of the colonial British Government.
  • To bring land under plough, large tracts of forest lands were cleared, hence one cannot always see it as a sign of progress when cultivation expanded.

d)Commercial Farming 

  • To bring land under plough, large tracts of forest lands were cleared, hence one cannot always see it as a sign of progress when cultivation expanded.
  • Due to different reasons, cultivation started increasing rapidly in the colonial period.
  • In Europe, in the nineteenth-century, the demand for crops and food grains were increasing rapidly to feed the growing population.
  • Colonial government thought that the forests were not productive, hence they believed clearing forests for agricultural cultivation would increase the income and revenue of the colonial British Government.
  • In India, area under cultivation grew by 6.7 million hectares, between 1880 and 1920.
  • Breaking new land, forests were cleared by peasants when demand for food started rising due to increase in population over centuries.
  • In India, cultivation of commercial crops like cotton, wheat, sugar, jute were encouraged by the British.

e) Tea/Coffee Plantations 

  • To meet the growing demand of various commodities in Europe, large tracts of forests were cleared to grow rubber plantations, tea plantations and coffee plantations.
  • At a very cheap price, European planters received massive forest areas from the colonial government.
  • These lands were planted with coffee or tea after the forests were cleared and enclosed.
  • Some of the tribes were branded as ‘criminal tribes’ and they were forced to work in plantations, factories etc, under the supervision of the colonial Government.
  • Forest communities like Gonds from Chhattisgarh, Oraons and Santhals from Jharkhand and Assam had to work in tea plantations.
  • Their working conditions were bad, they were not allowed to visit their villages, their wages were very low.

f) Adivasis and other peasants users 

  • Across the country, peasants and villagers faced extreme hardships due to implementation of the Forest Act in India by the colonial British government.
  • Due to the forest act, everyday practices such as fishing, hunting, collecting roots and fruits, grazing cattle, and cutting wood were made illegal.
  • People were now punished by forest guards or they were forced to pay bribes as people were compelled to steal.
  • A decision to ban shifting cultivation was taken by the Government.
  • Due to this decision of the Government, many communities living in the forests were displaced.
  • Some communities resisted the changes through small and large rebellions, others had to change their occupations.
  • The Government found it hard to calculate taxes due to shifting cultivation.
  • Moreover this practice was considered as harmful by the foresters from Europe.
  • They felt that it was an obstacle for growing trees which were useful as timber for railways.
  • As shifting cultivation involved burning, they were apprehensive that it could burn down timber which was valuable.
  • Shifting cultivation had allowed forests to grow back, due to ban on it, it caused problems as trees were simply cut and only specific trees were grown to serve the purpose of British.
  • Many people started trading in the forest products and many communities left their traditional occupations. This rise in trade of forest products was seen across the world and not just in India.
  • In India, the trade in forest products existed from medieval times, trade was carried out in products such as resins, gums, grasses, fibres, spices, bamboo, ivory, silk cocoons, horns, hides. This was done through nomadic communities like Banjaras.
  • Trade in forest products was completely under the control of British, once they colonised India. In particular areas, the sole right to trade was given to large European trading firms.
  • Hunting and grazing got restricted.
  • In the process, many nomadic and pastoralist communities like Yerukula, Karacha, Korava lost their livelihoods. 
  • Some of them were forced to work in plantations, mines, factories under Government supervision.
  • Forest communities like Gonds from Chhattisgarh, Oraons and Santhals from Jharkhand and Assam had to work in tea plantations.

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