Wood extraction has increased over time from the early
colonial period to 1947. Three phases are clearly
discernible. In the first phase, timber extraction for trade
had not acquired great significance, and some submontane
forests were merely being exploited. In the second phase,
beginning with the establishment of the forest department
in 1864 and passing of the Forest Act in 1865, state control
over forests was strengthened and most of the forests
were made available for exploitation. This led to the rapid
growth of extraction of timber. The third phase began with
the First World War when the nature of the demands
made on forests was changing. These three phases are
It was the demand for sleepers and fuel by the railways that exerted constant
and relentless pressure on the forests of Uttaranchal from the middle of the
19th century to the early 20 th century. The railway system was potentially
significant for imperial power, hence its expansion was accorded top priority
and securing wood supply for this purpose was very important. Wooden
sleepers were used to lay tracks. These were preferred to metal ones because
they were light and easy to work with, and were cheaper, although less
durable than metal sleepers. After experiments with various timber species
teak, sal and deodar were found most suitable for sleepers. Other species
required creosoting for durability, which initially was not seen as being cost
effective. The high price of teak confined its use only to some of the places
where it was found. In the provinces along the coast, cheap imported
creosoted pine sleepers from Europe were available, but transportation to
the interior increased their cost. The use of indigenous sleepers was also
encouraged as a defense against contingencies like the war in Europe which
might have interrupted the supply of sleepers. Therefore the railways relied
mainly on sal and deodar for their operation and expansion in northern
India. Experiments on the cheap creosoting of various other species
continued (Brandis 1878-79), but could not succeed until the 20th century.
The history of forestry in colonial Java has been described in some detail
by Boomgaard (1988). The first European colonisers in the sixteenth
and seventeenth century encountered many population centres along the
north coast of Java and were compelled to trade with well developed political
and economical structures. These early colonisers described large areas of
teak forest (Tectona grandis) along the north coast of central and east Java.
Altona (1923) estimated their total area at 1 to 1.5 million ha. The origin of
teak on Java and of these forests has been much debated. Altona (1922 &
1923) presented evidence for the introduction of teak by Hindu migrants,
probably as early as 200 A.D. He also proved that at least some of these
extensive teak forests had been planted around 1600. To date, the debate on
the origin of Javanese teak forests has not yet been completely resolved,
but Boomgaard (1988) cites new evidence that supports Altona's views. If
these views are indeed correct, it means that natural (lowland) forest had
been replaced by teak forests at a large scale long before the start of the
Around 1890, Surontiko Samin of Randublatung village, a
teak forest village, questioned the state ownership of the
During the two world wars, all the working plans against
the cutting of trees were abandoned and the forest
department cut trees freely to meet the British war needs.
In Java, just before the Japanese occupied the region, the
Dutch followed ‘a scorched earth’ policy, destroying
sawmills, and burning huge piles of giant teak logs so that
they would not fall into Japanese hands showing the
mindless destruction of forest product.
The rebellion of Bastar in 1910 was caused by a combination of various factors. These
included displacement, increased land rent and demands for free labour and goods.
The most important reason was the attitude of the colonial government which
wanted to subjugate the people and destroy their way of living by taking over their
lands. In 1905, the colonial government proposed the reservation of two-thirds of the
forest area and stop shifting cultivation, hunting and collection of forest produce.
Those who were allowed to stay in the reserved areas had to work for the forest
department. Gatherings of people took place where these issues were discussed.
Gunda Dhur was an important leader during this time. Secret messages inviting the
villagers to rebel were passed during this time. Bazaars were looted, houses of
officials, traders, schools and police stations were burnt and robbed. All those who
were attacked were associated with colonial state and its laws. The British ultimately
put the rebellion down by employing heavy force. The reservations though, were
temporarily suspended and the area under them was reduced to half.
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