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THE INITIAL START IN FOREST CONSERVANCY IN THE MADRAS
AND BOMBAY, 1850–1857
T has been shown that Bombay took the first step in
appointing an administrative Conservator of Forests, that is a Conservator who should not be merely a
commercial timber exploiter, but whose chief duties should be in connection with the superintendence and amelioration of the forests themselves. In 1847 Dr. Gibson had been appointed to this post, a post he had informally filled for several years previously as Interim Conservator, in addition to his own appointment as Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens.
We have also seen that the Madras Government took advantage of the existence of the Bombay Conservatorship to obtain advice from Gibson with the object of straightening out some of the tangle into which their own forest administration had become involved during the past half century.
Gibson's appointment in Bombay and the work he accomplished there was not without its effect on the Madras Government, and in 1856 they took a similar step and appointed Dr. Cleghorn as Conservator in that Presidency.
The work of the period under review was essentially of a transitory nature. The system of working the forests was gradually passing over from the hand-to-mouth policy pursued during half a century. This policy had as its primary objects the satisfying, or attempt to satisfy, the complaints and demands of the lessees of the forests and those whose claims to private ownership had been assumed without enquiry to be legally sound. These persons, owing to the mistaken policy introduced in the early days for securing the requirements of timber by Government departments, had been allowed to obtain a definite hold over large areas of forest. The secondary object was to assure to Government the provision of its full timber demands for the dockyards, gun-carriage factories, public works and so forth. The new ideas, which had come to be seen as essential, were concerned with the correct management of the forests not solely with a view to assuring future timber supplies. It was slowly being realised that unrestricted Kumri cultivation was harmful, alike in the great waste of timber thereby engendered and also, in many parts, to the direct interests of the ryots owing to the ensuing decrease in the water supplies and to resultant erosion covering up valuable fertile lands. The same effects resulted from the areas cleared for coffee plantations, though this latter question scarcely advanced beyond an academic discussion during the period. What had been grasped by now was the great decrease in accessible timber forests; the fact that vast areas of fine forests had been cleared off in the neighbourhood of the floatable streams; and that the destruction of the remaining accessible forest was being hastened by the commencement made in railway construction, although this new method of communication had not made very great progress during the period.
The Conservators drew up some very valuable and instructive reports as a result of personal investigations carried out during tours made throughout the charges to which they had been appointed. These to a great extent recapitulated matters which have been already dealt with in previous chapters. But a certain amount of interesting material regarding the first beginnings of regular conservancy merits notice.
Bombay Presidency. Gibson's work in Bombay was of a varied character. He undertook several tours through the forests in parts of the Presidency and drew up some valuable reports on these tours. He paid particular attention to the destruction caused to the forests by the Kumri or shifting cultivation, and pointed out the evil effects resulting from this primitive form of agriculture both in the drying up of springs and streams and in the silting up of rivers and creeks, thereby destroying natural harbours which had existed in the lower parts of these rivers and on the coast.
It was due to Gibson's untiring crusade against the Kumri cultivation that by the end of the period under review it had come to be greatly restricted in the Bombay Presidency. In a Memorandum dated 23rd May, 1860, written by Mr. J. D. Bourdillon, Secretary to the Government of Madras, on a Report on this subject by Cleghorn, the Secretary notes that in Mysore the practice of Kumri cultivation has been entirely abolished, and that in the jungle districts of Bombay it has been so very nearly." Gibson, following Conolly's example in Malabar, also devoted much attention to raising young teak plants to form plantations.
Allusion has been made in the previous period (p. 122) to the levying of fees on the felling of jungle timber by reimposing the levies formerly collected for Government by the Land and Customs Department along with the transit dues. Government sanctioned this proposal in 1851.
The system adopted with regard to the collection of these fees was, generally speaking, to farm the right to collect them, except in lesser divisions and in particular localities where the collections were made under direct management by an establishment of carcoons (clerks) and peons, who were posted at the various points through which the timber and other forest produce had to pass. These establishments were, until 1854, entertained through the medium of the kamavisdars of the several collectorates in which the fees were levied, and were paid out of these fees as collected, the balance only being carried to the public account. But after 1854 the payment of these fee-collecting establishments, wherever employed, was vested in the Conservator, the entire proceeds of the fees as received being remitted to the credit of the Forest Department, the charge for the collecting establishment being debited against it.
The forests under Gibson extended over a distance, from north to south, of 550 miles, but with the exception of these fee-collecting establishments, the only establishment he had to carry out the work of his large charge throughout this period was the small one sanctioned in 1845. The only monthly sum he was entitled to disburse, out of this sanctioned establishment, for the pay of foresters was Rs.358. It is perhaps therefore scarcely necessary to comment upon the fact that in spite of the valuable personal work carried out by Gibson, conservancy qua conservancy failed. The fellings in many parts went on unchecked, contractors paid little or nothing for the timber they took from the forests, and gross abuses and veniality were rife amongst the low-paid subordinate officials. The position which arose will be dealt with in detail in the next period.
Madras Presidency. As has been shown in a previous chapter, the question of forest conservancy, upon which the Collectors were not entirely in accord, moved more slowly in the Madras Presidency, and the Government was content as a beginning to make use of the services of Gibson, the Bombay Government having accorded him permission to visit Madras to give advice on the management of the forests. In Canara, Blane, the Collector, was interesting himself keenly in the matter of the preservation of the forests, and Gibson paid several visits there and endeavoured to introduce his views, more especially with reference to the Kumri cultivation.
This question had been first taken up by a former Collector, Mr. Blair, who in 1843 issued a proclamation directing that five valuable kinds of timber, viz. teak, pún, blackwood, jack and sandal should be preserved in the Government forests. That proclamation, Blane stated, had remained a dead letter, both with timber contractors and the Kumri cutters. The plea was put forward that the materials were cut in private forests. To dispel this idea Blane directed that when a jungle was claimed as private property the right must be established before cutting took place. It was then contended, and in certain localities perhaps with some reason, that the felling of the jungles had diminished the prevalence of fever and was therefore of advantage to the community. To meet this argument Blane confined his prohibition to the felling of the five principal species, allowing the rest of the species to be cut save in accessible forests on river banks and near the seacoast where fellings, except in the case of wood required for fuel purposes, were prohibited. These recommendations on the part of the Collector were assented to by the Board, the Collector being authorised to restrict Kumri cultivation to such places and to such an extent as might in his opinion be expedient for the preservation of the forests and the general welfare of the Province. This matter was again reviewed after Cleghorn's appointment as Conservator in 1856, when it was considered from the point of view of the forests of Malabar and other parts, as well as Canara.
Probably the chief reason which finally induced the Madras Government to appoint their own Conservator of Forests was the alarming decrease which had become apparent in the supplies of first-class teak in the old Malabar Forests from which it had practically all been cut out during the preceding half century. Reports stated that there was still an abundance of teak in Northern Canara, but only a small proportion of it was of the first-class-probably not more than one log in eight of those brought to Sedashigur. In Travancore and Cochin there was still much more teak of large size, but these were Native States. It was owing to the decrease in supplies of teak from Malabar that attention had been turned to the Anaimalai Forests in Coimbatore. The operations carried out in these forests will now be glanced at.
The Anaimalai Forests. In a previous chapter mention has been made of Cotton's request that an officer should be deputed to explore and report on the Anaimalai Forests. Lieutenant Michael was the officer deputed for this work, and as an outcome of his investigations a settlement of the Colengode and Cochin boundaries was arrived at. Cotton was able to report the following number of good teak trees standing in the forest : In the Cochin disputed territory
107,000 trees. In the Colengode disputed territory 28,000 In the Government territory
61,000 Total 196,000
Minutes were written on the subject by Mr. D. Elliot, Member of Council, and by the Governor, Sir H. Pottinger, and in February, 1850, the Government sanctioned Michael's services being retained. In February, 1851, he was sent to Moulmein to learn the methods of dealing with heavy timber; in December, 1853, to the Canara Forests; and in 1854 he was formally appointed Superintendent of the Anaimalai Forests. The report of the working of the Anaimalai Forests given below only deals with the extraction of timber and the construction of roads, and makes no reference to forest conservancy. Michael was in charge of this work, and he had the credit of negotiating the lease of valuable teak forests from the Numbadi of Colengode.
In 1850 it was decided to work the Government Anaimalai Forests, including the contiguous forests rented from the Colengode Numbadi, by departmental agency. The Report on the working of these forests between 1850 and 1854 is of considerable interest, since it throws light on the methods of extraction in force at the time and indicates that the troubles and vicissitudes which beset this class of work in the Indian Forests were not far different seventy years ago from those experienced by the present-day Forest Officer.
The original estimates under which the sanction of Government to the operations was given were apparently drafted by