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THE BEGINNINGS OF FOREST CONSERVANCY IN THE MADRAS

PRESIDENCY, 1858–1864

I

DR. CLEGHORN'S WORK IN MADRAS
T has been already shown that in August, 1856, Dr.

Cleghorn submitted a Report to the Government of
Madras, containing proposals for establishing Forest

Conservancy. These proposals were forwarded to the Government of India for sanction, which was accorded in November. On the 19th December, 1856, Cleghorn was appointed Conservator of Forests in the Presidency of Madras.

During the next five years the Conservator toured through various portions of the Presidency, and submitted three General Reports on the forests and his suggestions for the introduction of an efficient protection and general prescriptions of management. These Reports, with other official documents and some unofficial papers, he subsequently incorporated in his book, Forests and Gardens of Southern India, published in 1861, during a period of sick leave at home. This little book, consisting principally of official documents, did not aim at being a treatise on forestry administration in a scientific sense. It was too early for that. But it served its purpose in bringing before the public a totally unknown and, at that time, unattempted branch of Indian administration, and thus, as Brandis subsequently acknowledged,“ did much to promote Forest Conservancy in India.” It forms an invaluable record of the work accomplished by Cleghorn during this period. He kept his attention focused on the chief points with regard to the protection of the forests, which had for so long been crying aloud for consideration and immediate action, and his recommendations on these heads were a move in the right direction.

Cleghorn sounded the right note, heard almost for the first time in India, on the subject of the necessity of studying the

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sylviculture of the forests, laying considerable stress on the necessity of the Forest Officer acquiring a sound knowledge of the principal trees and shrubs, as well as of the climate, soil and forest growth in the different tracts. With reference to that urgent need, the protection of the forests from the improvident acts of the people and the destructive ones of the timber merchant, and even the official, Cleghorn studied the chief sources of injuries to which the forests were subjected fires, Kumri cultivation, and indiscriminate and uncontrolled cutting, and made strong and wise suggestions to counter and put a stop to these evils. The outcome of his persistent representations was at the time a marked success; in spite of the considerable official, as well as non-official, opposition in several quarters-opposition which a study of the previous history of forest operations will have shown to be inevitable. By an order of May, 1860, the Government of Madras prohibited Kumri cultivation in Government forests without previous permission having been obtained, and directed that this permission should be given sparingly, and never for areas in timber forests. Cleghorn was thus able to secure the application of a measure to the forests of the Madras Presidency, which he had helped to bring into force in the Mysore Forests thirteen years before with, in both cases, most beneficial results for the country and its inhabitants. In securing this great step towards the protection of the forests, he was greatly assisted by the respect and friendship with which he was regarded by the natives. As a medical man his name was widely known amongst them, and this fortunate factor in itself gave him great influence amongst the people. They trusted him and believed in the disinterested nature of his work and proposals, and were aware that he had an intimate knowledge of their mode of life and system of agriculture : both of which, by the way, are indispensable to the good Forest Officer. Cleghorn's popularity with the people and his known keenness for their welfare, so universally acknowledged, was naturally common knowledge amongst the higher officials whose confidence he enjoyed; and to this personal factor, more especially in the light of the subsequent retrograde policy introduced, may be attributed the signal initial success secured by the Conservator in this important matter of protection. It may be mentioned here, in order to maintain the sequence in the narrative, that at a later period Mysore, for a time, again allowed Kumri cultivation within

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her forest areas, whilst in Madras the effects of the order of 1860 were subsequently rendered nugatory by the unfortunate tendency of the Madras Government to regard as private property, in default of a proper settlement, a large portion of the forest lands, particularly in South Canara, which had formerly been considered to be the property of Government. This policy caused great injury to the Presidency itself, and to the people generally.

This view of the forestry question, directly traceable to the history of the forests of the previous half-century, was to persist, in fact, for another score of years, and to result in Madras falling from her pride of place as the first Presidency in India to inaugurate the preliminary steps in a true forest conservancy.

For although Bombay appointed the first Conservator, in Dr. Gibson, to Cleghorn, as will be told, the Government of India itself accorded this recognition for the Madras Presidency.

Cleghorn also took up the question of providing from the forests the supplies of timber, charcoal and firewood required without over-cutting and destroying the former. In this connection he commenced the introduction of a suitable arrangement of fellings, in order to secure the maintenance and promote the natural regeneration of the forests. He also devoted attention to plantation work and visited the Nilumbur plantations of which he expressed high approval.

He organised a Forestry Department, establishments for the protection and proper management of the forests being set up in all the districts; and as a beginning to the comprehensive forest legislation which was to come, local rules for the management of the forests, which were sufficient for the time being, were, on his recommendation, issued by the Madras Government.

Cleghorn's Report on the Nilumbur Teak Plantations, written after a visit paid to them in August, 1857, is of high interest. He prefaced his remarks by saying that the demand for teak timber was then so very great and so steadily on the increase as to indicate that at no distant period a scarcity of large-sized logs would inevitably arise. The scarcity was now being realised, especially as so much was required to meet the purposes of the new Railway Department. He strongly advocated that the plantation work should be increased, as Malabar teak was acknowledged to be the most valuable timber for shipbuilding purposes then known, and consequently always preferred at the Government dockyards.

Fourteen years had elapsed since the initiation of the planting work when Cleghorn visited Nilumbur, and he bore testimony to the flourishing and satisfactory state of the plantation which, he wrote, “ promises apparently certain ultimate success and reflects great credit both upon the judgment of the zealous originator (Mr. Conolly) and upon the perseverance of Chater Menon, the sub-conservator.' He had no suggestions to make upon the system of planting. “The seedlings are in a most healthy and thriving condition. The rows grow with singular regularity and mathematical exactness. The later sowings are the finest, partly because the site of Nilumbur is preferable to that of Arriacode, and partly because the distance of six to eight feet between the seedlings has been found to answer better than one yard, which was tried at first. There seems to be only one essential to the entire success of this great experiment, viz. the careful systematic thinning and pruning of the plantation. The good effect of Mr. McIvor's visits to Nilumbur are manifest in the present state of the portions planted in 1843, 1844 and 1845, which had the benefit of his skilled treatment in 1853, 1854 and 1855. It appears to me that a smaller piece of land should be cleared for planting next season, and that the time and labour of the establishment should be chiefly directed to prosecuting the necessary pruning and thinning, which has not been fully carried out for the last two or three years.”

This was a salutatory hint on the part of the Conservator ; for it was obviously useless extending the plantations at a rate beyond the capacity of the staff to undertake work as important as that of attending to those already made, viz. their proper pruning and thinning. For otherwise the object in forming the plantations would be seriously jeopardised and in all probability never attained.

Cleghorn mentions that some wind damage had been experienced in a few of the young woods, a damage predicted by Lord Tweeddale during his visit. He also noted that monkeys broke the leaders and side branches by climbing up into the young fast-growing trees and frolicking about in them.

The Conservator suggested an augmentation of the staff, as with the yearly increase of the plantations the charge was very heavy, and advised the appointment of an Assistant to

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Chater Menon, who was at the time already fifty-eight years old; for, in the absence of an Assistant trained by Chater Menon, should the latter find it necessary to retire, his loss would be almost irreparable. Cleghorn did not advise any change in the management, deciding to leave the plantations under their founder and his native assistants, and they remained so till the former's death, when they were transferred to the Government Department. [ The Conservator suggested that as the Blackwood, Dalbergia latifolia, had at that time an almost equal value to the teak, and the supplies being much exhausted, an experimental sowing of the seed of this tree might be made. The sowings should be made in a similar manner and at the same season as the teak. This tree, he said, appeared to be very hardy, and grew freely in almost every soil and situation on both aspects of the Western Ghats. Cleghorn added that the plantations had been visited by both Lord Dalhousie and Lord Harris, who expressed in a Minute dated November, 1858, the high gratification he experienced in observing the result of Mr. Conolly's experiment.)

On September 27th, 1860, the Conservator, in reply to a request for information on the subject of furnishing teak timber of large dimensions from the West Coast for Admiralty purposes, addressed the Government of Madras the following Memorandum on the subject of these plantations and the position of teak timber supplies in Malabar :

“ The old forests of Malabar do not now contain much timber (first-class logs) of frigate scantling (i.e. 18 inches square by 38 to 32 feet long).” (This remark is worth comparing with the extraction of teak at the beginning of the century, vide Chapter VI, page 69.) “In North Canara there is an abundance of teak, but a small proportion only of the first class--probably not more than one log in eight of those brought to Sedashigur. In Travancore and Cochin there is much more teak of large size. We could supply from Malabar and Canara several thousand logs annually, varying from 18 inches square and 20 feet long to 10 inches square and 12 feet long. We have also a large number of first-rate butts 24 inches square and not exceeding 6 or 8 feet in length. For any demand for larger sizes I am sure Travancore and Cochin offer better prospects, and Burma the best, as regards size and cheap

ness.

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