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CHAPTER XII

FOREST OPERATIONS IN BENGAL AND ASSAM, 1865-1870

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THE FORESTS OF THE CHITTAGONG DISTRICT, CHITTAGONG

HILL TRACTS AND LUSHAI
N the information collected under Anderson's Circular

dated 19th October, 1864, issued through the Secretary
to the Government of Bengal, to all Commissioners

of Divisions, no mention was made or data given of the extensive forests of Chittagong and the Hill Tracts, Hill Tipperah and the Lushai Hills. It will be of interest, so far as possible, to rectify this omission from other sources.

In his book, Thirteen Years Amongst the Wild Beasts of India, Sanderson gives some interesting information on the subject of the forest areas of the Chittagong District, the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Lushai Hills to the north as they were at this period and had been for a century past.

Sanderson was in charge of the Elephant-catching, or Kheddah, Department in Mysore for some years. In 1875 he was deputed to Dacca, which was the head-quarters of the Bengal“ khedah ” establishment, to officiate in charge during the absence on furlough of the permanent officer. The East changes but slowly, and his description of the journey to Dacca, via Goalundo up the Brahmaputra, might have been written a quarter of a century after, or before, his visit. Dacca, situated on the Brahmaputra, had been a city of great importance under the Moguls, but although still populous (70,000 inhabitants) its former glory had departed. It had once been a great shipbuilding centre, drawing its supplies of wood from the great forests on the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Hill Tipperah, and Lushai Hills and areas to the north. In old times a fleet of 800 armed vessels had been maintained at Dacca, and were employed in guarding the southern coast against the ravages of Aracanese pirates.

Most of the elephants required for the service of the Bengal Government for military and other purposes were provided by the Dacca “khedah ” establishment. Records were extant detailing the work of this establishment since 1836, but the British had carried on operations long before this date ; and the “kheddah " department had probably been in existence under the Native Governments, who preceded our rule, for a very long period.

Having held charge of the forests of the Chittagong District and Hill Tracts about a quarter of a century later than Sanderson's visit the author is of opinion that Sanderson's brief description of the condition of the forests as they were at the period is worthy of record here.

Chittagong is a district situated in the north-east corner of the Bay of Bengal, having Aracan, the western district of Burma, on its eastern border. It is divided into the Chittagong District proper (the coastal area) of about 2700 square miles, which was, and had been long ere Sanderson's visit, well cultivated and densely populated. The forests on the low hills consisted chiefly of bamboos and stunted trees, all large timber having been cut out many years before. Interspersed with this bamboo jungle were areas of a tall stout grass called

sunn," the areas on which it grew being termed “sunnkholas." These forests were of considerable value, since the houses of the population were chiefly constructed of bamboos and thatched with the grass. Considerable stretches of forest had also been cleared by planters on the level ground and in the low hills of the Chittagong District for the growth of tea, several of these gardens being in a flourishing condition at the time of Sanderson's visit. But as was usual at the period the planters recklessly devastated the forests in their vicinity to supply their requirements, with the result that the fuel question, as also the supply of bamboos, so largely used in house construction and so forth, gave considerable trouble later on.

The Hill Tracts area, comprising roughly 6800 square miles, was densely clothed with forest. It consists of a series of parallel, broken-up ridges running generally in a north and south direction to the sea-board, inhabited by a few jungle tribes who practised the method of shifting cultivation (known as jhuming in Bengal), and at the period the region was almost unknown to the European. Rangamatti was the frontier police outpost, situated a short distance within the

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southern boundary of the Hill Tracts on the Karnafuli River. Beyond lay an unknown wild region

From this great forest area, which extended beyond the Hill Tracts into the Lushai Hills, the latter also covered with dense forest, large supplies of logs for boatbuilding and other purposes, large canoes, formed by burning out the interior of the stems of large-sized trees, bamboos, canes and so forth were floated down the Karnafuli River and its tributaries to supply the Chittagong and other markets. The Karnafuli River formed the great highway down to Chittagong and the Bay of Bengal; and other rivers to the east, the Moiskal, Baghkhalli and the Kolandyne in Aracan, which joined the Bay of Bengal at the port of Akyab, all having the same general north and south direction, were equally utilised in the transport of material from the forests in the north and formed the arteries of communication of the region. Roads, other than elephant tracks and footpaths, were non-existent.

It is difficult to say how long this timber trade had lasted at the period here dealt with. Enormous amounts of valuable timber must have been cut out, and it is probable that even at this time all fine timber on the banks of the rivers in the lower parts of their courses had been cleared. No supervision was exercised over the fellings, the timber merchants of Chittagong never proceeding further up the river than Rangamatti and usually only to Chandraghona, below the boundary of the Hill Tracts. There they took over the timber, etc., brought down, and made advances for fresh consignments to the hillmen who actually did the felling and rafting work. “Jhuming,” as has been remarked, was the method of livelihood of the hill tribes, and areas of fine forests were destroyed by this method of cultivation; the areas so treated becoming covered with dense masses of the small Muli bamboo (Melocanna bambusioides), or with coarse grass, plantains, and inferior species of trees.

The operations of the Kheddah Department, continued over such a long period of years in the southern parts of the Hill Tracts and Hill Tipperah, with the felling work carried out on a large scale to form the stockades and the burning of the forest which was resorted to when considered necessary to the operations, had also resulted in a great waste and deterioration of fine timber forest, the areas in which the Department carried out its operations being easily distinguishable for years afterwards.

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VIEW OF THE CHITTAGONG HILL TRACTS AND THE KARNAFULI RIVER FROM RANGAMATTI

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