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A BRIEF REVIEW OF HISTORICAL FACTORS AND ADMINISTRATIVE
ACTS AFFECTING THE PROGRESS OF FOREST CONSERVANCY, 1871-1900.
EFORE considering the progress made in the conservation of the forests in the different provinces of India during the last three decades of the
nineteenth century it will be necessary to glance at certain occurrences and administrative measures which were given effect to during the period now to be reviewed ; for both were not without their influence on the development of the administration of the forests and the progress of a forest policy for the country as a whole.
It has been already mentioned that Lord Mayo was appointed Governor-General in January, 1869. During his short tenure of office he set himself the task of adjusting the finances of India so that the expenditure in normal years should be within the income. The attempt itself is one well worth remembering to the credit of this gifted but ill-fated Viceroy. For long years Indian finance had remained in a state of chaos due, firstly, to the heavy military expenditure entailed throughout a period of almost one hundred years,
and, secondly, to the inefficient method of accounting of the East India Company. By imposing extra additional taxes and enforcing rigid economy Lord Mayo succeeded in his purpose. He reorganised the Public Works Department and paid the closest attention to the working of every Department in order to secure efficiency without waste. He also introduced the system of State Railways, and this to some extent had an important bearing on the work of the Forest Department during the early part of the period here dealt with.
Lord Mayo's method of financial reform was based on decentralisation. He introduced a measure of decentralisation which made every Provincial Government responsible for its own finances within certain defined limits. Previously, the Local Governments had engaged in a scramble for grants from the Supreme Government. The Provincial Administrations had had therefore no interest in ecomony, whilst the Government of India was unable to make accurate estimates of revenue and expenditure or to exercise effective control over Imperial finance. Although the mere introduction of the new scheme did not at once bring order into Indian financial administration it was practically the foundation-stone upon which the subsequent success was ultimately built up. Had Lord Mayo been spared to India for the normal eight years which Governor-Generals spent in the country at this period he would have achieved much. After three short years' work he was struck down by a convict during a visit of inspection to the convict settlement at the Andaman Islands, and a life and work of great promise was there brought to a tragic close.
Lord Northbrook, who succeeded Lord Mayo, was a man of a different type. His tenure of the post of Governor-General was uneventful so far as internal administration was concerned. His foreign policy was not so successful, as he reverted to Sir John Lawrence's Afghan policy with the result that the Amir turned to Russia for support. The Ministry at home was not in agreement with Lord Northbrook on this question, and his retirement in 1876 was due to his disinclination to carry out their wishes. There was a second reason of a more domestic character having reference to the taxing of Manchester cotton goods—a problem which was destined to crop up for many years to come.
Lord Northbrook's Governor-Generalship in its closing year was made memorable by the visit of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, in the cold weather of 1875–6. This visit was historical if only for the reason that it was the first occasion that the heir to the British throne had visited India.
The Prince landed in Madras, and after visiting various places in that Presidency proceeded to Calcutta by sea and then travelled up country. It is of interest to note that he spent some days with the Commissioner of Kumaun and Gurhwal, Colonel Ramsay, shooting in the great Terai jungles and paying a flying visit to Naini Tal.
Lord Lytton succeeded Lord Northbrook in 1876. The first and perhaps the most memorable incident of his Viceroyalty was the passing of the Royal Titles Act (January 1st, 1877)
under which Queen Victoria was proclaimed Queen-Empress. The tour of the Prince of Wales had emphasised the necessity of giving official recognition to the fact that Queen Victoria had, since 1858, become the paramount sovereign of all India, including the Native or Protected States. Lord Northbrook's Government recommended that Her Majesty should be designated as Sovereign. Disraeli, who was Prime Minister at the time, supported the idea, and in spite of considerable opposition obtained the passage of the Bill through Parliament. The duty of giving effect to the Act devolved upon Lord Lytton. It has been said that Lord Lytton “regarded the enactment as the beginning of a new policy by virtue of which the Crown of England should henceforth be identified with the hopes, the aspirations, the sympathies and interests of a powerful native aristocracy.' He believed strongly in the appeal to the loyal sentiment of the princes and nobles, and he was right. The form of title chosen, Kaisar-i-Hind,''the Cæsar of India,' on the analogy of Kaisar-i-Runn, the well-known designation of the Byzantine Emperors, was generally approved as being the best that could be devised.”
How true was Lytton's faith in the loyalty of the Indian princes and nobles has been shown perhaps to a greater extent than ever before during the recent Great War.
The proclamation of Her Majesty the Queen's assumption of the new dignity was made with great solemnity at an Imperial Assemblage, or Durbar, held at Delhi on January ist, 1877. The “ Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire ” was founded at this time.
The rejoicings of this epoch-making event were marred, however, by the development of a very severe famine which lasted during the years 1876–8. This famine and others of the period will be dealt with later on. It may be mentioned, however, that Lord Lytton was almost the first to enunciate sound and well thought-out views on a famine policy; for it was upon his foundation that the system of famine administration was subsequently built up. The Viceroy's views upon financial questions were sound. He gave much attention to the complicated question of the Cotton Duties and was desirous of dispensing altogether with Sea Customs revenue. He extended the decentralisation schemes initiated by Lord Mayo and carried out an even more important and startling measureno less than remedying to a large extent the inequalities of the salt tax and in abolishing the barbarous salt customs hedge.
This hedge and its purpose is described as follows by Sir John Strachey, the Finance Minister :
“A customs line is maintained extending from a point north of Attock to near the Berar frontier, a distance of more than 1500 miles. Similar lines some hundreds of miles in length are established in the Bombay Presidency to prevent untaxed salt from Native States entering British territory. Along the greater part of this enormous system of inland customs lines, which if they were put down in Europe would stretch from London to Constantinople, a physical barrier has been created comparable to nothing that I can think of except the Great Wall of China. It consists chiefly of an impenetrable hedge of thorny trees and bushes, supplemented by stone walls and ditches, across which no human being or beast of burden or vehicle can pass without being subjected to detention and search. It is guarded by an army of some 8000 men (another authority says 13,000 officers and men), the mass of whom receive as wages Rs.6 or Rs.7 a month. The bare statement of these facts is sufficient to show the magnitude of the evil. . . . I cannot find any record of the date of the construction of the hedge, which replaced innumerable inland customs posts scattered throughout the interior of the country."
The whole of this customs line was abandoned in 1879, with the exception of a portion along the Indus, maintained to prevent the still lightly taxed Kohat salt being smuggled across the river.
The political position of India during Lord Lytton's administration may be summed up in three words, “ Russia and Afghanistan.” Soon after becoming Viceroy the important step was taken by Lytton in 1876 of occupying Quetta in Baluchistan. The occupation was effected by amicable arrangement with the Khan of Khelat. This was one of the wisest and far-sighted measures of the time, since the strategical position thus secured dominated the road to Kandahar and gave the Government of India full control over the Bolan Pass. The Afghan flank was thus turned, and the direct routes to Kabul became matters of secondary importance. Since that date Quetta has become a very large military cantonment. The district is prosperous and a Forest Division has been formed in Baluchistan. The occupation of Quetta was only the prelude to what was to come. The whole period of Lytton's administration was overshadowed by the strained relations between Russia and England. The events occurring in Europe resulted in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, the Treaty of San Stefano in March, 1878, followed by the famous Congress at Berlin in June of that year. At this period England was strongly opposed to Russia obtaining possession of Constantinople, and Beaconsfield was successful in defeating Russian ambition in this respect. The successes of Russia in the Field had had, however, an unforeseen reaction in India, the Vernacular Press or a considerable proportion of it publishing seditious articles in favour of Russia, vilifying the British and even suggesting the assassination of British officials and the elimination of the British from India. The same thing has been seen rather more intensified, owing to the greater numerical strength of the Press, during and since the Great War.
Lytton and his Government came to the conclusion that to ensure public safety a law was essential to enable a curb to be placed upon undue licence on the part of that section of the Press not printed in English. A Bill was introduced and supported by the whole of the Legislative Council as well as by the Provincial Governments, with the exception of Madras, where at this period the vernacular Press was insignificant. The Bill became law in 1878. The object of the Act was not direct punishment, but rather prevention of abuse by means of security bonds to be given by offending newspaper proprietors under strictly regulated conditions. The Act was in force for four years and fully served its purpose, since it was only given effect to in one instance. It was repealed in 1882 under Lord Ripon, it being considered that the amended section (124 A) of the Indian Penal Code would prove sufficient and enable the prosecution of offenders in this respect.
The difficulties with Russia in Europe had their almost inevitable rebound in Afghanistan. It will be remembered that in 1873 Northbrook had refused to give the Amir Sher Ali assurances of protection by the British Government. This unfortunate attitude was taken up on instructions from the Gladstone Ministry. It drove the Amir into the arms of Russia, whom he believed to be by far the stronger power-a belief maintained for many years thereafter. During Lytton's administration a new policy was laid down by Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury, who was Foreign Secretary ; this policy had for its basis the determination to obtain from the Amir a declaration as to whether he was a friend or enemy of the British (a somewhat elusive hope to those who know the