Forests and Forest Policy in India
ONE of the legacies of imperialism, uniformly inherited by almost all of the Third World countries, is the wanton destruction of their forests. The modern means of transport and communication facilitated the expansion of empires in the colonial countries. The consolidation of these empires, in turn, necessitated a further spread of the transport and communication network in the colonies. This increased the demand for forest-wood. The dense forests were ruthlessly felled to be used as sleepers for railway lines and paper-pulp for manufacturing paper. The laying of railway lines facilitated transport of other raw materials from the forests, such as lac, resin, tan-stuff and dye-stuff, medicinal herbs, etc. In order to gain monopoly control over the forest wealth, the rights of the local inhabitants had to be restricted. This was done in the guise of scientific management of forests. The theory that there is a basic contradiction between the local inhabitants and forests, and that the local economy is based on unscientific exploitation of the forests, has been generated to attain this object. It was pleaded that to conserve the forest wealth, the locals' holdover their forests should be restricted to the minimum. Forest departements were sec up to guard the forests against the encroachment of the local people and to facilitate the 'scientific' exploitation of forests by the imperialists.
The net result of this 'scientific management' of forests is that today there is an acute shortage of firewood. It is estimated that more than 1.5 billion people use wood for cooking food and for maintaning essential levels of warmth at home. But fuel-wood gathering now requires 360 man-days annually per household in Gambia and 250-300 man-days in Central Tanzania. In South Korea, 15 per cent of household income is spent on fuel. In parts of Western Africa, people have been reduced to one cooked meal a day. In the uplands of Nepal, only vegetables which can be eaten raw are grown.
The pressure on forests is so high that in the developing countries the existing forest area is being reduced annually at the rate of 5-10 million hectares (ha.) in Latin America, 12 million ha. in Africa,
*Teaches political science at Rajhans College, Delhi, and is associated with P1DT in forest development research.