9th Class Social Science Forest Society & Colonialism

  • question_answer 7) Between 1880 and 1920 forest cover in the Indian subcontinent declined by 9.7 million hectares, from 108.6 million hectares to 98.9 million hectares. Discuss the role of the following factors in this decline. (a) Railways                 (b) Ship building (c) Agricultural expansion     (d) Commercial farming (e) Tea/Coffee plantations   (f) Adivasis and other peasant users  


    (a) Railways   (i) The spread of railways from the 1850's created a new demand. Railways were essential for colonial trade and for the movement of imperial troops. To run locomotives. Wood was needed as fuel and to lay railway lines sleepers were essential to hold the tracks together. Each mile of railway track required between 1760 and 2000 sleepers. (ii) From the 1860's the railway network expanded rapidly. As the length of the railway tracks expanded a very large number of trees were felled. As early as the 1850s, in the Madras Presidency alone 35000 trees were cut annually for sleepers. Forests around the railway tracks started disappearing very fast. (b) Ship Building (i) By the early 19th century, oak forests in England were disappearing. This created a problem of timber supply from the Royal Navy. English ships could not be built without a regular supply of strong and durable timber. Imperial power could not be protected without ships. Therefore by the 1820's, search parties were sent to explore the forest resources of India. (ii) Within a decade trees were being felled on a massive scale and vast quantities of timber were being exported, leading to disappearance of forests. (c) Agricultural Expansion (i) As population increased, the demand for food went up. Peasants extended the boundaries of cultivation by clearing forests. (ii) In the early 19th century, the colonial state thought that the forests were unproductive. They were considered to be wilderness that had to be brought under cultivation so, that the land could yield agricultural products and revenue, and enhance the income of the state. So between 1880 and 1920, cultivated are a rose by 6.7 million hectares by clearing the forests. (iii) The demand for commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat, cotton and raw material for industries increased. Therefore, the British encouraged expansion of cultivation by clearing forests, leading to decline in forest cover. (d) Commercial Farming of Trees (i) In commercial farming, natural forests which had lots of different types of trees were cut down. In their place one type of trees was. planted in straight rows. This is called a plantation. To promote plantation farming or commercial farming, different varieties of trees were cut down leading to loss of many species and loss of forest cover when the trees were cut for commercial use. (e) Tea/Coffee Plantation (i) Large areas of natural forests were also cleared to make way for tea, coffee and rubber plantations to meet Europe's growing need for these commodities. (ii) The colonial government took over the forests and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. (iii) These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests and planted with tea or coffee. (iv) Plantations were large in area leading to loss of large forest areas. (f) Adivasis and Other Peasant Users (i)As in most parts of the world, shifting cultivation was done by the Adivasis and other peasant communities in India also. (ii) In shifting cultivation, parts of the forest area are cut and burnt in rotation. Seeds were sown in the ashes after the first monsoon rains and the crop was harvested by October-November. When fertility decreased, the process was repegted at another location. This led to a large loss of forests.  

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