Comprehensive Indian Forest Act

The Act of 1865 was replaced by a more comprehensive Indian Forest Act of 1878 which divided forests into protected forests, reserved forests and village forests. Several restrictions were imposed upon the people’s rights over the forest land and produce in the protected and reserved Southern Maine General Contractor forests. Further, the Act empowered the local government to impose duty on timber produced in British India or brought from any other place whereby encouraging them to earn revenue from forests. Infact, this Act radically changed the common property into State property. It then resulted into protests which fuelled a wide ranging debate on the reform of forest policy, to make it more democratic and accountable and into argument that State-citizen relations in the realm of forestry have gone through four overlapping stages: conflict, conversation, negotiation, and abrogation.

The government declared its forest policy by a resolution on 19th October, 1894 which stressed on State control over forests and the need to exploit forests for augmenting state revenue. This resulted into the enactment of Indian Forest Act of 1927 replacing the earlier Act of 1878 which includes all the major provisions of the earlier Act, extending it to include those relating to the duty of timber, which is still in force together with several amendments made by State Governments with the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1935, giving a clear emphasis on the revenue yielding aspect of forests.

Historically, the Indian Himalayan region which was under the control of foreigners, especially Britishers and Germans, since 1855, used to produce lumber for railroads. Further, the then government nationalized one-fifth of the total forest area and enacted legislation in this regard. To make things still worse, the Indian Forests Act of 1878 restricted the peasant access to those forest areas not deemed commercially economical and sanctions were levied on those who violated such restrictions. As a step forward, the Forest department passed an order to excavate the complete forest land area, mainly by cutting down the ash trees, to utilise the same for commercial purposes. This approach developed the revolutionary attitude among the Himalayan residents, mainly one person called Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt, leader of Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh, who had been converted to the idea of Sarvodaya by Sunderlal Bahuguna some years earlier suggested to hug the trees when the fellers came to cut down of trees. Particulary women and their children hugged the trees to prevent them from felling thereby giving birth to Chipko Movement in 1973.

The Chipko Movement – a green venture started by Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, Leader of Sarvodaya Movement, in the first half of 1973 in the area of Uttarkhand in Uttarpradesh comprising of eight Himalayan districts which is rich in natural resources exploited by the outsiders paving way to deforestation. Infact, the state managed Forest Department used the most of the forests for timber showing no attention towards the employment and welfare of the local people and towards serious ecological damage arising out of such deforestation. This seriously had a negative impact on economic and social conditions in the Himalayan region. The most affected are the local people, mainly the women. In this movement especially the women hugged the trees by interposing their bodies between the trees and the contractor’s axes.

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