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The tilari declaration of the people of tehri-garhwal 30 May 1968

From ancient times forests have been the foundation of our cultural and material life. We reaffirm our birthright to crow susterence and livelihoods from forests while protecting them.

Frorn time to fume, our forest rights have been violated through brute force leading to a disintegration of our cultural and economic life. Sometimes the mirage of petty reforms and privileges hove been put before us. But only a few vested interests hove gained from changes in forest management. Governments will come and will go. But it is our firm belief that our happiness and prosperity are based on a harmonious relation between our forests and ourselves. This relationship must be allowed to continue forever.

Today, we remember the martyrs of Tilari and offer homage to them. Their peaceful and non-violent movement and sacrifices give us a timeless inspiration to protect our forests and forest rights. We, therefore. declare today as Forest Day and renew this pledge

Forest Conflicts in the Western Ghatts

The pattern of colonial control and exploitation and the ensuing conflicts were not peculiar to the Himalayan region. In the Westem Ghats in South India, people were denied their traditional rights, and forest resources were exploited largely to serve the military and commercial needs of the British empire.

The district of Uttara Kannada is situated in the hilly tracts of the Western Ghats. As early as the beginning of the Christian era, Arabs and Europeans travelled to the coast of Uttara Kannada to trade in spices. The region was known for its high quality pepper and foreigners had named the area 'Pepper Queen'. In addition to spices, the rich forests provided raw material for shipbuilding industry.

The hills were covered with evergreen forests. These tropical evergreen forests provided the micro-climatic conditions for the growth of spices. The famous 'black pepper' grew wild in these forests. Pepper vines climbed high trees and the dense forests provided shade. The tropical weather provided the humid conditions essential for the growth of pepper vine. The whole region was under the rule of Vijayanagar till 1565. After the downfall of Vijayanagar kingdom, local chieftains ruled the area till 1763. Thereafter, the region was under Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan till 1799. The British had already established their base in the coastal areas of Karwar and Honavar in 1638 and 1675, respectively. Though they came to trade, the natural resources and the fluid political situation gave them an opportunity to conquer it by defeating Tippu Sultan in 1779.

In 1801 Dr. Francis Buchanan was deputed to travel through this country and report on it 'for the express purpose of investigating the state of agriculture, arts, commerce; the religion, manners and customs...'. While studying the condition of forests Buchanan noted that the forests are the property of the gods of villages in which they are situated, and the trees ought not to be cut without having obtained leave from Gauda, or the headman of the village, whose office is hereditary, and who here also is priest (Pujari) to the temple of the village god. The idol receives nothing for granting this permission, but the neglect of the ceremony of asking his leave brings his vengeance on the guilty person.'

This observation highlights the concept of community ownership over natural resources, like forests, mediated through worship and the concept of sacredness.

From pepper queen to timber mine

By the beginning of 1800, Bombay was fast becoming the centre of British commercial activity. The colonial powers wanted to exploit the natural resources of the Western Ghats to build ships for the British Navy. However. the community ownership of natural resources proved a hurdle. Hence in 183(), the British decided to assume Ownership of forests in Uttara Kannada, then North Canara. At that time the region was under Madras Presidency. Their efforts to assume control of community owned forests led to passive resistance popularly known as'Raita Koota' (farmers or peasants meet) which continued from 1831 to 1837. Eventually this opposition was crushed with the help of the army. Realising the problem of administering this part of the country from Madras, Canara was transferred to Bombay Presidency in 1865.

Increasing urbanization and industrialization created the demand for fuelwood and timber. As the Marathas and British had already stripped Konkan and Ratnagiri of their timber wealth, they moved towards North Canara. This part of the country, rich in forest wealth, proved to be a good hinterland to meet the demands of Bombay.

In 1967, Forest Laws were passed for the reservation of forest tracts the commercialization of forest use had begun. The century old sustained self-reliant economy came under threat. Forests were viewed as a source of raw material to provide timber to centres like Bombay and London. During the five years ending in 1882, the average yearly felling of wood in the district was 320,105 cubic feet, of which 218,861 cubic feet were for export, and 101,244 cubic feet were for local use. Working plans were formulated to 'improve' the 'jungles' to produce maximum revenue. Management practices also focused on clearing of 'weeds' including bamboo because it was perceived as obstructing the growth of teak. Clear felling of mixed forests and raising monocultures of teak plantations was also initiated. Controls on local use were tightened, cutting into the customary privileges enjoyed by the local people. This was reflected by the fact that the area under reserved forests was increased rapidly from 604 square miles (1,565 sq km) in 1890 to 3,015 square miles (7,81 I sq km) in 1910 in Uttara Kannada. This accounted for nearly 90 per cent of the total forests.

This encroachment conflicted seriously with local interests. Reserved forests extended right up to the doorstep in many settlements; the forest department jealously guarded its own rights in these forests and from 1902 to 1904 the local people were prohibited from collecting even dry leaves from these forests for manured The supply of green manure and fodder became scarce for agriculture as this supply was dependent on a free access to forests.

Though the government had opened fuel depots in towns and villages, there was a ban on the collection of fuelwood from forests in areas served by these depots. This increased the hardship of the rural poor who now had to pay for fuelwood which they collected free of cost earlier.

All this led to a decline in agriculture, as stated in the representations made by the local agriculturists associations to the governmental On the basis of the figures quoted in these representations (which in turn were based on official statistics) net cultivated area appears to have declined in Uttara Kannada from 240,000 acres in l890 91 to 211,000 acres in 1914-15. The area under rice declined from 196,000 acres to 173,000 acres during the same period, and further to 154,000 acres in 1933-34. Garden land declined from 23.3 to 20.7 and further to 173,000 acres during the same period. The population in the forest declined as a result of the violation of rights.

Table 3.1

Growth of Population 1901-41 in Uttara Kannada

Year(hundredthousand) Population Growth
1901 4.54  
1911 4.31 -5.27
1921 4.02 -6.69
1931 4.18 4.01
1941 4.41 5.58

A sense of alienation and grievance was seen among all sections of the local population since 18(00, the forest issue rallied majority of the people on a sustained and organised basis. Among the earliest organized expressions of grievance about forest administration was the,convening of the Kanada Vanadukha Nivarini Sabha (Kanara Conference on Forest Grievances) in 1X84 and 1887 in Sirsi. In 1885 the farmers of Sirsi and Yellapur taluks appealed to the Governor. Bombay Presidency, emphasising the justification for the ancient rights of the people to collect forest produce like fuel, fodder and dry leaves for agricultural acitivities.

There is a record of such conferences on forest grievances being held again in 1916 and 1917 at Bilgi in Uttara Kannada. A letter from the Commissioner of the Southern Division to the Collector of Karwar, dated 7 January 1922 states, '... If Civil Disobedience is started anywhere in the Southern Division? it will be in Kanara... a probable form of it would be the incitement of lower castes to break the Forest Laws'.

People's struggles continued till 1942, when Collins, the then Settlement Officer, submitted a report. Accordingly, each spice garden of 1 acre was allotted 9 acres of forest land to meet the demand of dry leaves, green leaves and fuelwood while the forest department remained the legal owner of this land. This specific concession is known as 'betta' facility in Uttara Kannada. This was indeed a very clever move on the part of the British to give a sort of concession to pacify local farmers. In fact this concession of betta imposed a restriction on the utilisation of forest produce, which was otherwise unrestricted according to the earlier practice. British forest policy created minor forests for the use of local people, but a major part was declared as reserve forests for the extraction of timber. This categorization completely overlooked the deep interlinkages between forests and the people. Cattle was prohibited from entering the reserve forests area. British commercial interest having gained an upper hand over the survival interest of the local people, the latter suffered most due to this classification. The conflict simmered for several years and a forest committee was appointed in 1925 to look into forest grievances, which failed to satisfy the village communities. The conflict finally led to a revolt by the local people. 'Jungle Satyagraha' was launched on 4 August 1930 in a broad section of villages in Sirsi, Siddapur and Yellapur taluks. The demand of the people was 'forestry in support of agriculture'. This movement gained momentum and ultimately merged with the broader struggle for independence.

Halappa reports that

As the procession went on, people in hundreds came from the villages and joined it, so that when it reached the forest, there was a multitude which staggered the authorities who had gone to put down the satyagraha.... Every village in the taluks of Sirsi and Siddapur followed this example. The government began to arrest the satyagrahis who had come from outside and a few important local leaders. The latter awakened the women to action.... The jungle satyagraha could not be put down by force, for the people of whole villages would move out in thousands and would vie with one another in getting arrested."

Colonial conflicts over forest resources, whether in the Western Ghats or in the Himalayas, were primarily conflicts between the survival economy associated with local management of forest resources and the market economy associated with non-local management by the British government. In the post-colonial period, with the collapse of foreign rule, these conflicts were expected to be more effectively resolved. However, state planned industrialisation created more intensive and extensive demands for raw materials for forest based industry. These new demands posed a new threat to the survival of local village communities through ecological destabilization. A new level of conflict thus arose between the demands of nature's economy as the basis of the survival economy and the demands for raw materials for the commercial/industrial economy. As the manipulation of forest ecosystems intensified to suit the needs of forest based industry, the ecological impact of forest exploitation on the lives of people increased. The post-colonial period has thus been associated with a new kind of forest struggle based on conservation rather than consumption of forest resources.

Ecological Conflicts Over forest Resources: The Post-Colonial Phase

Post-colonial forest policy further aggravated these conflicts and forest degradation which had begun in the colonial period. The 1952 forest policy gave a new thrust to the commercialization of forestry and the growth of forest based industry. The concept of 'sustained yield' was replaced by 'progressively increasing yields'. Mixed natural forests were clear felled and replaced by monocultures of industrial species. international agencies like the FAO played a special role in the increased industrial orientation of forestry. In one of the reports to the Government of India prepared by the F/\.O under the Extended Technical Assistance Programme, the main prescriptions for enhancing wood production were: (a) planting 1.5 million acres in ten years with fast growing species, and (b) improving accessibility of hill forests to permit better exploitation. Conflicts between industrial demands and conservation and survival needs thus deepened.

These radical shifts towards increased exploitation of forests for industrial wood, are clearly illustrated by changes in the forest working plans for Doon Valley. The first working plan for the Dehradun forest division was drawn up in 1887 by Mr. Fernandez of the Forest School for a period of fifteen years. This was mainly a report on the evaluation of forest stock and a prescription for removing unsound and damaged trees. The principle of controlled and selective felling continued to operate as the only strategy for improving forest stocks till 1933, when large-scale afforestation through plantation was introduced for the first time. The trend continued even after independence. In the working plan (1941-50) prepared by Sen a special plantation working circle was introduced. The system adopted was clear felling with artificial regeneration. Important plywood species like semal and tun supplemented by khair and sisoo were to be raised. The plantation of various species was suggested as there was a keen demand for timber suitable for the manufacture of plywood and matches.'! However, the thrust in species underwent a change in 1962 when increases in the demand of pulp based industries led to the encouragement of species like Eucalyptus. During 1966 77, the production of pulpwood increased by 400 per cent, and the raw material needs for this rapid expansion were satisfied by changes in site selection and species choice for afforestation. Labour-intensive methods of plantation like the Taungva system gave way to mechanised ones 'to simplify management and to reduce exploitation costs especially in the case of species on short rotation suitable for paper pulp like Eucalyptus'.

Thus, as the pulp industry became more powerful than the match and plywood industry there was a shift in the choice of species. The selection of area for artificial regeneration was not guided by ecological considerations but purely by market demand. Initially, open patches in the sal areas were planted with trials of various species chiefly sal, teak and some bamboo. Later from 1963 onwards the open miscellaneous forests were selected for plantation involving limited felling of standing trees. Finally, even better stocked forests were clear felled to replace 'uneconomic' species with 'economic' ones. Historically, therefore, modern scientific management of forests concerned itself primarily with increasing the yield of species with high market value and demand, completely ignoring their ecological value. Thus. it neither addressed itself to an assessment of basic needs of the local population nor the ecological needs of the local environment. It therefore, failed to generate the scientific basis or a management framework to achieve these ecological and basic needs objectives through forestry. The lack of systematic management for the satisfaction of basic needs of forest produce through the insignificant quantity of free or concessional items meant for local village use is presented in Table 3.2. These quantities contrast significantly with the quantities of forest produce extracted for commercial purposes. While both the commercial demands of urban industrial areas and the local needs of the villages bordering the forests have been increasing over time, the management of reserved forests includes mechanisms which respond only to the former demands and not the latter. In fact, the declining figures for the absolute exploitation of forest produce by the villagers suggests that even the weak mechanisms that may have existed at some time, have now collapsed. In South India, the industrial and commercial demand for forest resources for plywood and pulp and paper mills increased after independence. The Mysore Paper Mills was set up in Bhadravati in 1939 and the West Coast Paper Mills was set up at Dandeliin 1955. Harihar Polyfibres was set up in 1972. At the time of their establishment, these industries entered into an agreement with the forest department for the supply of raw material for periods ranging from five to thirty years. Thus bamboo, which had been declared a weed in the early colonial period when teak was the most favoured species, became an important raw material for the pulp and paper industry. It was believed that bamboo was available in unlimited supply and was offered practically free of cost at low rates like Re. l.OO per tonne to the industry. However, the projected yields never materialized. Thus the West Coast Paper Mills in Karnataka was expected to harvest 150,000 tonnes a year from its concessional area in North Karnataka. However, the realised harvest has averaged only 40,000 per annum from this area, and the mill has had to obtain its raw material requirements from places as distant as Arunachal Pradesh.34

Table 3.2 Extraction of Forrest Produce in Dehrandun (in cu. m)

Year Commercial
Free and ConecssionalFirewood Wood Firewood
1959 60 26698 9515 6 4376
1960-61 20654 29181 13 2532
1961-62 19514 56056 52 3414
1962-63 13111 62564 150 3166
1963-64 15456 51326 135 3232
1964-65 34772 63490 111 3155
1965-66 37359 62782 0 983
1966 67 32788 76067 2 28
1967 68 26926 54303 N.A. N.A.
1968-69 41864 187493 115 166
1969-70 41864 411380 125 693
1970-71 45620 176002 175 8
1971-72 51855 125025 129 378
1972-73 34043 115746 108 142
1973-74 31023 91556 35 97
1974-75 31342 83434 126 84
1975-76 40777 89706 50 530
1976-77 34053 85089 85 173
1977-78 39737 N.A. 108 563

As natural forest resources dwindled, large tracts of natural forests were clear felled to plant Eucalyptus monocultures to feed the pulp and paper industry. The spread of Eucalyptus plantations in the sixties was linked with the destruction of conventional raw materials like bamboo stocks. The pulpwood famine led to the need for a quick growing pulpwood species. To bridge this gap, rich tropical forests of the Western Ghats were clear felled to plant Eucalyptus. The destruction of highly productive natural forests was justified on the grounds of improving the productivity of the site. The increase in productivity was,,however, considered only from the perspective of pulpwood production. Kaikini, the Chief Conservator of Forests in the erstwhile State of Mysore, clearly accepted this bias towards pulpwood in his statement made at the Eleventh Silvicultural Conference:

The whole question of fast growth has come to light only because of the pulp industry gaining importance. How to get adequate pulp quickly was our problem.... It is with this reference that we had to try various species not only indigenous, but also exotics. While trying the exotic. we found the Eucalyptus quite useful. i;

The forest cover in Uttara Kannada decreased from Xl per cent in 1952 to 20 per cent in 1982-83, with large tracts lost to dams and

Table 3.3
Forest Area Lost Since 1956 in Karnataka (Purpose- wise)

Area Lost inLost Per cent to Total Area
1. Hydroelectric projects (Kali,
Chakra, Varahi, Gangavati and
Bedthi Phase 1)
41068 18.4
2. Direct submersion 35840 16.1
3. Rehabilitation of the displaced 25820 11.6
4. power lines 1688 0.8
5.Colony, roads and townships 2121 0.9
6.Mining 42676 19.2
7.Other non-agricultural use 6297 2.8
3.Extension of cultivation 67217 30.2
Total 222727 100

Source Suryanath Kamath (Ed.), Karnataka State Gazetteer, Part 1. Government of Karnataka. 1982 p. 130 mines. The conversion of the shrinking natural forests to pulpwood plantations led to further erosion of biomass needed for fuel, fodder, fertiliser, etc. Monoculture plantations of species like Eucalyptus and pine also severely undermined the essential ecological processes in mountain catchments like the Himalayas and the Western Ghats, destabilising the hydrological balance of streams and rivers. The ecological impact of deforestation, and the conversion of natural forests to industrial plantations generated a new level of conflict between the industrial and commercial economy and nature's economy of essential ecological processes. The emergence of movements like Chipko was rooted in this conflict.

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