Saturday, 29 January 2022

The Indian Forest Act, 1927 - An Overview

The Indian Forest Act, 1927 - An Overview

By Nemi Bhavsar

Forests are considered as a pivotal natural resource of our nation as they help in supplying raw materials to the industry such as wood, minerals and timber, provide fuel and fodder, serve as the guardians and protectors of the diverse wildlife of our country, bring revenue to the state as quite a lot of them are major tourist attractions, prevent soil erosion, provide shelter to animals and tribal people and maintain balance of the ecosystem.

Sadly, these forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate and are being exploited badly in the last few decades. These forests should be covering 33% of the total land area as per India's accepted ideal but in reality, our forests and vegetation cover only 21.67% of the total land area. Clearly, the vegetation cover much less than what is accepted and required.

There are a lot of factors that have contributed to this alarming exploitation of the vegetation of our nation such as growth in population, industrialization, urbanization and demanding more natural resources such as wood, fuel and fodder. Therefore, it is imperative to have laws and legislations that should control and govern the usage of forests and vegetation of our nation to protect and preserve them. For the purpose of this article, we shall be discussing The Indian Forest Act 1927 and how it imposes control over forests, forest-produce and their usage.

The governance over forests was originally placed in the State List but by the 76th Amendment, it was placed in the concurrent list. Therefore, the forests of our country are governed by both, the Union and the States. In this article, we are going to discuss the history of forests in India, laws and legislations to protect and preserve forest and the restrictions on the usage of forests.

Historical Background

It is proven that India was once densely covered with forests; there is a lot of evidence that proves this. Over the years, the depletion and exploitation of forests is simultaneous with the progress of man, growth in population, more dependence on natural resources and urbanization. Ancient texts show that forests were very important to people as people used to performed religious ceremonies that were trees and forests centered.

As for example, The Agni Purana, a 4000-years old ancient piece of writing stated that men are required to protect and preserve forests in order to get religious blessing. Even during the Chandra Gupta Maurya era, he came to know the imperativeness of forests and in order to ensure that they are protected and preserved, he appointed a high officer to look after the forests.

The Mughals were also known to have showed keen interest in forests as they were known to have beautiful gardens with beautiful plants and trees. Akbar had even ordered to plant more and more trees in his kingdom. Now comes the British colonial period. Prior to the British colonial period, the forests were protected by the tribal people to whom the forests served as a means to live and provided them with shelter.

As soon as the British exercised control over these forests in the British colonial period, they were used solely for revenue extraction. They did not consider forests as a means of natural resources but only a way to extract revenue and make profit. Many forests all over India were destroyed in the name of agrarian activities and need for more land for cultivation. Trees were extensively being cut for wood in order to build ships, shipyards, railway tracks and transportation of wood to England obtained by cutting down Oak trees for their Royal Navy.

During World War I, forest resources of India were alarmingly depleted as large quantities of timber were being transported to England for building ships and to pay for Britain's efforts in war. Manifestly, the British era was the time-period when our forests were damaged severely the most.

In 1865, the British introduced the forest act, and the forest department was established. The main objective of this act was to assert claim on the forest land and make it doable to supply timber for the railways. This act did not have any provisions pertaining to the existing rights to the people and different tribes living in these forests.

And a few years later in 1878, another act was passed which gave absolute power over the control of forest lands. This act aimed to improve the existing provisions of Forest Act 1865 and recognize the rights of the nomads and tribal people living in the forests and categorize forests into three categories which are reserved forests, protected forests and village forests.

Indian Forest Act, 1927

In order to make the Forest Act, 1878 more effective and more comprehensive, a new Forest Act was passed in 1927 which repealed all the previous laws and legislations. The new act consisted of 13 chapters and 86 sections. The Act aimed to:

  • To consolidate the laws pertaining to forests.

  • Regulation of transit of forest produce.

  • To levy duty on timber and other forest produce.

  • To define the procedure to be followed in relation to reserved, protected and village forests.

  • To define acts prohibited inside reserved forests.

  • To define offences pertaining to forests and to conserve forests.

  • To maintain the quality of lakes, ponds and rivers in forests.

  • To improve the effective management of forests by appointing skilled professionals.

  • To improve technology in relation to forests.

  • To spread awareness regarding the importance and critical need to conserve forests.

  • To balance the impact of agrarian activities and other forest activities.

Drawbacks of the Indian Forest Act, 1927

It may seem that the new provisions, rules and regulations that were brought in by the Indian Forest Act 1927 were to protect and conserve the vegetation cover of India, but a deep investigation of the act reveals that the real intention behind the new provisions, rules and regulations of the act was to earn revenue from the forest-produce i.e., cutting down of trees, wood, timber, fodder, rocks and minerals.

This act gave a lot of power to the forest officials and bureaucracy which often led to exploitation of the forest dwellers. Also, it also deprived the nomads, tribal people and forest dwellers of their rights and privileges to use the forest-produce. This act never aimed to regulate the cutting of trees, but to earn revenue from cutting of trees to such an extent that it does not destroy the forest-land.

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