Decline of Forest Area in India from 1880 AD to 1920 AD
Spread of Railways led to the decline in forest cover on the Indian continent because wood from forests was needed
(i) as fuel to run locomotives.
(ii) to lay railway line sleepers, to hold the tracks together.
It has been estimated just one mile of railway track required about 2000 sleepers. By 1946 the length of railway tracks reached over 7, 65,000 km. As railways tracks increased the number of trees cut also increased. In Madras, Presidency alone, it is estimated 35,000 trees were cut annually to make sleepers.
(iii) Moreover the government gave out contracts to individuals, who driven by profit motive cut trees indiscriminately.
(iv) The first thing the logging contractor did was to build wide roads so that trucks could enter. These roads also ate into forest land.
(v) Thus as railway track, spread through India, larger number of trees were felled.
Shipbuilding was a factor in the depletion of forests. Colonial imperialist Britain needed ships to safeguard and protect her colonies. By early 19th century oak forests were disappearing in England due to constant cutting. Teak and sal forests were thus mercilessly cut in India and vast quantities exported to meet the demands of timber of the Royal Navy.
(iii) Agricultural expansion:
This period was a time of agricultural expansion due to rise in population, growing urban population and increased raw material requirement of British industries.
Moreover the colonial power regarded forests to be wilderness and unproductive. Land under cultivation was seen as a sign of progress.
More land under cultivation also meant increase in source of revenue by taxation.
Agricultural expansion could only be achieved by bringing more land under cultivation. This increase was at the expense of forests.
(iv) Commercial farming:
Commercial farming was a factor in the loss of forests cover on the Indian continent.
With the growth of urbanisation and industrialisation in Britain, there was an increase in demand for commercial crops like jute, cotton, sugar and wheat. Large tracts of forest lands were cleared and brought under cultivation of commercial crops. These developments were projected as progress.
(v) Tea/Coffee plantations:
The term plantations means cutting down of natural forests which had lots of different types of trees and planting of single species in straight rows.
The colonial government took over forests and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates.
The areas were enclosed and cleared of forests and planted with tea or coffee. Thus large areas of natural forests were cleared, leading to loss of forest cover, to make way for tea and coffee plantations.
(vi) Adivasis and other peasant users:
The Adivasis and other peasant users also played a role in loss of forest cover. Forests were cut down to meet their different needs-fuel, fodder and leaves.
Many Adivasis followed primitive form of agriculture of slash and burn or shifting cultivation.
Under this, small piece of land was cleared by felling the trees and cutting the bushes and grass. These were then burnt.
Crops were grown on the cleared patch of land only till the soil retained fertility and then the cultivator shifted to a new site.
The over dependence of Adivasis and other peasants on forest produce like bamboo gum, resin and ivory for trade through Banjaras was also a contributory factor in loss of forest cover.