Exploitation of Natural Resources under Colonial Rule and the Role of Regulatory Framework

The colonial powers came to India for trade. They came for the spices but took away more, they exploited our resources and our environment. Timber was a of utmost necessity for shipbuilding and teak was considered a superior variety of timber most suited for this process. After cutting down trees in their other colonies, the British took it on themselves to find quality timber in India. This saw the onset of the deforestation that took place in the country. Cutting down of teak trees in the Malabar and Travancore regions was the first step to the deforestation that took place. Cutting up of trees for timber and conversion of forest land for agricultural purposes had disastrous effects. Countless number of indigenous plants were cut off and cash crops were promoted. This affected the biodiversity and upset the ecological balance causing major physical and social consequences. Therefore, the colonial powers took it upon themselves to protect the plants, for their own economic benefit.

The policies that the British formulated with regard to the environment, were with the idea as a source of economic revenue than for its protection and preservation. One of the first steps that the British undertook was setting up of the Imperial Forest Department in 1864. This helped bring about forests under State control, i.e., the state gained a proprietary right over the forests.   Though it seems like a good measure to preserve the environment on a surface level, what the British actually aimed at was getting timber. Bringing the forests under State control gave British the exclusive right to timber. This policy excluded the peasants and the tribal people, thus neglecting their rights and interests. Further the Forest Act of 1865, 1878 and 1927 brough about the forest area under state control by monitoring the activities too. This increased the state’s power. What the colonial rulers did was convert forest land into agricultural land. The main reason behind the said action was the idea that unused land was un productive land. The idea of productivity was measured in terms of revenue generation rather than the biological and ecological benefits, an idea that still exists today. More than biological value, revenue generation is given prominence. The 2017 and 2018 floods and landslides in Kerala have been largely attributed to illegal and unplanned construction work which prevented water from following its natural course thereby causing floods, and the mining and quarrying activities in the hilly areas resulting in landslides. The Acts refused to serve their purpose as not all forests were protected. Only certain areas were brought under colonial protection. The other pieces of land was left to be overused. 

The Acts provided access to the citizens not based on right. Therefore, the tribal people saw their access to forest being denied, whereas people who depleted the resources from monetary gains were given access. Later they rectified by dividing forests into different categories in 1878 and then 1894. The main change however came with the implementation of Government of India Act, 1935. This act brought about forests within the provincial list for easier administration. Reforms were also introduced in light of the nationalist movements to make the forest more accessible for the general public.  

Post-independent India called for major reforms in the forest sector, which started with setting up of the Central Board of Forestry (CBF) in 1950. More reforms were introduced in 1952 with the Government of India resolution. But the post-independent Indian state continued the British ideal of giving prominence to national needs. There were remnants of the British policies seen with the classification of forests and restriction entry of the rural population. The rights of the tribal people who call forests their homes have been further reduced and restricted. This trend still continues today. Despite knowing the ill-effects of the British policy, it still continues, except under the guise of new names. 

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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