FOREST ADMINISTRATION IN SOUTH ODISHA UNDER THE BRITISH RAJ (A.D. 1858-1947): A STUDY
The very word ‘administration’ may be defined as the system of management of affairs of a state by the government machinery, whether that holds the de-facto or the de-jure power to govern over it. In the contemporary terms of modern history its meaning is more akin to a set of duly enacted ‘law or statutes’ and its execution by some ‘officials’ or by ‘public institutions’ upon which the power, authorities and responsibilities have been vested. Different factors of administration analysed through this study in historical perspective are: the authority to legislate, the subject matter of legislation, the extent of administration limiting or expanding the rights naturally enjoyed by the inhabitants. Not all of those legislations made during British Raj were drafted to serve commercial or revenue interest of the Colonial Government but quite a majority were made to brought orders in the system of management of the natural resources. The demand of timber for laying the rail-roads which claimed to be responsible for reduction of aged timbers was a sine-qua-non for bringing the society out of the darkness of history and may not be denigrated as manifestation of the vested interest of the Colonial Government for exploitation of its resources. South Odisha which comprises the undivided Gañjam and Koraput districts was then under the administrative control of the Madras Presidency. The policy of systematic forest conservation began very slowly in the region. Form 1850 onwards, some forest officers were employed under the Collector of Gañjam to exploit the forests for sleepers and firewood. In 1861 a ‘forest tax’ was introduced and forests were begun to work under the ‘permit system’. Many forests were leased out to sleeper contractors who worked in an arbitrary manner. In 1879 the Conservator of Forests of Madras Presidency inspected the forests and classified them into four categories. After the passing of the Madras Forest Act 1882, it was implemented in the areas of south Odisha. As a conservation measure some areas were declared as reserved forest where the access of people to graze, cultivate or to fell trees was curtailed but their interests like collection of minor forest produces or the basic means of livelihood were often protected. Most of the unreserved forests were free from such encumbrances. Gradually the British became aware of the dangers associated with over exploitations of the forests, designed conservation measures. First of such measures was made in 1901 for ‘fire protection’ and the effort was later systematised in the form of ‘Working Plans’. After the creation of separate province of Odisha on the 1st day of April 1936 four divisions namely, Russellkonda, Chatrapur, Paralakhemundi and Balliguda were formed. Similarly, the forests of Koraput district which were once owned by the Maharaja of Jeypore were brought under the ambits of the MFA, 1882. After independence, the Orissa Preservation of Private Forests Act, 1947 was extended to many of the ex-zamindari estates. Although the MFA was ultimately repealed by the Orissa Forest Act, 1972 it is witnessed to have borrowed most of the fundamental features of the MFA.
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