Chapter 4

NCERT
Class 9
History
Solutions
3. Between 1880 and 1920, forest cover in the Indian subcontinent declined by 9.7 million hectares, from 108.6 million hectares to 98.9 million hectares. Discuss the role of the following factors in this decline: Railways

Question:

Between 1880 and 1920, forest cover in the Indian subcontinent declined by 9.7 million hectares, from 108.6 million hectares to 98.9 million hectares. Discuss the role of the following factors in this decline:

  • Railways
  • Shipbuilding
  • Agricultural expansion
  • Commercial farming
  • Tea/Coffee plantations
  • Adivasis and other peasant users

Answer:

Railways: Railways were majorly responsible for the decline of forest cover in India. The expansion of railways from the 1850s created a huge demand for timber. To run locomotives and to lay railway lines sleepers were essential for that wood was needed. From the 1860s, as the length of railway tracks increased, the railway network expanded rapidly. A very large number of trees were cut down for timber. The British government gave contracts to individuals to supply the required quantity of timber. They cut down trees indiscriminately. In the 1850s, Madras Presidency alone cut down 35000 trees annually for sleepers.

Ship-Building: In the 19th century, oak forests were declining in England which created a problem of timber for the Royal Navy. They did not have enough strong and durable timber to build ships. Therefore, in the 1820s, they sent search parties to explore the forest resources in India. Huge forest areas were cleared and they exported vast quantities of timber to England for ship building which led to disappearance of forests.

Agricultural Expansion: Due to the rise in population, the demand for food also increased. Peasants started clearing forests to expand the boundaries of cultivation. In the 19th century, the British government thought that forests were unproductive and they had to be brought under cultivation so that the land could yield revenue and income to the state by producing agricultural products. Therefore, from 1880 to 1920, the cultivation area rose by 6.7 million hectares by clearing the forests. There was a great demand for commercial crops like tea, jute, sugar, wheat, cotton, etc. In the 19th century, demand for these crops increased in Europe due to growing urban population and industrial production. Therefore, the colonial government encouraged expansion of cultivation boundaries by clearing the forests.

Commercial Farming of Trees: Natural forests with lots of different types of trees were cut down and in their place only one type of trees were planted in straight rows. To promote commercial farming, the British government ordered the cutting down of trees of different species which led to loss of many species of trees and loss of forest cover.

Tea/Coffee Plantation: Large areas of forests were cleared to make way for tea, coffee and rubber plantation to meet Europe's growing demand for these commodities. The British government took over the forests and gave vast areas of forests to European planters at cheap rates. These areas were cleared of forests and planted with tea and coffee. Plantation of tea and coffee in a large area led to loss of forests.

Adivasi and other Peasant Users: Shifting cultivation was mainly done by adivasi and village communities. In shifting cultivation vast areas of forest are cleared by cutting down trees and burning them. The ashes are then mixed with the soil and crops are grown. After the land has lost its fertility, it is abandoned. This led to loss of forests. They also used to gather forest products and graze their cattle.

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