Of sandalwood, tuskers & more

Of sandalwood, tuskers & more

The Princely State of Mysore was not just rich in art and culture but was home to abundant natural resources too. Particularly forests, which contributed
significantly to the State’s revenue. Records suggest that the districts of Shimoga, Kadur, Hassan and Mysore were home to scrub, arid and semi-arid vegetation.

Travellers and chroniclers like Lord Valentia, F H Buchanan, administrators like R S Dobbs and L B Bowring, planters like R H Eliot and others have recorded the rich value of these forests in their writings. There are reports about the existence of Sandal Koti (depot) in Mysore State too. 

But, in 1847, Onslwo, a colonel, in his report addressed to Mark Cubbon, the then Commissioner of Mysore, stated that teak and other valuable trees were fast disappearing on the banks of rivers Tunga and Bhadra in Shimoga region. Nine years later, R S Dobbs observed that the practice of iron smelting and furnaces were the major reasons for the decline of forest cover in Tumkur district.

In 1869, the Department of Forest was established and D Brandis was appointed as the inspector general of forests. In the same year, forest rules were also revised. But the Department lasted only for 10 years. In 1881, the famous Rendition of Mysore was carried out and the British handed over the rule back to the natural prince (Chamarajendra Wadiyar), after 50 years. During the first year after rendition, the State had 32 reserved forests (454 square miles) and 22 unreserved forests (189 square miles). L Ricketts was appointed as the inspector general of forests and plantations, after which things began to change, both in administration and forest coverage. His credible work was carried on by Colonel J Walker (conservator of forest), who made great progress in forest conservation.

Money matters
After the rendition, forests were found to be the third largest contributors to the State’s revenue. Firewood from the forest was supplied to the mines at Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) and the scrub and wood were supplied to the railways. Elephants caught during the khedda operations were also sold to generate revenue. During 1899-1900, the government earned a revenue of Rs 7,99,352 by selling sandalwood and Rs 3,69,808 by selling timber and other minor forest produce, while the expenditure for these activities stood at Rs 4,99,928. 

But the financial stability did not last for long. Many times, high offers did not come and thus, the government preferred to retain sandalwood and sell minor forest produce. In 1901, a forest regulation act was enacted and in 1904, a code dealing with the organisation and the internal economy of the Department and its relations with revenue officers was introduced. With this began the forest settlement and survey act.

A special officer was appointed to conduct surveys and he was also instructed to conduct the topographical survey of forests in the State. This officer, by the end of June 1920, had prepared maps for 3,182 miles of forests. The State forest was later divided into 10 divisions and 69 ranges.

To equip the staff with proper skill sets, the government sent them to either  Dehradun or Coimbatore for training. Many times, training was also imparted at the forest school in Mysore. As years passed, these places, and particularly the school at Mysore, churned out more skilled and professional persons who worked hard to protect natural resources.

In fact, the finest contribution was made by surveyors, who had the arduous task of surveying extensive forests and preparing accurate maps with sufficient topographical details. The government took the help of Claudius, a retired topographical survey officer of the Government of India for this purpose. These surveyors traversed 50 square miles in Begur and Kakanakote region and around 105 linear miles (unit of measurement) in Shimoga and Kolar districts. At a cost of Rs 28 per square mile, Rs 20,247 were spent for this purpose during the first year.

During the year 1905-1906, five students were deputed to the Forest college at Dehradun. The Department also began making negotiations to sell its forest produce outside India and a consignment of timber was sent to Egypt. It also undertook measures to prevent spike disease, which was prevalent in sandal trees. A special reward of Rs 10,000 was also offered to those who would discover a remedy for this disease.

Conserving the precious
Though generation of revenue was the government’s ultimate motive, the Department also focused on cutting down expenditure. With a view to reduce the cost of extraction of timber in the Malnad forests and to facilitate the transportation of heavy logs, which could not be carried by ordinary bullock carts, a road train consisting of traction engine and three wagons was purchased and used in Shimoga and Kadur districts.

The State government wanted to motivate the general populace about the uses and abuses of forest resources. Afforestation was taken up in a big manner and measures were undertaken to protect and preserve existing ones.

A system of periodical felling of trees, aged around 40-60 years, was implemented in Mysore, Kadur and Shimoga districts in order to facilitate the development of teak and mixed tree plantations. Regular working plans were implemented at Heggadadevana Kote and Lakkavalli forests. To prevent the spread of spike disease, around 17,500 trees were uprooted in Mysore district during 1904-1905.

The officials also made sincere attempts to enlist landholders who could grow and preserve sandal trees. To solicit their co-operation, the Department introduced certain measures. This helped in increasing the revenue from forest and its produce. During 1909-1910, by selling 2,154 tonnes of sandalwood, the Department earned Rs 9,23,600. And the total revenue generated from the selling of forest produce stood at Rs 17,58,500, while the total expenditure for that year was Rs 6,71,000.

Documents, private papers and the diaries of D N Neelakanta Rao, who was the game preserving officer from 1930 to 1949, are preserved at the Divisional Archives in Mysuru. These accounts let us peek into the times gone by. Neelakanta reported to the Huzur Secretary of the Maharaja of Mysore and his accounts throw light not only on the vastness of game preserves but also on the diverse flora and fauna found there.

In one of his entries, Neelakanta describes an incident when a wild tiger was killed. On another occasion, he describes how he chased two European poachers — who were escaping in their car after hunting. Neelakanta was also deputed to Burma to select an ambari elephant for the palace. In one of his letters, he makes recommendations about the rates fixed for the labour involved during hunting. He retired as a senior assistant conservator of forests in 1950.

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