Of course, trade was also coming up in a big way but then the ships and boats had to be built out of the forest wood. Another way out was incorporating other territories, which called for better weapons of war. Elephants assumed significance, and elephant forests started coming up.
The number of towns increased and the houses came up that were made of wood. Moreover, timber had to be used for construction of furniture, carts, chariots, wooden bridges etc. The concept of ‘hunting reserves’ also came up, as hunting became a recreational activity.
Chanakya says that Brahmans should be provided forests for plantations, for religious learning and for performance of penance. Many philosophical treatises were written in the forests. Upanishads and Aranyakas were the major ones. The importance of forests is further borne out by the treatment it receives in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
After the Mauryas, the other important empire builders were the Guptas. But during the Gupta times and more particularly later Gupta times economy began to collapse. There was a manifest decline in trade and towns and the use of monetary system.
Inscriptions belonging to the period indicate a trend towards ruralisation of the economy and thus greater pressure on land and consequently on the forest. Amidst all these developments, the forest question lost its prominence and in the later sources lesser attention was given to the forests.
The Delhi Sultanate saw more demands being put up on the forests. The total population (both human and livestock) increased, as did the number of cities and towns. Consequently urban population also increased. All this led to a proportionate quantitative increase in the demand for fuel wood, fruits, food, fodder etc.
Demand for quality timber for construction of boats, bridges, houses, chariots; buildings, carts etc. also went up considerably. The Sultanate rulers did not come out with a positive policy of conservation though of course we see gardens being set up.
On the whole, however, the forest cover did not pose any major problem to the Delhi Sultanate. Though the demand for forest produce increased but the land- man ratio was still very favourable in the Indian context.
Land was abundantly available and as such the problem of converting forestland into agricultural land was not so strong. Added to this was the factor of natural regeneration of the forests alive. The importance of forest increased in Mughal India corresponding with increase in population and urbanisation.
According to W.H. Moreland, Indian population at the death of Akbar in 1605 AD was 100 million while R.K. Mukherjee gives the figure of 130 million for the same years (1605 AD). Together with the increase in general population, there was also a qualitative and quantitative growth of urban way of life. Thus added to the existing demand of food, fuel, fodder, there was a demand for timber particularly the superior variety.
The forest of Bengal, Agra, Allahabad, Sind (Thatta), Lahore, the Western and Eastern Ghats supplied the raw material. Forests served another utilitarian purpose; the forest products formed an important component of the non-agrarian production during the Mughal period.
As such the ruling class was keen to encourage the production of many forest products like timber, fruits, fodder, roots, barks, resins, herbs, production of lac, tanning of leather (babul tree), gumlac.