First Indian Forest Act, 1865:
This act empowered the forest officials to issue local rules for conserving Indian Forests. Hurriedly drafted, this act was the first attempt by the state to assert its monopoly.
It was primarily passed to facilitate the acquisition of those forest areas that had been earmarked for the railway supplies. It merely sought to establish the claims of the state to the forests it immediately required, subject to the provision, that existing rights were not abridged.
Indian Forest Act, 1878:
The Forest Act of 1865 had been drafted in a haphazard manner and thus had many shortcomings. Immediately after its enactment therefore the search began for a more comprehensive piece of legislation.
A preliminary draft prepared by Brandis was circulated for discussion. A conference of forest officers was convened in 1875 to frame a new act. Three positions cropped up during the deliberations on the proposed act: The annexationists wanted total state control over all forest areas.
i. The pragmatists argued for state management of ecologically sensitive and strategically valuable forests, allowing others to remain under communal systems of management.
ii. The third position often called the populist position completely rejected all forms of state intervention holding that tribals and peasants must exercise sovereign rights over woodland.
Forest Policy 1894:
In 1894, the British government issued a circular which formed the basis of the future forest policy. Once again, while reiterating the propriety right of the state, the policy also sought to administer the forests for the benefit of the taxpayers and the people living in the vicinity of the forests. One very harsh feature of this policy was the fact that forest preservation was placed secondary to agriculture.
It said “wherever an effective demand for culturable land exists and can be supplied by forest area, the land should ordinarily be relinquished without hesitation”.
Indian Forest Act of 1927:
This was the first comprehensive piece of legislation on forests under the British rule. Prior to its enactment the general law relating to forest in British India was contained in the Indian Forest Act, 1878 and its amendments.
It was an act to consolidate the law relating to the forests, the transit of forest produce and the duty livable on timber and other forest produce, rather than conservation was the keynote of the colonial policy.
Thus under the garb of promoting the interests of the people and the welfare of the nation what the British actually did was a ruthless exploitation of the forests. Extraction of timber, both quantitatively and qualitatively, was carried out mercilessly. Expansion of agriculture at the cost of forest cover was a blatant device to maximise revenue for the expanding empire.