ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Forests and the State

Forests and the State Modern Forests: Statemaking and Environmental Change in Colonial Eastern India by K Sivaramakrishnan; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp xxviii + 341, Rs 525.

Environmental history of India has become a major field of research in a short time, thanks to the availability of rich sources and influential pioneering works. It is different from other older branches of historiography. It tends to deal with longer time spans, there are no firm disciplinary boundaries and no master narratives or theoretical frameworks to be burdened with, it is definitely very globalised, and it easily bridges the conventional gap between history and current policy concerns. These are conditions that encourage creative thinking, and have indeed produced some strikingly unusual and stimulating books in the last few years. Sivaramakrishnan’s is one of them.

The book’s subject is the evolution of colonial forest management, that is, the evolution of technologies of intervention, forestry laws, writings about forests, and policies touching on the people who lived on the forests. In the mainstream scholarship, the roots of forest management tend to be searched in commercialisation of common resources and in modern notions of scientific forestry. These developments encouraged a stronger state intervention and changes in the structure of property rights, with consequences on the extent and inequality of access to the forests. In this account, the ‘state’ is an exogenous entity, distinct from and at a distance from, forests and forest-dependent peoples. The former took closer control of the latter, under the influence of science or economics. This book, quite by contrast, endogenises the state. It does so by arguing that the evolution of forest management was a form of ‘statemaking’ itself. Colonial state was not a given entity before forest management began. Each one shaped the other.

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