Renaissance of Indian Forest Service
Dr VK Bahuguna
November 18, 2023, 13:10:54
(The writer is former Director-General of ICFRE Ministry of Environment & Forests)
The civil services play crucial role in the efficient governance of any country. The civil servants are well trained professionals and are supposed to have three basic traits viz. domain knowledge, human resources management skills and the capacity to organize, visualise and see through the functions and roles of an organization. When the British established full control over Indian sub-continent after the First War of Independence in 1857 they started feeling the necessity for organized civil services. Lord Cornwallis the then Governor-General of Bengal Presidency is called the “Father of Indian Civil Service” as he felt the need of a well trained civil service to consolidate the British rule in India. The Indian Civil Service (ICS) was created after the enactment of Government of India Act 1858. The Indian Civil Services Act of 1861 provided that certain posts under the Government of India were to be reserved for persons who had been a resident of India for 7 years or more. The Indian Civil Services gradually was opened for Indian and this small group became the backbone of the British Empire. Satyendranath was the first Indian to be selected for the Indian Civil Service in June, 1863. Gradually other services like Indian Forest Service (IFS)/Indian Forest Engineering Service, Indian Police Service, and Indian Medical Services etc came into existence. These services set the pattern of today’s Indian bureaucracy which is guiding the destiny of our administration. Most of our rules Acts etc are the legacy of British period. The Indian Forest Service was initially known as Imperial Forest Service was created in 1867 and the officers were trained in Hanover, Cooper Hills, Oxford and Edinburgh until 1926 when the training shifted in India at the Forest Research Institute Dehradun in the Indian Forest College. This continued till 1932 when it was discontinued after the enactment of Government of India Act 1935 as the subject of Forest was transferred to Provinces. It was however, revived in 1966 by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The foresters had played a key role in protecting and conserving the forest and bio-diversity of the country.
The civil services have responsibility to achieve the development objectives of the political leadership and welfare of the state. These days due to poor exposure of the political leaders the failure of delivery to people is considered as either a failure of civil servants or their handiwork. Much water has flown in River Ganga and the democratic polity of India requires changes in the pattern of civil services and forest service is no exception. Compared to its colonial past when its objectives were different and timber centric today it has to meet the aspiration of people in the midst of dwindling forest resources, heavy demands on forests and the bio-diversity it contains for sustaining the food, water, livelihood, health, environmental and ecological security of more than 140 billion people.
The service is at a cross road today and the policy makers especially need to review the role played by this service ever since it was revived in 1966 and chalk out how best the these professionals can meet the emerging challenges in the field of conservation and environmental sustainability which are quite different from the time the service was created. No doubt it had played a key and critical role in protecting the country’s bio-diversity, cultural heritage and natural resource base vital for ecological and economical sustenance of the country. Its structure needs to be revisited for reforms so that new challenges in the midst of global climatic vagaries at the domestic as well as international level are met. One thing is very clear that though foresters’ have strong professional competence and commitment their training and outlook vision however, needed to be expanded for managing the broad spectrum of challenges as more often than not the foresters are criticized by others services and political masters. The criticism though is specious and it is as truer for IFS as much as it is true for other All India/ Central organized services but nevertheless, a self introspection is needed so that it is remodelled in the national interest. In fact the entire gamut of civil services in India needs a relook including many constitutional provisions for judiciary and legislatures.
The reformed IFS should focus on the role it is expected to play right from the District level to State and National level. One of the fundamental needs today at the district and sub-regional level administration is of an organized cadre for managing the entire gamut of issues in the field of environmental conservation. Presently IFS officers are managing only the forest resources and trained accordingly though gradually they are expanding to other areas in an adhoc manner. The need of the hour is to make this service fully capable to deal with all environmental issues like pollution control, forests & bio-diversity and of course the tribal affairs/forest dwellers. There have been talks about these reforms hence it would be appropriate to rename this service as Indian Environment Service. Once the objectives are set then the second step should be to focus on recruitment and training. The subjects like Economics, Bio-technology etc may be included in its training schedule. The Indira Gandhi National Forest academy (IGNFA) must include technological innovations in the training especially on combating climate change, monitoring forest hydrology and critical biodiversity. The Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) was created to bring management inputs in forestry sector and its capability need to be harnessed by the government in training the IFS Probationers in social and management aspects including conflict management. Bureaucracy tends to be ‘status quoist’ and oppose changes. Country, however, better implementations of projects need on convergence and cohesive governance between different departments. In the Foundation Course at the Lal Bahudur Shastri Academy of Administration, special focus should be on these aspects so that the officers do not work in their silos. Further, better communication and outreach skills are essential for officers to engage with the public and other government and private institutions, raise awareness about conservation issues, and build support for sustainable development. Data analysis is most important tool to take informed decisions and it must be integrated in the entire system of governance. One of the important aspects in managing the forests relates to the task of technology development and its extension among the end uses like state forest departments, farmers and industries. The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) should be given the status of a department and the responsibility of conducting research in the States also. The government need to consider constitution of a separate sub-cadre or creation of a Forestry Research Service so that State of Art technologies are developed. The legal, financial as well as human resources and other regulatory framework for the conservation and protection of forest and wildlife need massive up-gradation especially modern equipments to deal with poachers and smugglers. The financial resources and human resources are not up to the mark today and must be stepped up. Environment field is one of the fields apart from Defence, where man power strengthening is need of the hour. Last, but not the least, it is essential to ensure accountability and transparency in forest and environmental administration.