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Date(s) - 02/03/2020
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


Siwalik Erosion: British Policies and the Introduction of Chos Act (1900)

Fellow,IIAS Shimla

Siwalik is the lower range of Himalaya. This range is continually eroding. Since the colonial period Gujjars have been blamed for this erosion. This erosion evidently started in 1850, when hectors of fertilized land destroyed by the sand and stones eroded from Siwalik range. The reduction of Colonial Government revenue due to reclamation of fertilized land attracted the attention of Britishers. Baden Powell was the first forest conservator who visited the eroded areas of the Siwalik. And in his report on Chos of Hoshiarpur (1879) he blamed pastoralists and villagers who used the forests for their own needs. Later on Middleton (1898), the settlement officer of Hoshiarpur, Glover (1920), and then Stebbing (1920), Hamelton (1935), and Whitemen (1915), the Settlement officer of Ambala, they all blamed Gujjars for this erosion.
The formations of Chos were due to the erosion in the Siwalik and these chos/ khads reclaimed huge areas of fertilized land. To protect the Siwalik range Britishers introduced Chos Act 1900 which was implemented along with the forest Act 1878 in the region. British officers suggested various measures to safeguard erosion along with complete closures of forests for grazing. Gujjars and villagers were using the wastes land for grazing purposes since time immemorial which was abundant in the Siwalik range. Earlier Hill Rajas recognised the traditional rights of the pastoralists upon the grazing fields. Since these were customary rights, they were never been challenged by the local Rajas. The pastoralist community had set pattern of migration as they moved up in the hills (Mid and Greater Himalayan ranges) during summer season and come down in the hills of Siwalik in the winter season. The pattern somewhat was helpful in maintaining ecological balanced in the region. Hence, no such type of furious destruction is reported there prior to the British intervention. But the ruthless cutting of trees for commercial utilization and other policies of Colonial Government created havoc in the region and resulted in large scale erosion of the Siwalik ranges, a fact that even the Britishers could not ignore and had to think seriously to take stern action. However, instead of looking at their policies as the contributory factor they blamed the Gujjars.
In the present discussion, I will focus on the factors behind this erosion. The present discussion is important in the light of the wajib ul arz and sajra nasib which throw light on some of the facts like system of thak and trihas. Britishers intervened in these traditions methods and introduced exclusion of the Gujjars. In 1868, immediately after the occupation of the Hills, in the villages of the Kangra the thak systems of Rajas were changed. Under the Raja for thak there was complete closure of forests/waste lands for three months and at that time no villagers were allowed to graze in the forests except Sawana Gujjars. After the occupation of Hills in 1846 it was the main issue of the colonial Government to raise their revenues. Hence the prevailing systems were altered in the region, as the thak was earlier for the protection of the forest. But now the nature of thak has been changed and now it was made mandatory for villagers to preserve one part of the waste as the thak and at time of thak in that fields kharkana grass was grown which later on was to be auctioned, so that the revenue could increase. Kharkhana was a commercial grass and was not used by animals. It was utilized in the paper mills; thus the pastoralists were blocked from substantial village commons. Similarly, trihas was another system introduced in the Siwalik Hills by which villagers were forced to grow commercial grass in one part of the village waste and that part was to thak sarkar for three years. Such type of major changes greatly disturbed the customary cycle of the Gujjars who were largely the forests dwellers. They were forcibly kept out from their customary grazing rights and suffered at the pretext of erosion. Gujjars were allotted a set tract to move which affected the Siwalik range later on. Thus the chapter arguing to look into the processes through which colonial polices/act gradually barred the Gujjars from their traditional rights and lost all claims to their traditional lands and habitats.