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Deep inside the Aranya Kshetra


Legacy Institutions of Doon -2

By Dr Sanjeev Chopra

Last week, it was about institutions connected with mapping the coastal and land boundaries of India, as also the glacial formations of the Himalayas and what lies beneath.  This week, we will explore two institutions – the FRI and the WII, which combine in them aspects of training, research, consultancy and international collaboration in areas connected with the Aranya Kshetra. But first, let us dwell on the meaning and etymology of ‘Aranya. ‘Aranya’ is a Sanskrit word which means forest or wilderness.  Some texts have interpreted it to mean ‘a quiet place for contemplation’. It has great significance in most Indic traditions – from the Mahabharat and the Ramayana to the Jataka tales of the Buddhists. Etymologically, it is an area where sovereigns do not engage in battle – it is the vast expanse of forest land between two kingdoms – where hermits and seekers can live without fear of tax or war!

Of course, with the onset of the industrial age, and the commercialisation of everything including the flora and fauna of the Aranya Kshetra:  Aranya Kshetra has also had to define its boundaries, and define the rights and responsibilities of those who dwell within and around it!

Let us first focus on the FRI – an institution which was founded in 1878 as “Forest School of Dehradun”, which later became the Imperial Forest School in 1884. As England had destroyed all its forests in the Industrial Revolution, they looked to Germans for ‘scientific forestry’ and Dietrich Brandis, who is widely regarded as the patron saint of forestry research and education in India, was asked to helm the forest department – first in Burma and then in India. The objectives of the Raj were clear: forests – and everything within them – had a utilitarian purpose for the Imperial projects of shipbuilding, railways and related infrastructure. This was indeed one of the most profitable departments of the government, and it is only post-independence that we have started looking at forests in a holistic perspective.

Be that as it may, the FRI is indeed the most impressive building of Dehradun, and in terms of grandeur and glory next only to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The latter scores over the former because the ‘dome’ that was planned for the FRI was never commissioned on account of economy measures during the World War. The building, styled in Greco-Roman Architecture by CG Blomfield, was inaugurated in 1929 by then Viceroy Willingdon and is now a National Heritage site. Built over 450 hectares, with the outer Himalaya forming its backdrop, it has in addition to six world class museums  dedicated to Pathology, Social Forestry, Silviculture, Timber Non-Wood Forest Products, and Entomology, it has a well-appointed library, herbarium, arboreta, printing press and experimental field areas for conducting forestry research. Within its campus, it has two training institutions: the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA) as well as the Central Academy for State Forest Services (CASFOS).  Till 1982, the Wildlife Institute of India was on its campus but then moved to Chandrabani. FRI is now a deemed university  and has centres dealing with enhancement of Forest Productivity, Improvement of Planting Stock, Rehabilitation of Wastelands, Efficient Utilisation of Wood and Non-wood Forest Products, and the Development of Eco-friendly Products and Processes. It is the ‘crown jewel’ of the ICFRE – the nodal agency established by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. In itself, the FRI has the status of a deemed university, with the Director of FRI being the ex-officio VC, and the DG its ex-officio Chancellor. FRI encourages visitors to take a look at its museums and engage in discussions with stakeholders.

The FRI campus is often host to distinguished visitors – the latest being the President of India, Droupadi Murmu, for the convocation of the Indian Forest Service officers. A few months ago, the Chief Justice of India, Dhananjay Y Chandrachud delivered the Justice Dhulia Memorial Oration in the same campus.  The All-India Lokayukta Conference saw the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam visiting the campus. When Uttarakhand became a state in 2000, there was a demand for using this campus as the state secretariat. Fortunately, neither the Union Government agreed, nor did the state government press this demand. However, the campus has been the site for many a Bollywood movie, and the setting is indeed picturesque. More than a dozen movies – Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, Krishna Cottage, Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein, 404, Paan Singh Tomar, Nanban, Student of the Year, Student of the Year 2, Dilli Khabar, Yaara, Genius, Dear Daddy and Maharshi – were majorly shot in this campus.  Another movie in the making is a biopic of the revolutionary Rash Behari Bose, who was a clerk in the Institute but managed to escape to Japan where he established the Indian Independence League, which formed the nucleus of the INA.  Another notable association of FRI is with Ram Guha, the author of ‘Unquiet Woods’ – he spent his childhood and formative years in this campus.  The Unquiet Woods is one of the finest descriptions of the Chipko Movement.

Till 1982, the WII was also part of FRI, but is now located in Chandrabani, which is adjacent to the Rajaji National Park  – just after crossing the tunnel at the entrance of Doon (from the New Delhi-Saharanpur  side). It has its own 180-acre campus, of which 100 acres is in wilderness and 80 acres is operational facilities. WII carries out research in areas of study like Biodiversity, Endangered Species, Wildlife Policy, Wildlife Management, Wildlife Forensics, Spatial Modelling, Ecodevelopment, Ecotoxicology, Habitat Ecology and Climate Change.

WII has a research facility which includes Forensics, Remote Sensing and GIS, Laboratory, Herbarium, and an Electronic Library. The national tiger census or the All-India Tiger Estimation is done by WII along with NTCA and state forest departments. WII was also involved in preparing the plan for the relocation of Cheetahs from Kenya.

But this is not all: from certification of authentic Pashmina to sending its scientists to the Antarctic expeditions to study the wildlife and being the nodal centre for another kind of GATI – Gender Awareness for Transforming Institutions – the range, scope and depth of the programmes, research and networks is ‘as widespread and wild’ – as can be. The last conference I attended at this campus was organized by environmentalist Anil Joshi on the Gross Environmental Product (GEP) as an alternative to GDP, which does not factor in the externalities of material development!

VoW looks forward to many more meaningful conversations on the Aranya Kshetra !

(Sanjeev Chopra superannuated as the Director of the LBS National Academy of Administration after thirty-six years in the IAS. He is now the Festival Director of Valley of Words (VoW) and a Visiting Professor of History, Public Policy and Knowledge Management at the Swami Rama Himalayan University, Dehradun. He has held the Hubert H Humphrey, Robert S McNamara, Twenty First Century Trust and the Royal Asiatic Society Fellowships.)