Forests

The sad plight of India's forestry graduates

Forest graduates are being sidelined in favour of science graduates in the State Forest Service

 
By Arvind Bijalwan
Last Updated: Wednesday 20 April 2016

The more we ignore forestry professionals, the more we will compromise with on our forest resources and the environment (Credit: Andrew Malone/Flickr)

The agitation by forestry students of Maharashtra seeking reservation in the state forest department jobs shows there is an urgent need to change the recruitment policy of foresters in India.

The demand of these students is nothing new, as many states have the provision of reservation for recruitment in the posts of the assistant conservator of forest (ACF) and the forest ranger (RFO). Similar protests have been observed in other parts of the country at different points of time.

Who are forestry graduates?

To trace the origin of forestry graduates, we should note that the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA) had in 1976 advocated the initiation of forestry education for conservation of forests, natural resources and protection of the environment. This was further emphasised in the forest policy of India, 1988.

Following this, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had advocated the starting of Bachelor’s degree in forestry at State Agricultural Universities (SAUs).

Various SAUs across India started the forestry programme (a four-year-course having eight semesters) to generate skilled personnel for better management of forests and natural resources in 1985.

Admission into the Bachelor’s course in forestry is not an easy task. Aspirants have to qualify for the entrance examination conducted by ICAR-AIEEA (All India Entrance Examination for Admission). In some cases, they have to appear for state level exams or are taken on the basis of merit going by the academic record depending on the admission procedure of the university.

The admission procedure varies from state to state. In some states, candidates take admission in the forestry course on the basis of qualifying the Pre Agricultural Test /Joint Entrance Test conducted for taking admission into veterinary and agricultural sciences.

At present, about 1,500 forest graduates pass out every year from different states of India. Despite devoting four years to the course, they struggle for jobs due to the lack of proper national and state-level recruitment policies.

Forest education

The objective behind launching the forestry course was capacity building for skilled and knowledgeable professionals who are in tune with the current trends in forest management.

During 1985-1986, Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan; Himanchal Pradesh, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore and the Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth in Akola; Maharashtra, were the first to start the Bachelor’s course in India.

At present, there are about 30 SAUs and 10 universities, along with various private colleges, offering degree course in forestry and many more institutes are planning to start it.

Master and doctoral degrees in forestry with specialisation in a particular discipline has also started in many institutes.

Even after this, the sad part is that the employability factor of forest graduates remains a worrying sign.

The degree course in forestry covers various issues pertaining to different disciplines which are equivalent to the standard syllabus of training courses provided at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy which trains Indian Forest Service officials.

The diverse subjects taught to forestry graduates include mainly principles and practices of silviculture, silviculture of Indian trees, agroforestry systems and management, plantation forestry, silviculture systems, nursery management, world forestry system, livestock management, forest mensuration, environmental science and fundamentals of horticulture.

Besides the above topics, plant biochemistry and biotechnology, principles of cytology and genetics, entrepreneurship development and communication skills, elementary statistics and computer application, principles of plant physiology, tree physiology and a host of other things are also taught to forest graduates.

One year field work under the Rural Forestry Work Experience and Experiential Learning Programme are also important components of the course.

It's disadvantage forestry students

Even with such a diverse course, forestry graduates are being ignored in favour of others. Take this for instance. Since 1990, the State Forest Service (SFS) is recruiting candidates from science streams (other than forestry graduates) and maintaining the ambiguous eligibility criteria.

The question which pops up is that when forest graduates are being sidelined in favour of science graduates, then what is the significance of imparting professional forestry course to some individuals?

If forestry graduates are recruited on a competitive basis in Indian Forest Service and SFS exams, it will save time and cost involved in training forest officers. The professional quality of forestry graduates can be utilised in a much better way for forest conservation, management and development.

At a time when India is focusing on clean environment, more climate-resilient agriculture and tree cultivation, we still do not know how far skilled foresters will be recognised for their role in nation building.

There should be a central policy saying that the forestry sector must employ forest graduates in different government programmes rather than hiring unskilled people.

The environment ministry has the means to accommodate forest graduates in afforestation, biodiversity, agroforestry, Namami Gange, Swachh Bharat Mission and other relevant programmes.

There is a slogan “Ek ped das putra samaan” which means one tree is equivalent to having 10 sons. It is obvious that forest graduates can generate a million sons (read trees) for India.

It is time we rethink why forest graduates are being sidelined by policy makers and administrators and why the degree course in forestry is not justified to get a good job.

The more we ignore forestry professionals, the more we will compromise with on our forest resources and the environment.

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  • There is a counter narrative too…….

    Here is another plea from the aspirational unemployables for reservation, a la the Jats of Haryana. But first, what is intriguing is that the author is not pitching for reservation of all the Indian Forest Service (IFS) vacancies for post graduates of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, which ostensibly produces forestry ‘professionals’ of a higher calibre than the post graduates or Ph.Ds from Agricultural Universities? And certainly the competition to get into IIFM is much stiffer than to get into a forestry course in any SAU.

    The sad story in many instances is that admission into forestry courses in generally sought when all other ‘streams’ (like agriculture, veterinary etc.) have been exhausted. This is not to say that ALL forestry graduates / post graduates are unemployable. A rough analysis of the recruitment into the IFS shows that an increasing number of forestry graduates qualify each year (could it be falling standards like everywhere else?). What is important is that they come in through an open competitive process. Speaking of which, there is a substantial school of thought that advocates that recruitment to the IFS should be open to ALL graduates irrespective of what stream they have studied, just like for all other civil services. The reasoning behind this emanates from the fact that the IFS is restricted to “science” graduates; so a civil engineer or a geologist or a chemistry graduate is deemed to be scientifically ‘qualified’ to become a forest officer but a person from economics or sociology or anthropology (or somebody potentially like Jim Corbett or Salim Ali) is not eligible! There is also this ongoing debate whether Forestry is a science in the first place? Our past and present management of forests indicates that forestry is everything but a science!

    Times have changed, fortunately faster than the climate is changing. The profession of forestry today has much, much more to do with social, economic, political and inter-sectoral issues and inter-disciplinary approaches, that to insist that forest officers need only know so called ‘technical forestry’ is like hugely wanting in hindsight and foresight; a certain ‘qualification’ for extinction of ‘forestry’ foresters.

    Vinay Tandon
    vtandy@gmail.com

    Posted by: VINAY | 3 years ago | Reply