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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2003  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 137-159

The Mirage of Permanent Boundaries: Politics of Forest Reservation in the Western Himalayas, 1875-97

Department of Political Science, Box 90204, Duke University, Durham NC 27705, USA

Correspondence Address:
Ashwini Chhatre
Department of Political Science, Box 90204, Duke University, Durham NC 27705
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Forests of the Western Himalayas, particularly the hill districts of colonial Punjab in India, became sites of intense negotiations over issues of demarcation of state property and definition of user rights in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, even as the debates over the Indian Forest Act came to a close. In implementing newfound powers, the Forest Department was frustrated, first, by the character­isation of the region as anomalous by the Revenue Department, and second, by overt resistance from local communities. In the web of interests and ideologies, emerging interactions between state and social actors were crystallised, and defined the contours of state-society relationships. In the process of negotiating the demarcation of forests, inter-departmental rivalries between the Revenue and Forest Departments intersected with the tension between central direction and local autonomy. Legal categories enshrined in the law were reinterpreted in imaginative dimensions to correspond with local practices and new ways of imagining forests emerged that defied, and sometimes contradicted, the spirit of the law. The result could be seen as a compromise between positions of extensive and intensive territorialisation within the state, which graded forests hierarchically in new categories, nested within the law and created a supra-tenure that went beyond legal categories. Such an optic helps in better understanding and explaning the variation in the project of territorialisation in colonial India.

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