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Logging in India


LOGGING in forest areas in India is generally in the hands of contractors to whom the Government sells the forests on stump through public auction. A number of lots are put on the market, about 60 per division, with about 200 trees per lot. Prices, of course, differ according to dimension, species, quality, logging conditions, terrain, roads and distance to the place of sale; they may vary from U.S. $9.5 to $47 per cubic meter (2 to 1.0 rupees per cubic foot) including bark, the average price being $28 to $37.5 per cubic meter (6 to 7 rupees per cubic foot).

Logging by contractors is the common system in most of the states. In a few limited areas, however, the Government handles the logging itself. An interesting example of government logging is the Chanda area in the interior of the State of Maharashtra, where the Central Zone headquarters of the present Development Program project has been located. The advisability of changing over to government logging is receiving increasing consideration. It is likely that the present attempts at improving logging, including broader considerations about the economics of logging, will much influence the choice between contractual and government logging.

In some cases the Government gives contracts for logging operations only and the contractors deliver the wood to the government timber depots, where the Government sells the wood by public auction.

A system of working the felling areas through cooperative societies of forest laborers has recently been introduced in one or two states.

From a historical outline of logging development the following interesting information (probably referring to a period about 80 years ago) is worth reproducing:

"Felling and extraction work was taken over by the Government, in order to eliminate the waste and destruction so common in contractual work. Later on, the system of working by contractors was reintroduced, when it was found that extraction operations took up too much of the time of the forest officers, resulting in a neglect of silvicultural matters."

It is certainly true that logging takes some time!

From the above it will be clear that forest officers in general have little or nothing to do with the planning and execution of logging operations, and that their experience of logging is consequently very limited. At the forest colleges some elementary logging training has been introduced in recent years. The FAO logging training project, besides its main courses for the training of instructors for forest workers, has also included logging training for forest officers and forest managers in its program. The aim is to give these students a suitable knowledge of improved logging. Special attention will be paid to the planning of logging operations and to economic calculations.

S.I. SJÖSTEDT is Project Manager of a UNDP/FAO project for the establishment of logging training centers in India.

FIGURE 1. - High cut, waste of valuable timber.

Logging development

It has already been mentioned that some 80 years ago the Government took over logging for a short period. Considerable improvements can be registered from this period. These improvements include the introduction of saws for felling and conversion; conversion at stump site in the Himalayan forests to avoid damage in transport; improvement of stream beds in the mountains by blasting operations for better floating of timber; construction of proper timber slides, chutes and sledge ways; construction of extraction paths and cart roads inside the forests; construction of booms across rivers to catch timber coming down from the mountains; and the introduction of semimechanized and mechanized means of transport such as gravity ropeways, forest tramways and railways, and motor trucks. During this period a system of railways and permanent roads was developed and, as a result, long-distance transportation by railways and motor trucks was widely adopted. The expansion of the permanent road system after 1947 further popularized the use of motor trucks.

Most logging operations in India are done manually, although efforts have been made from time to time to introduce mechanized logging. Mechanized logging has not been extensively favored, in part because labor is comparatively cheap and more easily available. However, acute shortage of labor is reported in some areas, particularly for forest operations.


The assortments can be divided into three main groups: commercial timbers, industrial wood and fuelwood.


For building construction: mainly from deodar, sal, blue pine, chir pine, teak, Acacia, Dipterocarps and Terminalia. In the mountains, for transport reasons, the length of logs is limited to 10 or 12 feet (3 to 3.5 meters). This coincides with the length of railroad sleepers. In the plains the logs vary in length from 6 to about 20 feet (1.8 to 6 meters). The top diameter for building construction timbers is about 70 centimeters.

The sawmills, of which there are several thousand, are small units with a consumption varying from 800 to 3,000 cubic meters (standing volume) per unit and year.

For sleepers: mainly from deodar, sal, chir pine and Pterocarpus species. The basic lengths are 9 feet 2 inches (2.8 meters) with trim allowance, 6 feet 2 inches (1.9 meters) and 5 feet 2 inches (1.6 meters).

For poles: mainly from sal, deodar and teak. Lengths from 10 feet (3 meters) to 35 feet (10.5 meters) with minimum top diameters of about 15 centimeters.

For fence posts: mainly from sal, Acacia arabica, deodar and Pterocarpus species.

FIGURE 2. - Elephant dragging a three-ton teak log Mysore.


Boards: manufactured from various waste material from the sawmills.

Veneers: mainly from teak, rosewood, sissoo and laurel.

Furniture: mainly from teak, sissoo, walnut and Pterocarpus species.

Packing cases: mainly from chir pine, salai, mango and fir.

Raw material for pulp: at present the main raw materials used by the paper industry are bamboo and, to a lesser extent, sabai grass and coniferous woods (mainly chir pine). Some of the mills have started using miscellaneous hardwoods. The total amount of bamboo potentially available annually has been estimated at 4 million tons. There are about 50 paper mills, with an average production per unit of about 12,000 tons/year.

The limited amount of coniferous pulpwood is logged. as second assortment after the logging of commercial timbers. It is also logged from twisted grained chir pine which is not suitable for sawnwood. The length of the pulpwood. is usually 3 feet (1 meter).


Of the total volume of fuelwood, only 3 percent is softwood, the balance - about 10.5 million cubic meters (370 million cubic feet) - being hardwood. The length is mostly about 1 meter (3 feet).

Logging in the plains and in the mountains

Logging techniques differ considerably in the mountains and in the plains of India, due mainly to the extreme topographical variation and to the different dimensions of the trees: in the mountains the trees are generally very big.

Transportation in the mountains is, as usual, more complicated and expensive, and for this reason - despite the fact that the annual cut in the really mountainous areas is only about 10 percent of the total cut - much greater attention is paid to logging in this region than in the plains,

The dimensions of the trees marked for logging vary between 18 and 90 centimeters dbh. The biggest trees are found in the Himalayan mountains, upper Assam, some parts of the west coast and the Andaman islands.

Felling, crosscutting, debarking

Throughout the major part of the forests felling is done by ax, but the use of ax and saw combined is also practiced widely. The felling ax is usually made locally, the weight of the head -varying from 0.7 to 1.8 kilograms. The handle is nearly always straight and round and is usually fashioned from any wood available locally. Felling is carried out by a team of two or more workers. Stumps are very often high - up to 60 centimeters - for ease of working.

The saws used for felling and crosscutting are two-man manual crosscut saws with peg teeth. Raker-teeth saws are used to a limited extent. The saw blade is imported but the teeth are cut in the country. Bowsaws and one-man crosscut saws are practically not used.

Limbing is done with a trimming ax or with the felling ax itself. The former has a broader blade than the latter. The trimming ax is also used for the rough squaring of timber, for which the ax has to be specially heavy.

No spuds or any other special implements are used for debarking logs, the usual method being to beat the surface with the reverse end of the ax head, thereby loosening the bark from the log, after -which it can be peeled off.

Bamboos and small poles are at some places felled. by billhooks, a great variety of shapes being found from locality to locality.

The season for logging operations is mainly determined by climatic conditions. It usually starts in October and continues up to March or April.

FIGURE 3. - Donald's gravity ropeway, bottom station, load of 150 kilograms -Kulu valley.


The production of sawn timber from logs - conversion - is done manually as a rule. In the Himalayan forests, conversion is usually done at the stump site. The logs are generally rough-squared. by ax before being sawn by manual crosscut saws. In the plains, conversion at the stump site is also the general practice, although in areas with adequate transport facilities logs are often transported for conversion to the sawmills. The trend is definitely toward the transport of material in log form from the forests.

Short-distance transportation

Short-distance transportation is mostly effected by nonmechanized means. Various methods of transportation are in vogue, depending upon such factors as the terrain, the size and character of timber, economic considerations, availability of labor or supply of draft animals, climatic factors, etc. The following methods are generally employed:


The draft animals used are elephants, buffalo and bullocks. Rough earth roads are made for dragging. In some cases dragging is facilitated by placing round billets in front of the log to act as rollers.

Chains and sometimes fiber ropes are generally employed for dragging. They are fastened to the logs through drag holes cut into the latter - an expensive method. Other methods for fastening the chain are also used. The front end of the log is slightly rounded off (snouting) to prevent it from plowing into the ground.

FIGURE 4. - Introduction of power ropeway - Himalayas.

FIGURE 5. - Rolling silver fir logs in Kashmir.


Carts driven by bullocks or buffalo are extensively used for the carriage of sawn timber and logs in the plains. Carts are taken right up to the stump site for loading whenever possible. Sometimes one end of the log rests on the cart and the other trails behind on the ground.


Logs are rolled in flat country or on gentle slopes over rolling roads made by clearing away all obstructions along the alignment: they are rolled by elephants or by men using stout wooden levers. Every precaution has to be taken to control the speed of the logs, and only one log at a time must be moved.


Pack animals such as camels, buffalo, mules ponies and donkeys are often used for the transport of timber. In the Himalayas, scantlings are usually carried by men on their backs from the stump site to the launching or other depots. This method is costly but is often the only method possible in the circumstances.

FIGURE 6. - Manual carriage by a strong woman - from stump to launching depot - a weight of about 60 kilograms.

FIGURE 7. - Pack buffalo, carrying about 200 kilograms each, are often, used for transporting timber.


A system of aerial ropeways based on traction by gravity was developed by C.H. Donald, a forest officer, in 1912. This system, called the Donald's gravity ropeway, has come into wide rise in the Himalayas for the extraction of scantlings from inaccessible areas. It can be used on slopes from 17 to 45 degrees. The best spans and gradients for speed and economy are 750 to 1,050 meters at 22 to 35 degrees between top and bottom stations. A safe working load is about 225 kilograms.


Various types of timber slides used in the mountain forests are described below.

Wet slides or flumes are the chief method used for extracting scantlings from the Himalayan forest. They consist of rectangular troughs constructed from scantlings.

The components of these troughs are also removed when the slides are no longer needed. Tire success of this method depends on the maintenance of a sufficient and continuous flow of water down the Slides. Wet slides can work at as low a gradient as 0.5 degrees provided a good supply of water is available.

The earth slide or chute consists merely of a trough scooped out down the hillside. The logs have to be slid carefully to avoid smashing them into rocks or into one -mother. Where the gradient is steep, the speed of the logs is checked by the construction of check walls.

Dry wooden slides are -used when the route lies across the slope, or in localities where the terrain is too difficult or rocky for an earth slide, or where it crosses over or is situated at the edge of cultivated fields. Dry slides -work well on gradients of between 15 and 25 degrees.

Long-distance transportation


In the plains, the' long-distance transportation of timber by land is mainly effected by railroads or motor trucks whenever good permanent lines exist. The network of railroads is quite extensive and railroad lines have been constructed mainly for timber traffic through many forest areas. Motor-truck traffic has increased to a great extent since the second world war and has argely replaced rail traffic over comparatively short distances. Motor trucks are of the common type used for general transport purposes and special logging trucks or trailers are not used. In the plains, if possible, the truck is taken right up to the stump site.

The use of forest tramroads is on the decline. Out of several systems introduced in the past, only three are still in use.


The transport of timber by water is the Oldest method followed in India. Although the cheapest, this method is being superseded by rail and road transport because the vehicles can frequently be brought right up to the felling areas, there is less damage and. loss in transit, and transport is quicker than by water. For this reason water transport has all but disappeared, except in the Himalayas and other hilly regions, and in some of the coastal areas.

Water transport includes two different operations floating and rafting. Floating is practiced in the upper reaches of rivers where the streams are too narrow, shallow, or rocky or where the current is too swift for the management of rafts, while rafting is practiced in the lower reaches where conditions are favorable for this operation.

FIGURE 8. - Bullock cart carrying fuelwood, 400 to 500 kilo grams - Madhya Pradesh.

In the coastal waters of the Andaman islands, rafts are towed along the creeks by power launches. In the open sea, the rafts may get broken and so the timber is transported in small powered vessels.

FIGURE 9. - Wet slide in the Himalayan mountains, where steep gradients supply the continuous flow of water needed for this method of timber transportation to be successful.

Mechanized logging

The large demand and comparatively high prices obtainable for wood after the first world war stimulated the desire to try new mechanical methods. However, these early efforts at mechanization were short-lived, and doubts were raised as to the wisdom of the new methods of extraction. The trade depression starting at the end of the 1920s brought the experiment to an end.

A brief account of the various mechanized means introduced during this period may be of interest. Forest tramroads were set up, one American high lead yarding was introduced for hauling logs from tree stumps to the railway line, a caterpillar and a Fordson tractor were introduced, and winches for skidding were used; a large number of sawmills, some portable, were also set up.

Since the second world war the demand for timber has been steadily rising. This has raised the problem of extracting timber economically from hitherto inaccessible areas and of reducing wastage in logging to a minimum. The work of some FAO logging experts - A. Huber (1952/53), A. Koroleff (1955) and H.G. Winkelmann (1957 and 1958) - contributed to the introduction of new mechanical methods.

At present about 15 skyline cranes, 13 units of tractors for skidding, some mountain tractors and some portable sawmills are in use. Some power chain saws are used for demonstration.

In the Andaman islands, mechanization started at the end of the last century. Tramroads, using men, buffalo or steam locomotives, were constructed. High lead yarding using a power skidder was started in 1936. After the second world war, with the rise in demand for timber, mechanization on an ever-increasing scale has been embarked upon. Today, more than a dozen caterpillar tractors (D6 to D8) with winches and logging arches are being used for the skidding of logs. Elephant tramroads have been largely replaced by diesel locomotive tramroads. Power chain saws were tried but did not prove successful.

FIGURE 10. - Skinman (on inflated buffalo skin) just after clearing a river jammed with floating timber - Himalayas.

Forest labor

The number of forest workers is estimated at 300,000 to 400,000. The workers mostly oscillate between forestry and agriculture. No kind of organized training has yet been introduced. The average weight of the workers is said to be about 55 kilograms. Earnings are low. The supply of workers is mostly good but in certain areas a shortage of labor is reported. The manual equipment is usually owned by the workers themselves, but in some cases it is provided by the employer. The position as regards safety precautions is rather unsatisfactory.

Measures for the improvement of logging

It is evident that logging in the Indian forests is in urgent need of improvement. The Government has taken some steps toward this cud.

As a result of the work of the FAO expert A. Koroleff in 1955, a Logging Branch was established at the Forest Research Institute, Debra Dun, in 1957. This Logging Branch acts as a co-ordinating agency for the State Forest Departments and as a general clearinghouse for information on logging, as well as collecting statistics on the economics of various logging tools and practices and conducting research on the efficiency of various equipment and methods involved in logging. An essential activity of the Logging Branch is the publication of pamphlets, research notes, etc., and the study of foreign equipment and techniques with reference to Indian conditions.

The other important step taken by the Government in co-operation with FAO is the establishment of four logging training centers. The main -purpose of this scheme is to train:

(a) forest officers and private forest managers in the planning of logging operations;

(b) specialized instructors for the instruction of forest workers.

The logging training operation has recently started. If all concerned do their best to carry out this ambitious but practical plan, there is every reason to be optimistic regarding the outcome, although it may be some time before visible results can be ascertained.

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