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Government forest service training in India: recommendations for change

S.K. Datta and M. Ray

S.K. Datta, an employee of the Indian Forest Service and a former lecturer in the State Forest Service College, Dehra Dun, is currently Project Director of the Doon Valley Watershed Management Project in Dehra Dun. Malabika Ray, who is with the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehra Dun, is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in the United States.

Forestry training was initiated in India during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Although the curricula have been revised several times, further modernization of training methodologies and a reorientation of faculty structures are necessary for increased efficiency.

Scientific forest management in India started in 1864 with the appointment of Sir Dietrich Brandis as the first Inspector General of Forests (Aggarwal, 1954). Following his recommendations, trained foresters from Germany and France were appointed to manage the country's forests, and the Imperial Forest Service was started in 1866.

The training of foresters in India has not evolved sufficiently with the times

It soon became apparent that training in German schools of forestry was not adequate preparation for personnel charged with managing the tropical forests of India; moreover, there was a need for the training of rangers and other middle- and lower-level technical staff. In response, the Central Forest School was established in Dehra Dun in 1878 (The Indian Forester, 1945; 1952), and forestry training in India commenced with the introduction of the first theoretical course in 1881 (The Indian Forester, 1941).

However, although the training of rangers was done in India, the Indian Forest Service (IFS) probationers (trainees slated for higher-level posts) continued to be trained in France and Germany up to 1885, except for a short break. In 1920, the government decided to centralize the training of IFS probationers and established the Forest Research Institute at Dehra Dun, and actual training began in 1926 (The Indian Forester, 1932; Mobbs, 1939). In 1935, however, the government decentralized responsibility for forestry to the provincial level which resulted in the abolition of training for the IFS as such. On the other hand, there was an obvious need for training for the foresters of the newly created State Forest Services (SFS), and the Indian Forest College (IFC) was established in 1938 (IFC, 1940) to cater to this need.

The IFS was revived in 1966 (Malhotra, 1986) and IFS and SFS officers were trained together at the Indian Forest College until 1975 when separate colleges for the training of SFS officers were opened at Burnihat (Assam), Dehra Dun (UP) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu).


Although forestry in India has come a long way since Brandis in 1864 and there have been many changes in terms of the administrative and physical infrastructure for training, as briefly highlighted above, there have not been equivalent parallel changes in the conceptual framework. The curricula for forest service training at the various levels have not evolved in response to present-day requirements, the major changes in the orientation of Indian forestry over the past few decades. Sporadic ad hoc attempts have been made to redesign the courses, resulting in the addition or elimination of one or more subjects or parts thereof, but a careful study of the courses taught reveals that the syllabi and courses prescribed in the 1960s or even earlier remain virtually unchanged. An examination of the syllabi of the Forest Academy, Forest Colleges and the Forestry Training Institutes evidences their continuing emphasis on woodland management for timber production. But present-day forest officers are not simply timber managers, earning revenue for the government; they have a vital role to play in the management of a range of natural resources. The forestry syllabus should be redesigned so as to provide due emphasis to a broad set of natural resource management issues as well, but this has not been achieved.

A number of reasons may be identified for the failure to revise forestry training curricula effectively. The main reason has been the absence of an effective link between the National Forest Policy (in its various evolutions) and the national forestry training programmes. No forest policy has ever spelled out how forestry personnel training should be structured so as to achieve the objectives laid out in the policy.

Another reason is that the challenge of determining the proper balance between academic or theoretical and practical training in the course contents has yet to be confronted, both in general and, more important, with regard to how much variation there should be in this balance at the different levels - forest guards, foresters, rangers, assistant conservator of forests, etc. In fact, the syllabi and course contents for the IFS, SFS probationers and ranger trainees are not as different as logic would suggest they should be. Whenever a new subject, for example forest economics, is introduced into the syllabus for one category, it tends to be introduced into the others as well without adequate consideration of the necessity for such a subject at that level. The task is to redesign different training courses for different levels of forest civil servants in accordance with their job descriptions.

A third key reason for not deriving the desired results from attempts to restructure the curricula for forestry training is that experts in the field of human resource development (curriculum development, pedagogy, etc.) have not been adequately involved. Revisions of forestry syllabi have almost always been exclusively undertaken by forestry technicians. While involvement of forest officers is certainly necessary to understand and appreciate the problems and priorities of the forestry sector, they are not adequately prepared in most instances to make decisions on the conceptualization and development of education programmes.

A fourth, and perhaps the most important, reason for not obtaining satisfactory results from past revisions is the absence of an effective feedback system from the State Forest Departments which actually employ the trained personnel. The training institutes have not set up links with alumni and the State Forest Departments have no mechanism for reporting back to the training institutes on the performance of government foresters, or on the relevance of their training once they join the department. Thus the training institutes remain unaware of the weaknesses and strengths of the training programmes they offer. A system of continuous dialogue between the State Forest Departments and the Training Institutes should be developed so that the training curricula can be regularly updated.


Forestry training in India started off as, and continues to be, basically a one-time affair. Forest Service probationers receive formal training in more than 30 subjects, ranging from botany to biometry, ecology, engineering, silviculture, surveying, wildlife, wood-based industries, forest management and forest influences, etc. This in itself is a potential problem (see Box, A need for specialized training). In addition, once graduates return to their state to begin their careers, there are few requirements or opportunities for additional training. Once an IFS probationer goes to his or her state after receiving a basic training, it is possible to climb the ladder without any further training. A few privileged employees are granted opportunities for international study, but this is more the exception rather than the norm. The situation is similar for lower-level forest officers: after a basic training, a forest guard is eligible for promotion to higher levels without any further training. Recently, short training sessions have been organized for serving foresters, and this is a step in the right di-rection, but the one- to three-week length of these courses, their limited availability and poor organization make them only a very timid beginning. Training should be a continuous process, spanning the whole service life of a practising forester.

Outdated didactic methods

Training in almost all the country's forestry training institutes continues to be im-plemented on the age-old didactic model. Nearly all of the training is conducted as classroom lectures, providing unique "solutions" to a limited number of definitively described "problems", with little or no opportunity for discussion or student input. However, the quantitative study of the interactions among the different factors contributing to the growth and establishment of trees as well as their interaction with the wider ecosystem has not yet been completed (in fact, it never will be). Therefore, the forestry training methodology should be redesigned in such a way that trainees are encouraged to think for themselves about possible alternatives to a given problem or situation. More emphasis has to be laid on improving logical thinking and analytical capabilities. To make forestry training more meaningful, conventional classroom teaching should be replaced or at least complemented by more efficient interactive learning processes. This can be effected through the introduction of group discussions, debates, case-studies, book reviews, dissertation papers, etc. (Stracey, 1960). This does not mean that lectures can or should be replaced altogether, but rather they could be made more effective by a multimedia approach. In some cases, this would require a significant investment of additional funds, as most of the forestry training institutes, especially those run by the state governments, are chronically underfunded and operate in outdated facilities. It might be pointed out, however, that a reorientation of teaching methods, such as the use of seminars and work groups, can be done within limited budgets.

Classroom training is complemented by field trips but these are often ceremonial in nature or, at best, a monologue on practical management techniques conducted by the instructor or the representative of the forest department concerned. A lively discussion among the trainees, the state forest department officials and the instructor accompanying the trainees would be a welcome and valuable alternative.

Training of trainers

There is also a need to look into the faculty structure of India's forestry training institutes. Although some of the trainers at the National Forest Academy, State Forest Service Colleges and forestry training institutes are permanent faculty members, the majority are forest service officers on secondment. Hence, the quality of forestry teaching and training depends largely on the aptitude and experience of these forest officers. Although the concept of a constant input from the field is a valid one in terms of training, unfortunately insufficient criteria are applied in the selection of forest officers for training assignments. Only officers who have had sufficient exposure to field work and who have experience and a proven aptitude for teaching should be seconded for forestry teaching-cum-training jobs. This selection process could be facilitated by the development of inventories or rosters of suitable forest officers, both at the national and at the state level. Moreover, in order to ensure the necessary high quality among the permanent teaching faculty, the programmes for staff development and trainer training need to be strengthened.


The Indian forestry training infrastructure, although older, more articulated and serving more people than most of its counterparts in the developing world, is in dire need of a re-evaluation and modification. This will require a change in the traditional top-down approach that forest departments (national and state) have taken across the board. If a meaningful programme for training is to be framed, a thorough study must be undertaken, with the aim of identifying alternatives commensurate with the Indian condition. In the preparation of such a study, consideration would need to be given to non-governmental training programmes, including the degree programmes being developed at a number of agricultural universities, as well as private sector and commercial training.


Aggarwal, K.L. 1954. Forest education and research in India. Indian Forester, 80(12): 736.

Government of India. 1952. National Forest Policy for India. New Delhi, Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Government of India. 1976. National Forest Policy for India. Draft as presented to the CBF Meeting in December 1976.

Government of India. 1988. National Forest Policy 1988. New Delhi, Ministry of Environment and Forests.

IFC. 1940. Introduction. Progress Report of the Indian Forest College, New Forest, Dehra Dun, 1939-40.

Malhotra, P.P. 1986. Forestry education and training in India. Indian Forester, 112(11): 957-959.

Mobbs, E.C. 1939. The Indian Forest College. Indian Forester, 65(8): 484-490.

Stracey, P.D. 1960. Improvements in forestry training with particular reference to India. Proceedings of the Fifth World Forestry Congress (1960). Indian Forester, 87(6): 349-353.

The Indian Forester. 1921. Higher forestry education. Indian Forester, 47(10): 419-421.

The Indian Forester. 1932. Forestry education in India. Indian Forester, 58(10): 531-534.

The Indian Forester. 1941. Convocation of the Indian Forest Ranger College, Dehra Dun. Indian Forester, 67(6): 301-317.

The Indian Forester. 1945. Convocation of the Indian Forest Ranger College, Dehra Dun. Indian Forester, 71(11).

The Indian Forester. 1952. Convocation of the Indian Forest College and the Indian Forest Ranger College, Dehra Dun, 1952. Indian Forester, 78(5): 253-264.

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