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Deep inside the Aranya Kshetra

Last week, we talked about institutions connected with mapping the coastal and land boundaries of India, as also of 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 commercialization 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 talk about 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 forest 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  best 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 C.G. 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 Museum and Entomology Museum 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 campus but now has 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 utilization of wood and non-wood forest product 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 universe , 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 concerned stakeholders . 

The FRI campus is often host to  distinguished visitors –  the latest being the President of India Draupadi Murmu for the convocation of   of the Indian Forest service officers . A few months ago, the Chief Justice of India,  Dhananjay Y Chandrachud  delivered he 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 overbeaten 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 , 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 fort he 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  the externalities of material development!


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



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