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close this bookBalancing Acts: Community-Based Forest Management and National Law in Asia and the Pacific (WRI, 1995, 204 pages)
close this folderII. Historical Overview: Colonial Patterns of Forest Management
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Colonial Foundations
View the documentSri Lanka
View the documentIndia
View the documentNepal
View the documentIndonesia
View the documentThe Philippines
View the documentThailand
View the documentThe Rise of Asian Elites


Because of its remote mountainous setting, Nepal remained essentially immune to the British colonial administration. Forced to accept British authority - but not occupation - by the Treaty of Sugouli in 1816, the ruling Shah dynasty retreated into isolation. In 1846, a corrupt oligarchy assumed hegemony over what had been isolated and self-sufficient ethnic groups. The Rana premiers, as they came to be known, secured their power through an effective administrative system: repressive new legislation, rigorous tax collection, and forced labor. To expand their tax base, the Rana rulers promoted the conversion of forests to farms, especially in the Tarai and the sparsely populated southern lowlands.

The Ranas' reclusive feudalism reigned in Nepal until the early 1950s. Most of the ethnically diverse Nepali people were subjugated to elites from favored castes and ethnic groups. As late as mid-century, approximately one third of the forests were managed under birta tenure whereby the state granted rights to forest resources to private individuals tax-free on a hereditary basis.41 A full quarter of Nepal's forests remained under Rana family control.42

Map of Nepal

Although abusive and expropriative, the Rana regime never had the administrative wherewithal or the financial incentive to lead Nepal down a destructively extractive path. For most of Nepal's indigenous peoples, the ruling oligarchy's reach was insufficient to disrupt historical patterns of community-based forest management. In addition, in most of the country's commercially viable forests, malaria was rampant.

Since Nepal was never - like India and Sri Lanka were - subjected to intensive colonial extractive activities, the resources of the semiautonomous kingdom were left to the devices of the ruling Rana oligarchy, which used them mostly to maintain their power and wealth rather than to maximize economic gain. It would not be until the overthrow of the Rana regime in the early 1950s that Nepal would enter the modern world.