Page 11 - Science India August 2022
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          The initial work of GSI was in pros- pecting coal for its use in steam-powered river navigation and railways. By 1880, the surveys expanded to include the economic viability of about 90 miner- als. The railway route in the mineral rich central India was a result of these surveys. Geologists also documented the indigenous practices of mining and metal production, which they reported as being primitive and environment un- friendly. GSI’s reports and suggestions on conservation provided sufficient jus- tifications for the government to enact laws which seriously affected indigenous metal production. This was not moti- vated by any serious environmental con- cerns, but in the interest of the industry of Britain.
The British geologists looked upon Indians as intellectually inferior. The story of Pramatha Nath Bose is well known in this context. He advocated manufacturing industries owned by In- dians and helped the Tatas to establish modern iron and steel production at Sakchi at Jamshedpur.
The Indian Forest Acts of 1865 and 1878 gave complete control of for- estry to the colonial government and
The initial work of GSI was in prospecting coal, which later expanded to include 90 other minerals. The railway routes in the mineral rich central India were the result of these surveys
restricted people’s access to the forest land. These acts deprived the indigenous industry of the ore and charcoal needed for smelting processes. Smelters were forced to pay high taxes for the use of forest land, which made production of metals, in particular, iron and steel, highly uneconomical.
The enactment of the Arms Act of 1878 restricted Indians’ access to arms. In India, guns were manufactured by welding pieces or rings of wrought iron. The British government was aware of the role of indigenous iron industry in supplying arms to the local rulers. The Arms Act led to the collapse of the weapons industry, which depended on indigenous iron production.
Industrial Revolution in Britain had made it possible to produce iron and steel in large quantities unparalleled to what the traditional Indian industry
could produce. Valentin Ball reports in his compilation, Geology of India, Part III, Economic Geology (1880) that in 1873-74, iron imports by the state stood at Rs. 77,78,824, which rose to Rs. 1,22,93,847 in 1879-80. Import of cheap iron decimated the indigenous industry altogether. The iron smelters took to other professions for survival. The skills were lost and the technology developed over two thousand years was lost forever. Robert Curl, Chemistry Nobel Laureate of 1993, describes this as follows: “For the Damascus swords, Indians produced the raw material and exported it. Up to the middle of the 18th century, the steel swords depended on this particular material and when the mines in India stopped, they lost the technology.”
An example of the unfair trade pol- icies of the British Government is the Government of India Act that required the manufactured supplies required by the government be purchased through India office. This Act protected the mo- nopolies of both the government in India and British industries. In 1883, the gov- ernment revised this policy to support local industry, albeit with the exception of iron and steel.
Local manufacture of iron and steel
 The 4th century iron pillar of Delhi is world renowned for its non-rusting property
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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