Thursday, April 13, 2017

073. The Life And Works Of Robert Frost. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran

The Life And Works Of Robert Frost. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran

Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum

By PSRemeshChandra, 13th Apr 2017. Short URL
First published in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

The life and works of the American poet Robert Frost is of interest to students the world over. His achievements as a poet and educator have been studied and researched well and chronicled in several volumes by eminent writers. The fact is they are scattered throughout several publications and not readily available to learners to look at a glance. This brief article attempts to record them for students, to augment available text, to be used as an introduction or appendix to studies on his poems.

Robert Frost’s father travels west to become a journalist and settles in San Francisco.

01. Portrait of Robert Frost 1913.

William Prescott Frost Junior was a native of Lawrence City of Essex County in Massachusetts, in the Merrimack River valley in America. He went west to become a journalist, married Isabelle Moodie of Pennsylvania and settled in San Francisco. Both were highly educated teachers. Robert Frost was their first son, born in 1874 in San Francisco. He was named after the famous American Civil War Southern General, Robert E. Lee. Robert soon had a sister too, named Jeanie.

An independent mother returns to Lawrence after husband’s death.

When William Frost died after living 11 years in San Francisco his wife, a spiritual woman, returned to Lawrence with their two children due to poverty and loss of revenue. She taught in a local school and took care of her family with this meager income. But she also taught her children the Bible and Scottish legends. We must note that Mr. William Prescott Frost Senior did not come to their aid at this stage of their life, or Mrs. Isabelle Robert Frost did not go to him and accept his charity, as William Prescott Frost Junior had left Lawrence, gone to San Francisco and married the woman against the wishes of his father.

Life in a town of mill workers near the Merrimack River.

02. Portrait of Robert Frost 1917.  

Lawrence then was a town mainly of mill workers, as the Merrimack River unfailingly catered to the energy needs of the numerous water mills there. Robert and his sister were educated at Lawrence High School where he was one of the best students, won scholarships and began writing poems at the early age of ten. He also won the heart of his brilliant schoolmate Elinor White, whom he married later. Both loved poetry and loved teaching. So it happened that the mother, son and daughter-in-law taught at the same town school for a time.

Saying farewell to teaching, starting farming, and becoming a serious writer.

03. Portrait of Robert Frost 1941.
Strenuous learning schedules and the more strenuous teaching schedules made Robert Frost weak, and his doctor advised him a slower life and more fresh air. Here his grandfather, a long-time resident of this town, came to their help who purchased a farm for them at Derry in New Hampshire in 1900. This farm at Derry is now a National Historic Monument. For the next five years Frost said farewell to teaching and a led the life of a farmer in Derry. He loved farmhouses and farms which love remained with him till the end of his life. In fact, since Derry, wherever he lived, he purchased a farm to live at. The Junior Frost was not much of a farmer anytime in his life, but with the help of a hired hand loaned by his grandfather the family survived, which now had grown into a large one with many more children added, minus Frost’s mother and his first child who were now dead and gone. Derry was quite a natural setting for a poet and it was at Derry that Robert Frost wrote most of his early poems, which all were turned down by American publishers. History tells us that this brilliant American poet who was later showered with awards, honors and honorary degrees had to wait till he reached England to get his books published. The American publishers’ totally ignoring this genius before England noted his poetry still remains a shame to the American publishing industry.

Sells farm, sails to England and recognized for the first time.

Frost and bad climate can affect farms adversely and destroy crops devastatingly and cut farmers income which happened to Robert Frost too. So he returned to teaching and the resultant further failing of health. Finally, tired of teaching, farming and neglect by American publishers, he sold the Derry farm in 1912 and sailed for England with family at the age of 38. Even though he remained in England only for three years till 1915 when the First World War broke out, he was well received by British publishers, they published his first two books and he became a poet noted both in England and America. It must be noted that his first two books A Boy’s Will and North Of Boston had both British and American Editions as were some of his following books to be.

Returns from England and leads a life of honors, awards and gold medals in America.  

Robert Frost returning to New York from England found that he had become equally famous in America. As is expected of him now, he purchased a farm in Franconia in the New Hampshire Mountains, published his third book of poetry and made extensive travels in America as a lecturer-poet. This farm in Franconia also is a National Historic Monument now. What troubled Frost most was the severe cold in Franconia which affected his apple orchards. So after five years of farming, lecturing and poetry-writing in Franconia, he sold the Franconia farm and moved to Shaftsbury in Vermont by purchasing a farm there as usual as a somewhat permanent settlement, where he lived with his now dwindling family for twenty years. Life at Shaftsbury from 1920 to 1940 was the most productive and satisfying period in his life, when viewed from a materialist’s angle. Greatest honors came his way during this period. He became one of the greatest and best university teachers in America and one of the greatest poets in the world. By this time had become more a university man than a farmer-poet. Amherst College and Boston University became the centers of his living in a way.

A Robert Frost farm in the remote and most uninhabited place in the mountains.

So when his dear wife died in 1938 and son in 1940, he said farewell to Vermont State also and began living in Boston for the rest of his life. Do not anyone think this farmer said farewell to farms and farmhouses also. Though he continued to live in Boston, he bought the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton in Maddison County in the Green Mountains in Vermont and made his summer residence there- the most remote and mostly uninhabited place where the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference which he invariably attended was held in every summer. When Frost died in Boston in 1963 at the age of 88, his body was brought back to the First Congregational Church in Old Bennington Town in Vermont to be laid beside his beloved wife and son. Robert Frost Cabin in his 150-acre farm in Ripton now owned by Middlebury College also is a National Historic Landmark.

Nature as a background in Robert Frost’s poems.

04. Frost’s Derry Farm Buildings.  

Most of Frost’s poems are full of imageries of landscapes and pastoral scenes from nature, with peasants and farmers toiling from morning till night to make possible their daily existence. This background of nature serves as a canvass on which to draw the psychological struggle of man. For him, nature was a diving board to launch man. In ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’, the slowly snow-filled forest serves as a background for drawing the psychological struggle of nature-loving man prompted to go away from nature’s beauties to make time for fulfilling the chores of daily family life. We might wonder whether he gives more importance to man or nature in his poems- it is man indeed. We might also wonder whether he is to be qualified as a nature poet or a philosophical poet- he is the philosophical poet indeed. He himself said: “I am not a nature poet. There is almost always a person in my poems.” Nature is only a background in his poems presented as life-sustaining or destructive, but it is not the theme. It is the experiences and feelings of the man or woman in the poems which is the theme. Frost also had concerns about the influence of science over nature in the destiny of man. The fault of science is that it cannot be unlearned. What knowledge science imparts stays and influences the future. If his lines can be taken as reflections of his true beliefs, he considered nature as a very destructive and wild force which would one day wipe out human race from the face of the earth. ‘Will man ever succeed in his battle for taming the nature? Is not nature a mightier force which will eventually destroy man? Is not nature more alien and hostile to man than helping him in accommodating along with the other creations?’ These have been great concerns Frost expressed in his poems.

A perfectionist in poetry who stood for tone and sound and tune.

05. Derry Farm Building With Sign.

The tone and sound in a poem were of paramount importance to Robert Frost. He said ‘what is poetry is tone’ and asked readers ‘to listen for the tune’. He loathed adhering to conservative and stiff vocabulary and wrote poems in simple words. But he was an unwavering perfectionist also where form was concerned. He called himself a Metricist. Writing poems without metrical form or writing so-called free verse was like ‘playing tennis without a net’ for him. Saying one thing and meaning something else also is a technique he frequently used in his poems- a technique which in literary terms is called metaphor. He was well-versed in using metaphors.

The keeper and breaker of rules in poetry.

06. Derry Farm Sign.  

Frost can be said to be a keeper of rules as well as a breaker of rules in poetry. He reveled in keeping the traditional and universal standards in poetics and rebelled in breaking them occasionally. Being a skilled versifier and very accurate in using botanical and biological terms, students of poetry turn to his poems for learning the principles of versification as illustrated in them and the psychological impact of his verses on readers, learners, listeners and singers. Researchers turn to them for their use of form, meter, imagery, tone, style, figurative language and sound devices. They will find that even while using traditional meters and form, he did not hesitate to introduce conversational language in his poems. He had lifelong interest in astronomy and used star imagery in his poems. The rightful place for Robert Frost as a poet is, after Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson in the 19th century and with Carl Sandberg and T S Elliot in the 20th century.

Once a poet has stated his mind in fine language, is he to further explain it in inferior language?

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall, Birches, After Apple-Picking and Desert Places are the most widely read poems of Robert Frost. Making choices in life is a frequently occurring dilemma in man’s life and Stopping By Woods and The Road Not Taken are about making this choice. Apple Picking and a set of poems like it deal with religious beliefs. Mending Wall and Birches handle the theme of the impact of nature’s imagery on man. Isolation of human mind is the theme of poems like Acquainted With The Night. Frost considered poetry as the best part of a language and refused to further explain his poems. ‘I have written my poem as well as I possibly could, and now you want me to restate it, using inferior language?’ he asked.

Robert Frost’s books to appear in print through years.

 07. Frost House, Brewster Street, Cambridge, Massachusettes.  

During the period from 1912 to 1962, fifteen collections of Frost’s poems were published. Most of them had English and American editions. They were A Boy's Will 1912, North Of Boston 1914, Mountain Interval 1916, Selected Poems 1923, New Hampshire 1923, West-Running Brook 1928, Collected Poems 1930, A Further Range 1936, Collected Poems 1939, A Witness Tree 1942, A Masque Of Reason 1945, Steeple Bush 1947, A Masque Of Mercy 1947, Complete Poems 1949 and In The Clearing 1962.

Schools, colleges and universities Robert Frost attended.

Many schools, colleges and universities were associated with the name of Robert Frost where he either studied or officiated as lecturer, professor or fellow, spanning many decades. Methuen Elementary School 1893, Salem District School 1894, Isabelle Moodie Frost Private School 1895 were where he studied. He served at Pinkerton Academy 1906-1911, New Hampshire State Normal School 1911-1912, Amherst College 1917-1920, Michigan University as Poet in Residence & Fellow in Creative Arts 1921-1922, Amherst College as Professor of English 1923-1925, University of Michigan as Fellow in Letters 1925, Amherst College as Professor of English 1926-1938, Pierson College as Associate Fellow, Yale University 1933, Harvard University as Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in Poetry 1939-1943, Dartmouth College as George Ticknor Fellow in Humanities 1943-1949, Amherst College as Simpson Lecturer in Literature 1949, Bread Loaf School of English as Lecturer, and Writers' Conference 1938-1962.

Honors that came the way of Robert Frost.

 08. Shaftsburry Stone House, Vermont 1927.

The first of the honors that came the way of Robert Frost was the Co-Valedictorian & Hood Prize for Scholastic Excellence in High School. The Phi Beta Kappa Poet honor was given to him six times by Tufts in 1915, Harvard in 1916, Columbia in 1932, Tufts again in 1940, Harvard again in 1941 and College of William and Mary in 1941. He was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Letters, American Philosophical Society, and Board of Overseers of Harvard College. He was also appointed as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, Ralph Waldo Emerson Fellow in Poetry and Associate of Adams House in Harvard, Simpson Lecturer in Literature in Amherst, Consultant in Poetry in the Library of Congress, Inaugural Poet for President John F. Kennedy and Poet Laureate of Vermont State.

Awards showered upon Robert Frost.

  09. Ripton Cabin, Vermont.   

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry- the famous annual award for letters, drama and music for American authors- was given to Robert Frost four times- in 1924, 1931, 1937 and 1943. He was the only one to receive it four times. He was also presented with Congressional Gold Medal 1960. Academy of American Poets gave him an award and Poetry Society of America honored him twice with Gold Medals. National Institute of Arts and Letters, Holland Society of New York and Limited Editions Club also gave him Gold Medals. To Robert Frost went Russell Loines Poetry Prize, Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Emerson-Thoreau Medal, Edward MacDowell Medal and Huntington Hartford Foundation Award also. Theodore Roosevelt Society, Signet Society, Harvard College and New York University also presented him with Medals of Honor.

Honorary Degrees and degrees awarded to Robert Frost.

 10. Nobel Prize Dinner 1962 With President Kennedy.  

It is recorded that forty two degrees and honorary degrees were awarded to Robert Frost by various universities in America, England and Ireland, such as M.A. (Master of Arts- Magister Artium), L.H.D. (Doctor of Humane Letters- Litterarum humanarum doctor), LL.D. (Doctor of Laws- Legum Doctor) and D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters- Doctor Litterarum), the last being beyond the Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy- Philosophiae Doctor) and equal to D.Sc. (Doctor of Science- Scientiae Doctor). There must have been a few more at the receiving end of which was Robert Frost. These degrees and honorary degrees are listed here in chronological order. Remember that except attending Harvard University for two years from 1897 to 1899 and discontinuing due to illness, he never came anywhere near to completing or even attending a course! They all came to him as recognition of the excellence of his poetry and oration.

M.A. by Amherst and Michigan Universities. D.Litt. by Middlebury, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Kenyon, Duke, Amherst, Colgate and Windham Colleges, and Yale, New Hampshire, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Marlboro, Durham University, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Oxford, Cambridge, National, Ireland & Ohio State, Syracuse, Tufts and Boston Universities. L.H.D. by Wesleyan, Williams, Bates and Hebrew Union Colleges and Vermont, St. Lawrence, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Miami and Detroit Universities. LL.D. by Dartmouth and Colby Colleges and California, Cincinnati, Florida, Miami and Michigan Universities.

Bloom Books Channel has a video of Stopping By Woods.

11. Stopping By Woods Video Title.

Bloom Books Channel has a video of this poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. A primitive prototype rendering of this song was made in a crude tape recorder decades earlier, in 1984. In 2014, a home made video of this song was released. In 2015, a third version with comparatively better audio was released. The next version, it's hoped, would be fully orchestrated. It's free for reuse, and anyone interested in can develop and build on it, till it becomes a fine musical video production, to help our little learners and their teachers.

Link to this video:

Also read the article Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. Robert Frost Poem. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran.


First Published: 12 April 2017
Last Edited:

Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Picture Credits:

01. Robert Frost Portrait 1913 By The New York Times. 

02. Robert Frost Portrait 1917 By Unknown. 
03. Robert Frost Portrait 1941 By Fred Palumbo, for Sun. 
04. Derry Farm Buildings By Grongar. 
05. Derry Farm Building With Sign By Craig Michaud. 
06. Derry Farm Sign By Grongar. 
07. Frost House Brewster Street, Cambridge, Massachusettes By Daderot. 
08. Shaftsburry Stone House, Vermont 1927 By Rolf Müller. 09. Ripton Cabin, Vermont By Aiken1986. 
10. Nobel Prize Dinner 1962 With President Kennedy By Robert Knudsen. 
11. Stopping By Woods Video Title By Bloom Books Channel. 12. Author Profile Of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.

Meet the author: About the author and accessing his other literary works.

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'. Edits and owns Bloom Books Channel. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Father British Council-trained English Teacher and mother university-educated. Matriculation with High First Class, Pre Degree studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship, discontinued Diploma Studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single.

12. Author Profile of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives. 

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

072. Kerala’s Timber E-Auction Leads To Billions Worth Of Timber Rotting Away In Depots. Investigative Article By P S Remesh Chandran


Kerala’s Timber E-Auction Leads To Billions Worth Of Timber Rotting Away In Depots. Investigative Article By P S Remesh Chandran 

Editor, Sahyadri Books & Boom Books, Trivandrum

By PSRemeshChandra, 3rd Mar 2017
Posted in Writing; Columns & Opinions

Timber is one of the costliest commodities needed for from rail, ship, bus and bridge building to houses and furnishing them, available unfortunately only in timber producing countries. India, especially the densely forested state of Kerala, has an abundance of timber which rots away in depots since when the manual auction of old days was replaced by electronic auction, due to the carelessness and indifference of state forest officials. The loss of revenue on this account comes to billions.

Every Forest Division in Kerala has logs rotting away without being of use to anyone.

The Divisional Forest Officers responsible for auctioning away this timber are considered to be intelligent and clever as they come from the prestigious Indian Forest Service (IFS). But if they fail to find a solution to these billions worth of logs remaining technically Un-Bid after putting under auction and rotting away in depots throughout the state, what meaning and relevance is there to their intelligence and cleverness? Every Forest Division in Kerala has such rotting logs which are decaying without being of use to anyone, in spite of people being there ready to purchase them. The one nearest to Trivandrum is the Achenkovil Division near the Trivandrum-Schencottah Inter-State Road, 120 Kilometers from Trivandrum.

A government timber sale is a complex process which an ordinary non tech-savvy person cannot master easily.

01 Timber Logs By Frank Vincentz

Government timber sale is a very complex process, involving sealed bids and contracts which an ordinary and non tech-savvy person cannot easily master or even understand. Timber can be sold through Sealed Bids, Fixed Price Negotiations or Percentage Basis Negotiations. In Kerala, government timber is sold through auctions which were manual in the past and electronic now. Government determines the value and volume of their timber and advertises for their selling through auctions. In some cases, the type and volume of timber may limit the number of potential buyers in which cases the government may adopt the method of Fixed Price Negotiations or Percentage Basis Negotiations. In Fixed Price Negotiations, government negotiates with a buyer for a lump sum fixed price for all the timber in an acre or area or for a Pay-As-Cut Price per unit of timber which is to be paid as and when each unit is cut. In both these cases, the timber would be standing timber, sold in as-is-where-is condition. Sealed Bids are applied mostly to not standing timber but felled timber.

Some buyers knowing about the best markets for timber creates incentive and competition in auction.

02 Release Note Of Article By Sahyadri Archives

Some of these buyers would know about the best markets for timber and would also have the means for transporting timber to such market places economically. It will not break them to purchase timber at prices higher than what those without these conveniences would offer. This creates an incentive and a competition among buyers resulting in bringing in the highest price for a lot. 

Forward Auction, Reverse Auction, Online Auction, Offline Auction and Negotiation.

03 From Forest To Depot By US Dept. of Agriculture

Where government wishes to buy and sellers bid for supplying, it is a Reverse Auction. When government wishes to sell and several consumers submit bids for buying, it is a Forward Auction. Government’s timber sale is a Forward Auction. Here the goal is for the seller which is the government to get the highest prices possible for their timber under sale. The buyers bid the prices upward, and the highest bidder gets the item. In Reverse Auctions where government buys, the sellers bid against one another by bringing down the price, and the lowest bidder gets government’s Supply Order. In both categories of auctions- online or offline and electronic or manual- there is expected to be a negotiation phase in the process when bidders are called in for a meeting and asked to offer more flexible prices- higher or lower than their highest or lowest bids as the case may be. In timber e-auctions in Kerala, this negotiation phase is seldom written into the process, which is standard in all auctions in the other departments of the government. 

Specific Bid Amount, Reserve Price, Target Price, Step Size, Time Allowed and Waiting Period.

04 Timber Transport Truck By Silvio Pašmik

Timber e-auction is an e-business between timber-producing government departments and timber-purchasing businessmen and individual buyers. It is an electronic auction between the auctioneer and the bidders, happening in an electronic marketplace, conducted over internet. Specific bid amount, reserve price, target price, step size of bidding and time allowed before bidding is concluded are the defining factors in any e-auction. There is also a waiting period factor which stipulates the time allowed for competing bids to come in- a dreaded period during which a bidder can win or loose an auction and a period which all bidders want to be shorter. When this waiting period is over, the highest bidder gets confirmation for his bid and he can execute a contract binding the seller to deliver the timber and the purchaser to accept it for the bid price. 

Timber e-auction was introduced to provide equal opportunities for genuine domestic buyers.

05 Timber In Yard By Frank Vincentz

E-auction of timber was introduced in November 2014 in the six sales divisions of Trivandrum, Punalur, Pathanamthitta, Palakkad and Kozhikode, following the examples of other timber-selling countries and other states in India, as a measure to bring in transparency in government timber sales and provide equal opportunities for all who are in genuine need of timber, thereby freeing this field from the grip of auction lobbies. Introduction of e-auction was expected to break the grip of merchant cartels on timber sales and increase the number of bidders in auctions. Revenue from timber auction in 2013 was around Rupees 200 crores and by introducing e-auction government hoped to raise it to 250 crores. Government’s argument was that the cartels threaten private individuals from participating in auction and they artificially bring down prices and that, by introducing e-auction under which only the bid amount would be known and not the name of the bidder, government can make more private individuals to participate in auction and fetch higher prices for timber. Government also argued that existing timber sale prices do not correspond with existing demand for wood. Transparency was also supposed to be a byword. It was also argued that the one or two months’ period of delay in delivering timber to the successful bidder could be reduced to just two days. One thing was true: this period of delay did indeed come down to days from months. But experienced persons in the field of timber auction and sales soon found out that since when e-auction replaced manual auction, the quantity of timber lying unsold in depots and rotting away has only increased many fold. 

Why pay a huge amount as commission to an outside agency for conducting e-auction?

06 Timber Log Bridge By Morrow Long

Selling less quantity of timber for bringing in more revenue than the previous year is success. Increase in the price of timber must also reduce this quantity of timber further, to fetch the same amount the previous year brought. In manual auction, the auction was conducted by department personnel and no amount had to be paid to outside agencies as commissions for conducting auction. E-auction changed everything. More timber had to be sold for bringing in the target amount regardless of the hike in timber price, and a huge amount had also to be paid to an outside agency for conducting e-auction. Besides, more lots began to remain unsold in depots due to shortcomings and glitches in the system. 

Even the department does not know how much timber was sold, in spite of full computerization.

07 Timber Foot Bridge By Gorkaazk

Even the Statistics Wing at the Forest Headquarters in Trivandrum does not know how much timber was sold during 2013-14 and 2014-15! Even after fully computerizing their offices, if they need this information, they still have to write to each timber division in Kerala and wait for their replies which would take months. Computerization in this department in particular, and in Kerala in general, is a folly. (Also see the article ‘What Computerization Without Electricity In Kerala?’ at ). 

Statistics show e-auction did not increase revenue from timber sales.

08 Timber Foot Bridge By Jakec

The Annual Administrative Reports of the Kerala Forests & Wildlife Department for the years from 2012 to 2015 in the Financial Break Up section state that ‘202.25 crores were collected towards revenue from the sale of timber during 2012-13, 268.29 crores during 2013-14 and 269.44 crores during 2014-15, which accounted for 85.22 %, 81.31 % and 89.69 % of the total forest revenue for those years respectively. The report does not record the projected increase of 25% in timber sales by introducing e-auction. There was only a slight increase of 115 lakhs in 2014-15. E-auction was introduced before the hectic financial and sales months of November, December, January, February and March but the sales for the year do not reflect the anticipated hike. But still it did not bring in the expected rise in revenue. The Administration Report is silent about how much money was paid as commission to MSTC (Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited) for conducting timber e-auction for the Kerala Forest Department, how many metric tones of timber were sold in 2014-15 to bring in this revenue of 269.44 crores, whether this quantity was higher or lower than that of the previous year, and what was the hike in market prices for timber during this period. When these facts also are factored into the equation, it can be seen that e-sales of timber was a great loss. If government departments’ standard working methods for preparing administration reports for submitting to government are considered, this 269.44 crores was the amount before deducting commissions to the MSTC, fetched by selling more metric tones of timber than the previous year, even while undergoing a good hike in the market prices for timber. Amount paid to MSTC must have been too high to be justified. Market price for timber must be too horrible to be factored into the sales strategy to break even and justify the e-auction. The Administrative Report shows that the unsold timber in depots still lies there as unsold timber rotting away; only they advanced one more year in age. Administrative Report for the year 2015-16 has not yet been submitted to government. 

Starting Price, Subject To Approval Price, Reserve Price, Auto Bid and Offered Price: Dynamics of Kerala’s Timber E-Auction.

09 Timber Walkway By Hermann Hammer

In the timber e-auction interface of Kerala maintained by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation for the Forest Department, there are the three entries for Starting Price (SP), Subject To Approval Price (STA) and Reserve Price (RP) of which the first entry is visible to the bidder and the latter two are not. There is also the option for Auto Bid for bidders to enter their Offered Price above Starting Price, the Offered Price meaning the amount they are willing to pay above the Starting Price for a particular lot of timber under hammer. Rs. 25/- for Hardwood and Rs. 100/- for Softwood are the minimum stages fixed by government that can be raised above the Starting Price in the Auto Bid by a bidder. In cases where there is no other bidding in competition, when a bidder opens Auto Bid and clicks the stages of Rs. 25/- or Rs. 100/- as the case may be, e-auction network rejects this higher bid, or stalls at this particular stage, and refuses to provide the bidder yet another opportunity for entering still higher prices. The problem is the raised bid is rejected by the system as it won’t be anywhere near the Reserve Price or the Subject To Approval Price for the item as recorded in the system which are not visible to the bidder anyway. The result: The lot remains unsold and rots in the depot. This situation was created by officers of the Kerala Forests Department alone and no one else is to be blamed, and it causes billions of rupees of revenue loss to government. The Finance Department and the Vigilance Department of the Government of Kerala are yet to begin investigating this willful loss of revenue to government. 

Even if a businessman spends his whole life online, he cannot still purchase enough timber for his business.

10 Timber Boardwalk By Rheins

Considering the time allowed remaining bidding for a particular lot under auction, even if a businessman spends his whole life online, grappling with this hostile interface, he cannot still purchase enough timber for carrying on his day-to-day business. This dissuades good businessmen from participating in e-auction. The timber sales of Kerala Government cannot survive by excluding businessmen and by depending on individual domestic buyers alone. Individual householders purchase only a small portion of the timber sold by the Forest Department each year. This is because they cannot go through the tedious process of participating in the un-people-friendly e-auction, obtaining necessary papers from authorities within a reasonable time (without paying bribe if possible), loading and transporting the logs from where they are lying, and unloading them on their premises. The businessmen are experts in this field and it is easier for domestic buyers to buy timber from these businessmen who certainly will transport and unload them to the buyers’ premises at no cost. So, if it is thought that businessmen who deal in timber can be excluded from auction and individual buyers can be depended on for buying and removing the whole lot of timber in depots, it is just a daydream. The result is, due to official indifference, inaction and lack of imagination, the whole lots are rotting away in depots. 

The vicious cycle of inter-netted labyrinth created by more vicious officials and an unimaginative system!

11 Riverside Timber Walkway By Carlo Columba
This vicious cycle of inter-netted labyrinth created by more vicious officials and an unimaginative system certainly has a simple solution, suggested by experienced persons in the field of timber sales in Kerala who are doing this business for a long time. They point out that in the present pre-sets for e-auction, if the Raised Bid offered by an online bidder above Starting Price does not arrive anywhere near the Subject To Approval (STA) Price or the Reserve Price (RP), the system rejects all offers and the sale becomes unsuccessful. Then the Divisional Forest Officer in-charge who has the password for logging in as administrator fixes the Highest Bid in this unsuccessful auction as the Starting Price for the lot in the next auction which would probably be during the next month. The next month also this bidding and rejecting repeats, which cycle can be repeated any number of times, and the Starting Price for that lot is raised thus in each turn by the DFOs. The result: the lot remains unsold and rotting in the depot. The simple solution the experts in the field offers is, if Auto Bid exists for a lot rejected by the system, open that Auto Bid and see if it is higher than the Subject To Approval Price (STA) and Reserve Price (RP), and if it is, consider that Auto Bid as an Offer and confirm the sale. It is that simple! But simple solutions are not savory to Kerala Forest Department officials. They want complex solutions, involving millions of rupees of expenditure. 

Sale of timber remains a major source of fraudulent revenue for government officials.

12 Timber For Railways By Kiwi Birdman

The good practices essential to the success of e-auction such as unquestionable ethics and infallibility of strategies are totally alien to Indian officials in general. In a country where Parliament Members, Cabinet Members, Chief Ministers and Top Defense Services personnel are jailed for corruption, much cannot be expected from the lower ranks of hierarchy. Even defense procurement is under question in the country; so, sale of timber remains undoubtedly a major source of fraudulent revenue for government officials. From rigging the software to accepting amounts for issuing the final delivery notes, timber e-auction is riddled with unbelievable corruption in Kerala as it is in every other state. 

Where are those mandatory undisturbed 50 feet buffer zones for both sides of Forest Rivers and streams?

13 Everything Timber By Wolfgang Sauber
There are not much pre-qualifying checks for online bidders, so unscrupulous people with track records for heavily bribing officers can freely take part in auctions, and they are in fact the darlings of that department. It is they who cut and remove unmarked trees and trees which are marked for higher prices. It is they who take away the mandatory Undisturbed 50 Feet Buffer Zone for both sides of Forest Rivers and streams. How heavily they bribe the officials and connected politicians are evidenced by the fact that these buffer zones are now nowhere to be seen in Kerala. 

The department has never conducted orientation training courses for non tech-savvy bidders.

14 Timber Rotting Away By Henk Monster

Bidders in timber e-auctions in Kerala have never had any training in using e-auction tools and the department has never cared to conduct orientation training courses for them. Nor is the department positive in training people and adapting the available software imaginatively. One move to impart training to bidders was aborted. They unwillingly hold e-auctions because the central government has directed them to do so. ‘System’ is their byword and they attribute the reason for their shortcomings also to the ‘system’. 

Incompetence of software, lack of encryption, poor security, less monitoring time, long cycle time, and limited participation.

15 Timber Rotting In Depots By Jacek Karczmarz

E-Auctions are invariably followed by its many limitations such as incompetence of software used, lack of encryption and poor security, less monitoring time and long cycle time, and above everything else, limited participation by people, especially in countries like India where people are pathetically non tech-savvy. Besides, e-auctions at least in India are almost always accompanied by fraud by government officials. 

A fleet of loyal officers and guards, with ingenious courage, determination and help from local forest protection groups, protected the 60,000 sandalwood trees at Marayur.

16 Marayoor Sandal Reserve By Jaseem Hamza

This article does not intend to discredit the Kerala Forest Department or its officers in anyway but just to point out that an important shortcoming in their e-selling policy is detrimental to public interests and is resulting in huge quantities of valuable wood remaining unsold in depots and rotting, without being of use to anyone except beetles and white ants. No one questions their general integrity in protecting the forest resources of Kerala. One of the largest natural sandalwood forests in the rain-shadow regions of the world, of about 60,000 trees, is situated at Marayoor in the Idukki District of Kerala. The legendary forest looter, Veerappan of South India who devastated all sandalwood forests in Karnataka and Tamilnadu states, went to his grave grieving that he could not touch a single sandalwood tree in Kerala’s Marayoor Reserve Forest. A loyal fleet of officers and guards of the Kerala Forest Department, with ingenious courage, determination and help from local Forest Protection Groups, protected these trees and they are still standing there. Where Karnataka and Tamilnadu felled their trees and stored them in depots fearing this bandit killer, the trees in Kerala are still standing there erect and proud. They do not cut sandalwood trees at Marayoor but just collect the dead and fallen ones and auction them- the largest sandalwood auction in the world, with 57 tonnes sold last.

Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Picture Credits:

01. Timber Logs By Frank Vincentz
02. Release Note Of Article By Sahyadri Archives
03. From Forest To Depot By US Dept. of Agriculture
04. Timber Transport Truck By Silvio Pašmik
05. Timber In Yard By Frank Vincentz
06. Timber Log Bridge By Morrow Long
07. Timber Foot Bridge By Gorkaazk
08. Timber Foot Bridge By Jakec
09. Timber Walkway By Hermann Hammer
10. Timber Boardwalk By Rheins
11. Riverside Timber Walkway By Carlo Columba, Palermo
12. Timber For Railways By Kiwi Birdman
13. Walkway, Houses Everything Timber By Wolfgang Sauber
14. Timber Rotting Away By Henk Monster
15. Timber Rotting Away In Depots By Jacek Karczmarz
16. Marayoor Sandal Reserve By Jaseem Hamza
17. Author Profile P S Remesh Chandran

About the author and accessing his other literary works.

17 Author Profile P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'. Edits and owns Bloom Books Channel. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Father British Council-trained English Teacher and mother university-educated. Matriculation with High First Class, Pre Degree studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship, discontinued Diploma Studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single.

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Articles On Kerala, Bloom Books Trivandrum, Corruption In Kerala, E Commerce In Kerala, Essays On Kerala, Kerala Forest Department, P S Remesh Chandran, Sahyadri Books Trivandrum, Timber E Auction, Timber In Kerala, Timber Sales In Kerala

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