Forests are renewable sources and contribute substantially to economic development. They play a major role in enhancing the quality of environment. The country has an area of 752.3 lakh hectare notified as forests, of which 406.1 lakh hectares is classified as reserved and 215.1 lakh hectares is protected. Unclassified forest area is spread over 131.1 lakh hectare. About 19.47 percent of the total geographical area of the country is under actual forest cover.

India is one of the few countries which have a forest policy since 1894. It was revised in 1952 and again in 1988 is protection, and development of forests. Its aims are:

  • Maintenance of environmental stability through preservation and restoration of ecological balance;
  • Conservation of natural heritage;
  • Check on soil erosion and denudation in catchment areas of rivers, lakes and reservoirs;
  • Check on extension of sand dunes in desert areas of Rajasthan and along coastal tracts;
  • Substantial increase in forest or tree cover through massive afforestation and social forestry programs;
  • Steps to meet requirements of fuel wood, fodder, minor forest produce and soil timber of rural and tribal populations;
  • Increase in productivity of forest to meet the national needs;
  • Encouragement of efficient utilization of forest produce and optimum substitution of wood, and
  • Steps to create massive people’s movement, with involvement of women, to achieve objectives and minimize pressure on existing forests.

The entire gamut of forest related activities are being given a new orientation in the light of the National Forest Policy of 1988. Some of the important areas for immediate and effective protection of forests include afforestation and development of wastelands, reforestation and re-plantation in existing forests, forest settlement, restriction on grazing, encouragement for wood substitutes and supply of other kinds of fuel, elimination of forest contractors, discouragement of non-culture practice etc.

The increasing destruction and degradation of forests and tree lands especially in the Himalayas and other hilly areas, is contributing to heavy erosion of top soil, erratic rainfall and recurring floods. It is also causing acute shortage of firewood and loss of productivity due to eroded and degraded lands. The forests Act 1980, enacted to check indiscriminate deforestation or diversion of forest lands for non-forestry purpose was amended in 1988 to make it more stringent by prescribing punishment for violations.

Another area of concern has been degradation of forests due to biotic pressure. Guidelines have been framed for preparation of working plans for felling in forests. Some of the salient features are:

  • Working plans should be up-to-date and stress conservation;
  • Preliminary working plan should have multi-disciplinary approach;
  • Tribal rights and concessions should be highlighted along with control mechanisms;
  • Grazing should be studied in detail and specific prescriptions should cover fodder propagation;
  • Shifting cultivation and encroachments needs to be controlled;
  • Clear felling with artificial regeneration should be avoided as far as possible and clear felling blocks should not exceed ten hectares in hills and 25 hectare area in plans, and
  • Banning all felling above 1000 meter altitude for a few years should be considered to allow these areas to recover. Critical areas in hills and catchment areas prone of landslips, erosion etc., should be totally protected and quickly afforested.

The Government recently set up National Forest Fund. Guidelines had been issued in June 1990 to state governments for involving village communities and voluntary agencies for regeneration or degraded forest lands on usufruct sharing basis. So far eleven states have issued orders.

Firewood occupies a predominant place as energy source in rural areas. As against the estimated requirement of about 15.7 crore tonnes of fuel wood per annum, recorded production is only 5.8 crore tonnes. Due to scarcity of firewood, considerable quantities of cow dung and agricultural residues are burnt as fuel leading to air pollution. It is expected that programs of renewable energy sources and augmenting fuel growth in waste lands will help in closing the gap.

Fire is one of the major factors responsible for destruction of forests in the country. Scrupulous fire protection efforts would benefit forests substantially than whole generation of improved felling. In India, most of the fires are man-made and are generally deliberate and on rare occasions accidental. The causes of deliberate fire incidences are grazing, mahua seed and flower collections, tendu lead collection, poaching and shifting cultivation etc. In order to reduce the incidents of fire in India, the following steps have been undertaken by the forest department:

  • Development of fire lines and
  • Establishment of watch towers besides employing fire watchers during fire reasons. In order to develop the techniques for detection, prevention and suppression of fire in the country, a United Nations Development Program assisted Modern Forests Fire Control Project was initiated in 1984 in Chandrapur, Maharashtra and Haldwani or Nainital, Uttar Pradesh. Techniques like development of better communication network and effective use of hand tools and other equipments developed under the projects have proved successful in reducing the fire damage. In addition, fire danger rating system, wireless network, fire reporting system and hand tools etc. were designed. It has been decided to extend this scheme to other states prone to forest fires and so far eleven states have been provided with assistance under this scheme.

A marginal increase of about 1,100 hectares annually in the country’s not forest cover has been observed, according to the latest state of forest report.

It says the forest cover in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Tripura, Sikkim, Tamilnadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands has increased, whereas in states like Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Daman and Diu. Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur and Mizoram, it has decreased.

The report puts the forest cover of the country at 6, 40,107 sq. km which is 19.47 per cent of the total geographical area of the country.

The report divides the country into two forest regions the North Eastern region and the rest of the country. This is because the practice of shifting cultivation is quite rampant in the North East vis-à-vis the rest of the country, says the report.

Analysis reveals that whereas there has been a decrease of 635 sq. km of forest cover in the North Eastern region, an overall increase of 1560 sq. km of forest cover has been noticed in the rest of the country. Dense forest cover has increased by 31 sq. km while there has been a decrease of 666 sq km in the total forest cover in the North Eastern region, the Forest Survey of India reports says.

In Arunachal Pradesh, there has been a decrease of 96 sq. km on account of shifting cultivation and other reasons. Dense forest cover in Assam has shown an increase of 156 sq km and forest cover has increased by 399 sq. km, the report notes.

Forest cover depletion in Assam on account of shifting cultivation is especially noticed in Sibsagar, Dibrugarh and some other districts.

In Meghalaya, the loss to shifting cultivation is mainly near Rongramgiri, Pathangiri, Nagsibak and Umathi villages.

There has been an increase of 27 sq km in the forest cover in Nagaland though 63 sq km was lost due to shifting cultivation scattered around Kohima, Tuensang, Zunheboto and Mokokchung district, the report says.

There has been an overall decrease in forest cover in Andhra Pradesh on account of Podu cultivation, in Goa, the loss has been in the north and south Goa forest divisions and the increase of one sq. km in Diu is mainly due to plantations raised along the coastal belt.

The increase in Jammu and Kashmir is on account of the area which has come under open forests due to melting of snow, says the report.

An overall increase of 264 sq km in forest cover has been observed in Rajasthan with non-forest areas around Rajgarh in Anker district having been converted into forests.

However, open forest cover in Sirohi and Bhilwara us reduced to shrub lands.

According to the report, Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry have not shown any change in forest cover during the period assessed, the report adds.



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