Selected Essays/Forest of India

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The word ‘forest’ is derived from the Latin word ‘fores’ which means ‘outside’. Thus, it must have always referred to a village outskirt, fence or boundary which might have included all cultivated as well as uncultivated land. Today, of course, forests refer to vast areas of land covered with thick vegetation, trees and animals dwelling within.

Climatic factors such as rainfall and temperature along with soil, determine the kind of natural vegetation that will be found in a particular place. Places that receive more than 200cm of annual rainfall have evergreen rain forests.

Areas receiving rainfall between 200 and 100cm have monsoon deciduous trees while drier deciduous or tropical savannah forests are found in areas receiving 50 to 100cm of rains per annum. Places which receive less than 50cm annually have only dry thorny found in different parts of the country. Ranging from tropical wet evergreen, tropical moist deciduous, tropical dry evergreen, sub-tropical dry evergreen, broad-leaved or pine, Himalayan dry temperate to sub- alpine and dry Alpine and other 126 kinds and sub-types of forests are found here. At the present the total forest and tree cover of the country is 78.92 million hectare which is 24% of the geographical area of the county.

Indian forests are also classified on the basis of statutes, ownership, composition and exploitability. The legal or administrative classification is done to protect forests against indiscriminate cutting of trees. The forests in India have been divided into (i) Reserved, (ii) Protected and (iii) Unclassified. The first two categories are permanent forests which are maintained for regular supply of timber and other forest products. They are also maintained to restore the ecological balance. The reserved forests in India cover about 54% of the total forest area of the country while 29% of the total forest area is protected.

The remaining 175 is the unclassified forest area which is mainly unproductive and unprofitable. Another classification is based on the ownership of forests. Most of the forests are owned by the Government through the means of its departments such as forests department etc. Some are owned by corporate bodies. A negligible 1% area is owned privately by states like Meghalaya, Odisha, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

An important type of forest in India is the village forests or Panchayat forests. These are the forests which are managed by local communities, keeping in mind the idea of sustainable development. Community forest management involves collaboration between villagers and NGOs.

The Rajaji National Park has been built on this model. Indigenous forest management refers to initiatives taken by villagers and the communities which share the responsibility of protection in turns. The ‘sacred groves’ are small communal forests, which are protected for their rare flora and religious importance.

There are other forests like production forests, which are maintained for commercial production. The other is social forestry, which supports the rural poor, who depend on forests for their livelihood. Agroforestry is a scheme where farmers carry out plantations of Eucalyptus, Casuarina, teak etc, on their agricultural land using irrigation and fertilisers to find a market for their produce. Forests make up for one of the major natural resources of a country. Their use in fuel, timber, and industrial raw material cannot be undermined. Bamboos, canes, herbs, medicines, lac, grasses, leaves, oil etc are all received from the forests. India has about 5000 kinds of variety of woods out of which more than 400 are commercially used. Hard woods such as teak, mahogany, logwood, ironwood, ebony, sal, greenheart, kikar, semal etc are used in making of furniture, tools and wagons. Soft woods such as deodar, poplar, pine, fir, cedar, balsam are light, durable and easy to work. Therefore, they are used in constructions and as raw material for making paper pulp. But unfortunately, 70% of the hard wood is burnt as fuel and only 30% is used commercially. On the other hand, 70% of soft wood is used in industries while 30% is used for fuel purposes. Thus, forests meet about 40% of the energy requirement of the country which includes 80% of the rural requirements.

Indian forests are one of the 12 mega-biodiversity regions around the world. The Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas are among the biodiversity ‘hotspots’ of the world. India is home to 12% of world’s plants and 7% of Earth’s animals species. India also has one of the riches varieties of bird species. Indian forests and wetlands are the temporary abodes of many migratory birds. Many birds and animals are endemic to India. Moreover, forests help in the control of soil erosion and control floods to a considerable extent. Forests also check the spreading of desert through strong winds. They add humidity to the atmosphere which checks the spread of desert. The humus added to the soil increases the soil fertility and soothes the extremes of climate by reducing the heat in summers and the cold in winters.

Thus, keeping in mind their great use, forests should be conserved and protected in India. The Government has made many efforts to increase the forest cover in the country. The Ministry of Environment and forests is implementing a National Afforestation Programme (NAP) scheme with people’s participation, including involvement of non-government persons, rural and local people living in and around the forest areas to increase Forest and Tree Cover (FTC) in the country.

The scheme is being implemented through a decentralized mechanism of State Forest Development Agency (SFDA) at state level, Forest Development Agency (FDA) at forest division level and Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) at the village level. In 1988, a New Forest Policy was introduced to maintain ecological balance, preservation of forests as natural heritage, prevention of soil erosion, check on the expansion of deserts, increase in the forest are to increase forest productivity and to propel a mass movement to achieve these objectives. Van Mahotsav was initiated in 1950 and the famous Chipko Movement stands as an example of the effect of people’s movement. In 1987, the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education which was created was converted into an autonomous body called Forest Research Institute.

More recently, Arunanchal Pradesh set an example to the entire nation by achieving 70% afforestation.