The population boom and absolute poverty continue to plague the development and progress of India. Rapid industrialization and increasing urbanization pose a severe threat to flora and fauna of the Earth and its environment. There is a pressing need to take remedial measures as early as possible; so that ecological balance can be maintained, and environmental degradation can be decelerated or reversed, even if partially.
The forests are one such renewable source that contributes significantly to economic development and plays a vital role in improving the overall quality of the surrounding environment. As per the 2007 assessment statistics, the forests cover an area of 6,90,899 km2 or 21.02% of the land mass in the subcontinent, which can be distributed as follows.
- Very dense forests: 83,510 km2 (2.54%)
- Moderately dense forests: 3,19,012 km2 (9.71%)
- Open forests: 2,88,377 km2 (8.77%)
- Scrub: 4,525 km2 (1.26%)
Policies and Objectives
The Republic of India is indeed one of the handfuls of countries that have had an active forest policy in place since 1894, which had undergone revisions in 1952 and 1988. The three founding principles of India’s forest policy are the development, conservation, and protection of forest; and its primary objectives can be summarized as follows:
- Maintaining environmental stability by restoring and preserving the ecological balance
- Conserving natural heritage
- Preventing denudation and soil erosion happening in the banks and catchment areas adjacent to the reservoirs, lakes, and rivers
- Stopping the expansion of dunes at the deserts of Rajasthan and along the coastal tracts
- Taking up social forestry and massive afforestation initiatives to substantially increase the footprints of greenery
- Taking necessary steps for meeting all the requirements of the rural and tribal population for fodder, fuel-wood, small timber, and minor forest-products
- Increasing the productivity of forests to meet the domestic demands
- Encouraging utilization of forest derivatives with utmost efficacy and substitution of wood at the optimum level
- Mostly engaging people, especially women, to accomplish these objectives and decrease the existing pressure on forests as much as possible
Important Things that Make Forests and Integral Part of the Environment
The forests perform an instrumental role in propelling the economy of India and supply many products of commercial value, such as firewood and timber, which are used as fuel and are also utilized in various industries.
The forests are an excellent source of raw materials for panel products, matchwood, pulp, and many other wood-based businesses. They also produce a wide range of secondary but significant items like canes, bamboo, essential oils, grasses, resins, lac, fats, medicinal plants, fatty oils, tanning material, gum, animal products, dyes, etc.; and some of them are substantial foreign exchange spinners.
Forests offer a natural defense shield against hot winds, dust-storms, and erosion; and play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance. As per one study, people are devouring as much as four times the wood being regenerated in all the forests as well as other tree landscapes every year. And if this plundering continues, India’s green treasure would go extinct pretty soon. Deforestation is a significant threat to the ecological balance of the country, and it has already started to affect her climate, soil fertility, and rainfall adversely.
It compelled the Indian government to draw out the National Forest Policy or NFP in 1952, with the aim to maintain a minimum of one-third of India’s land mass under forest cover to secure environmental stability and ecological balance. The NFP was amended in 1988, and henceforth, the ethos of this policy can be found in conservation and development.
The topic of forests is listed in the constitution of India. The Forests Conservation Act was enacted in 1980 to keep a close tab on use of forest land mass for any non-forestry purpose and indiscriminate deforestation, which was further revised in 1988 for making it more rigorous by stipulating penalties and punishments for any such violations. The people in power has also created a National Forest Fund or NFF, which will be initially used for offering reimbursements to ex-serviceman, tribal, unemployed youth, etc. for planting saplings on lands that have no commercial value. The Forest Survey of India or FSI came into existence in June 1981. The Indian Institute of Forest Management or IIFM was also established at Bhopal.
Forest Development Corporations or FDCs had been incorporated in various states and union territories, to promote extensive plantation of commercially valuable and fast-growing plants, and also incubating the industries related to the forests.
The Social Forestry program was started during the Sixth National Plan or SNP in selected districts that are deficient in fuel-wood to augment the fodder, fuel-wood, and also small timber resources. After acknowledging the dire need for immediate and concrete actions, the forest department is providing a new approach to the entire array of forest-related reclamation activities.
How can we protect our Forests?
The most crucial steps that are required to be taken as soon as possible to protect the forests are as follows.
- Development of wastelands
- Replantation and reforestation of existing forests
- Forest settlement
- Restriction on grazing
- Encouraging use of wood substitutes and supplying alternative fuels
- Doing away with forest contractors
- Discouraging monopoly
The central government has introduced three schemes for the promotion of social forestry in India, which are as follows.
- Mixed plantation in gram panchayats (rural units) and wastelands
- Rising the shelter belts and reforestation of degraded forests
- Rural fuel-wood plantation
India’s forest cover spans through all the states and union territories. The richest and poorest states (top to bottom) in terms of forest area are as follows.
- Madhya Pradesh
- Arunachal Pradesh
In terms of the ratio of forest cover to the total geographical area, the leading and trailing states (top to bottom) are as follows.
- Mizoram (91.27%)
- Lakshadweep (82.75%)
- Nagaland (81.21%)
- Andaman and Nicobar (80.76%)
- Arunachal Pradesh (80.43%)
- Manipur (77.40%)
- Meghalaya (77.23%)
- Tripura (76.95%)
The Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh happens to possess the most extensive coverage of very dense forests, while Andhra Pradesh has the largest scrub area.
The Vana Mahotsava, i.e., the National Tree Plantation Festival or NTPF, is celebrated every year throughout the country with great enthusiasm; and World Forestry Day or WFD is observed on March the 21st every year. A novel initiative known as A Tree for Every Child or ATEC had also been started to foster a culture of awareness and appreciating about the trees and the forests among children.
It would indeed be a gross mistake to conclude that deforestation has been arrested in entirety. The reality is far from that and the word shocking would barely describe the severity. The majestic, coniferous forests in the Himalayas; the beautiful, deciduous belt in the Vindhyas; and the evergreen, tropical canopy in the Western Ghats are virtually turned into human-made deserts. Deforestation has caused the hilly regions and the lush green mountains prone to landslides. And if prompt and robust efforts are not taken to at least slow down the atrocities, India’s ecological balance could very well slip into an eternal coma.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the human greed is the true enemy of forests. People worshipped the trees in ancient India for the benefits they used to provide. But the so-called civilized man has fallen to the slippery slopes of materialism and has begun to abuse this God-gifted natural resource for shallow monetary benefits and personal vested interests. Unless the government takes pro-active measures and harnesses the inherent power of the print and electronic media to create awareness among the common mass, the conservation and development programs about the forests may unlikely witness a grand success; as the active co-operation and the collective will of the ordinary people is a must to achieve the said purpose.