‘I speak for the trees for they have no tongues…!’
- Dr. Seuss (American Author)
Forestry in India is a significant rural industry and a major environmental resource. India is one of the ten most forest-rich countries of the world. Together, India and these other 9 countries account for 67 percent of total forest area of the world. India's forest cover grew at 0.20% annually over 1990–2000, and has grown at the rate of 0.7% per year over 2000–2010, after decades where forest degradation was a matter of serious concern.
The 2013 Forest Survey of India states its forest cover increased to 69.8 million hectares by 2012, per satellite measurements; this represents an increase of 5,871 square kilometers of forest cover in 2 years.
However, the gains were primarily in northern, central and southern Indian states, while northeastern states witnessed a net loss in forest cover over 2010 to 2012. In 2018, the total forest and tree cover in India increased to 24.39% or 8,02,088 km2. It increased further to 24.56 percent or 807,276 square kilometres in 2019.
Forestry in India is more than just about wood and fuel. India has a thriving non-wood forest products industry, which produces latex, gums, resins, essential oils, flavors, fragrances and aroma chemicals, incense sticks, handicrafts, thatching materials and medicinal plants.
About 60% of non-wood forest products production is consumed locally. About 50% of the total revenue from the forestry industry in India is in non-wood forest products category.
Under Indian Forest Act, 1927, forests are divided into three kinds:
At present, reserved forests and protected forests differ in one important way:
In reserved forests, Rights to all activities like hunting, grazing, etc. in forests are banned unless specific orders are issued otherwise.
In protected areas, rights to activities like hunting and grazing are sometimes given to communities living on the fringes of the forest, who sustain their livelihood partially or wholly from forest resources or products.
Protected forests are of two kinds - demarcated protected forests and undemarcated protected forests, based on whether the limits of the forest have been specified by a formal notification.
Typically, protected forests are often upgraded to the status of wildlife sanctuaries, which is turn may be upgraded to the status of national parks, with each category receiving a higher degree of protection and government funding.
The full details regarding the ‘reserved forests’ and protected forests’ are given in chapter III and IV of the said act.
The main difference between these two categories of forests is that, in reserved forests, the activities like grazing, hunting, etc are banned unless the permission is granted for a particular reason. But in case of protected forests, mostly all these activities are allowed unless banned specifically.
As per IFA Act 1927, any forest land or wasteland that is government property and has not been specified as reserved forest can be declared as protected forest as per provisions of Chapter IV under IFA Act 1927.
For example, Sariska National Park was declared a reserved forest in 1955, upgraded to the status of a wildlife sanctuary in 1958, becoming a Tiger Reserve in 1978. Sariska became a national park in 1992, though primary notification to declare it as a national park was issued as early as 1982.
Village Forests are those when village communities are given duty to protect the forests. A "Common Important Forest" in India is a forest governed by local communities in a way compatible with sustainable development. Such forests are typically called village forests or panchayat forests, reflecting the fact that the administration and resource use of the forest occurs at the village and panchayat (an elected rural body) levels.
Hamlets, villages and communities of villages may actually administer such a forest. Such community forests are usually administered by a locally elected body, usually called the Forest Protection Committee, Village Forest Committee or the Village Forest Institution. Such committees are known as Van Panchayats in the Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand, Forest Co-operative Societies in Himachal Pradesh and Van Samrakshan Samitis in Andhra Pradesh.
Legislation pertaining to communal forests vary from state to state, but typically the state government retains some administrative control over matters like staff appointment, and penalization of offenders.
Conservation reserves and community reserves in India are terms denoting protected areas of India which typically act as buffer zones to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests of india. Such areas are designed as conservation areas if they are uninhibited and completely owned by the Government of India but used for subsistence by communities and community areas if part of the lands are privately owned.
These protected area categories were first introduced in the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act of 2002 – the amendment to the wildlife protection act of 1972 .
The common purpose for all these establishments is to save and protect : flaura and fauna and preserve them.
The spectacular natural beauty across the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India attracts millions of tourists every year. However, there are some basic differences between national park and wildlife sanctuary.
Before we discuss the provisions of this act let us look back at the history of forest dwelling communities. Millions of people live in and around forest lands. They have no legal right to their homes, lands or livelihoods
This Act recognizes forest dweller’s rights and makes conservation more accountable. Under the Indian Forest Act , areas were often declared to be ‘ government forests’ without recording who lived in these areas or how they were using it.
As many as 82% of Madhya Pradesh Forest and 40% of Orissa’s reserved forests were never surveyed for people’s rights. Till 2017, 60% of India’s national parks have not completed their process of survey and settlement of rights of local people.
Without settlement of rights, thousands of forest dwellers were displaced from the protected areas. All the people living next to forests daily face restrictions on going into forest. National forest policy declares that forest should support needs of people. But the local forests guards may not allow people to take forest produce. People are subject to harassment and eviction. They were treated as encroachers in their own homes. Corruption and violence are common around forest areas.
The commissioner for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, has said that the criminalization of the entire communities in the tribal areas is the darkest blot on the liberal tradition of our country’. The Indian forest act, 1927, initially favoured extraction of timber by the state. This was repeated when Wild life protection act was passed in 1972.
The statement of the forest rights act describes it as a law intended to correct the ‘historical injustice’ done to forest dwellers by the failure to recognize their rights.
There are two stages to be eligible under this act.
1. First, a person has to satisfy two conditions;
The person has to be:
It means that there should be dependence on forests and forest land for a livelihood.
2. Second, the person/s have to prove:
In the latter case, the person is a forest dwelling scheduled tribe.
This land cannot be sold or transferred to anyone except by inheritance.
For the first time, this law gives community the right to protect and manage the forest. It provides a right and a power to conserve community forest resources.
This community has the general power to protect wildlife , forests, etc.
This is vital for the thousands of village communities who are protecting their forests and wildlife against threats from forest mafias, industries and land grabbers.