The forests play an important role in the economy of our country. They yield a number of major and minor forest products. The major products are timber and firewood. These are used for industrial and fuel purposes.
Forests provide raw materials for pulp, panel products, match wood and other wood-based industries. Forests are also a source of a number of minor but important products like bamboo, canes, grasses, essential oils, medicinal plants, lac, resins, fatty oils, fats, gum, tanning material, dyes, animal products, etc. Some of these products are valuable foreign exchange earners.
Forests provide a natural defence against dust-storms, hot winds and erosion. They are crucial to the maintenance of ecological balance. According to an estimate, we are consuming four times as much wood as is being regenerated in the forests and other tree lands every year. Unless this plundering of forests is stopped, India’s forest wealth would become extinct very soon. Deforestation is posing a threat to India’s ecological balance. It has already adversely affected India’s climate, rainfall and soil fertility.
Therefore, the Government of India formulated a National Forest Policy in 1952, which aimed at maintaining at least one-third of the land in the country under forest cover with a view to securing ecological balance and environmental stability. The two basic themes of conservation and development now form the basic planks of this policy. This policy was revised in 1988.
The subject of forests figures in the Concurrent List in our Constitution. The Forests (Conservation) Act, 1980, enacted primarily to check indiscriminate deforestation and diversion of forest lands for non-forestry purposes, was amended in 1988 to make it more stringent by prescribing punishment for violations. The Government has also set up a National Forest Fund. Initially its funds will be used for unemployed youth, ex-servicemen, tribals, etc., for planting trees on useless lands. The Forest Survey of India was set up in June, 1981. In October, 1982, an Institute of Forest Management was established at Bhopal.
At the State level, Forest Development Corporations have been established in different States/Union Territories with the objective of undertaking extensive plantation of fast growing and economically important tree species and also setting up of forest industries.
The scheme of “Social Forestry” was introduced during the Sixth Plan period in selected fuelwood deficit districts for augmenting the fuelwood, fodder and small timber resources. Recognising the urgent need to halt dangerous trends where forests have reached a stage of regression very near the irreversible threshold, the Department is giving a new orientation to the entire gamut of forest-related activities.
Some of the steps which should be taken to protect forests include afforestation and development of wastelands, reforestation and replantation 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 monoculture practices, etc.
The Government of India has launched three schemes for promoting social forestry in the country. These schemes are: (i) mixed plantation in waste lands and Panchayats lands, (ii) re-afforestation of degraded forests and rising of shelter belts, and (iii) rural fuelwood plantations.
Forest cover of each State and UT of the country, Madhya Pradesh has got the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Orissa. In terms of percentage of forest cover with respect to total geographical area, Mizoram with 91.27% leads the table, followed by Lakshadweep (82.75%), Nagaland (81.21 %), Andaman & Nicobar Islands (80.76%), Arunachal Pradesh (80.43%), Manipur (77.40%), Meghalaya (77.23) and Tripura (76.95%). Arunachal Pradesh has got the largest area of very dense forest cover and Andhra Pradesh has got the largest area of scrub.
The national tree plantation festival “Vana Mahotsava” is observed all over the country every year. World Forestry Day is celebrated on 21st March every year. A novel programme called “A Tree for Every Child” has also been introduced in the country for fostering tree consciousness among children.
Even now deforestation has not stopped completely. In fact deforestation has already turned the majestic coniferous forests of the Himalayas, the deciduous belt of the Vindhyas and the tropical evergreen canopy of the Western Ghats into virtual man-made deserts. Deforestation has transformed lush green mountains and hills into zones prone to landslides. Unless this trend is halted and crash programmes of afforestation are launched, India’s ecological balance might reach a point of no return.
Man is the real enemy of forests. In ancient times, people in India used to worship trees for their beneficial effects. Now people have started felling trees to meet their day-to-day requirements of fuel. Unless the Government changes the attitude of the people by resorting to publicity through powerful media like the Press, Radio and T. V., programmes of conservation, development of forests may not be successful. To make this programme of afforestation a grand success, the active co-operation of the people is very necessary.