Forests, which cover nearly one-third of the world’s land area, are a vital and priceless gift from nature to humanity. Forests have been regarded as a universal and limitless source of many different types of raw materials by humans since time immemorial. From food to cooking wood, from clothing to housing, the forests benefit us directly or indirectly in every way.
In the early 1990s, approximately 17 percent of India’s land area, or approximately 50 million hectares, was considered forest land. However, in the fiscal year 1987, the actual forest cover was 64 million hectares. However, because more than half of this land was barren or brushland, the productive forest area was actually less than 35 million hectares or about 10% of the country’s land area. In the 1980s, the growing population’s high demand for forest resources fueled the destruction and degradation of forests. Every year, an estimated 6 billion tons of topsoil are lost. However, India’s 0.6 percent average annual rate of deforestation for agricultural and nonlumbering land use in the decade beginning in 1981 was among the lowest in the world, equaling that of Brazil.
In the mid-1990s, many Indian forests were found in high-rainfall, high-altitude regions with difficult access. Madhya Pradesh accounts for approximately 20% of total forest land; other states with significant forests include Orissa, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh (each accounting for approximately 9% of total forests); Arunachal Pradesh (7%); and Uttar Pradesh (6 %). The forest vegetation is diverse: there are 600 species of hardwoods, with sal (Shorea robusta) and teak being the most important economic species.
Forests play a critical role in a country’s economy. Even today, approximately half of India’s population relies on forests for fuel. The forests supply the cattle’s fodder requirements. The required wood for the cattle’s shelter is obtained from the forests. From an economic standpoint, the paper manufacturing industries rely heavily on forests for the supply of wooden pulp. Only the presence of forests allows for soil erosion and flood control. Rain, which is essential to Indian agriculture, is also possible with the forests. The term “eco-balance” refers to the preservation of environmental purity, which is primarily accomplished through the preservation of forests. Forests benefit humanity by absorbing CO2 and exhaling the life-giving gas, oxygen.
Since Indian independence, forest conservation has been a stated goal of Indian government policy. In the seventh plan, afforestation increased from a negligible amount in the first plan to nearly 8.9 million hectares. Between 1951 and 1991, nearly 17.9 million hectares of land were afforested. Despite large-scale tree planting programs, forestry is one area in which India has made significant progress since independence. Annual fellings of approximately four times the growth rate are a major contributor. Villagers’ widespread pilferage for firewood and fodder also represents a significant decrease. In addition, land cleared for farming, inundations for irrigation and hydroelectric power projects, and the construction of new urban areas, industrial plants, roads, power lines, and schools has reduced the forested area.
India’s long-term forestry development strategy reflects three major goals: reducing soil erosion and flooding; meeting the growing needs of the domestic wood products industries; and producing fuelwood, fodder, small timber, and miscellaneous forest produce. To achieve these goals, the National Commission on Agriculture recommended reorganizing state forestry departments and promoting the concept of social forestry in 1976. The Commission worked on the first two goals, emphasizing traditional forestry and wildlife activities; for the third goal, the Commission recommended the formation of a new type of unit to develop community forests. Following in the footsteps of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, several other states established community-based forestry agencies that focused on farm forestry, timber management, extension forestry, reforestation of degraded forests, and recreational use of forests.
Forests not only benefit humanity, but they also provide a source of income for wildlife and birds. The Forests provide full shelter and protection for these beautiful creatures of the Almighty. This earth would have been destroyed for a long time if there had been no forests. Nobody could have found the Lions, Tigers, Zebras, and other beautiful birds that have inspired many poets and writers.
The importance of India’s forests to the national economy and ecology was emphasized in the 1988 National Forest Policy, which aimed to ensure environmental stability, restore ecological balance, and preserve remaining forests. Other policy objectives included meeting the needs of rural and tribal people for fuelwood, fodder, and small timber, as well as recognizing the importance of actively involving local people in forest resource management. The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was also amended in 1988 to facilitate strict conservation measures. A new goal was set to increase forest cover to 33 percent of India’s land area, up from the official estimate of 23 percent at the time. In June 1990, the Central Government passed resolutions combining forest science and social forestry, while taking into account the socio-cultural traditions of the local people.
People have become more interested in conservation since the early 1970s when it was realized that deforestation threatened not only the ecology but also livelihood in a variety of ways. The Chipko Movement is the most well-known popular activist movement. In India, local women decided to fight the government and vested interests in order to save the forests. If a sporting goods manufacturer attempted to cut down ash trees in their district, the women of Chamoli District, Uttar Pradesh, declared that they would embrace—literally “stick to” trees. Since its inception in 1973, the movement has spread and evolved into an ecological movement, inspiring similar actions in other forest areas. The movement has slowed deforestation, exposed vested interests, raised environmental awareness, and demonstrated the viability of people’s power.
However, man is mankind’s greatest foe. Man has forgotten that his very existence in this world was once on the verge of extinction at the hands of the forest. The modern lust for money is destroying the forests on a daily basis. The deforestation of forests has begun with the advent of industrialization. The rapid growth of the population, the expansion and development of cities, and the increasing demand for wood have all made forests scapegoats. The ruthless cutting and burning of many forests by unscrupulous contractors have resulted in an irreversible loss of this beautiful gift. Man-made deforestation is responsible for the extinction of many wild animals and beautiful bird species.
Floods, droughts, famines, years of scant or no rain, earthquakes, and the spread of many unknown diseases as a result of a polluted environment are nothing more than nature’s silent retaliation for man’s act of deforestation.
The ruthless destruction of forests must be halted if humanity is to be saved from the curse of nature. Man is now aware of the whims of nature and comprehends the reasons for them. The need for intensive forestry is becoming apparent. In India, we worship trees and treat them as living beings. The preservation of nature’s precious gift in the form of the forest necessitates a general awakening of the common man. Forest preservation and conservation are critical for the well-being of all living things on this planet.
Wordsworth, a great admirer of nature, rightly stated:
“One impulse from the vernal wood
May teach you more of man
Of moral evil and of good
Then all the sages can.”