Imagine the pressures on India's forests. Population of a
billion. Of this, a whopping 147 million living in 170,000 villages in the
proximity of forest areas. A majority of these being poor, their survival
depends on forest produce. They need fuel-wood and fodder at the very minimum. Often they look for marketable produce for their cash
needs. Then there is the practice of 'slash and burn' style of agriculture
of the tribals. And finally,
the play of the poachers and plunderers. The scale of the problem is so
daunting, you'd scarcely expect to hear any good news.
Yet, as often happens on many fronts in India, the
problem has been identified, a redress mechanism put in place, and work
plods on howsoever slowly.
Policy leads fight back
The counter-attack on decreasing forest cover, began in
1988 with the adoption of the National Forestry Policy. With a fetching
bravado, the policy targeted 33% of India's landmass to be brought under
forest cover, whereas the world average was 27%, and India's own at that
time was 19.49%
The Forest Survey of India [FSI] was mandated to prepare
once every two years, a rigorous report on the state of the forest. Here
is where the heart-warming aspect of the Indian experiment shows up: the
reporting is based on scientific methods, involving professionals and the
report itself is objective, however doleful the details.
FSI which is based in Dehradun recently published the
State of Forest Report,1999, which is the seventh in the biennial series.
A team of professionals representing many skills, worked under Dr.
Devendra Pandey, the Director of FSI.
The methodology of the survey has been evolving in step
with emerging technology. The first report in 1987 used feeds from the US
Landsat satellite with a sensor resolution of 80 meters by 80. The
interpretation was visual, and was on a 1:1,000,000 scale.
The next report in 1989, had feeds from 30m x 30m sensors
and the scale improved to 1:250,000.
By the year 1997, Indian Remote Sensing [IRS] satellites
had swung into play, albeit with a resolution of 36meters. Visual
interpretation began to give way to the digital, at least in Madhya
Pradesh and Maharashtra.
And finally, we arrive at the present report: IRS 1C/1D
satellites of India, with a resolution of 23.5m, fed data on 11 states
crucial to forestry studies; the rest were scanned by IRS 1B with a
resolution 36m. And data on 13 key states were interpreted digitally! But
conclusions were not reached merely on the basis of remote sensing data.
FSI carried out extensive field trips for 'ground truthing', to confirm
the accuracy of interpretation.
The slim silver lining that the 1999 report brings up is
that the current forest cover is 19.39% Take a quick look at the entire
set of percentage figures in the seven reports so far: 19.49; 19.43;
19.45; 19.45; 19.43; 19.23; 19.39. If one then considers, that since 1987,
precision of reporting methods has been getting better, the current figure
seems to indicate that deforestation may have been arrested despite an
increase in pressure on forestry. In fact, forest cover may have even
Two- fold strategy
This is of no mean significance, and has not happened
How did it come about?
The thrust has been two-fold:
... create reserved areas, and
... involve people.
Today in India, "there are 87 national parks and 484
wildlife sanctuaries with total areas of 4.06 million ha and 11.54 million
ha respectively. These together constitute 15.6 million ha and form 4.74%
of the geographic area of the country. In addition, 11 biosphere reserves
have also been created with the geographical area of 4.3 million ha whose
areas partly overlapped protected areas."
Secondly, instead of bemoaning people in the forest areas
as 'problems', the Joint Forest Management Programme [JFM] conceived in
1990, practices 'usufruct sharing' with people, in return for their
participation in caring for forestry resources. Today there are 36,130
forest protection committees formed to manage a total of 10.25 million
ha.! Of these more than 50% are in Madhya Pradesh, India's most wooded
state, and the balance across the rest of the country.
It is this combination that is beginning to make an
Have no illusions: the situation of forests in India is
still precarious. As against the world average of 0.64 hectare of forests
per human, an Indian has only 0.06! The European has 1.3 and the Chinese
0.1 ha. The point of this article is that there is awareness, a plan, and
some definite progress.
the full report:
Survey of India
(Ministry of Environment & Forests)
Kaulagarh Road, P.O. IPE
DEHRADUN - 248 195 (UP)
Phone : +91-135-756139, 755037, 754507
Fax : +91-135-756139, 755037, 754507
E-Mail : email@example.com