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Despite  pressures, India's forests may be holding !

Forest Survey of India, Dehradun presents the 7th of its rigorous reports.


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.

Technology upgrades

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 increased marginally.

Two- fold strategy

This is of no mean significance, and has not happened without effort.

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 impact.

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.


Read the full report:

Forest 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 : fsihq@nde.vsnl.net.in