Forest Conservation – UPSC Indian Geography Notes

Forests are fittingly labelled as an index of the prosperity of a nation. The surge in deforestation is leading to substantial topsoil erosion, unpredictable rainfall, and recurrent devastating floods, triggering a detrimental chain reaction. Forest Conservation is not synonymous with denial of use; instead, it underscores proper utilization to avoid adverse impacts on our economy and environment.

The adage “man finds forests but leaves deserts” holds true for India. According to reports from the National Remote Sensing Agency, India is losing approximately 1.3 million hectares of forest cover annually.

Various Measures of Forest Conservation

  • Afforestation: Implementing intensive programs with a focus on fuelwood, timber, and grasses is essential. Trees should be planted along roads, railway lines, rivers, banks, lakes, and ponds.
  • In urban areas, there should be a focus on creating green belts, and trees should be planted on community lands and community forests on gram-sabha lands. Punitive measures should be in place for agricultural encroachment in forests. Shifting cultivation should gradually give way to practices like terraced farming, orchard development, and silviculture.
  • Providing rural populations with alternative fuel sources is crucial. Customary rights and concessions granted to tribals and locals should not exceed the carrying capacity of the land.
  • Developmental projects must be designed to minimize damage to forests and the environment. Mining activities should include mandatory reforestation clauses once the mining process concludes. Industries should adopt anti-pollution devices and compensate for forest loss through new plantations.
  • Direct involvement of tribal and local communities in forest protection, regeneration, and management is vital. Encouraging people to participate in events like van Mahotsava and raising awareness about movements like Chipko is essential. Offering loan assistance to villagers for land revival further encourages people’s participation.
  • Scientific methods should be adopted to prevent and control forest fires, diseases, and pests. Research on forestry should be promoted in universities, with adequate funding allocated for this purpose.
  • A shift in the mental outlook of people is needed, and awareness about conservation should be disseminated. Special programs, demonstrations, seminars, and workshops should be organized to develop awareness among the public about the social relevance of forests.

Case Studies of Forest Conservation

Jhum Cultivation

Jhum Agriculture or shifting agriculture has led to the destruction of extensive hectares of forest tracts in North-Eastern states and Orissa. This subsistence agriculture involves clearing a tract of forest land by cutting trees for cultivation. After a few years, when the land’s productivity declines, cultivators abandon it and move on to the next tract. This practice, combined with population growth, results in rapid deforestation as cultivators continually clear forests for cultivation. The increasing population forces cultivators to return to previous tracts in shorter durations, preventing the land from regaining productivity.

Chipko Movement

The Chipko Movement or Chipko Andolan is a social-ecological movement that employs Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, primarily through hugging trees to protect them from being felled. Originating in the early 1970s in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, it responded to the escalating issue of rapid deforestation. A significant event occurred on March 26, 1974, in Reni village, inspiring actions throughout the region. By the 1980s, the movement had expanded across India, influencing people-sensitive forest policies that halted open tree felling in regions such as Vindhyas and the Western Ghats.

Western Himalayan Region

In the past decade, the Western Himalayas have witnessed widespread destruction and degradation of forest resources, leading to issues such as topsoil erosion, irregular rainfall, changing weather patterns, and floods. Construction of roads on hilly slopes has destabilized them, damaging protective vegetation and forest cover. Tribes in these areas face a growing shortage of firewood and timber due to large-scale tree cutting. Increased traffic on these roads contributes to heightened pollution in the region.

Forest Policy and Law for Forest Conservation

Indian Forest Policy, 1952

The Indian Forest Policy of 1952 was essentially a continuation of the colonial forest policy, with a newfound awareness of the imperative to raise forest cover to one-third of the total land area.

The policy emphasized:

  1. Weaning primitive people through persuasion, away from the detrimental practice of shifting cultivation.
  2. Enhancing the efficiency of forest administration through the implementation of adequate forest laws.
  3. Establishing facilities for forest research and conducting studies in forestry and forest products utilization.
  4. Exercising control over grazing in forestry.

Forest Conservation Act, 1980

The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 mandated that obtaining central permission is imperative for practicing sustainable agro-forestry in forest areas. Violation or the absence of a permit was considered a criminal offence.

The primary objectives of the act were to restrict deforestation, conserve biodiversity, and safeguard wildlife. While this act held the promise of forest conservation, it ultimately did not achieve the desired success.

Forest Policy of 1988

The Forest Policy of 1988 marked a significant and categorical shift from commercial concerns to prioritize the ecological role of forests and participatory management.

Its objectives were:

  1. Maintenance of environmental stability through the preservation and restoration of ecological balance.
  2. Check on soil erosion and denudation in catchment areas.
  3. Substantive increase in forest cover through massive afforestation and social forestry programs.
  4. Increase in productivity of forests to meet national needs.

Other Related Acts for Forest Conservation

  1. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972:
    • Establishes wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
    • The formation of the National Board for Wildlife to advise the central government on wildlife conservation issues in India.
  2. National Green Tribunal Act, 2010:
    • Enacted for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
    • Includes the enforcement of legal rights pertaining to the environment, providing relief and compensation for damages to persons and property, and related matters.

Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016

This legislation aims to establish a suitable institutional mechanism at both the Centre and in each State and Union Territory. Its purpose is to ensure the expeditious utilization of amounts released in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purposes. This mechanism operates in an efficient and transparent manner, with the goal of mitigating the impact of the diversion of such forest land.

What other initiatives/measures can be taken to conserve forests?

  • Support NGOs/Movements: The Chipko Movement stands as a living example of how public action on forests can contribute significantly to their conservation. Various NGOs, including the TREE Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Rainforest Action Network, play a pivotal role in offsetting deforestation and conserving threatened ecosystems globally. In areas lacking effective and environmentally-friendly governance, NGOs offer crucial organizational and monetary support for diverse conservation efforts.
  • Buy Forest-Friendly (or Certified) Products: Utilizing one’s purchasing power in a high-impact way is essential for preventing deforestation. Opting for products that are certified sustainable can contribute significantly to forest conservation efforts.
  • Promoting Value Education on Forests: Incorporating principles of forest conservation into education and promoting forests as tourist centers can aid in making people realize the crucial role forests play. This awareness can ultimately lead to more responsible attitudes towards forest preservation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, forest conservation in India is a multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and sustained approach. While policies like the Forest Policy of 1988 and Acts such as the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 have aimed to address deforestation and promote sustainable practices, the complex interplay of factors like population growth, shifting agricultural practices, and industrial development continues to exert pressure on forest ecosystems. Collaborative efforts involving government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the active participation of local communities are crucial for the success of conservation initiatives. Emphasizing education, promoting sustainable consumption, and learning from historical movements like the Chipko Movement further contribute to fostering a holistic understanding of the significance of forests. As India strives for economic growth, achieving a balance between development and environmental preservation remains imperative for the well-being of both the nation and the planet.

FAQs on Forest Conservation

Q. What are the key forest conservation policies in India?

Explore the significant forest conservation policies, such as the Forest Policy of 1988 and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, shaping India’s approach to sustainable forestry.

Q. How does deforestation impact India’s biodiversity?

Understand the consequences of deforestation on India’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife, and discover the measures in place to mitigate these impacts.

Q. What role do NGOs play in Indian forest conservation efforts?

Learn about the influential NGOs contributing to forest conservation in India, including their initiatives and collaborations with government agencies and local communities.

Q. How can individuals contribute to forest conservation in India?

Discover practical ways for individuals to actively participate in forest conservation, from supporting sustainable products to engaging in local community initiatives.

Q. What are the challenges and solutions in balancing economic growth and forest preservation in India?

Explore the complexities of achieving a balance between economic development and environmental conservation in India, highlighting challenges and proposed solutions for sustainable coexistence.

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