Forests are the green lungs of the nation and provide various ecological services like clean air, water, maintenance of soil-moisture regime by checking soil erosion etc. Forests maintain environment stability and ecological balance. Natural forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna are hub of biodiversity. Forests directly sequester Carbon dioxide from atmosphere and play a critical role in checking global warming and climate change. Forests check extension of sand-dunes preventing desertification. Healthy forest eco-systems are necessary for reversal of land degradation in the country.
As per India State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2017 total forest and tree cover is 8,02,088 sq km which is 24.39% of total geographical area of India. Forest cover is classified into three density classes viz. Very Dense Forest (canopy density >70%), Moderately Dense Forest (canopy density 40% to 70%) and Open Forest (canopy density 10% to 40%). India is endowed with rich forest types like Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests, Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests, Tropical Dry Deciduous, Sub Tropical Dry Evergreen Forests, Himalayan Moist Temperate Forests, Sub-Alpine and Alpine Scrub Forests etc.
India has developed a strong legal and policy framework for Forestry sector for sustainable forest governance through National Forest Policy, 1988, Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. National Forest Policy, 1988 sets a strategy of forest conservation with principal aim of ensuring environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance by bringing a minimum of one-third of total land area of the country under forest or tree cover. National Forest Policy is now under revision to incorporate issues those have gained importance in last few decades.
Working Plans are the main instrument of forest management in the country for scientific management of forests. These are very useful document for evaluating the status of forests and biodiversity resources of forest division. These assess the impact of past management practices and prescribe suitable management interventions for future. Mechanisms to revise working plans are essential to keep pace with the trends emerging out of forest–people interface and to address national and international obligations. Currently all working plans are prepared according to National Working Plan Code, 2014.
As per the National Forest Policy, 1988, participation of local community living in and around the forest areas is essential for the conservation and development of forests. In order to implement this policy, the Government of India issued a clear Guideline develop and manage degraded forest land under the custody of State Forest Departments (SFDs) with the help of the local communities and voluntary organizations. In pursuance of these guideline, states came out with their own resolutions on Joint Forest Management (JFM) in the state
Most of the State Forest Departments notified their resolutions in early 90s and as of now 1, 18,000 of Joint Forest Management Committees(JFMC) have been constituted all over the country to develop and manage 22 million of hectares of degraded forestlands. The Government of India through its National Afforestation and Eco-development Board also provide 100% central grant for Forest Development Agency (FDA), which is a federated body of JFMCs and State Forest Development Agency (SFDA), which is a consolidated body of FDAs in the state. For the management of the Wildlife Protected Areas, Eco Development Committees (EDCs) are also formed to ensure people participation in wildlife conservation.
Using legal instruments and community participation for protection and implementation of schemes for improvement of forests and by undertaking various afforestation and reforestation programs, India has been able to stabilize forest and tree cover in the country. Forest cover has increased from 6.38.804 sq km(19.43%) as per India State of Forest (ISFR) 1989 to 7,08,273 (21.54%) as per ISFR 2017. The assessment of tree cover was started since 2001. The total tree cover outside forests was estimated 81,472 sq km (2.48%) as per ISFR 2001 which has increased to 93,815 sq km (2.85 %) as per ISFR 2017 assessment.
Forestry sector is facing many challenges like forest fires, illegal felling of trees, illegal grazing, encroachments on forest lands, degradation of forest eco-systems etc. All protection related issues of forest and wildlife sector are dealt in Indian Forest Act, 1927, Wildlife Protection Act 1972, Forest Conservation Act,1980 etc.
Many development and industrial projects such as dams, mining, industries, roads etc require diversion of forest land. Project proponent whether government or private have to obtain prior approval from Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change(MoEF&CC).
A Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) has been constituted to promote afforestation and regeneration activities for compensating for forest land diverted to non-forest uses. In states State CAMPA has been constituted to receive CAMPA funds collected from user agencies towards compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, Net Present Value (NPV) and all other amounts recovered from such agencies under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. These funds are utilized for compensatory afforestation, assisted natural regeneration, conservation and protection of forests, infrastructure development, wildlife conservation and protection and other related activities.
India has been participating in several international summits and conventions on conservation and sustainable development of forest, wildlife and environment. India is actively representing on various international forums on forestry matters viz. United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), Committee on Forestry (COFO) of Food & Agriculture organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Asia Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) of FAO, Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Asia Pacific Forest Invasive Species Network (APFISN), International Poplar Commission of FAO, UN-REDD of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change etc. India has contributed positively to the various conventions on forest and wildlife sector.