Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

India’s Reforestation Legacy: A 200-Year Experiment


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Reforestation measures for India


Central Idea

  • India’s extensive history of tree planting spanning over two centuries offers valuable lessons on the consequences of various approaches to restoring forests.

Plantations in Colonial-Era India

  • British Influence: From the mid-18th century, the East India Company and later, the British Crown, held sway over India’s affairs. During this period, British authorities directed their attention to India’s forests to meet their substantial timber needs for railway sleepers and shipbuilding.
  • Indian Forest Act of 1865: To secure a steady supply of high-yield timber trees like teak, sal, and deodar, the British enacted the Indian Forest Act of 1865. This act placed many forests under state ownership and curtailed local communities’ rights to harvest beyond grass and bamboo, even restricting cattle grazing. In response, some Indian communities resorted to burning down forests.
  • Proliferation of Teak Monocultures: Teak, well-suited to India’s hot and humid climate and prized for its durable timber, spread aggressively. This led to the transformation of pristine grasslands and open scrub forests into teak monocultures, displacing native hardwood trees like sal.
  • Introduction of Exotic Trees: Exotic species like eucalyptus, pines from Europe and North America, and acacia trees from Australia were introduced for timber, fodder, and fuel. The introduction of wattle in 1861 in the Nilgiris district of the Western Ghats marked the beginning of its invasion of this ecologically significant region.
  • Ecosystem Transformations: These introduced species, especially wattle and pine, began to displace native vegetation, impacting the ecology and livelihoods of local communities. The loss of native oak and sal trees, essential for various purposes, further exacerbated these challenges.

Importance of Studying Past Tree Plantation Efforts

  • Regeneration Strategies: Historical strategies for natural forest regeneration have reduced carbon emissions, boosted biodiversity, and created livelihood opportunities.
  • Global Tree Cover Initiatives: Past efforts also highlight the need to differentiate between reforestation for timber production and carbon offsetting. The latter often involves planting fast-growing trees to generate timber and certify carbon credits for emission offsets.
  • Sustainable Practices: Planting trees on farms and barren lands to provide firewood and timber eased the pressure on natural forests and aided their recovery.
  • Unintended Consequences: The introduction of exotic species without thorough research can lead to invasive species and dispossess local communities of their land and resources.

Current Restoration Efforts in India

  • Indian Commitment: India has pledged to restore around 21 million hectares of forest by 2030 under the Bonn Challenge, a global initiative aiming to restore degraded and deforested landscapes.
  • Focus on Single Species Plantations: To achieve the National Forest Policy target of a 33% forest cover, India has focused on planting single species like eucalyptus or bamboo, which grow quickly and increase tree cover.

Impact on People and Environment

  • Concerns for Indigenous People: Afforestation in grassland ecosystems, naturally low in tree cover, may harm rural and indigenous communities. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 empowers village assemblies to manage traditional forest areas.
  • Risk of Invasive Species: The continued planting of exotic trees risks the emergence of new invasive species, similar to the wattle invasion two centuries ago.

Case Studies

  • Community-Led Restoration: Gram Sabhas in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra have restored degraded forests, managing them sustainably as a source of tendu leaves used to wrap bidis (Indian tobacco).
  • Invasive Species Control: Communities in Kachchh, Gujarat, restored grasslands by removing the invasive Gando Bawal tree introduced by British foresters in the late 19th century.

Future Considerations

  • Holistic Approach: Policies should encourage both natural forest regeneration and plantations for timber and fuel while assessing their impact on people and ecosystems.
  • Local Implications: Assess the impact of afforestation on forest rights, local livelihoods, biodiversity, and carbon storage. Scale up successful restoration practices by communities.
  • Reviving Ecosystems: Policymakers should prioritize the revival of ecosystems with a limited number of tree species, emphasizing environmental benefits over forest canopy extent.


  • India’s historical journey in tree planting offers valuable insights into the complexities and consequences of reforestation efforts.
  • By learning from the past, India can develop more sustainable and inclusive strategies for restoring its forests, addressing the needs of both the environment and its diverse communities.

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