Natural Vegetation and Wildlife: Part 5 | Conservation of Forests – Afforestation Schemes and Other Initiatives

In this article, we continue the discussion and look at various conservation attempts made to protect the Indian forests.

Conservation of Forests:

1. The National Forest Policy:

  • The National Forest Policy 1952 aimed at bringing one-third of the total land area with 65% in hilly and 25% in plains under the forest cover. It suggested the extension of tree lands on river/canal banks, roads, railways, cultivable waste and degraded lands.
  • A new forest policy was adopted in 1988 the main emphasis of which was on the protection, conservation, regeneration, and development of forests.

2. Social Forestry:

  • The term, social forestry, was first used in India in 1976 by The National Commission on Agriculture. It was then that India embarked upon a social forestry project with the objective of taking the pressure off the traditional forests by the plantation of fuelwood, fodder, timber and grasses on unused and fallow land.
  • What social forestry means – Social Forestry refers to the forests (trees) planted by the people of a society. It has been defined as ‘the forestry of the people, for the people, by the people’.

Although a wide range of activities are included in social forestry, these mainly have the following components:

  1. Agro Forestry – Encouraging Farmers to plant trees on their farms. Read more about it here.
  2. Extension Forestry – Woodlots planted by forest departments for the needs of the community especially along roads, canals, railways, and other public lands
  3. Community Forestry – Trees planted by the community themselves, on community lands, to be shared equally by them.
  4. Reforestation or rehabilitation of degraded forest areas.

The social forestry projects, however, failed because:

  • They did not involve women who were the main beneficiaries.
  • Market-oriented trees were planted. Thus communities and farmers saw it as a cash generating rather than basic need generating exercise. The wood ended up for urban and industrial use rather than fuel and fodder needs of the rural people.
  • Agro-forestry reduced land employment while absentee landlordism increased.

3. Several laws have been passed by legislatures to regulate the use of forests, ban on cutting of trees and encroachment on forest lands:

  • Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed for reserved forest areas.
  • Environmental Protection Act gave the Central Government powers to protect and improve the quality of the environment and preventing pollution.
  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, recognises the rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers over the forest areas inhabited by them and provides a framework for according the same.

[Related Reading: Evolution of Forest Rights in India from 1856 to 2006 | In Depth Analysis of FRA & Its Issues]

Besides, international conventions like Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation plus (REDD+) help to set guidelines.

4. At present there are two major afforestation schemes namely:

  • National Afforestation Programme – NAP (Aimed at afforestation and eco-restoration of degraded forests and adjoining areas with emphasis on community participation)
  • National Mission for a Green India (Aimed at increasing the forest cover of country along with improving its quality)
    • Commonly called the Green India Mission (GIM)
    • Launched in February 2014
    • It is one of the eight Missions outlined under India’s action plan for addressing the challenge of climate change -the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). GIM.
    • There is a component under GIM to support forestry on farm lands for taking up Agro-forestry and Social forestry.

[Note: Generally a “mission mode” project implies a project that has clearly defined objectives, scopes, implementation timelines and milestones, as well as measurable outcomes and service levels.]

5. Other Government Initiatives:

  • National Green Highways Mission
    • Launched in July 2016
    • The mission aims to provide a green canopy along 100,000km of highways and create jobs for 1 million youth.
    • Under the mission, the government has made it mandatory to set aside 1% of the total project cost of any national highway contract to a Green Fund for plantation.
  • Nagar Van-udyan Yojana
    • A programme for climate smart green cities.
    • It is a Pilot scheme recently launched for implementation for a period of five Years.
    • The scheme aims at developing 200 Nagar Van (City Forests) across the country in cities having Municipal Corporation or Municipalities.
    • A Nagar Van-Udyan is a forested area in the vicinity of a city accessible to the city dwellers suitably managed for providing a wholesome natural environment for recreation, conservation education, biodiversity conservation etc.
  • School Nursery Yojana
    • It seeks to bring students closer to nature and inculcate in them a sense of urgency to protect the environment.
    • Under the scheme, students will sow seeds and grow saplings in the school nursery as part of their practical exercise for Biology classes or as their extra-curricular activities.
    • The students will also carry out a tree census in their school and the locality.

Read more about the School Nursery Yojana here.

6. The Role of communities: Communities have played a vital role in the conservation and protection of forests in India. E.g.

  • Chipko movement: – Chipko Movement, started in 1970’s, was a non-violent movement aimed at protection and conservation of trees and forests from being destroyed. The name of the Chipko moment originated from the word ’embrace’ as the villagers used to hug the trees and protect them from wood cutters from cutting them. This movement headed by Shri Sunderlal Bahaguna in the Himalayas not only successfully resisted deforestation in several areas but also showed that community afforestation with indigenous species can be enormously successful.
  • Appiko Movement – On the lines of Chipko movement, Pandurang Hegde launched the Appiko Movement in Karnataka in 1983 (Appiko – to express one’s affection for a tree by embracing it). Its objectives were afforestation as well as development, conservation and proper utilization of forests in the best manner.
  • Silent Valley Movement – The silent valley is an area of tropical evergreen forests in Kerala. It is among the last tracts of virgin tropical evergreen forest in India and is very rich in bio-diversity. The environmentalists and the local people strongly objected to the hydel power project being set up here in 1973. Under pressure, the government had to declare it a national reserve forest in 1985.
  • Joint forest management: – this programme furnishes a good example for involving local communities in the management and restoration of degraded forests. The programme has been in formal existence since 1988 when the state of Orissa passed the first resolution for joint forest management. JFM depends on the formation of local (village) institutions that undertake protection activities mostly on degrade forest land managed by the forest department. In return, the members of these communities are entitled to intermediary benefits like non – timber forests produce and share in the timber harvested by successful protection.
  • Certain societies revere a particular tree which they have preserved from time immemorial. E.g. the Mundas and the Santhals of Chhotanagpur region worship Mahua and Kadamba trees and the tubes of Orissa and Bihar worship theTamarind and many trees during weddings.
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