Forests are the respiratory organ for the nation and provide many ecological services like oxygen, clean water, maintenance of soil-moisture by checking soil erosion etc. Forests maintain environment stability and ecological balance. Forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna are home 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 further land degradation in the country.
India is a developing Nation with the land area of total 328.7 million hectare of which 142.5 million ha. (43.3%) is under farming practice & rest is the Forests cover 75.6 million ha. (23.27%).
A forest is a large area that is occupied by trees, plants, herbs, shrubs or a forest may be defined as an ecosystem where plants, animals live together. Trees, animals, land all together constitute a forest. Forests are a very essential part of the earth or living beings, we all depend directly & indirectly on forests for our livelihood.
At present, the total forest cover is 708,273 square km, which is 21.54 percent of the total area of the country.
In terms of forest cover, Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover of 77,414 square km in the country, followed by Arunachal Pradesh with 66,964 square km and Chhattisgarh with 55,547 square km.
Types of Forests
According to Forest Conservation Act, there are 3 types of forests i.e. Reserved Forest, Protected Forest & Unclassified forest. The following classification is on the basis of degree of protection & activities banned:
- Reserved Forest
These forests are regarded as the most precious as far as the conservation of forests and wildlife is concerned. Almost half of the total forest land has been declared as reserved forests for the conservation & to maintain the integrity of forest. Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Kerala, etc. have largest percentage of these. Activities like hunting, grazing are banned unless specific orders are issued otherwise.
- Protected Forest
These are protected from any further depletion. Almost one - third of the total forest area is the protected forested area. Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, etc. have a bulk of it.
In protected forests, all activities like hunting, grazing, livelihood intake are permitted unless it is prohibited.
- Unclassified Forest
These belong to the local individuals or communities & government as well. All North- Eastern part and parts of Gujarat have these forests. This region of forest has no restriction on cutting of trees or cattle grazing, it is free from restriction.
What is Forest Clearance?
Forest Clearance may be defined as a procedure given by the central or state government to clear or diversion of forest land for non-forest produce.
Many rules are there for the protection of forest land i.e. Forest Act, Forest (Conservation) Act, Forest Policy, all these acts & policy emphasize on the conservation of forest land.
FCA allows the diversion of forest land for construction and society welfare purposes e.g. drinking water purpose (well, lake, canal), irrigation(dam), electricity generation purpose, railway lines, highway, defense-related projects, mining etc. and for that Forest Clearance is required.
Environmental laws applicable for Forest Clearance
Before any project proponent starts activity in forest land, he/she shall apply for Forest Clearance. The Concerned department after scrutinizing all the documents of the project proponent makes decision to grant or reject the permission.
The important central forest legislations in India are:
- Indian Forest Act, 1927
- Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
- Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA)
- National Forest Policy, 1988
- National Forestry Action Program (NFAP)