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 environmental stability and ecological balance. Forests with a vast variety of flora and fauna are home to biodiversity. Forests directly sequester Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and play a critical role in checking global warming and climate change. Forests check the extension of dunes to prevent desertification. Healthy forest ecosystems are necessary for further land degradation in the country.
India is a developing Nation with a land area of a total of 328.7 million hectares 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, and shrubs or a forest may be defined as an ecosystem where plants and animals live together. Trees, animals, and land all together constitute a forest. Forests are a very essential part of the earth and 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 per cent 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 at 66,964 square km and Chhattisgarh at 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 based on the 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 conservation & to maintain the integrity of the forest. Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Kerala, etc. have the largest percentage of these. Activities like hunting and 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 protected forested area. Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, etc. have a bulk of it.
In protected forests, all activities like hunting, grazing, and livelihood intake are permitted unless it is prohibited.
- Unclassified Forest
These belong to the local individuals or communities & government as well. All North-Eastern parts 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, and Forest Policy, all these acts & policies emphasize the conservation of forest land.
FCA allows the diversion of forest land for construction and society welfare purposes e.g. drinking water purposes (well, lake, canal), irrigation(dam), electricity generation purposes, railway lines, highway, defence-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 decides 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)