Covering nearly one-third of the landmass, forests play an essential role in supporting countless and diverse species besides providing umpteen goods, services and livelihood for a large percentage of world population. Unfortunately, forests across the globe are being destroyed at an alarming rate of around 18.7 million hectares per year, which means every second we are losing a forest equivalent to 7,000 sq. metre area.
In view of achieving sustainable forest management along with biodiversity conservation, UN General Assembly in December 2012 decided to observe March 21 every year as International Day of Forests.
Although a recent report by Ministry of Environment and Forests indicated an increase in India’s forest cover, which stands at 80.73 million hectares, constituting 24.56 per cent of country’s geographical area against the mandated 33 per cent, it may be mentioned that the country lost over 1.6 million hectares of forest area between 2001 to 2018.
Further, 5.7 million hectares of forest land is estimated to have been used for various non-forestry purposes since independence, of which approximately 4.5 million ha was diverted between 1950-1980 and 1.2 million hectares since enactment of Forest (Conservation) Act in 1980.Industrialisation and urbanisation with scant regards to environment and dependence of nearly 25 crore people on forest for subsistence put a huge pressure on forests in India, resulting in their diversion and degradation.
Contribution of forestry sector to GDP is calculated to be less than 2 per cent as it does not take into account important services like carbon sequestration, amelioration of air, conserving water and soil, supporting biological diversity etc. Supremacy of development over environment, including forests has remained unchanged since independence. It has failed to motivate our policy makers to accord higher priority to forests by allocating more, which presently is not even 1 percent of total budgetary allocation.
Grazing affects more than 75 per cent forest area whereas shifting cultivation and encroachment spread over 10 million hectares, accounting to around 78 per cent. These and other challenges to forestry sector affect regeneration and productivity of forests. At present, there is no specific strategy to meet gap between demand and supply for non-forest produce like grasses, seeds, medicines, fodder etc leading to unscientific exploitation. Neglect of areas outside forests and need of timber and bamboo are additional challenges.
Despite this grim scenario of challenges faced by forestry sector, some recent policy initiatives including that by Telangana government accord priority to environment, like the amended PR Act and Municipal Acts. The State government also launched the Telangana ku Haritha Haram tree planting programme in 2015 covering areas outside and inside reserved forests which receives priority in financial and policy support. So far, nearly 183 crore seedlings have been planted against targeted 230 crore and has started development of 95 locations as urban parks.
There is need to amalgamate policy initiatives and interventions aiming at proper management and sustainable utilisation of forest resources duly providing linkages between growing demands and supplies. Active involvement of various stakeholders and communities will also help in achieving much-desired productivity and sustainability of our precious forests in long run to meet goals including challenges of climate change.