“The Spirit of the forest never slays unless one approaches in fury, one may eat at will of her luscious fruits and rest in her shade at one’s pleasure.
Adorned with fragrant perfumes and she needs not toil for her food. Mother of untamed forest beasts, Spirit of the wood, I salute you!”
The intimacy with forests has always been a refreshing and invigorating influence in human life. But modern materialism, greed and over-exploitation of forests have left the bitter taste of the fruits of prosperity. It has created a disharmony and imbalance in our ecology and environment, an evil that is being intensely realised now. The urbanisation and industrialisation on a vast scale, during the past few decades, have resulted in mass deforestation and depletion of the green cover. Forests are one of the priceless boons of nature, but human consumerism has created such a great pressure on forests that they have almost disappeared in many areas, resulting in soil- erosion, floods, and barrenness of the earth, pollution, climatic changes, droughts and destruction of the fragile ecosystem.
The neglect and destruction of forests is bound to have serious repercussions on our lives.
There is an urgent need to check deforestation and dwindling of green-cover in India. Gandhiji once said that, “Nature has enough for everybody’s needs but not for everybody’s greed. The over exploitation of our forests put us in an alarming situation. Hence, the preservation and development of forests should rank high in our priorities.
The part played by forests in improving the quality of environment and that of life is beyond any shadow of doubt. They are a great source of renewable energy and contribute significantly to our economic development. India has an area of 752.3 lakhs hectare notified as forests, of which 406.1 lakhs hectare is classified as reserved and 215.1 lakhs hectare as protected. Unclassified area is spread over 131.1 lakhs hectare. About 19.47% of the total geographical area of the country is under actual forest-cover. But, unfortunately, this cover is fast shrinking because of our greed, selfishness and wrong priorities. Consequently, the wildlife has also been threatened and many species of animals and birds have become extinct and many others are in danger of extinction.
India has a forest policy since 1894. It was revised in 1952 and again in 1988. The policy aims at protection, conservation and development of forests. Its main objectives are— (i) Maintenance of environmental stability through preservation and restoration of ecological balance; (ii) Conservation of natural heritage (iii) Check on soil erosion and denudation in catchments areas of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; (iv) Check on extension of sand dunes in the desert area of Rajasthan and along coastal tracts; (v) Substantial increase in forest tree cover through massive afforestation and social forestry programmes (vi) Steps to meet requirements of fuel, wood, fodder, minor forest produce and timber for rural and tribal populations; (vii) Increase in productivity of forest to meet the national needs; (viii) Encouragement of efficient utilisation of forest produce and optimum substitution of wood, and (ix) Steps to create a massive people’s movement, with involvement of women to achieve these objectives and minimize pressure on existing forests.
In the light of this policy, the forest related activities are being given a new orientation. These activities include development of waste lands, reforestation and reclamation, forest settlement, restriction on grazing and supply of other kinds of fuel, elimination of forest contractors, and discouragement of monoculture practice, etc.
The objectives are really laudable but there is no proper and strict implementation of the policy decisions. Destruction of forests by timber merchants, contractors, and local people, etc., is still going on. Trees are being cut indiscriminately in the Himalayas, causing floods, soil erosion and salutation of the rivers and canals of the area. Some enlightened people of the area were very much concerned at these activities of deforestation and so started the Chipko Movement under the leadership of Sidereal Bahuguna. The movement demands that forests be conserved and protected and degradation of the environment be stopped immediately. Among other things, the movement wants to ban felling of trees and encroachment on forest land, identification of forests to be declared as reserved and grant of rights and concessions to the trebles and forest-people with proper control mechanisms.
Ban on felling of trees for a number of years is a must to allow these forests in the Himalayas to recover. These hills and catchments areas prone to landslide, flood and erosion should be totally protected and quickly afforested. Gradually, the local population is becoming more and more aware of the importance of forests and the green-cover and the necessity of their conservation. But in the face of manipulation and collusion between the contractors and forest officials, they find themselves helpless.
Fire is another major factor in the destruction of forests. Most of the forest-fires are man-made, deliberate and started by vested interests. It is rarely accidental. In order to stop forest-fires, there should be more watch-towers and the number of fire-watchers should be increased substantially. In 1984, two Fire Control Projects were established in Chandarpura (Maharashtra) and Haldwani, Nainital (Uttar Pradesh), but this scheme should be extended immediately to other forest areas prone to fire.
Private corporate sector should also be effectively involved in the afforestation and conservation of forests. The involvement of non-government organisations can go a long way in the conservation and improvement of our forests. They should be allotted wastelands for afforestation. The paper industry should be urged to invest in regeneration, conservation and protection of forests. Moreover, the involvement of the local people, tribals and other hill and forest communities will help a lot in the conservation of our forests. Special funds must be created for the movement of forest conservation and national and corporate sector and voluntary agencies are invited to participate in it. The schemes for augmenting renewable energy sources in wastelands can also help a lot in the matter.
Social forestry should also be undertaken and encouraged on a vast scale, parallel to traditional forestry. It means involvement of the urban population in growing trees in and around the areas of their habitation. There are long and large stretches of land near towns, cities and all along the railway tracks. These waste and barren lands can be profitably used for afforestation. This would give a new impetus and dimension to our efforts of forest conservation and development of wasteland into forests. Participation of schools, colleges, trade unions, panchayats, local agencies and social organisations should be sought to make social forestry a success.