What are forests?
The forests are a large area of land dominated by trees. The forests are defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization as, “all lands bearing vegetative association demarcated by trees of any size, exploited or not, capable of producing wood or other food products.
According to the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization, forests covered 4 billion hectares or approximately 30 per cent of the world’s land area in 2006.
Importance of forests:
Forests are pivotal to preserve the ecosystem. Forests provide humans with various essential commodities, such as air to breathe, wood, vegetables etc., which are must for survival. Thus, the forests are a blessing for the human beings from nature and therefore it becomes our duty to preserve and protect the forests.
Preservation of forests:
The UN Strategic Plan for forests 2017-2030 provides a global framework for actions at all levels to sustainably manage all types of forests and trees outside forests and halt deforestation and forest degradation. This Strategic Plan has 6 goals to achieve by 2030, as enumerated hereunder:
- To reverse the loss of forest cover worldwide through sustainable forest management, including protection, restoration, afforestation and reforestation, and increasing efforts to prevent forest degradation and contribute to the global effort of addressing climate change.
- To enhance forest-based economic, social and environmental benefits, including by improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent people.
- To increase significantly the area of protected forests worldwide and other areas of sustainably managed forests, as well as the proportion of forest products from sustainably managed forests.
- To mobilize significantly, new and additional financial resources from all sources for the implementation of sustainable forest management and strengthen scientific and technical cooperation and partnerships.
- To promote governance frameworks to implement sustainable forest management, including through the UN Forest Instrument, and enhance the contribution of forests to the 2030 Agenda.
- To enhance cooperation, coordination, coherence and synergies on forest-related issues at all levels, including within the UN System and across Collaborative Partnership on Forests member organizations, as well as across sectors and relevant stakeholders.
Therefore, this plan has primarily been associated to ensure the protection of forests and to improve the present position of forests worldwide.
Position of forests in India:
The recorded forest area in India is about 76.5 million hectares (23% of total landmass). During the last two decades, India has witnessed annual depletion of forest cover at a rate of 235 km2. According to the government data, 14,000 sq. km of forests were cleared to accommodate 23,716 industrial projects across India over the last 30 years. These figures are certainly not good and are not in the interests of our Nation. Thus, it becomes pivotal to improve this situation and to ensure the protection of forests.
- Protection of forests comes within the ambit of ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ in the Constitution of India.
Article 48A of the Constitution of India, 1950 enshrines that the “State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
- The Constitution of India also entrusts the duty of protection of forests on citizens as a ‘Fundamental duty’.
Article 51A (g) of the Constitution of India, 1950 embodies that “it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild file and to have compassion for living creatures.”
Forest Laws in India:
Though, the directive principles of state policy and the fundamental duties enshrine a specific provision for the protection of forests. There are certain specific legislations about the forests, as mentioned hereunder:
The first Forest Act of India was enacted by the Britishers in the year 1865. The Indian Forest Act, 1865 was the first act about the forests in India. The Act empowered the Government to declare any land covered with trees as Government forests and to issue rules for conserving them.
The Act was amended, and the Indian Forest Act, 1878 was passed. This act classified the forests into reserved forests, protected forests and village forests. Under this act, the government was empowered to exercise control over forests.
Indian Forest Act, 1927:
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was passed with the objective of improvement of forest laws in India. This act repealed all previous laws pertaining to the forests. This act emphasized upon consolidating the laws pertaining to the forests and to ensure regulation of and transit of the forest produce.
Forest Conservation Act, 1980:
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed to ensure the conservation of forests. The act made it compulsory to obtain prior approval of the Central Government for the diversion of forest lands for the non-forestry purposes. It also made it mandatory to have a clearance from the Central Government for-reservation of Reserve Forests and for use of forestland for non-forest purposes.
The Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006:
This Act vested the traditional forest dwellers with the ownership rights over forestland. The rights provided to the traditional forest dwelling community by this act were vital to improve their position and fulfil their interests. They were deprived of these rights because of the laws made by the Britishers in India. Thus, the right to live in the forest and right to use minor forest produce is an integral part of this act.
Therefore, these are the legislations pertaining to the forest laws in India. The forest laws have improved in India over time, with the constant amendments in these desired laws.
National forest policy of India:
National forest policy of 1988:
The National forest policy of 1988 was enacted by the Government of India (Ministry of Environment and Forests) for the management of State forests in the country. The Ministry has considered the fact that over the years, the forests in the country have suffered serious depletion. Therefore, it emphasized the need to review the situation and to evolve, for the future, a new strategy of forest conservation.
Some of the main objectives of this policy are mentioned hereunder:
- Maintenance of environmental stability through preservation and, where necessary, restoration of the ecological balance that has been adversely disturbed by serious depletion of the forests of the country.
- Conserving the natural heritage of the country by preserving the remaining natural forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna.
- Increasing the productivity of forests to meet essential national needs.
- Increasing substantially the forest/tree cover in the country through massive afforestation and social forestry programs, especially on all denuded, degraded and unproductive lands.
- Meeting the requirements of fuel-wood, fodder, minor forest produce and small timber of the rural and tribal populations.
Precedents on Forest laws in India:
The Judiciary has contributed a lot in the development of forest laws in India.
- In the case of, T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India,
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has directed to close all wood-based industries and an embargo was imposed on the exploitation of forest and forest products.
- In the case of, Tarun Bharat Sangh v. Union of India,
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has prohibited mining activities in the forest area.
- In the case of, State of Bihar v. Banshi Ram Modi,
The Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that the use of forest land for non-forest purposes is impermissible.
Thus, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has contributed to the development of forest laws to a great extent. These judicial precedents have ensured proper compliance of the legislation and the interpretation of the legislation in the best interests of environment and society, by the Judiciary.
The forests which provide human with essential means of survival, such as air to breathe, wood, fruits and vegetables, etc. are destroyed and eradicated by the human itself, just to satisfy the selfish interests of earning and maximizing profits. The eradication of forests is very harmful for the humans, animals and the climate. Thus, the preservation of forest is pivotal, and a coordinated effort of the judiciary, legislature and most importantly the citizens is required to achieve this task. If we fail to preserve the forests, we will fail to preserve the life, hence, it is the time to unite and spread awareness in the society to work collectively in the same direction of protecting our forests and other natural resources.
The fact that the forests have a significant role in reducing the risk of natural disasters, including floods, droughts, landslides and other extreme events. Even, at global level, forests mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration, contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air and protect watersheds, which supply 75% of freshwater worldwide.
Therefore, resorting to the ‘Sustainable development’ .i.e. (an economic development which is conducted without depletion of natural resources), is very important as it will protect our forests and other natural resources from depletion. Hence, protecting the forests from further deforestation or similar challenges is very important to protect the life of upcoming generations.
AIR 1997 SC 1228.
AIR1992 SC 514.
AIR 1985 SC 814.