India is one of the very few countries of the world where forest policy is in operation since 1894; in 1952 and 1988 revisions were made in this forest policy. The National Forest Polity of 1952 recommended that the country should aim at coverage of one-third of the total land area under forests (60% in mountainous area and 25% in the plains). It has suggested the extension of tree lands on river/canal banks and in such areas which are not suitable for cultivation.
It has classified country’s forests into four categories: (i) protected forests essential for physical and climatic needs of the country, (ii) national forests to be utilised for the economic needs of the country, (iii) village forests to meet the fuel and domestic needs of the village and neighbouring towns, and (iv) tree lands. The policy has envisaged the annual organisation of Van-Mahotsava and tree plantation week in July-August.
The National Forest Policy lays emphasis on (1) weaning the tribal people, by persuasion, from the baneful practice of shifting cultivation, (2) increasing the efficiency of forest administration by having adequate forest laws, (3) providing adequate facilities for the management of forest resources, (4) promoting research in forestry, (5) controlling grazing of cattle in the forests, (6) providing fuel wood to the rural areas, (7) improving the availability of commercial wood for industrial uses, and (8) increasing the area under man-made forests.
The main plank of the revised forest policy of 1988 is protection, conservation and development of forests. Its objectives include: (1) maintenance of environmental stability through the preservation and restoration of ecological balance, (2) conservation of forests as a national heritage with vast variety of flora and fauna, (3) control of soil erosion and denudation in catchment areas of rivers, lakes and reservoirs, (4) check on the extension of sand dunes in the desert areas of Rajasthan and along the coasts.
(5) Substantial increase in forest cover through massive afforestation and social forestry programmes,
(6) meet the needs of fuel wood, fodder, and minor forest products for the rural and tribal people, (7) augment the productivity of the forests to meet the national needs, (8) encouragement of efficient utilisation of forest produce and optimum substitution of wood, (9) steps to create massive people’s movement with the involvement of women folk to achieve these objectives and to minimise pressure on existing forests, and (10) involvement of people in forest management under joint forest management (JFM) scheme.