Although India has rich and varied forest resources but due to lack of scientific planning, indigenous method of exploitation and mismanagement their annual yield is very low. Whereas the productivity level of per hectare of forests is 3.9 cu. m. of wood per annum in France, 1.8 cu. m in Japan, 1.25 cu. m in the U.S.A., it is only 0.5 cu. m in India.
Despite all care the annual per hectare yield of wood is not more than 6.8 tonnes from sal 10.1 tones from deodar and 3.2 tons from chirr forests. The Indian forestry is exposed to following major problems which are responsible for these pathetic conditions.
1. Low forest cover-India has a low forest cover. The overall 33% forest cover for the country as a whole (25% in plains and 60% in hilly areas) as laid down by the National Forest Policy in 1953, is hardly available except in Andaman’s, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya (in hills) and Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Orissa (in plains). In India the per capita average of forest land is only 0.11 ha which is much lower than the world average of 1.08 ha. (cf. former USSR 3.5 ha, and the U.S.A. 1.8 ha.).
2. In India several species of trees are found in mixed form as a result of which the search and exploitation of a particular variety of tree becomes a cumbersome exercise.
3. About 40 per cent of the country’s forests lie in inaccessible hilly areas which are devoid of transport and communication facilities. Even in remaining forested areas the roads are ill maintained and heavy under-growth during rainy season make the exploitation difficult.
4. In about 48% of the forests tribals and local people have been given customary forest rights and concessions for free grazing of cattle and removing timber, fuel and minor forest products. This along with poaching help in degeneration of forests and reducing their yield.
5. Our method of lumbering, sawing etc. is quite obsolete which encourage wastage and lead to low forest productivity. Large quantities of inferior wood which could be put to economic use through seasoning and preservation treatment remain unutilised or go waste. The saw mills use old machinery and lack proper power facility.
6. In India there are no commercial forests and most of these forests are meant for protective purposes. There is lack of trained personnel and scientific research for the management and utilisation of forest resources. Much of the energy is being wasted in the protection of existing forests rather than taking effective steps for their augmentation and regeneration. Due to lack of modern forestry we are still unaware about the economic utility of a number of forest products.
7. Due to low standard of living in India the demand for forest products is not as high as in the Western countries. This leads to low incentive to foresters and business men engaged in the trade of forest products. Although the demand for these products is increasing in recent years, but the use of iron and steel, plastic and synthetic products has adversely affected the trade.
8. In India only the natural growth of forests is practiced whereas in many developed countries new scientific techniques are being used through which the tree growth could be quickened. An appreciable proportion of trees is malformed or consists of species which are slow growing and poor yielders. Due to ignorance, pressure of population growth and reckless use a number of our plant varieties are at the verge of extinction.
9. There is inadequate protection against forest fire, plant diseases and attack by insects and pests to control forest loss. For example, in Madhya Pradesh thousands of hectares of sal forests are being threatened by sal borer for which no remedial step has been taken so far. Forest officials are only using the primitive method of hiring the trial’s to catch the insect and kill it! Poaching is another menace in the Indian forests. With the connivance of corrupt forest officials illegal contractors and poachers pilfer forest products causing degeneration of forests and huge loss to government revenue.
Another serious problem is related to the fast depletion of forest cover in the country. The data released by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) in mid 1984 show that India lost 1.3 million hectares of forests every year between 1972-73 and 1980-81.
The maximum deforestation has occurred in Madhya Pradesh, which lost nearly two million ha. Maharashtra over a million ha. Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir nearly a million ha. And Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan over half a million ha. Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat have lost over half of their forest cover. Deforestation has been disastrous in the western Himalayas where the forests below 2000 m have almost been removed.
In 1950 Himachal Pradesh had 38.5% of its area under forests which has now gone down to 15%. In Jammu and Kashmir the actual forest cover is only 6% of the total area against the official record of 60 per cent. There are many causes for this massive deforestation.
1. Faulty Government Forest Policy-the first forest policy initiated with the Forest Act of 1865 encouraged the people living near the forests to clear them for cultivation. This had disastrous effect over the forests paralysing the old community management system and encouraging the individual commercial interests based on profit and loss. British government encouraged the export of teak wood to Britain for its ship building industry and lying down of rail lines in Britain and India.
Even the Forest Act of 1952 had the major objective of extracting maximum revenue from the forests. Except reserved forests others (protected and village forests) were open to local people for grazing and collecting fuel and minor products.
2. Open grazing-Extensive damage to forests is caused by open grazing of cattle by local people. These cattle not only damage the new saplings but make the soil under their hoof compact and prevent new sprouting. Nomadic tribes practicing transhumance cause extensive damage to hill forests. In Uttaranchal alone there are more than 25,000 such grazers owning a flock of over 1.2 million sheep and goats.
3. Shifting cultivation-many tribals of the north-east practice Jhuming, burn the forest lands, cultivate crops and move to other region when the soil fertility is lost. About 27 million ha of forest area is susceptible to this onslaught. The increasing pressure of population has reduced the duration of jhum cycle from 12 to 6 years disrupting the process of forest recovery.
4. Growing demand for agricultural land- with the rapid growth of population and increasing demand of food more and more area is being reclaimed for agriculture. About 50 lakh hectares of forest land (about 7% of the total forest area) of the country has been brought under cultivation during last 25 years. According to Paliwal (1984, p. 418) if this process goes unchecked about 166 lakh hectares of the Himalayan forest land will be converted to agricultural land.
5. Construction activity-Construction activities in the form of human settlements, means of transport and communication, dams and reservoirs and mining and quarrying have adverse effect on the forest lands. The construction of houses in the tourist centres like Nainital, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, Ooty have depleted the forest cover. The road building not only damages hill forests in mountainous areas but increases accessibility for reckless exploitation of high altitude forests. The Chinese invasion of 1962 has led to massive road building activity in Himalayan region which now has over 30,000 km of me roads making the entire region more vulnerable landslides. Large multipurpose projects likes Sarovar (Narmada), Tehri (Bhagirathi) are going submerge thousands of hectares of forest land leading to the extinction of some of the rare spec’ of plants for ever.
6. Commercial activities-Commercial acuities like resin extraction, oil extraction, fruit guarding, plantation, mining and industrial productive also lead to massive deforestation. In 1982 a’ 40,000 pine trees of Sirmur (Himachal Prade were uprooted for resin extraction. Fifty-two pi wood factories of Assam have caused of Olongtr in Dibrugarh district.
Paper factories of Tamil Nad Karnataka and Assam are consuming bamboo forests of the Western Ghat and the north-east. Rece introduction of tea plantation in Kumaun Himala (near Ranikhet) is expanding at the cost of fore lands. In Himachal Pradesh about 50,000 pinetre- were consumed in 1986 to manufacture 15 million chests to transport apple fruits (about each hectareoi orchard needing 10 ha. of forest land).