India is one of the few countries which has a forest policy since 1894. The policy was revised in 1952 and again in 1988. The main plank of the revised forest policy of 1988 is protection, conservation and development of forests.
Its aims are:
- Maintenance of environmental stability” through preservation and restoration of ecological balance;
Conservation of natural heritage;
Checking soil erosion and denudation in catchment areas of rivers, lakes and reservoirs;
Checking extension of sand dunes in desert areas of Rajasthan and along coastal tracts;
Substantially increasing forest/tree cover through massive afforestation and social forestry programmes;
Taking steps to meet requirements of fuel, wood, fodder, minor forest produce, soil and timber of rural and tribal populations;
Increasing productivity of forests to meet the national needs;
Encouraging efficient utilisation of forest produce and optimum substitution of wood; and
Taking steps to create massive people’s movement with involvement of women to achieve the objectives and minimise pressure on existing forests.
An Integrated Forest Protection Scheme (IFPS) was being implemented during the Tenth Five Year Plan and is being continued during Eleventh Plan.
The Planning Commission suggested renaming the scheme as ‘Intensification of Forest Management’ during the 11th Five Year Plan. It is proposed to broad-base the scheme by including following two new components in addition to the existing components of IFPS, i.e., infrastructure development and forest fire control management.
The new components are: conservation and restoration of unique vegetation and eco-systems; protection and conservation of sacred groves; and joint forest management (JFM). The conceptual framework for JFM emphasises development of partnerships with forest fringe people.
The Government of India has assigned the ownership of minor forest produce to the people living in and around forests for the purpose of collection, processing, trade and marketing through a national level legislation named as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest rights) Act, 2006. This will help the forest-dependent people to improve their economy.
Forest Conservation Act:
To check indiscriminate deforestation and diversion of forest land for industrial or construction work the Forest Conservation Act was enacted in 1980. The Act was amended in 1988 to further facilitate prevention of forest destruction.
The basic objective of the Act is to put a check on the indiscriminate diversion of forest lands. Under the provisions of this Act, prior approval of the Central government is required for diversion of forest land to non-forest purposes. Since the enactment of the Act, the rate of diversion of forest land has come down.
As diversion of forest land is normally not favoured, permission under this Act is difficult to obtain. The rare exceptions carry stipulations for compensatory afforestation and other conditions as laid down in the Act and in the National Forest Policy, 1988.
National Forest Commission:
The National Forest Commission was set up in 2003. It submitted its report in March 2006.
Some of the commission’s recommendations are:
i. Emphasis on the need to undertake scientific research to assess the optimum forest/tree cover according to forest type and topography to meet the intended objectives.
ii. Amendment of the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
iii. The forest department should implement the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and Environment Protection Act.
iv. Re-scheduling of species under Wildlife Protection Act to avoid man-animal conflict.
v. No further amendment and dilution of Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
vi. No change in the National Forest Policy of 1988.
Wildlife and its Conservation:
The term ‘wildlife’ refers to the wild undomesticated animals living in their natural habitats such as forests, deserts, grasslands, etc.
The primary reasons of extinction of wildlife are as follows:
(i) Destruction of their natural habitats due to expanding agriculture, urbanisation and industrialisation.
(iii Overgrazing by domestic animals that convert the areas into deserts.
(iii) Poaching for meat, skin, fur, ivory, rhino horns, etc.
(iv) Export of some species.
The endangered species include the Asiatic lion, a rare wild animal that survives in India alone. It is found in the Gir National Park (Gujarat) and in the Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary (near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh). They also famous for crocodiles, panthers and nilgais. The Chandraprabha Sanctuary preserves the sambhar, chital, tiger, panther and the sloth bear as well.
Another fast disappearing species is the one-horned rhinoceros which is housed in the Kaziranga National Park (Assam), the home of wild buffaloes, tigers and sambhars as well, and the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, also in Assam, which is famous for wild buffaloes, rhinos and elephants. The Kashmir stag or hangul which is found in the Dachigam National Park (Kashmir) has been identified as yet another endangered species.
Conservation of Wildlife:
Due to continuous increase in the number of endangered species, many steps have been taken to protect and manage the wildlife of the country. Government and nongovernment organisations have been set up to protect the wildlife.
The wildlife management in India aims at (i) protection of natural habitats through a controlled and limited exploitation of species; (ii) maintenance of the viable number of species in protected areas (national park, sanctuary, biosphere reserve, etc.); (iii) establishment of biosphere reserves for plant and animal species; and (iv) protection through legislation.
A number of Wildlife Acts have been made from time to time by the Union and the state governments.
Important among them are:
(i) Madras Wild Elephant Preservation Act, 1873
(ii) All India Elephant Preservation Act, 1879
(iii) The Wild Birds and Animals Prohibition Act, 1912
(iv) Bengal Rhinoceros Preservation Act, 1932
(v) Assam Rhinoceros Preservation Act, 1954
(vi) Indian Board for Wildlife (IBWL), 1952
(vii) Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960
(viii) Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Protected Areas Network:
Conservation of wildlife is a comprehensive system of protected areas. There are different categories of protected areas with different objectives. These include national parks, sanctuaries, biosphere reserve, nature, natural monuments, cultural landscapes, etc.
The biosphere reserve programme was launched by the UNESCO in 1971 to (a) conserve representative samples of ecosystems, (b) provide long-term in-situ conservation of genetic diversity, and (c) promote appropriate and sustainable managements of the living resources. In India, the first biosphere reserve—Nilgiri biosphere reserve— came into being in 1986.
Project Tiger was launched in 1973 on the basis of the recommendations of a special task force of the Indian Board of Wildlife to (i) ensure maintenance of available population of tiger in India, and (ii) preserve the areas of such biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people.
In India elephants are mainly to be found in the rain forests of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala; the tropical forests of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Central India, and the western region; and the Himalayan foothills in the north-east and Uttarakhand. India has about 25,000 elephants.
The elephant habitat has shrunk over the years, and poaching for elephant tusks has endangered the species, especially in southern India. Construction of roads and dams has led to encroachment of forest lands, interfering with the traditional migratory routes of elephants necessary for them in their search for food.
Conversion of natural forests to monocrop plantations for commercial purposes has also been harmful. The forced isolation of elephants in reserves has often led to inbreeding with the consequential negative effects.
Project Elephant was launched in February 1992 to assist states having free-ranging populations of wild elephants to ensure long term survival of identified viable populations of elephants in their natural habitats.
The project is being implemented in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
(i) Ecological restoration of existing natural habitats and migratory routes of elephants;
(ii) Development of scientific and planned management for conservation of elephant habitats and viable population of wild Asiatic elephants in India;
(iii) Promotion of measures for mitigation of man-elephant conflict in crucial habitats and moderating pressures of human and domestic stock activities in crucial elephant habitats:
(iv) Strengthening of measures for protection of wild elephants from poachers and unnatural causes of death;
(v) Research on issues related to management of elephant conservation;
(vi) Public education and awareness programmes;
(viii) Veterinary care; and
(ix) Building up the stock of field staff, mahouts and veterinarians.
The report of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries made a shocking revelation on the population of vultures that has decimated in the entire region of South Asia. One of the major causes of decimation of the population of vultures is the pharmaceutical drug, diclofenac, which is toxic to the bird even at relatively low dosage.
In May 2006, the Government of India initiated preventive actions to curb further decline in the population of vultures which also includes banning the use of diclofenac in the veterinary sector.
It was reported in 2008, that since mid-December 2007 dozens of the rare Indian crocodile, known as the gharial, had turned up dead on the banks of the Chambal River. They perished, apparently as a result of a mysterious liver disease, while the population of these animals in the wild has been dropping steadily.
The gharial (a fish-eating crocodile with a long snout), native to South Asia, is one of the most endangered freshwater crocodile species. The World Wide Fund for Nature believes it is extinct in its former habitats of Pakistan, Bhutan and Myanmar. Now, it is reported only from India and Nepal.
The government set up protected areas along the Chambal to prevent poaching of their skin for high-grade crocodile leather, and it raises eggs in captivity to protect them from predators.
An eco- development scheme in and around national parks and sanctuaries including tiger reserves was also launched to provide alternate sources of sustenance to the communities living at the fringes of national parks and sanctuaries including tiger reserves, to improve the ecological productivity of the buffer zones of protected areas through the involvement of these communities in protecting these sanctuaries and national parks and their wildlife; through a well-designed package of activities aimed at providing sustenance to the forest side communities and ameliorating their hardships to minimise conflicts between those communities and the protection staffs.
Awareness should be created on the importance of wildlife in the ecological scheme. Hunting should be strictly controlled. Poaching should be stopped. Captive breeding of wildlife should be taken up on a larger scale, even as more reserves and national parks are developed.