Forest Policies of India and Their Evolution

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Forests (Concurrent List, 7th Schedule)
The forests are natural renewable resource. They are one of the major territorial ecosystems. They also constitute one of the most vital source of national wealth. Forests cover nearly 40% of the world's land. Forests are of great importance to life and property of human beings. Forests are lungs on the planet earth inhaling the polluting carbon from the air, and exhaling oxygen. 

Forests protect soils, stabilize local climates and provide irreplaceable homes for the widely rich and diverse flora and fauna of the world.' Forests serve as a potential source of raw material for many industries such as paper, pulp and rayon mills. Timber yield from forests generates foreign revenue. 

Many forests which are rich in wildlife serve as sanctuaries and attract foreign tourists. For the forest dwellers, it provides firewood, fuel, fodders and other forest products such as tendu leaves, mahua, lac etc. The forests are therefore, a valuable natural resource and a gift of nature given to all living beings. 

However, for about last 20 years somewhat around 15 million hectares of tropical forests are being cleared and at present, 120 species of mammals, 350 species of birds and 26000 species of plants are threatened with extinction, due to indiscriminate diversion of forest land and such as mining, real-estate etc.

Furthermore, the anti-social elements active in the forest such as poachers, hunters, timber traders, business mafia, naxalite forces etc. are exploiting the forests and denuding the forest resources.

Hence, conservation of Forests is topic of utmost importance not only in terms of economic development of a Nation but also in terms of overall eco-friendly development and sustainable use of resources as a part of national wealth.

Definition of a forest

The term 'Forest' has not been defined in Indian Forest Act, 1927 or the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. According to the shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the term "forest" includes:

1. An extensive tract of land covered with trees and undergrowth, sometimes intermingled with pasture

2. A woodland, usually belonging to the king, set apart for hunting wild beasts and games, etc.;

3. A wild uncultivated waste. 

In K. Balkrishnan Nambiar v. State of Karnataka & Ors. AIR 2011 SC 1628, the Supreme Court held that the word "forest" in the context of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated or reserved, protected or otherwise. Section 2 of the Act will not only include forest, but also any other area recorded as forest in the Government record irrespective of the ownership.


Before the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act passed in 1976, States had the power to legislate on forests in the Constitution of India (Schedule 7, list II, entry 19). The forty second amendment included the issue of protections and safeguarding of forests in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) as well as fundamental duties of citizen. 

Article 48A of the Constitution is titled as protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life. Article 48A is not mere policy prescription for the States to safeguard the environment and wildlife of the country but has the effect of calling upon the state to safeguard the forests.

Article 51A(g) imposes fundamental duty on citizens to protect and improve the forests. The forty second amendment also inserted entry 17A in list III (Concurrent List) which provides for forests and empowers the Parliament to enact law concerning forests.


Forest Policy During British Era In India

The invasion by the British and the establishment of their rule in Lodi ushered in an era of plunder of natural resources. At the same time this reign saw the beginning of organized forest management. However, early days of British Empire in India were also not much important from the environmental conservation point of view. The actual need was felt only after the rising of Industrial Revolution, in which exploitation of natural resources is started taking place. 

The object of management of forests changed from 'obtaining of timber for various purposes' to protecting and improving forests and treating them as a biological growing entity. Simultaneously, with the appointment of first Inspector General of Forests, the necessity of treating forests as state property was felt and that gave rise to enact the new legislation as the Forest Act of 1865, ascertaining the state monopoly right over the forests. 

It came into force on 1st May, 1865. The objective of the Act was to tighten Government control over all the forests. This was followed by another legislation in the year 1878, which repealed the earlier Act. Under this Act, the forests were placed in three different categories, namely (i) reserve forests, (ii) protected forests, and (iii) the village forests, all of which were under the control of the Government. 

The customary rights of rural communities to manage forests were also curtailed by the Act. The Forest Policy Statement of 1894 further consolidated the position of state by enabling it to forcibly take over all forests mainly for conservation and public purposes. This Policy also suggested rough functional classification of forests into the following four categories viz.-

1. Forests, the preservation of which was essential on climatic or physical
2. Forests, which offered supply of valuable timber for commercial purposes.
3. Minor forests which produced only the inferior sorts of timber, and
4. Pastures, which were forests only for namesake.

Forest policies before independence

Forest Policy of India of 1927 popularly known as the Indian Forest Act, 1927 was enacted to safeguard and preserve the forests in India. This act consolidated the pre-existing laws of the acts that were before the enactment of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. 

One of the earliest forest acts in India, as mentioned earlier, came into force during the British rule with the appointment of first Inspector General of Forest that gave rise to new legislation as the Forest Act of 1865 with the motive of giving absolute monopoly to the state. This was done to exploit the Indian resources by using the forests for timber trade and other uses. 

The 1865 Forest Act was later repealed by the 1878 act.

After these acts came the significant Forest Act of 1927. The preamble of this act declares emphasis on regulation of transit of forest produce and timber obtained. The act consists 86 sections in 13 chapters which came into force on 21st September 1927.

Some important Sections of this act are listed below:

The Section 3 of the Forest Act, 1927 empowers the state to declare any forest land or waste land which is the property of the government or over which the government has proprietary rights, or to the whole or any part of the forest produce of which the government is entitled as reserved forest.

Section 26 prohibits certain acts or activities such as hunting, cutting timber, burning wood etc. prohibited in a reserved forest.

Section 29 provides that protected forests are those lands or wastelands which has not been expressly declared as reserved forest but in which the State has proprietary rights.

Section 30 empowers the state to prohibit certain activities in the vicinity of the protected forests.

Post Independence policies

The 42nd Constitutional amendment act of 1976 transferred the forests and wildlife from State List to Concurrent list of the constitution. This empowered the Centre to directly manage the forests without the state’s interference. This led to the enactment of Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The 1927 Indian Forest Act’s aspects has not been taken into consideration in this act as it simply aims at putting restriction on the deforestation and reserving the land from non-forest use.

Central Forestry Board was set up in 1950 followed by National Forest Policy, 1952 which had policies which dictated total to be covered by 1/3 or 60% of forest area. This was later replaced by the National Forest Policy 1988 which was considered to be a better version of the previous two policies since it emphasized on constructive Forest policies such as reforestation and soil conservation. 

One of the main features of the 1988 policy was that it stressed people’s involvement as an essential component of forest management and its development. In 1990 as circular was issued by the central government which suggested the states to involve voluntary agencies/NGOs with Forest Departments or the villages for the revival of the forests.

The draft of the National Forest Policy was released by MoEF in 2016 which is yet to be enacted.

Its key highlights include:

1. Green tax on citizens.
2. Technology to minimize damage to forests.
3. Board to monitor management of forests.
4. Provision for responsible tourism.
5. Maintaining urban forests.


This was a short excerpt on the evolution of the different Forest policies and legislations prevailing in India since the British rule to post independence and till date and it also tells us how the forests are being exploited to meet the demands of the general public.

The more a person consumes and uses paper based or the more new wood furniture are bought increases the carbon footprint of the person and decreases the forest cover which brings into question that do we really need keep buying stuff that directly affect the forest reserves or can we survive and flourish without them.

Written by - Max Croson
Edited by - Arnav Mehra

Forest Policies of India and Their Evolution Forest Policies of India and Their Evolution Reviewed by Arnav Mehra on May 21, 2020 Rating: 5

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