National Forest Policy: During the early years of the British rule, when conditions were unsettled, Reckless destruction of forests went on unchecked. The East India Co. was more interested n immediate gains than in a long-term benefits to the country. With the transfer of authority in 1857 from the East India Co. to the British Crown, however, there was a welcome change of emphasis from immediate gains to long term benefits. The rapidly shrinking supplies of timber and fire-wood and the extensive soil erosion which followed deforestation compelled the Government to pay some attention to the urgent need for the preservation of forest wealth. Therefore, a forest policy had to be evolved. The first Inspector General of Forests was appointed in 1863 and in 1894 a Resolution on forest policy was issued. This Resolution said that: (i) forests should be managed to promote general well being of the country (ii) they should be maintained for the preservation of climatic and physical conditions of the country and (iii) to supply and fulfill the needs of the people for fuel and industries. This policy related to state forests in British provinces and forests were divided into : (a) forests, the preservation of which was essential on climatic or physical grounds; (b) forests that afforded a supply of valuable timber for commercial purposes; (c) minor forest: and (d) pasture lands.
Under the Indian Forest Act of 1927, three categories of forests were recognized- Reserved forests (the most strictly controlled). Protected forests (less strictly controlled), and Unclassed forests (which include ‘village forests’ or land classed as ‘culturable waste’).
Since the first systematic Forest Policy was declared, changes of far reaching importance had taken place in the economic field. Most important of these were:
(i) A substantial increase in human and bovine population which led to a heavier pressure on forest demanding more land for agriculture and pastures.
(ii) A heavy dependence on forest resources during the two world wars which led to rapid depletion of these resources.
(iii) Independent India launched reconstruction schemes such as the river projects, agricultural colonization schemes, development of forest based industries, and laying down of new railway lines all leaned very heavily on the forest products, and lastly.
(iv) Forest began to be regarded as the foster mother and not as the hand-maid of agriculture.
Forest Development Programmes
For soil and water conservation and satisfaction of the present and prospective demand of the people for fuel wood and of the industries for industrial woods and other raw materials forest development has been regarded as a sine quo non for economic progress of the country. With this aim in view, the improvement of the existing forests received attention in the Five-Year Plans. The first two Plans put considerable emphasis on their consolidation, improvement of degraded forests, establishment of economic plantations of fast growing trees and improvement of communications.
Vana Mahaotsava was inaugurated in 1950 to create an enthusiasm in the popular mind for the preservation of forests and planting of new trees, as “trees means water, water means bread and bread is life. ‘ It was also hoped that it would create tree-consciousness among the people. The planting of trees during Vanmahotsava was to serve the following purposes:
(i) To provide fuel and thus release cow dung for use as manure.
(ii) To increase production of fruits and add to the potential food resources of the country;
(iii) To help creation of shelter-belts around agricultural fields, to increase their productivity;
(iv) To provide fodder leaves for cattle to relieve intensity of grazing over reserved forests.
The Third Plan emphasized the protective as well as the productive role of forests in the Indian economy and suggested a long term objective that a third of the land area should be under forests.
The Fourth Plan envisaged a high increase in the demand for various forest products both for industrial and for fuel purposes. During the Fourth plan in the sector of forestry three main objectives were to be achieved (a) to increase the productivity of forests (b) to link up forests development with various forests-based industries; and (c) to develop forests as a support to rural economy. Intensive exploitation and rational utilization of existing forest resources was aimed at.
The primary objective of the Draft Fifth Plan is: (i) To initiate measures for increasing production of Industrial wood and other forest products by a change over from conservation oriented forestry to a dynamic programme of production forestry, aiming at clear felling and creating large man made forests with the help of institutional fmancing. The produce from clear felled areas is to be used in wood-based industries by locating additional units wherever required; (ii) To develop farm forestry and improvements of degraded forests to increase the fuel and timber supply in the rural areas, (iii) To assess the present growing stocks, increments and potential increments by forest divisions, natural regions and timber slates, along with a proper information system on the forest working plans and working schemes.
During the Sixth Plan Period the Forest Conservation Act 1980 was enacted with the main objective of checking the diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes.
The rule and importance of forests in the general economic development of the country in terms of protection of the ecosystem and supply of various forest products is better understood now the task bringing one third of the geographical area of the country under tree cover becomes a vital need and all possible efforts have to made to achieve this target by the end of this century.
Establishment of National Wasteland Development Boards, reconstitution of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and application of remote sensing in forestry management are the new thrust areas for the Seventh Year Plan regarding the development of forest wealth in the country and to develop the research and education.