The forest played a major role in early Indian literature, usually presented in opposition to settled society. It was represented as the setting for royal hunts, and as the home of hermits, whose hermitages are depicted as idyllic societies in harmony with the natural environment.Yajnavalkya Smriti written before the 5th century AD prohibited the cutting of trees and if a tree is cut punishments were prescribed for such acts. The Kautalya’s Arthashastra written in the Mauryan Period, says about the need of forest administration. It also says how a forest is important for a successful kingdom.

In 1952, the government nationalised the forests which were earlier with the zamindars. India also nationalised most of the forest wood industry and non-wood forest products industry. Over the years, many rules and regulations were introduced by India. In 1980, the Conservation Act was passed, which stipulated that the central permission is required to practice sustainable agro-forestry in a forest area. Violations or lack of permits was made a criminal offense. These nationalisation wave and laws intended to limit deforestation, conserve biodiversity, and save wildlife. However, the intent of these regulations was not matched by reality that followed. Neither investment aimed at sustainable forestry nor knowledge transfer followed once India had nationalised and heavily regulated forestry. Deforestation increased, biodiversity diminished and wildlife dwindled. India’s rural population and impoverished families continued to ignore the laws passed in Delhi, and use the forests near them for sustenance.

Ancient Forest

Forest management method

Prior to the 1980s, India deployed a bureaucratic method to estimate forest coverage. A land was notified as covered under Indian Forest Act, and then officials deemed this land area as recorded forest even if it was devoid of vegetation. By this forest-in-name-only method, the total amount of recorded forest, per official Indian records, was 71.8 million hectares. Any comparison of forest coverage number of a year before 1987 for India, to current forest coverage in India, is thus meaningless; it is just bureaucratic record keeping, with no relation to reality or meaningful comparison.In the 1980s, space satellites were deployed for remote sensing of real forest cover. Standards were introduced to classify India’s forests into the following categories:

Forest Cover: defined as all lands, more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10%. (Such lands may or may not be statutorily notified as forest area).Very Dense Forest:

Conservation of forests

The first satellite recorded forest coverage data for India became available in 1987. India and the United States cooperated in 2001, using Landsat MSS with spatial resolution of 80 metres, to get accurate forest distribution data. India thereafter switched to digital image and advanced satellites with 23 metres resolution and software processing of images to get more refined data on forest quantity and forest quality. India now assesses its forest distribution data biennially.According to the 2019 Forest Survey, the State of Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country. In terms of percentage of forest cover Mizoram (85.41 percent) is the most forest rich state. In Lakshadweep, around 90.33% of forest can be found. The States/Union Territories that showed larger increase in forest cover is Karnataka followed by Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Jammu & Kashmir while the States/Union Territories that showed loss of forest cover are Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

2015 forest survey data

The 2015 forest census data thus obtained and published by the Government of India suggests the five states with largest area under forest cover as the following

State Area (in square kilometres)(Madhya Pradesh 77,462) (Arunachal Pradesh 67,248) (Chhattisgarh 55,586) (Maharashtra 50,628) (Odisha 50,354)


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