How preserving forests is an exigency to sustain life

Protection of the environment is imperative and cannot be ignored by the world. The success stories of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environment Agency (EA) in the USA and the UK are widely known. This blog envisages probing the extent of achievements of the Indian agencies responsible for environmental amelioration and protection

Every enhancement in an environmental parameter like air quality, water quality or biodiversity index reflects the success in maintaining the mandated forest cover in the country. The requisite area of forest cover is at the heart of all the solutions to environmental problems that affect our lives. It is a guarantee of rich biodiversity and a good habitat for wildlife and species protection. It also indicates the capacity of forests to enhance carbon sequestration, thus mitigating climate change. Perhaps, this is the reason why forest is often called the foster mother of agriculture.

As per the National Forest Policy, 1988, the mandated area of forest in India is 33% of the geographical area of the country. Before the enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, there were huge diversions of forest area for multiple uses by the states such as mining, dams, roads, thermal power, irrigation and what not. Such developmental activities have always been contentious and repeatedly objected by environmentalists. However, with the enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the strict procedural requirements successfully halted reduction of the forest cover in the country.

Measurement of forest cover in the country before the 1980s was based on summing up area of all legally notified forests, which did not give the correct picture of the actual area under forest cover. In the 1980s, space satellites were deployed for remote sensing of real forest cover. Standards were introduced to classify India’s forests on parameters like very dense forest, moderately dense forest, open forest, mangrove cover and non-forestland.

The oldest available data reveals that the forest cover of the country, as per a report published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) in 2005, was 67.71 million hectares, which comes to 20.60% of the total geographical area of the country. The State of Forest Report 2019 released by FSI reveals that India’s forest cover now stands at 21.67%. An increase in the forest cover despite competing demands on forestland for multiple developmental projects, urbanization and socially relevant infrastructures is a matter of great satisfaction.

The increasing trend in the forest cover of the country is due to the successful implementation of laws and policies while undertaking forest regeneration programs and implementing compensatory afforestation programs in case of diversion of forestland for non-forestry purposes. Both central and state governments have successfully increased and diversified awareness programs on environmental protection. All schools now have eco clubs supported by the governments.

With the establishment of a separate Department of Forest and Wildlife under the Government of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi in the early 1980s, greening of Delhi was initiated on a massive scale. Delhi’s NCT has been reeling under the pressure for modernization of infrastructure and urbanization needs. Despite several infrastructural projects and large-scale construction taking place in Delhi such as Metro, National Highway Projects, High Capacity Bus Service (HCBS), flyovers, underpasses, subways and general road widening, the forest and tree cover of Delhi has been increasing on a sustained basis from 22 sq. km. (1.48%) in 1993 to 324.44 sq. km. (21.88%) in 2019. The department carries out several environment-friendly activities such as the massive tree-planting programme, which is executed under the Government-approved Greening Delhi Action Plan.

During my tenure under the Delhi Government, the department had granted permission to DMRC to fell trees for establishing a metro network. Around 100000 trees were allowed for felling during that time in lieu of the planting of ten times new saplings by the department and maintain them for ten years at the cost of DMRC as per the provisions of the Delhi Tree (Preservation) Act 1981. In my recent conversation held with Mr. Ishwar Singh, IFS, presently PCCF, Government of NCT of Delhi, felling permission to DMRC granted until recently was around 150000 trees. Despite such huge number of felling of trees for a public purpose, the green cover has not dipped in Delhi; on the contrary, it has shown a substantial increase. Likewise, I have been the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Arunachal Government for a long time and in the same rank in Andaman and Nicobar Administration for two and half years. In these territories also, the forest cover has almost remained the same despite the huge pressure on forestland by big developmental projects from such agencies as the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to name a few.

In the end, I wish to state that there exist several misconceptions regarding the schemes, policies and programs undertaken by the government officials to protect the environment. As a citizen, it is our duty to keep oneself aware of the facts and figures, which are available on the website of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Let us all resolve to protect our nature and surroundings to have a sustainable life.

(The writer is a retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer. He is currently Professor at the UPES School of Law)


  1. Incredible achievements of Government in balancing the forest cover and urban development. As pointed in the article, the green cover increased despite accomodating development projects on ground. An added perspective can be gained from a study on the kind of green cover that replaced the one that was felled.

  2. Incredible achievements of the Government in balancing the green coven and urban development, as pointed out in the article that the green cover increased despite the felling for development projects. An added perspective can be gained from a comparative study on the kind of green cover that replaced the one that was felled.

  3. Very rightly said. Everyone in those infrastructure organisations is as concerned as a citizen as another person. What is needed is that they take informed decisions. It’s worthwhile that relevant information is available for timely, direct and easy access of the decision makers. A highly focused communication strategy and an institutional structure to make that happen is currently lacking. We should be striving to achieve this.

  4. After a longtime I found opportunity to read your views specially on forestry practices in Delhi and challenges forestry professionals facing ,when demand of development projects mounting pressure for removal of trees use of forest land for non forestry purposes.

    Hope to see more on similar issues,

  5. While the government may be attempting to replace the ever-depleting forest cover by planting more trees, it remains to be seen if that is enough. Two things need to be considered: one, whether replacing forest cover is done at a rate that can help us manage the increasing pollution and climate change; and two, the preservation of biodiversity in existing forests. Forests are much more than trees and plants- it is home and habitat to diverse animals, birds and insects. Citizen-centric initiatives maybe the right way forward keeping these ethical dilemmas in mind.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and critical comments. I entirely agree with you that forests are much more than trees and plants. I would ask a question. Are you arguing for a model mentioned in the Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin or arguing for individuals’ initiatives or libertarian principle. I would be keen to resolve the moral dilemmas in initiatives of the government to conserve forests. You may send your detailed reply on my e-mail if you like.

  6. Sir, Please accept my congratulations for putting such a nice blog related with Delhi Chapter of your tenure. I was witness as Conservator of Forests of NCT that time. Certainly Delhi Preservation of Tree Act 1994 is very relevant to achieve greenery of Delhi . For felling of one tree ten trees being planted with assurance of survival and it’s maintenance for 10 years. The modification and useful amendments were your creation.
    Another noticeable fact is the height of saplings . We always had 5-6 ft height for plantation. Those saplings with in a year comes in per view of Satellite.
    Inspite of large number of Metro project and road project we could maintain fine balance is worth mentioning.
    It gives good example of sustainable development.
    28 City forests were developed during the time .Retrieval of encroached land from Mafias were largely done during that period and I feel proud to be associated with you . Out team demolished and retrieved approximately 500 acres of encroached land . It is journey of Delhi forest with strong forestry legacy.

  7. Very insightful blog.
    Although the data provided is showing that there is not much effect on the forest in the present time. But considering the factors like growing population, industrialization, climate change etc, whether the action taken to protect the environment is sufficient to keep pace with this changing time?

  8. Very insightful with an important message! It is important to know how the forest cover is maintained through both the government and citizen initiatives. However, maintaing the forest cover as a sustainable ecosystem and home for wild animals, birds is also important.

  9. The blog has generated a sense of satisfaction that sustained government efforts have increased forest cover. Initial government consciousness regarding forest conservation came with the Ramsar convention and Stockholm convention etc. Further percolation of international movement to protect environment to the local level always kept government on its toes. And result is here in front of us as an increased forest cover both qualitatively and quantitatively. However, intellectual discourse which goes in public has always shown a tendency to highlight the drawbacks only. And positive efforts of government have been seldom celebrated by the activists. Although successful individual efforts and non-governmental institutional efforts have always been lauded and awarded, such as Chipko movement or regeneration of river Kali Bein in Punjab by priest Balbir Singh Seechewal, but analysis and appreciation of positive results of governmental efforts have always been missing in intellectual debates. This blog becomes very important, as it has tried to fill that gap. A well-written piece.

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