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Forest policy accords highest priority to the environmental role of forests

Dr. J. K. Rawat
Dr. J. K. Rawat
Director, Forest Survey of India
[email protected] 

  • What is the mandate and activities of Forest Survey of India ?

    The Forest Survey of India (FSI) is a premier national forest resources survey organisation in the country. It was created with effect from June 1, 1981 as a successor to Pre-investment Survey of Forest Resources (PISFR) to furnish data through countrywide comprehensive forest resources survey at regular intervals. The FSI, with headquarters at Dehradun, is working under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. It has four zonal offices one each at Nagpur, Shimla, Bangalore and Kolkata. They are engaged in forest resources survey in Central, Northern, Southern and Eastern parts of the country, respectively.

    After a critical review of the activities of FSI, its objectives were redefined in 1986 to make it more purposeful and relevant. The present objectives of FSI are:

    • To prepare a comprehensive State of Forest Report including forest cover maps once every two years through use of remote sensing data.
    • To undertake inventory of forest resources inside and outside forest areas in the country.
    • To collect, store and retrieve necessary forestry and forestry-related data for national and state level planning.
    • To design methodologies relating to forest surveys and subsequent processing and updating.
    • To impart training in modern survey techniques and applica- tion of remote sensing and GIS to foresters at various levels.
    • To undertake special studies and consultancies.

    The activities of FSI, based on its objectives, include (i) Forest cover mapping (ii) Thematic mapping (iii) Inventory of forest/tree resources and data processing (iv) Training (v) Development of forest survey methodologies (vi) Special studies and (vii) Consultancy.

  • What is the status of forests in India both in terms of extent and quality?

    As per the State of Forest Report-1999, the forest cover in the country (based on satellite data of 1996 to 1998) is 63.73 million ha constituting 19.39 percent of the geographical area of the country. This is composed of 37.74 million ha (11.48%) of dense forest, 25.50 million ha (7.76%) of open forest and 0.49 million ha (0.15%) of mangroves. FSI defines dense forest as lands with tree cover of canopy density of 40 percent and above; open forest as lands with tree cover of canopy density between 10 and 40 percent; and mangroves are salt tolerant forest ecosystem found in inter-tidal regions in estuaries and coasts.

  • Tell us something about National Forest Policy.

    The first forest policy of 1894 was revised in 1952. National Commission of Agriculture studied the forestry planning in the country in 1976 and made recommendations for future action. Consequently, the forest policy was again revised in 1988 as the National Forest Policy, 1988. The new policy accords highest priority to the environmental role of forests. The policy states that the principal aim of the Forest Policy must be to ensure environmental stability and ecological balance including atmospheric equilibrium, which are vital for the sustenance of all life forms, human, animal and plant. The derivation of direct economic benefit must be subordinated to this principal aim. Industrial wood requirements are to be met from the farm forestry and private area plantations. The policy also sets a national goal to have a minimum of one third of the total area of the country under forest or tree cover. In the hills and in mountainous regions, the aim should be to maintain two third of the area under such cover in order to prevent erosion and land degradation and to ensure the stability of the fragile eco-system.

    The basic objectives of the National Forest Policy, 1988 are:

    • Maintenance of environmental stability through preservation and, where necessary, restoration of the ecological balance that has been adversely disturbed by serious depletion of the forests of the country.
    • Conserving the natural heritage of the country by preserving the remaining natural forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna, which represents the remarkable biological diversity and genetic resources of the country.
    • Checking soil erosion and denudation in the catchment areas of rivers, lakes and reservoirs in the interest of soil and water conservation, for mitigating floods and droughts and for the retardation of siltation of reservoirs. Also checking the extension of sand dunes.
    • Increasing substantially the forest/tree cover in the country through massive afforestation and social forestry programmes.
    • Meeting the requirements of fuel wood, fodder, minor forest produce and small timber of the rural and tribal population.
    • Increasing the productivity of forests to meet essential national needs.
    • Encouraging efficient utilisation of forest produce and maximizing substitution of the wood.
    • Creating a massive people’s movement with the involvement of women, for achieving these objectives and to minimize pressure on existing forests.
  • Do you think that technology like Remote Sensing has helped in the assessment of forests? Any specific example?

    Yes, through remote sensing only it could be possible to know the actual forest cover in the country and at frequent intervals of time. FSI is monitoring forest cover of the country at a cycle of two years since 1987. The information generated by FSI has helped in policy making and planning for existing deforestation and increasing green cover of the country. Change in forest cover in biosphere reserves and protected areas, in specific forests due to mining activity, assessment of area affected by shifting cultivation, extent of damage due to forest fire are some other examples of the application of Remote Sensing and GIS.

  • What initiatives have been taken in incorporating technologies such as GIS and Remote Sensing in your department?

    FSI is using Remote Sensing and GIS since mid eighties. Besides the regular activities of periodic forest cover mapping, the organisation has undertaken several studies on forest related themes. It has been our endeavour to keep pace with the advancement in the technology and as a result FSI is having a well equipped infrastructure for Remote Sensing and GIS with the state of the art DIP and GIS systems. In a project undertaken from Mizoram Forest Department, FSI has developed a methodology for identification of bamboo forests from satellite data and has used GIS to delineate forestland into various categories for management purposes. In another initiative, FSI will soon install an earth station at Dehradun to receive NOAA/AVHRR satellite data. The system would be used for near real-time detection and monitoring of forest fires occurring anywhere in the country. FSI also provides technical guidance to State Forest Departments in establishing Remote Sensing & GIS infrastructure in respective departments.