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Forestry Databases in India

Sandeep Tripathy
Joint Director, Forestry Survey of India, Kaulagarh Road, Dehradun.
Email: [email protected]

Subhash Ashutosh
Deputy Director, Forestry Survey of India, Kaulagarh Road, Dehradun.

In India, forest management on scientific lines started way back in 1865. The first major offer to create a primary database on forest was PISFR in 1965. PISFR was converted to FSI in 1981.

Information is a key to develop any resource. Importance of database in relation to natural resource like forest gets further enhanced due to multiplicity of the factors involved in its management and planning. In a country like ours, socio-economic interface of forestry gives an added dimension to the forestry database.

Richness and quality of database determines its effectiveness in the intended application. Primary data generated with specific objectives, following correct methodology provides best source of information. Data derived in the secondary form may serve the purpose for the other applications too, but there may be loss of accuracy and effectiveness of the data.

Two important applications of forestry database are:

  • strategic planning at the national and state level,
  • planning for field management and operations.

The data set for the above applications would be different in general. For the former, the requirement of the data would be information on key parameters like forest cover, extent of plantations, gross yield of important forest products, demand and supply, extent of plantations, gross yield of important products, demand and supply, extent of wastelands etc. in the larger perspective of nation or state. For the latter application, the database should provide technical details of desirable accuracy. Thus, qualitative attributes of the database like accuracy, scale, methodology adopted, source etc. become important considerations for its specific use.

In India, data requirement for the first application is met by the secondary data generated by compilation of the information supplied by the State Forest Departments and primary data produced by Forest Survey of India on certain parameters. For second application, the State Forest Departments have their own machinery.

Technology, methodology and the skilled manpower are the key determinants for creation of an effective database. Agencies involved in primary data generation should therefore be strengthened on these aspects. For a country like India, which follows centralised planning there, is no alternative to a strong primary database of forests for the proper and sustainable development of the sector.

Considering various issues related to forest management planning and policy formulation important information needs for sustainable development of forestry can be enlisted as follows:

  • Forest cover and change analysis on a periodic basis broken down into density classes and forest types.
  • Growing stock and change analysis on a periodic basis as well as increment.
  • Regeneration status.
  • Forest plantation area and the growth stock by species age class.
  • Existing wood (tree) resources and availability outside forests.
  • Impact of Joint Forest Management on the status of the forest resource.
  • Plantation areas under compensatory afforestation programme.
  • Damage by fire and grazing.
  • Extent of damage by insects and pests.
  • Areas available for wood supply.
  • Consumption of timber and fuelwood.
  • Status of protected areas.
  • Biodiversity status in selected areas.
  • Land use maps of selected areas.
  • Extent of encroachment/mining/quarrying in forest areas.
  • Impact of forestry activities on carbon sequestration.
  • Assessment of availability of important Non-Wood forest products (NWFP).
  • Forest Atlas.
  • Market Information.

Forestry Databases in India
In India, forest management on scientific lines started way back in 1865. Information base on forests expanded with the time as increasing forest areas were brought under scientific management. Pool of information developed in this manner was need based to meet the requirement of forest policy in currency. With the passage of time generation of information continued to take place but data remain localized, scattered and limited in scope. The first major effort to create a primary database on forests was ‘Pre Investment Survey of Forest Resources’ (PISFR) in 1965. PISFR formed a nucleus of national forest resources survey providing continuous and reliable information relating to forest resources.

Status of forestry databases in the country can be discussed under two heads i.e. state level and national level.

State Level
Management of forest in India vests with the state government. Most of the authentic field level information therefore, comes from the state forest departments.

Forest departments follow a well-laid down system of record keeping throughout the country, which is more or less uniform in all states. This system has been evolved in the past more than 135 years of forest administration in the country. These records which are in the form of compartment history files, control forms, manual forms, plantation journals etc. contain detailed account of all the relevant information about the forests under management and provide historical perspective. Transmission of the field level information to the higher levels of administration in the forest department through periodic returns and compilation of such returns in the form of annual administrative reports has been the backbone of the information system in the state forest departments. Many of the state publish statistical bulletins, which are generally compilations of the official data maintained by the statistical cells of the SFDs. The other important source of information on forests at the state level is ‘Working Plan’.

National Level
Prior to 1965 (before PSIFR) forestry database at the National Level were the result of the compilation of information available with the State Forest Departments. First such effort was made in the year 1925 when “Board of Forestry” of the British Government carried out an Economic Survey of Forest Resources. After Independence, in 1958-59 Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation which used to be the Ministry in charge of Forestry issued a compilation of data collected at the range, division and the state levels. In the year 1965 the Central Forestry Commission issued a statistical compilation covering data for the whole country on a uniform format. The exercise was repeated in 1967 and 1969 with a wider information base. Between 1983 and 1987 Ministry of Environment and Forest through its statistical and utilisation division issued a series of Forestry Statistical Publication under the title “India’s Forests”. Secondary data compiled in the above reports served the purpose of reference material at the best. Reliability of the information was not of the standard that it could be used for strategic planning either at the Central or at the State level. In 1965, the first effort to generate primary database at the national level came in the form of Pre Investment Survey of Forestry Resources (PISFR). The survey provide high quality data on availability of forest based raw materials for industries. PISFR was converted to Forest Survey of India in 1981. (Detailed information on FSI is provided on page 60).

Table 1 : Forest Information Repository

Forest Resource Forest Product & Market Financial Allocation & Manage Scheme
Density Classes
Growing stock and
Regeneration status
Diversion of forest area
JFM Area
Shifting cultivation
Natural Forest
Assessment of Demand & Supply
Forest based industries
Expenditure wise
Revenue earning
Monitoring and Evaluation
Wildlife Conservation Human & Institutional Forest Protection
National park
Reserves etc.
Bio-geographical zone
Census of important
Organisational setup
Personnel of different
Training, education and Research Institution
Consolidation of forest area
Areas affected by Grazing
Area under encroachments
Information Need State Forest Departments Central Organisations
Forest Resources








Forest Products
Supply, Demand, Gap)





Human and Institutional Resources




Wildlife Conservation


Financial Allocation
i) Expenditure


ii) Revenue

Forest Area with legal
Ownership of forest area









Consolidation of forest area
Area under Encroachment

Setup/Infrastructure (no. of
Circles, Divisions etc.)
Technical, Ministerial)

Area of National Parks,
Sanctuaries, Tiger Reserves,
Biosphere Reserves Census

Tribal Plan
From Forest Product

Area of wasteland (NAEB)
Shifting of cultivation
Forest cover & type (FSI)
Diversion of forest area
Regeneration status
Growing stock & increment
Export-Import (MoEF)
Areas affected by fire
Area affected by Grazing


Training Institutions
Forestry Research
Forestry Education

Bio-geographical zones (WII)

National Forest Information System

National Forestry Information System (NFIS) : The Required Approach

It is desirable to discuss about the kind of database system, which could meet the information needs of different users for a variety of application ranging from strategic planning at the Government level, field operations to analysis for policy alternatives etc.

A National Forestry Information System would have to be more than statistical database, because figures can describe the forests in a limited way only. Perception formed by a piece of statistical information about the forest resource gets much enhanced if the same is spatially referenced. In many applications this becomes an essential requirement. Decisions in relation to forest resources often involves its distribution vis-à-vis features or land uses.

Strategy to create a desirable forest information system should have mechanism to incorporate following elements.

  • Flow of information from the SFDs,
  • Primary data generation on identified key information needs,
  • Pooling of information from various institutions/agencies,
  • Spatial referencing of the above information,
  • Networking.

An outline of the Forest Information Re-pository is given below.

Source of information to the above repository can be identified as follows. There are certain grey areas of information for which no institution/agency is responsible. Scanty information however, may be available on these topics but the data may not be reliable. An arrangement/mechanism will have to be evolved for generating authentic data on these themes either by assigning the task to a related agency or by way of coordination among the concerned organisations.