May 30, 2024

General Studies Paper -3

Context: Recently, the Supreme Court of India has asserted in a judgement that forests in India are a national asset and a major contributor to the nation’s financial wealth.

Forest as Financial Wealth and National Asset

  • The Supreme Court of India has asserted that forests in India are a national asset and a major contributor to the nation’s financial wealth.
    • The judgement was based on an appeal filed by the State of Telangana against a High Court decision ‘graciously gifting’ forest land to a private person.
  • The Supreme Court observed that India’s forests serve as a major sink of carbon dioxide (CO2). The value of mitigation has put a conservative value of US$ 5 per tonne of CO2 locked in our forests (about 24,000 mt of CO2 is worth $120 billion, or ₹6 lakh crores).
  • According to the ‘India’s Forest and Tree Cover: Contribution as a Carbon Sink (2009)’, from ‘1995 to 2005, the carbon stocks stored in our forests and trees have increased from 6,245 million tonnes (mt) to 6,662 mt, registering an annual increment of 38 mt of carbon or 138 mt of CO2 equivalent’.

Forest Resources in India

  • India, with its diverse ecosystems, is rich in forest resources.
  • The Forest Survey of India (FSI), an organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) is responsible for the survey and assessment of forest resources in the country.

Forest Cover in India

  • The FSI’s reports identify 63 million hectares of potential areas for restoration across different categories, namely, open forest, recently impaired forests, cultural wastelands, agro-forestry plantations, and potential for plantations along roads and railway tracks.
  • The National Forest Policy of India (1988) envisaged a goal of achieving 33% of the geographical area of the country under forest & tree cover.
    • The remote sensing-based nationwide Forest Cover mapping at a biennial interval serves as a monitoring mechanism towards the achievement of this goal.
  • Forests in India cover about 24.62% of the country’s land area (including tree cover) and are some of the most biodiverse forests in the world.
  • They provide a range of important ecosystem services, such as protecting against soil erosion, regulating the water cycle, and serving as a home for a wide variety of plant and animal species.

Community Forest Resources

  • These play a crucial role in supporting rural livelihoods.
  • An estimated 200 million forest-dependent people collect several valuable products from India’s forests.
  • These are used as raw materials in diverse industries, such as processed foods and confectionery, pharmaceuticals, alternative medicine, cosmetics and perfumery, and paper and pulp.

Ecological Importance

  • Forests are often referred to as the ‘green lungs’ of the nation by providing various ecological services like clean air, water, maintenance of soil-moisture regime by checking soil erosion, preserving biodiversity, checking global warming and climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide.

Social Importance

  • Forests provide habitats to diverse animal species and form the source of livelihood for many different human settlements.
  • They offer watershed protection, timber, and non-timber products.
    • Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food or fuel.

Conservation Efforts

  • India has developed a strong legal and policy framework for the forestry sector for sustainable forest governance through the National Forest Policy, 1988, Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • The National Forest Policy sets a strategy of forest conservation with the principal aim of ensuring environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance by bringing a minimum of one-third of the total land area of the country under forest or tree cover.

Conclusion

  • India’s forest resources are a vital part of the country’s ecological and economic wealth.
  • The Supreme Court’s judgement underscores the importance of forests as a national asset and a significant contributor to the nation’s financial wealth.
  • It highlights the need for effective forest conservation policies and strict enforcement to protect and preserve these valuable resources.
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