Forest Policy Reforms in India - Evolution of the Joint Forest Management Approach

A.K. Mukerji[1]


India has 2.5% of the world's geographic area and 63.73 million ha of forest area. The country supports 16% of the planet's human population and 18% of the domestic animal population. The 1999 Forest Survey of India report indicates that the country's forest cover is 19.39% of the land area against the Forest Policy requirement of 33%.

Indian forests are under severe pressure. Growing demands for fuel, fodder, grazing, timber and non-wood forest products, together with lack of involvement of stakeholders in protection and management of forests, are the reasons for forest degradation.

The first Forest Policy adopted by British Colonial Government in 1894 aimed at a custodial and timber-oriented management. The post-independence Forest Policy of 1952 recommended that 33% of the area of the country be brought under forest cover.

The first policy decision for people's involvement in forest protection and management was taken in the resolution passed by the Central Board of Forestry in 1987. In 1988, a new Forest Policy was adopted, which aimed at maintenance of environmental and ecological stability and the motivation of the people to increase and protect forests.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) issued guidelines in 1990 for people's involvement in forest conservation, management, sharing of usufructs and sale proceeds. A supporting circular in 2002 provided for strengthening the Joint Forest Management (JFM) approach by providing legal status to JFM committees and women's involvement. In 2001 MOEF initiated a central scheme of afforestation and eco-development under Forest Development Agencies to gradually cover 0.175 million villages situated close to forests.

All policy reforms since 1987 are towards gradually ensuring full financial and administrative empowerment of the local JFM committees for managing their own natural resources in ways that allow for a holistic trade off between ecological and economical benefits from forests. The participatory forest management approach now offers new hope for communities dependent upon forests for their multiple needs. Exciting beginnings have been made and there is need for consolidation and progress.

1.0 Introduction

India is the biggest democracy in the world having seventh largest geographical area of 328.7 million hectres and second largest population (about 1000 million) with variety of climate, soil and ecological associations. It is one of 12 mega diversity countries in the world having vast variety of flora and fauna, commanding 7% of World's biodiversity and supports 16 major forest types, varying from Himalayan Alpine pasture and temperature forest, sub-tropical forest, tropical evergreen to mangroves in the coastal areas etc. India also has two biodiversity hot spots in the northeastern states and the Western Ghats (Mukherjee, 2001).

Having about 2.5% of world's geographic and 1.8% of forest area, India at present is supporting 16% of planet's human population and 18% of domestic animal population (500 million). About 41% of forest cover of the country is degraded and dense forests are losing both crown density and productivity due to grazing, fires and excess removal of biomass (MOEF-99 NFAP). Any further degradation of forests will have an adverse impact on various systems such as water resources, agriculture, biodiversity, environment, climate and human health besides the subsistence living of tribal and other communities as well as wildlife living in and around forest areas.

2.0 Forests of India

2.1 Present Status:

At the time of independence in 1947, the area of government owned forest was around 40 million hecters (mha.), but by mid-1970, it reached the level of 76.5 mha. due to take over of forests of erstwhile princely states "zamindari" forests etc. However, by 1980, nearly 4.5 mha. of forests were also diverted to agriculture and other uses. The present ground situation as revealed in the Forest Survey of India's Report of 1999 which indicates that the country now has only 63.73 mha of forest cover i.e. 19.39% of land area against the Forest Policy requirement of 33%. Out of this, 37.74 ha are dense forest (40% and up density), 25.50 mha. of open forest and 0.49 mha. mangroves along the coasts. Moreover, there are 5.6 mha. of shrub forests.

2.2 Reasons for Degradation

Indian forests are under severe pressure for meeting growing demand for fuel, fodder, grazing, timber and non-wood forest products from ever growing human population (390 million in 1950 to 1 billion in 2001), livestock and industrial needs.

The growing demand supply gap especially in meeting people's basic needs in rural area & noninvolvement of stake holders in protection and management of forests, are the main reasons for forest degredation.

2.3 Demand -Supply Scenario

Assessment of the demand supply situation of fuel, fodder & timber was made by various committees of planning commission & research scholars since 1970. In 1996 the Forest Survey of India (FSI) made an assessment which is considered most realistic and is summarized as under:

Fuel wood

The availability was assessed in 1996 at 115 million tones (mts) from all sources & demand at 201 mts. The gap of 86 million tones is mostly met by over exploitation of forests beyond its productive capacity. It will grow to 126 mts by 2006.

Fuel wood is mostly gathered (85%) and hence is free and is preferred to alternate fuels in rural area. It is a non-monetized commodity and subject to overuse.

The FAO assessed the Indian fuel wood requirement at 279.34 cum3 (FAO-99).


The total demand is assessed at 64.4 Million cum in 1996, 73 Million cum in 2001 & 81.8 cum in 2006

The total availability is only 12 million cum from forest & 31 from farm forest i.e. a total of 43 million cum - gap of 21.4 million cum. The gap will grow rapidly in future unless large-scale regeneration operations and plantations are taken up.


The requirement of green fodder is estimated as 699 million tones(mts) in 2001 and 817 mts in 2006 as against present availability of 534 mts

It is estimated that 30% of all supplies comes from forest area through lopping and grazing much beyond the carrying capacity of forest. This is a non-monetized free supply and is being over utilized.

Nonwood forest products (NWFPs)

There is large scale harvesting of medicinal plants, gums, fruits, fibers, seeds etc for local use and sale by village right holders. About 70% of the Indian population is estimated to be using traditional medicines (Ayurvedic). It has a half billion $ domestic market which is growing at 20% per annum for meeting the need of nearly six thousand licensed units & village level use (iied-2002).

The above scenario, clearly indicates that forest and community land are subjected to unsustainable biomass withdrawals. This is a matter of serious concern, as these areas are the main source of biological diversity, wildlife habitat and various types of natural ecosystems, which are the base for all life support systems, especially in rural India.

3.0 Management and Policy Initiatives in forestry sector

3.1 Pre-independence

Before discussing current policies it is essential to have a brief review of the policy development since initiation of modern forestry in India. The foundation of scientific forestry was laid when Sir Dietrich Brandis, a German forester was appointed as the first Inspector General of Forests in 1864 and passing of the First Indian Forest Act in 1865. It was revised in 1878 & 1927 and provided for formation of Reserved and Protected Forest.

The first Forest Policy was adopted by Govt. of India resolution of 19th October 1894. The main thrust areas were to ensure maintenance of adequate forest cover for general well being of the country, meeting needs of local people and after meeting local needs maximum revenue collection. However, over harvesting of timber during the two world wars resulted in considerable degradation of forests.

3.2 Post-independence

An independent & democratic India saw a lot of new political initiatives. Large forest areas of princely states and "zamindaris" were taken and adoption of the Forest Policy of 1952 which recommended that 33% of the total land area of the country should be brought under Forest or tree cover. It provided detailed guidelines for management and protection of forests and wildlife.

In 1972, The National Commission on Agriculture recommended raising of large scale plantations in degraded forest areas and through social forestry in community and private lands, to meet the growing gap in timber and firewood requirement. It also suggested formation of Forest Corporations to use bank finance.

In 1976, by 42nd amendment in the constitution 'Forest" was brought under central concurrent list followed by the enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act in 1980 (amended in 1988). It made it mandatory for the states to take approval of the Government of India before diversion of any forestland for non-forestry purpose with a provision for compensatory afforestation preferably on non-forest area.

In 1985, the subject of Forestry and Wildlife was shifted from Ministry of Agriculture to a new Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) to ensure a more focused attention to emerging forestry issues.

4.0 The New Approach of Participatory Management OR Joint Forest Management (JFM)

4.1 Till early 1970s Foresters had followed the traditional system of management with little interaction with local people, and urban opinion makers. However due to rapid rise in human and livestock population the demand for forest produce increased dramatically specially for fuel, fodder, non wood forest products etc which were not part of the old timber oriented management practice. The people had to meet their sustenance needs & had no stake in protection and management of forests. This created conflict between people and the foresters following the old custodial approach.

For years some foresters, ecologists, social scientists and NGOs have maintained that degraded natural forests in India could regenerate rapidly and could experience significant increase in biomass and biodiversity if strategically protected. Communities living in or around natural forests could protect them if clearly authorized by the government and along with assured economic returns that would compensate them for their lost opportunity costs. Some successful attempts were made in various states in 1970s to involve people & rural communities in forest protection & management with the assurance of a share in the forest produce.

4.2 The first policy level decision for people's involvement in forest protection & management decision was taken in the resolution passed in the meeting of the XXII. Central Board of Forestry (CBF) held in December 1987. The Prime Minister in his Chairman's address stressed the need for effective people's participation in forest protection and management. This was also reflected in the Resolution No. 25 which reads as under:-

"This meeting resolves that by 31.3.90 every village will have a plan for regeneration of forests and the restoration of ecological balance. This plan will be drawn up and implemented with full participation of village panchayats or other such bodies."

4.3 In 1988, the new Forest Policy was adopted, which covers all the sustainable management approaches subsequently provided in the 1992 Rio "Forest Principles". The main objectives are:

4.4 The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India (MOEF) issued detailed guidelines in June 1990 for people's involvement in forest conservation and management through an appropriate village level organization. It also laid emphasis on the procedure of sharing of usufructs and a share of the net sale proceeds.

This new participatory management approach elevated the local people from the receivers of some benefits from forest area to the level of co-managers along with the forest personnel over a designated area of forest. It ensures equitable benefit sharing of the usufruct as well as the financial returns from timber harvest. It brought to focus the need for development of modified silvicultural systems and flexible management approach for ensuring local need based and sustainable multi-product output from the previously degraded forest area, and better NWFP yield from good forest areas.

4.5 In 1999, MOEF issued the National Forest Action Programme (NFAP) to cover a period of 20 years (4 five years plans from Xth Plan onwards) starting in 2002. It recommends an annual need based target of 3 million ha. for regeneration, plantations, agro and social forestry programmes in close collaboration with local people and stake holders. It laid emphasis on livelihoods based forest resource management, development & use by local people that would lead to self-reliance and sustainability.

4.6 The MOEF, issued a supporting circular on 21st February 2002 for strengthening the JFM programme in the country. The main features are:

4.7 Till 1st March 2002, 27 states had issued resolutions laying ground rules for placing degraded forest under joint forest management (JFM) system and sharing of usufructs and net sale proceeds between the forest department and the local people through village forest development committee (FDC). It is reported that as on that date, 63618 such committees had been formed covering 140953.6 sq. km of degraded forestlands in the country. MOEF (2002)

4.8 In the year 2000-2001 MOEF initiated a new pilot scheme of undertaking integrated village afforestation and eco-development activities under a new set up named Forest Development Agency (FDA) to gradually cover nearly 0.175 million villages, situated close to forests. The basic objectives of the scheme are:

5.0 The Way Ahead

5.1 There is an urgent need for propagating these new and major shifts from the timber oriented and custodial forestry practices to a more socially, environmentally as well as local people friendly process of micro planning and management of forests through a JFM approach. It also calls for a holistic trade off between ecological and economical benefits from forests. This requires a rapid attitudinal change on part of both forest personnel and local villagers to work as member of a team and as partners with the common goal of conserving and enhancing the forest resources for its sustainable use by the society in general and local people in particular.

5.2 For ensuring that these major policy changes are properly implemented in the field, some of the focal issues deserving immediate attention are as under:-

Large scale grass-root level training have to be organized for field level forest staff, local village leaders and NGOs about capacity building and for assuming the added responsibility in adoption of participatory approach.

Developments of proper guidelines, for resources and need assessment for preparation of need based micro plans along with implementation schedule, possible silvicultural options for multi-product management.

NWFPs are the main stay for the sustenance and quick economic returns for rural people, special attention is needed for NWFP development, sustainable harvesting and marketing.

The maintenance of records of technical operation, yield of NWFPS, fuel wood and timber etc. and its distribution should become an essential part of JFM activities.

It is necessary to develop skills of local leaders and staff to ensure equity in distribution of benefits amongst local people and conflict resolution.

After the training and human resource development adequate administrative and financial power along with necessary funds should be given to the JFM committees for ensuring smooth working.

Proper institutional set up and standards will have to be developed for monitoring and evaluation of work of JFM units.

There is need to develop special approach for joint management in and around National Parks and Sanctuaries where usufruct sharing may not be possible.

6.0 Conclusion

Joint Forest Management: A New Hope For Sustainable Forestry

Participatory forest management (also referred to as JFM), offers new hope for communities most directly dependent upon forest for their multiple needs. Exciting beginnings have been made in a number of states. Local forest protection committees are proliferating; some spontaneously others with the encouragement and assistance of forest department field staff and NGOs.

Forest Departments now have a challenge to reorient their perspectives, to shift from being forest managers to community facilitators. They will need to develop and effectively adopt more flexible planning processes which are truly participatory and at the same time completely integrated into the overall working plan objectives. Innovative silvicultural systems to maximize benefits from multiple uses will need to be evolved with the inputs of traditional and technical knowledge and increased understanding of the ecological and economic role of NWFPs.

Special emphasis will need to be given to ensure that women and disadvantaged communities have an equitable role in management and decision making. Village institutions will have to apportion responsibilities, develop internal rules and practices, distribute benefits, manage funds and savings, organize marketing and processing enterprises.

NGOs will have to deal with more complex intermediary roles as trainers, researchers and policy advisors and facilitators.

Decision-making and management will have to shift to new institutional forums, at different levels. Forest protection committee meetings, divisional and state level working group meetings will become the laboratories for an evolving process.

The local and district level elected bodies, the "Panchayats" and "Jilaparishads" respectively have to provide necessary political to support JFM process. This will provide stability and give the JFM committees the institutional look and social acceptability.

While new policies and programs represent a historic opportunity to shift from management practices of the 19th century to newly adapted systems that may better respond to the social and environmental needs of the 21st century, many challenges remain. India's social cultural and ecological diversity requires that emerging local forest management be tailored to respond to prevailing problems and opportunities. This requires an understanding of vegetative conditions, local leadership and institutions and the importance of forest to the local and regional economy. Viable management partnerships need to be based on a solid understanding of forest use dependencies, balancing economic and ecological objectives to benefit participating village communities, the state and the nation.


FAO - 1999

State of the World Forest.

Forest Survey Of India, 1987 & 1999

The states of Forest Reports

Forest Survey Of India (1996),

Fuelwood, Timber and Fodder from Forests.

Ministry Of Environment And Forest (June 1999)

National Forestry Action Programme India

Ministry Of Environment And Forest, March 2002

A decade of partnership.

Mukherji A.K. (Feb 2001),

Natural Resource Assessment through application of GIS - Paper in Asia Geo Spatial meet, Malaysia.

Mukherji A.K. (April 2001),

Protection of Biodiversity in Indian Forest - New eco-development approach. Proceedings of the 16th Commonwealth conference in Perth, p29-37.

Saigal, Arora & Rizvi, iied March 2002

The new foresters.

[1] Former Inspector General of Forests, Government of India. I-1625 C.R. Park, New Delhi 110019, India. Email: [email protected]