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International Day of Forests 2016: It’s Time to Think Green

The Indian Constitution refers to the need to conserve forests under Article 51A (g).

Published
India
3 min read
Mountain spruce forest over the hill fith fog behind. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The subject of forests is related to the entire range of environmental and development issues and opportunities, including the right to socio-economic development on a sustainable basis. 
Preamble, Rio Forest Principles

Since 2013, 21 March has been celebrated as the International Day of Forests by the United Nations in order to “raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests”.

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“Lungs of the Planet”

Forest with creek. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Forest with creek. (Photo: iStockphoto)

One of the most critical ecosystems on our planet, forests cover a third of the continents and act as the “lungs of the planet” by producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. More than 1.6 billion people rely on the forests for their needs and forests are home to more than 80 percent of land-based plants and animals.

Sadly, we’re also losing forest cover at an alarming rate with 13 million hectares of forest disappearing each year. This is bad news. Among other things, deforestation is directly responsible for contributing up to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. India’s forests help make us one of earth’s “megadiverse” countries and forests hold an important place in our traditions and culture.

The Indian Constitution also refers to the need to conserve forests—Article 51A (g) states that “it is the duty of every Indian citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests”.

Loss of Forests

Autumn park. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Autumn park. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Unfortunately however, all is not well with India’s forests. The 2015 State of the Forest Report (SFR) records India’s forest cover as 21.34 percent of its total area and emphasises an increase of 5081 sq. km of forests since the 2013 SFR. However, this doesn’t tell the full story because the SFR records forest area as being all areas of over 1 hectare with a tree cover density of 10 percent and above.

Since the area considered to be a “forest” includes plantations as well, this means that the replacement of old forests with fast-growing monoculture plantations would not lead to a change in “forest” cover. By many accounts, this is precisely what has occurred in India.

Birch trees near the water in the sunlight at sunset. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Birch trees near the water in the sunlight at sunset. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Our loss of forests is one reason why India is home to four bio-diversity “hot spots” – the Western Ghats, the Himalayas, the Indo-Burma region and the Nicobar Islands. These are areas rich in native flora found nowhere else on Earth, which have lost over 70 percent of their original vegetation cover.

This is a sobering reality check and a reminder that we need to act now to conserve our forests—development and the environment cannot be seen as being contrary to one another.

(Shalini Iyengar is a lawyer and Research Associate at the International University College of Turin)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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