Forests are considered as a pivotal natural resource of our nation as they help
in supplying raw materials to the industry such as wood, minerals and timber,
provide fuel and fodder, serve as the guardians and protectors of the diverse
wildlife of our country, bring revenue to the state as quite a lot of them are
major tourist attractions, prevent soil erosion, provide shelter to animals and
tribal people and maintain balance of the ecosystem.
Sadly, these forests have
been disappearing at an alarming rate and are being exploited badly in the last
few decades. These forests should be covering 33% of the total land area as per
India's accepted ideal but in reality, our forests and vegetation cover only
21.67% of the total land area. Clearly, the vegetation cover much less than what
is accepted and required.
There are a lot of factors that have contributed to
this alarming exploitation of the vegetation of our nation such as growth in
population, industrialization, urbanization and demanding more natural resources
such as wood, fuel and fodder. Therefore, it is imperative to have laws and
legislations that should control and govern the usage of forests and vegetation
of our nation to protect and preserve them. For the purpose of this article, we
shall be discussing The Indian Forest Act 1927 and how it imposes control over
forests, forest-produce and their usage.
The governance over forests was
originally placed in the State List but by the 76th Amendment, it was placed in
the concurrent list. Therefore, the forests of our country are governed by both,
the Union and the States. In this article, we are going to discuss the history
of forests in India, laws and legislations to protect and preserve forest and
the restrictions on the usage of forests.
It is proven that India was once densely covered with forests; there is a lot of
evidence that proves this. Over the years, the depletion and exploitation of
forests is simultaneous with the progress of man, growth in population, more
dependence on natural resources and urbanization. Ancient texts show that
forests were very important to people as people used to performed religious
ceremonies that were trees and forests centered.
As for example, The Agni Purana,
a 4000-years old ancient piece of writing stated that men are required to
protect and preserve forests in order to get religious blessing. Even during the
Chandra Gupta Maurya era, he came to know the imperativeness of forests and in
order to ensure that they are protected and preserved, he appointed a high
officer to look after the forests.
The Mughals were also known to have showed
keen interest in forests as they were known to have beautiful gardens with
beautiful plants and trees. Akbar had even ordered to plant more and more trees
in his kingdom. Now comes the British colonial period. Prior to the British
colonial period, the forests were protected by the tribal people to whom the
forests served as a means to live and provided them with shelter.
As soon as the
British exercised control over these forests in the British colonial period,
they were used solely for revenue extraction. They did not consider forests as a
means of natural resources but only a way to extract revenue and make profit.
Many forests all over India were destroyed in the name of agrarian activities
and need for more land for cultivation. Trees were extensively being cut for
wood in order to build ships, shipyards, railway tracks and transportation of
wood to England obtained by cutting down Oak trees for their Royal Navy.
World War I, forest resources of India were alarmingly depleted as large
quantities of timber were being transported to England for building ships and to
pay for Britain's efforts in war. Manifestly, the British era was the
time-period when our forests were damaged severely the most.
In 1865, the
British introduced the forest act, and the forest department was established.
The main objective of this act was to assert claim on the forest land and make
it doable to supply timber for the railways. This act did not have any
provisions pertaining to the existing rights to the people and different tribes
living in these forests.
And a few years later in 1878, another act was passed
which gave absolute power over the control of forest lands. This act aimed to
improve the existing provisions of Forest Act 1865 and recognize the rights of
the nomads and tribal people living in the forests and categorize forests into
three categories which are reserved forests, protected forests and village
Indian Forest Act, 1927
In order to make the Forest Act, 1878 more effective and more comprehensive, a
new Forest Act was passed in 1927 which repealed all the previous laws and
legislations. The new act consisted of 13 chapters and 86 sections. The Act
- To consolidate the laws pertaining to forests.
- Regulation of transit of forest produce.
- To levy duty on timber and other forest produce.
- To define the procedure to be followed in relation to reserved,
protected and village forests.
- To define acts prohibited inside reserved forests.
- To define offences pertaining to forests and to conserve forests.
- To maintain the quality of lakes, ponds and rivers in forests.
- To improve the effective management of forests by appointing skilled
- To improve technology in relation to forests.
- To spread awareness regarding the importance and critical need to
- To balance the impact of agrarian activities and other forest
The Section 2 of Indian Forest Act, 1927 defines certain terms like cattle,
forest officer, forest offenses and forest produce. Forest produce
includes timber, charcoal, wood-oil, bark, resin, trees and leaves, flowers and
fruits, plants, cocoon, honey, wax, rocks and minerals, waterbodies such as
rivers, ponds and lakes and wild animals including their skins, tusks, bones and
The Chapter II, III and IV of Indian Forest Act defines reserved, village and
protected forests respectively and certain acts which are prohibited and
restricted inside these forests and thus, are punishable.
Reserved Forests: The Chapter II of the Indian Forest Act enables the State
government to exercise the power to issue a notification under Section 4 to
declare any forest or a piece of land a reserved forest in the manner provided
in the Act. Within the meaning of this section, any forest land or waste land
which is the property of the government, or any land on which the Government
happens to have proprietary rights, can be declared as a reserved forest.
forest-settlement officer is required to be appointed for the purposes of this
act who shall inquire into the existence, nature and the scope of rights over
the land and forest-produce as provided in this Act in the favour of any person
claiming such rights over any such land or forest-produce. Such an officer is
required to hear the claims and objections of any such person and may accept or
reject the same within three months.
In case of a right to forest produce or a
water-course, right of pasture or right in or over any land, The Forest
Settlement Officer may decide to exclude such land partly or wholly or come to
an agreement with the owner for surrender of his rights or proceed to acquire
such land in the manner prescribed under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Once
such claims have been settled by the Forest Settlement Officer by either
admitting or rejecting them, all the rights with the aforementioned piece of
land in any such case shall vest with the State Government.
Village Forests: The Chapter III of the Indian Forest Act defines Village
Forests. It enables the State Government to assign rights to any
village-community over the land that may have been constituted as reserved
forest for the use of that community. The Section 28 (2) states that the
Government may make the rules pertaining to regulation and management of village
forests and prescribing the conditions under which the community presiding there
may be provided with the forest-produce, wood, timber and natural resources.
Government shall also prescribe their duties for protection and improvement of
such a forest. Such an assignment of village forest to a community may be
cancelled by the State Government.
Protected Forests: The Chapter IV of the Indian Forest Act defines Protected
Forests. It is any forest-land or waste-land which is not included in a reserved
forest but happens to be the property of the Government, or such a land over
which the government has proprietary rights is declared to be so by a
notification by a State Government under the provisions of the Section 29 of
The forest-lands and waste-lands provided in such a notification
discussed above shall be called as a protected forest. But it shall be noted
that no such notification shall be made unless the nature and scope of the
rights of the Government or of any private person have been inquired into, or in
such a manner that the State Government thinks to be suffice, every such record
shall be assumed to be correct unless it is proved otherwise.
The State Government by notification may regulate or prohibit the clearing of
land for agrarian activities and cultivation, or grazing of cattle, pasture for
cattle or clearing of land for protection against storms, flood, winds or
avalanches to save such a land from soil erosion. The State Government may also
by notification regulate or prohibit the clearing of vegetation in order to
maintain water supply, protect roads, bridges, railway, public health and lines
Drawbacks of the Indian Forest Act, 1927
It may seem that the new provisions, rules and regulations that were brought in
by the Indian Forest Act 1927 were to protect and conserve the vegetation cover
of India, but a deep investigation of the act reveals that the real intention
behind the new provisions, rules and regulations of the act was to earn revenue
from the forest-produce i.e., cutting down of trees, wood, timber, fodder, rocks
This act gave a lot of power to the forest officials and
bureaucracy which often led to exploitation of the forest dwellers. Also, it
also deprived the nomads, tribal people and forest dwellers of their rights and
privileges to use the forest-produce. This act never aimed to regulate the
cutting of trees, but to earn revenue from cutting of trees to such an extent
that it does not destroy the forest-land.
More Initiatives to save the Forests
Forest Conservation Act 1980 : The Forest Conservation Act was
introduced by the Parliament on 25th October 1980 because of the rapid decline
in vegetation cover in India in the 1970s. Moreover, it was also brought in
response to adhere to the obligations of Article 48-A. The main objective was
this act was to regulate the over-exploitation and deforestation of land for
non-forest purposes like urbanization and clearing of land for industrial
purposes. The act focuses on conservation of natural heritage and allows
diversion of forest land only for drinking water projects, roads, lines or
communication, railway lines, defence projects and power projects.
National Forest Policy : This policy was introduced in 1988 whose main
objective was to maintain ecological balance through conservation of forests as
they are a part of our nation's natural heritage. The Act made quite an impact
since the focus pertaining to forests shifted from commercial concerns towards
conservation of forest-lands and understanding the ecological role of forests in
our lives, and hence, they must be protected.
The Scheduled Tribe and other Traditional Forest Dwellers
(Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 : This Act was passed on 16th December 2006 in
order to recognize the rights of the forest dwellers, tribal people and
communities living in the forests who have been deprived of their rights to use
the forests and forest-produce since the because of the colonial forest laws.
This act includes right to live in forest, right to access and use
forest-produce, rights of entitlement such as grazing and right to protect,
regenerate or conserve any forest resource.
We have observed exploitation of our forests on a massive scale in the colonial
rule era to the extent that they had to introduce Forest Act in 1865 followed by
another Forest Act in 1878 to improve the provisions of the 1865 Act, conserve
the forests by classifying them into three categories and recognizing the rights
of the nomads.
To make the Forest Act 1878 more comprehensive, a new Forest Act
was passed in 1927 which repealed all the previous laws and legislations which
is known as Indian Forest Act 1927 which aimed to consolidate the law pertaining
to forests, the transit of forest-produce and the duty that is to be levied on
The new act aims to conserve and protect the
vegetation in many ways and classifies the forests into three types so as to
impose control and governance over them. But after a deep investigation, the
real motive behind these laws was disclosed which was to earn revenue from
cutting of trees.
Therefore, new laws came into existence in the
post-independence era such as Forest Conservation Act 1980 and National Forest
Policy which aimed to conserve natural heritage and understanding the ecological
role of forests and recognizing the rights of tribal people.
Despite all these
reforms in the laws of forests and introduction of various Forest Laws, there
are still many flaws in our system pertaining to laws of conservation of nature
and vegetation in India but if our government acts strictly, then we could get
the proper outcome of the Forest Laws because without proper implementation,
there can never be proper conservation of vegetation. We, as the people of this
nation, also need to realize the importance of forests and only then we can
expect proper outcomes of the Forest Laws.
- An Act to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of
forest-produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest-produce.
- Includes elephants, camels, buffaloes, horses, mares, geldings, ponies
colts, fillies, mules, asses, pigs, rams, ewes, sheep, lambs, goats and
- Any person whom the State Government or any office empowered by the
State Government in this behalf, may appoint to carry out all any of the
purposes of this Act.
- Means an offence punishable under this Actor under any rule made
- The State Government may constitute any forest-land or waste-land
which is the property of Government, or over which the Government has proprietary rights, or to the
whole or any part of the forest-produce of which the Government is entitled, a reserved forest in the
manner hereinafter provided
- The State Government may assign to any village-community the rights of
Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest
and may cancel such assignment. All forests so assigned shall be called
- The State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette,
declare the provisions of this Chapter applicable to any forest-land or
waste-land which, is not included in a reserved forest but which is the
property of Government, or over which the Government has proprietary rights,
or to the whole or any part of the forest produce of which the Government is
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
- National Forest Policy, 1988
- Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of
Forest Rights) Act, 2006, has been enacted to recognize and vest the forest
rights and occupation of forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and
other traditional forest dwellers, who have been residing in such forests
for generations, but whose rights could not be recorded.
- Indian Forest Act, 1927- An Act to consolidate the law relating to
forests, the transit of forest-produce and the duty leviable on timber and other