Forest refers to a complex ecosystem that predominantly consists of trees, shrubs, and generally, a closed canopy. They act as the storehouse of a diverse variety of flora and fauna.
They also home an abundance of microorganisms and fungi, which are crucial for the decomposition cycle which enrich the soil.
Nearly, 30% of the total Earth’s land surface is covered by forests. The percentage refers to around 4 billion hectares of forest cover.
Another implication of the word ‘forest’ is natural vegetation of an area which has existed for thousands of years and supports a variety of biodiversity. This eventually forms a complex ecosystem.
Forests are crucial for the planet, global climate, animals and humans beings as well. They provide various natural services and products. Moreover, they have a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance and have its contribution to the economy also.
India has a diverse range of forests: from the rainforest of Kerala in the south to the alpine pastures of Ladakh in the north, from the deserts of Rajasthan in the west to the evergreen forests in the north-east.
Climate, soil type, topography, and elevation are the main factors that determine the type of forest.
According to India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021, The Total Forest and Tree cover is 24.62% of the geographical area of the country.
Definition of Forest
At present, in India, there is no clear nationally-accepted definition of ‘forest’.
States are responsible for determining their definition of forests.
The prerogative of the states to define forests stems from a 1996 Supreme Court order called the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs the Union of India judgment.
In the judgement, the Supreme Court interpreted that the word “forest” must be understood according to its “dictionary meaning”.
This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise.
Forests are included in the Concurrent List in the (Seventh Schedule) of the Constitution of India.
Through the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 Forests and Protection of Wild Animals and Birds were transferred from State to Concurrent List.
Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution states that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and Wildlife.
Article 48 A in the Directive Principles of State policy, mandates that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
India’s forests are currently governed by the National Forest Policy, 1988 which has environmental balance and livelihood at its centre.
According to India State of Forest Report, 2021, tree and forest cover together made up24.62% of India’s area.
The Total Forest cover is 7,13,789 sq km which is 21.71% of the geographical area of the country.
The Tree cover is 2.91% of the geographical area of the country.
As compared to ISFR 2019 the current assessment shows an increase of:
0.28% of forest and tree cover put together, at the national level.
Forest Cover: 0.22%
Tree Cover: 0.76%
Types of Forests in India
Classification of Forests based on Administration-Basis
Under direct supervision of the Government.
Looked after by the government.
No public entry allowed for the commercial purpose of cattle grazing.
Local people are allowed to collect forest produce and cattle grazing without causing any serious damage.
No restriction on cutting trees or grazing cattle.
53% of the Total Forest Area (TFA) of the country under this category.
Occupy about 29% of the TFA.
Occupy 18% of the TFA.
Classification as per Constitution of India
Include almost all important forest areas of the country and are under full control of the government (state/central).
Owned and administered by local bodies (municipal corporations, village panchayats, district boards etc.)
Under private ownership.
Cover almost 94% of the TFA.
Cover 5% of the TFA.
Cover slightly more than 1% of the TFA.
Based on Merchantability
Forests that are accessible.
Forests that are situated at high mountainous peaks; non accessible.
Cover 82% of the TFA.
Cover 18% of the TFA.
Based on Composition
Tropical and subtropical monsoon forests.
Found in middle and upper elevations of the eastern Middle Himalayas and N-E Indian states like Arunachal Pradesh.
Found in the plateaus, plains and mountainous areas of the country.
Cover 6.50% of the TFA of the country.
Cover about 94% of the TFA of the country.
Classification based on Average Annual Rainfall
In India, the Forests, on the basis of average annual rainfall, can be categorised broadly into five categories:
Tropical Evergreen and Semi EvergreenForests
Tropical Deciduous Forests (Monsoon Forests)
Tropical Thorn Forests
Littoral and Swamp Forests
Tropical Evergreen Forests
Tropical means ‘Tropical Region’, and Evergreen means ‘green leaves throughout the year’.
They are found in – western slope of the Western Ghats, hills of the Northeastern region and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The tropical wet evergreen forest in India is usually found in areas receiving more than 200 cm of rainfall and having a temperature of 15-30 degrees Celsius.
They occupy about 7% of the earth’s surface.
They are found mostly near the equator.
They have sparse undergrowth interspersed with clearings
They have a scarce presence of litter (organic matter settling on the ground)
These forests are dense and multi-layered. Trees in these forests are dense, tall and very green.
They harbor many types of plants and animals.
Moist Evergreen Forests:
Region: Found in southern India along the Western Ghats, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and north-eastern region.
Climatic Conditions: Found in warm and humid areas with an annual precipitation of over 200 cm and mean annual temperature above 22°C.
Trees: In these forests, trees reach great heights up to 60 m or above.
There is no definite time for trees to shed their leaves, flowering and fruition; these forests appear green all the year round.
Species found in these forests include Rosewood, Mahogany, Aini, Ebony, etc.
The more common trees that are found here are the jackfruit, betel nut palm, jamun, mango, and hollock.
Semi Evergreen Forests:
Region: Found in the less rainy parts of the regions where moist evergreen forests are found; Western Ghats, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Eastern Himalayas.
Trees: Such forests have a mixture of moist evergreen and moist deciduous trees.
The under growing climbers provide an evergreen character to these forests.
Main species are white cedar, hollock and kail.
Region: Found in the Shivalik Hills and foothills of the Himalayas up to a height of 1000 metres in the north.
Found along Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka coast in the south.
Climatic Conditions: Usually have a prolonged hot and dry season and a cold winter.
Trees: Have mainly hard-leaved evergreen trees with fragrant flowers, along with a few deciduous trees.
Trees have a varnished look.
Some of the more common ones are the pomegranate, olive, and oleander.
Tropical Deciduous Forests (Monsoon Forests)
Tropical means ‘Tropical Region’, and Deciduous means ‘plants, tress that shed their leaves each year’.
They are found in both Tropical and Subtropical region.
They are also called Monsoon forests. Leaves regrow during monsoon and shed during summer.
These forests occurs in places that receive rainfall between 70 to 200 cm.
Based on the availability of water, Tropical Deciduous forest is subdivided into –
Moist deciduous forests
Dry deciduous forests
Moist Deciduous Forests:
Moist means ‘moisture’.
Region: These forests are found in the north-eastern states along the foothills of Himalayas, eastern slopes of the Western Ghats and Odisha.
Rainfall: Found in the regions which record rainfall between 100-200 cm.
Trees: Tall trees with broad, branched trunks.
Some of the taller trees shed their leaves in the dry season.
Teak, sal, shisham, hurra, mahua, amla, semul, kusum, and sandalwood etc. are the main species of these forests.
Dry Deciduous Forests:
Dry means the region where rainfall is lesser (between 70 to 100 cm) than Moist deciduous forests.
Region: Found throughout the northern part of the country except in the north-east.
Also found in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
Rainfall: Covers vast areas of the country, where rainfall ranges between 70 -100 cm.
On the wetter margins, it has a transition to the moist deciduous, while on the drier margins to thorn forests.
Trees: As the dry season begins, the trees shed their leaves completely and the forest appears like a vast grassland with naked trees all around.
Tendu, palas, amaltas, bel, khair, axlewood, etc. are the common trees of these forests.
At ground level, you will find solid growth of Grass and climber plants.
They suffer from overgrazing, forest fire and vast clearance due to agricultural activities.
Tropical means ‘Tropical Region’, and Thorn means ‘a sharp pointed wood’.
It is a dense, and scrub like vegetation.
They occur in areas that receive rainfall less than 50 cm (semi-arid regions).
Trees remain leafless for most part of the year and water is stored in stem of the trees.
Tussock species of grass is quite popular in this forest. They grow up to a height of 2m.
Rainfall: The forests occur in the areas that receive annual rainfall less than 50cm.
Regions: This type is found in areas with black soil: North, West, Central, and South India.
Includes semi-arid areas of south west Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Trees: The trees do not grow beyond 10 metres and consist of a variety of grasses and shrubs. Spurge, caper, and cactus are typically found in this region.
The plants remain leafless for most part of the year.
Babul, Acacia, Kokko, Khair, Khajuri, Ber, Neem, Khejri, Palas, etc.are common species of the forests.
Montane means ‘mountainous region’.
In mountainous region, with increase in altitude temperature decreases.
In India, mountains are located in –
North India – The Himalayan mountains from Jammu & Kashmir – (Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram) Purvanchal mountains in the extreme east of India.
South India – Western Ghats, the Vindhya range and the Nilgiris.
Montane Wet Temperate Forests:
Region: Occur in the northern and southern India.
In the North, it is found in the region to the east of Nepal into Arunachal Pradesh, at a height of 1800–3000 metres, receiving a minimum rainfall of 200 cm.
In the South, it is found in parts of the Nilgiri Hills, the higher reaches of Kerala.
Trees: The forests in the northern region are denser than in the South.
This is because over time the original trees have been replaced by fast-growing varieties such as the eucalyptus.
Rhododendrons, Champa and a variety of ground flora can be found here.
Montane Subtropical Forests:
Climatic Conditions: Found in the region where average rainfall is 100-200 cm and temperature varies between 15°C to 22°C.
Region: Found in north-western Himalayas (except Ladakh and Kashmir), Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Trees: Chir (Pine) is the main tree but Oak, Jamun and Rhododendron are also found in these forests.
Himalayan Moist Forests:
Region: Found in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and northern hilly parts of Bengal.
Elevation: Found in the belt where altitude varies between 1000-2000 m.
Trees: Oak, chestnut, chir, sal, shrubs and nutritious grasses.
Elevation: In the higher reaches, there is a transition to Alpine forests and pastures occurring at altitudes of 2,500-4,000 m.
Sub alpine forests extend from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh between 2900 to 3500 metres.
Trees: In the Western Himalayas, the vegetation consists mainly of juniper, rhododendron, willow, and black currant.
In the eastern parts, red fir, black juniper, birch, and larch are the common trees.
Littoral and Swamp means ‘wetlands’.
In India, wetlands exists in the Himalayan region, desert, coastal plains, and near river plains.
There is an intergovernmental treaty for the protection and sustainable use of the wetlands, it’s called the ‘Ramsar Convention’.
Region: These are found in – Sunderban delta, Eastern coastal plain of river Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Mahanadi, desert region of Rajasthan and Gujarat, Kashmir and Ladakh, Andaman & Nicobar islands, Lakshadweep islands, Western coastal plains of Malabar coast to Konkan coast.
Trees: Some of these forests are dense and impenetrable. Only a limited number of plants are found in these evergreen forests.
They have roots that consist of soft tissue so that the plant can breathe in the water.
It consists mainly of whistling pines, mangrove dates, palms, and bulletwood.
Mangroves in India: In India, the mangrove forests spread over 6,740 sq. km which is 7% of the world’s mangrove forests.
The forests stabilise the shoreline and protect the coastal areas from erosion.
Sunderbans along the Ganges delta is the largest tidal forest in the world.