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Definition of forest

Topics Covered:

  1. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Definition of forest


What to study?

For Prelims: Definition and procedure to define forests.

For Mains: Concerns over the way in which forests are defined, need for a comprehensive definition and challenges involved.


Context: Centre clarifies on definition of forest.


Clarifications given by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Environment Ministry:

States need not take the Centre’s approval to define what constitutes unclassified land as forest.


Do we have a comprehensive legal definition for forest?

Since 2014, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has been considering evolving a legal definition of forest and reportedly prepared drafts as late as 2016. These, however, were never made public.


How is a forest defined?

The freedom to define land, not already classified as forests by the Centre or State records, as forest has been the prerogative of the States since 1996 and stems from a Supreme Court order, called the Godavarman judgment.

  • The Supreme Court judgment expanded the definition of forest to include lands that were already notified by the Centre as forests, that appear in government records as forests as well as those that fell in the “dictionary definition” of forest.
  • The latter clause allows the States to evolve their own criteria and define tracts of land as forest, and these would then be bound by forest conservation laws.


Why it is difficult to have an all-encompassing definition of forest?

An all-encompassing definition of forest is difficult for India because the country has 16 different kinds of forest.

A tract of grassland in one State might qualify in one region as forest, but not in another. However, once a State applied a criteria, it couldn’t be reversed.

The onus on the States to define forests is also significant because the States often claim that they are helpless in preventing encroachment because a patch of land in question hadn’t been notified as forest. A recent instance was the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, which officially isn’t classified as forest.


Need for a definition:

  1. India’s definition of forests has been criticised by scientists in the past on the grounds that it doesn’t provide an accurate picture of the extent of biodiversity in rich natural forests.
  2. A technical assessment by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of India’s submission on forest cover has raised concerns about the country’s definition of forests, which experts say exaggerates forest cover and inadvertently masks deforestation.


Sources: the Hindu.