After creation of the forest department in 1861, Indian forest act was passed in 1873 and the national forest policy was enunciated on 19th October, 1894 with the following objectives:
1. Promotion of the general well-being of the country as being the sole purpose of management of forest.
2. Maintenance of adequate forest for the preservation of climatic and physical conditions of the country and to fulfill the needs of the people subject to conditions;
(a) Permanent cultivation should get priority over forests;
(b) Satisfaction of the needs of local people at non-competitive rates, if not free, should over-ride all considerations of revenue; and
(c) After fulfillment of the above conditions realisation of maximum revenue should be the guiding principle.
Even after 91 years of the working of the forest department and 58 years of the declaration of National forest policy much headway; was not made in protecting the forest wealth. Therefore, a need was felt to revise the National Forest Policy.
Our new National Forest policy was thus enunciated on 12th May, 1952 embodied in the resolution No. 13-1/52-F with the following objectives:
(1) A system of balanced and complementary land use needed to be evolved so that it produces the most and deteriorates the least.
(2) Denudation of forests in mountainous regions needed to be checked because it was in these regions that perennial water supply of our systems depended in tracts which constituted the fertile core of the country.
(3) Erosion needed to be checked in treeless bankers of rivers to prevent and arrest ravine formation.
(4) Prevention of invasion of sea-sand and sand dunes was necessary.
(5) Establishment of tree land was necessary to improve climatic and physical conditions.
(6) Supplies of grazing facilities and small wood for agricultural implements needed to be increased.
(7) Supplies of timber and other forests produce, required for defence, communication and industry, needed to be sustained at high level both in quantity and quality.
(8) Realisation of maximum revenue on continuing basis was necessary in consistency with above needs.
A planned extension forests is, therefore, required. However, efforts in this direction, since 1952, have been dismal and substantial forest area has been lost since then. As a consequence of this, the forest area is smaller today than what it was in 1952.
The loss in forest may be ascribed to either of the following reasons:
(a) Release of large forest areas for agriculture,
(b) Submergence of forest areas in artificial lakes,
(c) Release of forest for rehabilitation of people,
(d) Loss on account of mining,
(e) Release of land for establishment of large industrial colonies,
(f) Conversion of forest areas into plantation of rubber, coconut, tea, coffee and other commercial crops,
(g) Provision of land to landless, and
(h) Extension of shifting cultivation.
It is true that as population grows, the need for greater food production becomes necessary. But this should be met by more intensive cultivation and not by destruction of forests which play a vital role in the national economy.
Forests moderate the climate, reduce soil erosion, regulate stream flow, improve the ground water conditions, reduce floods, provide shelter to wide variety of flora and fauna, supply food, fuel and shelter to human population, support a number of industries and provide opportunities for recreation. We shall restrict our discussion about role of forests in soil conservation.