Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001) 601
FORMATION AND RECOVERY OF SECONDARY FORESTS
IN INDIA: A PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO WESTERN
GHATS IN SOUTH INDIA
D. M. Bhat, K. S. Murali & N. H. Ravindranath
Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560 012, India
BHAT, D. M., MURALI, K. S. & RAVINDRANATH, N. H. 2001. Formation and
recovery of secondary forests in India: a particular reference to Western Ghats in south
India. This paper analyses the underlying causes of secondary forest formation and
recovery in India, particularly the Western Ghats region of south India, from precolonial
times to the present. In the pre-colonial period, hunter-gatherers, shifting
cultivators and settled cultivators were the dominant users of forest land, with some
limited timber felling by local chieftains and kings. There was limited secondary forest
formation following extractive activities by the communities and the State. The State
takeover of forests for commercial timber exploitation during the colonial period, the
resulting alienation of local community rights, and the over-exploitation of forest
... pay increases for continuing education. The first issue an inspiring secondary science teacher should consider is the hiring requirements. Commonly, a ... focus on outer space. Currently the main focus in secondary science classes is on the earth. Many middle and high ... use of multiple teaching methods, to instruct students. A secondary science teacher must also prepare curriculums for each class they ...
products from limited areas accessible to the community were key factors in the largescale
formation of secondary forests. In the post-independence period, the diversion
of forestland for other purposes and industrial pressures led to deforestation and forest
degradation. Currently, forest cover is relatively low and primary forests exist only in
hilly tracts. However, forest cover has stabilised in spite of increasing population
density. With the passing of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which banned forest
clearing, forest conversion pressures were reduced. During the last decade, the
rehabilitation of degraded secondary forests and the regeneration of secondary forest
on degraded land by communities have contributed to the stabilisation of forest cover.
The paper hypothesises that joint management of forests by governments and
communities, as well as policies to reduce dependence on fuelwood, may have paved
the way for this favourable development.
Key words: Secondary forests – Western Ghats – South India – plantations – forest
BHAT, D. M., MURALI, K. S. & RAVINDRANATH, N. H. 2001. Pembentukan dan
pemulihan hutan sekunder di India: rujukan khusus kepada Ghats Barat di selatan
India. Artikel ini menganalisis sebab-sebab pembentukan dan pemulihan hutan
sekunder di India, khususnya di Ghats Barat, selatan India, dari zaman pra-penjajahan
hingga sekarang. Dalam zaman pra-penjajahan, pemburu, petani pindah dan petani
tetap merupakan pengguna tanah hutan yang utama. Terdapat juga penebangan
balak yang terhad oleh ketua penduduk tempatan dan raja. Pembentukan hutan
sekunder ekoran aktiviti pengekstrakan oleh penduduk dan kerajaan negeri adalah
terhad. Pengambilalihan hutan oleh kerajaan negeri untuk pengkomersialan balak
semasa zaman penjajahan, pemberian hak kepada penduduk tempatan, dan eksploitasi
hasil hutan secara berlebihan dari kawasan terhad oleh penduduk tempatan merupakan
faktor utama pembentukan hutan sekunder besar-besaran. Selepas merdeka, pengalihan
penggunaan tanah dan tekanan perindustrian menyebabkan berlakunya pembasmian
... skin, lentils, metal and wooden handicrafts, agro- and forest-based primary and secondary goods, leather, raw jute, large cardamom, ginger, ... 8217;ble Baburam Bhattarai, Prime Minister of Nepal to India. India and Nepal signed a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) ... trade with and through Bangladesh also transits through India. Government of India is providing assistance for development of cross- ...
dan pendegradan hutan. Pada masa ini, litupan hutan adalah rendah secara relatif dan
602 Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001)
hutan primer hanya wujud di kawasan laluan berbukit. Bagaimanapun, litupan hutan
telah stabil walaupun kepadatan penduduk bertambah. Kelulusan Akta Pemuliharaan
Hutan 1980 yang mengharamkan penebangan hutan mengurangkan tekanan
pengalihan hutan. Pada dekad yang lepas, pemulihan hutan sekunder usang dan
pemulihan hutan sekunder di atas tanah usang oleh penduduk menyebabkan
penstabilan litupan hutan. Artikel ini membuat andaian bahawa pengurusan hutan
secara bersama oleh kerajaan dan penduduk tempatan, berserta polisi untuk
mengurangkan pergantungan terhadap kayu api, mungkin mendorong kepada
perkembangan yang menggalakkan ini.
India has a total land area of 329 million ha of which 43% is under cropping and
23% is classified under forests (Ministry of Environment and Forest 1999).
lands, land under non-agricultural use, and cultivable waste lands constitute 74.8
million ha. The National Forest Policy of India (1952) stipulated that India as a
whole should aim at maintaining one-third of its total land area under forest for
securing ecological stability, but forest cover at present is 63.7 million ha, or only
19.4% of the land area (Forest Survey of India 1999).
Most forests in India have been disturbed significantly through logging,
clearfelling, grazing, fire, and the collection of fuelwood, fodder and non-timber
forest products. Thus, most remaining forests in India are secondary, primarily
post-extraction secondary forests arising after significant disturbance through
large-scale and small-scale extractive activities. Post-extraction secondary forests are
defined here as ‘forests regenerating largely through natural processes after
significant reduction in the original forest vegetation through tree extraction at a
single point in time or over an extended period, and displaying a major difference
... it is easy to understand why India is called “a land of festival and fairs.” Every ... the brief spring warms the landscape, northern India relaxes with the celebration of Holi, the festival ... of these festivals have religious ties. Because India is still a predominantly rural nation, many of ... bond felt by the Indian villagers to their land. Nevertheless, there are those festivals, such as ...
in forest structure and/or canopy species composition with respect to nearby
primary forests on similar sites’ (Chokkalingam et al. 2000).
Also, large-scale plantation and rehabilitation programmes undertaken in the
recent past allow for natural regeneration and have resulted in an increase in the
area of rehabilitated secondary forests. Rehabilitated secondary forests are defined
here as ‘forests regenerating largely through natural processes on degraded lands,
often aided by rehabilitation efforts or the facilitation of natural regeneration
through measures such as protection from chronic disturbance, site stabilisation,
water management, and planting’ (Chokkalingam et al. 2000).
It is estimated that
secondary forests occupy about 32 million ha and constitute about 45.8% of the
forest area of the country (Chaturvedi 1992).
In this paper we consider open forests
(with crown cover of 10 to 40%) and scrub forests (with crown cover of
secondary forests. In addition, we include disturbed and degraded forests, various
forestry plantations that promote regeneration of natural species, and naturally
regenerating forests under community control as secondary forests.
Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001) 603
India’s low per capita forest area of 695 m2 results in a large gap between supply
and demand for forest products. India has 2.5% of the world’s land area and 1.8%
of the global forest area, but supports 15.6% of the world’s human population and
14% of the world’s livestock population. It has a large rural population of nearly 700
million with a high population density of 2.57 persons/ha and 4.26 livestock/ha of
forestland. This large population depends on forests for meeting diverse biomass
needs. Secondary forests are thus very important for the supply of fuelwood,
manure, raw materials for rural handicrafts and industries, among other products.
... they gave ideological direction, representing the subaltern culture and marched colonial India forward into an era of modernity. The important point we ... gain recognition eventually and became a figure of authority in colonial India. However Western science's emergence was a process of ... over each other. Science seemed to be significant in all areas especially as a form of power used by the colonizer ...
They are potentially also very important for their environmental functions including
soil and watershed conservation, flood control, and carbon storage.
With the passing of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which banned forest
clearing, forest conversion pressures for agriculture and other infrastructural
facilities were reduced. However, remaining natural forests (mostly secondary)
continue to be subject to increasing local extraction pressures with growing
populations and growing industrial and urban demand for forest products. Large
areas of forest are degraded and converted into barren lands as a result (Ravindranath
& Hall 1994).
In the recent past, India has launched a massive afforestation
programme, one of the largest in the tropics (Ravindranath & Hall 1995), which has
led to increased secondary forest formation through the promotion of natural
regeneration in plantation and community controlled areas.
Given the importance of and pressures on secondary forests in India, there is an
urgent need to assess their extent and condition, as there is also for the underlying
ecological, social, economic, policy and institutional factors leading to forest
degradation and the regeneration of secondary forests. This will enable the
development of appropriate management strategies to reduce the pressure on and
use more sustainably the remaining natural forests, and to recover and maintain the
country’s environmental health and ecological stability through the reforestation
of degraded lands. In this paper we provide a historical account of the degradation
of primary forests in India from the pre-colonial to post-independence periods,
and, more specifically, focus on the underlying causes for the formation and
recovery of secondary forests in the Western Ghats section of southern India.
Formation of secondary forests in India
The degradation of primary forests and formation of secondary forest in most
south Asian countries has passed through three phases: (1) the pre-colonial
period, when dependence on forest was extensive, with less significant impact on
... build houses and live in or near the forested areas is somehow compulsory to any country due to ... the people that live in or near the forested areas because of its severity. Fires happen most actively ... moving to their houses in or near the forested area because of their own risks of suffering from ... amount of people living in or near those forested areas due to the probability their houses could cause ...
forests; (2) the colonial administration and post-colonial period, when the intense
use of forests had greater impact on forest vegetation and led to the large-scale
formation of post-extraction secondary forests; (3) the recent recovery and
regeneration of rehabilitated secondary forests on degraded lands due to
dedicated efforts. India’s experience has been similar to that of other south
Asian countries and the following description shows the evolution of different
secondary forest types in India.
604 Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001)
The pre-colonial period (1000 B.C.–1800 A.D.)
The forests in India during the pre-colonial period were managed on a sustainable
basis primarily because the ownership rested with the community (Gadgil 1990).
There were three major groups that depended on forest vegetation and land,
namely, the hunter-gatherers, shifting cultivators and settled cultivators. The
resource-use patterns among these groups differed. Hunter-gatherers were mostly
dependent on forests for their food, shelter and other subsistence needs. Their way
of living had little or no effect on the formation of secondary forests. Shifting
cultivators were partly responsible for the formation of secondary forests because
they clearfelled the forests for cultivation, interspersed with long fallow cycles.
However, these areas of cultivation were small and in patches. Settled cultivators
were in small pockets and the extent of their use of forest area was limited, but they
significantly disturbed these forests because they depended on them for their
livelihood needs such as for fuelwood, fodder and other usufructs. The local rulers,
chieftains or kings who owned the forests prior to colonial rule in India (300–1800
A.D.), made no specific rules or regulations for the extraction of forest products
except for that of timber, which needed a permit from the local ruler. Although the
extraction by kings or rulers was limited, it led to the formation of some secondary
... , economically or socially to the land and area. After New Perspectives was launched, the Forest Services took a step further in ... effective in production of timber as a crop from national forest lands. However, the increased effort of timber production clashed ... and filed several lawsuits against the Forest Service. They urged restoration of damaged areas and more equitable multiple-use management ...
The colonial period (1800–1947 A.D.)
The colonial rulers started the process of the State takeover of forests under the
pretext of the conservation and scientific value of forests. Their main focus however
was to exploit and earn more revenue from the valuable timber. To reduce
community control and to regulate the extraction of timber, forest laws were
enacted in 1865 and revised in 1878, under which community rights were reduced
to privileges, and free access to forests was replaced with restricted access. A large
percentage of the land was brought under State control (Table 1).
areas such as minor forests and village forests were dedicated for community use.
Some forest patches were marked as grazing lands.
Table 1 Forest area and ownership pattern in India during 1946-47
Ownership Area (million ha) % of total area
Government 26.16 65.5
Community and private 13.78 34.5
Total 39.24 100
Source: Lal (1989)
In spite of public opposition, the colonial rulers continued to take over forests
and categorise them as reserve forests, protected forests and unclassed forests.
State-controlled forests were classified legally in 1878 to derive benefits such as
Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001) 605
timber from these forests (Table 2).
About 96.79% of the forests were declared as
reserve forests restricting the entry and usufructory rights of local people. These
forests were only used for timber extraction or as the State desired. Protected forests
included forests owned by individuals as in the north-eastern region, betta forests in
the Uttara Kannada district of the Western Ghats in south India, from where the
areca orchard owners had the privilege of collecting leaf manure. Wastelands
belonging to private persons, the community and the State were included under the
Table 2 Area under different legal categories of forests in India during 1946-1947
Legal status Area (in million ha) % of total area
Reserve forest 25.32 96.79
Protected forest and unclassed forests 0.84 3.21
Total 26.16 100
Source: Lal (1989)
After consolidating the forests under their control, the colonial rulers prepared
forest working plans to extract timber and manage the forest stands. They diverted
forests to ‘working circles’1 . The forest management objective of colonial rulers was
primarily to extract commercial timber such as teak, rosewood, ebony, Sal and
deodar from the forests to meet the timber and railway sleeper requirements. The
demands of people at the local level were increasing, but their alienation from the
forests and the restriction of their rights resulted in the over-exploitation of
community forests, leading to secondary forest formation in a majority of the
community lands. The people did not restrict themselves only to community forest
lands for meeting their requirements but also encroached into the nearby reserve
forests whenever they got an opportunity, leading to the degradation of forests
The supply of fuelwood to the urban centres was also the responsibility of the
forest department. Fuelwood extraction also led to the formation of secondary
forests. The sequential exploitation of selective softwood species (Macaranga
peltata, Holigarna arnootiana, H. grahamii, Ailanthus malabaricum, Vateria indica, etc.)
by industries caused the formation of secondary forests as well (Gadgil & Subash
Apart from the community and industrial demand, two world
wars put additional stress on Indian forests. Demand for wood for cantonment and
shipbuilding activities during the Second World War, as well as post-war demands,
were met from forest working circles, resulting in the degradation of large forest
areas (Table 3).
It was estimated that, during the Second World War, extraction was
65% more than in the pre-war period (Gadgil & Guha 1992).
All of the above
activities led to the formation of secondary forests on a large scale, although the
extent of area is not very clear.
1 A working circle is the area allocated to timber extraction under a “working plan” and which has a 30-y
606 Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001)
Table 3 Forest area worked and timber and fuelwood extracted
by colonial rulers during the Second World War
Year Timber and fuelwood extraction Area worked
(m cubic metres ) (million ha )
1937–38 7.6 16.0
1938–39 8.4 16.5
1939–40 8.2 16.5
1940–41 10.8 17.0
1941–42 8.7 17.0
1942–43 9.4 13.1
1943–44 10.5 12.9
1944–45 12.3 12.9
Total 75.8 12.2
Source: Gadgil & Guha (1992)
Post-independence period (1947–1980)
The assessment of area under forest and changes, particularly prior to 1947, is
limited by a lack of reliable records and changes in geographical and political
boundaries as present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar were all part of
India. According to the Forest Survey of India (1997), at the time of independence
in 1947, the recorded forest area of the country was 40 million ha. Prasad &
Jahagirdar (1992) report that, barely a century ago, over 40% of the land area of
British India was under forest. In British India in 1900, out of the total area of 202
million ha, 43% was under cultivation, 44% was kept for community use, and only
13% of the area (26 million ha) was notified as forest area. The notified area
included reserved forest of 17 million ha (65%) and protected forest of 9 million
ha (35%) (Ministry of Environment and Forest 1999).
After independence and the
reorganisation of the states and union territories, it has been possible to properly
assess India’s land and forest area. Reliable estimates of area under forests, with
different crown cover, have been emerging from the assessment of satellite imagery
Changes in forest area since independence are given in Table 4. Area under
forest increased after independence, particularly in area under State control. Area
under common and private control has correspondingly decreased. This could be
due to the addition of ex-princely states and ex-propriety forests and also due to the
takeover of forests associated with the zamindari 2 system, after its abolishment.
After independence, forests were subjected to greater pressure as a result
of several policy decisions, which included the “Grow More Food” campaign,
industrialisation, and developmental activities such as irrigation projects and
hydroelectric projects. For meeting these requirements, forests were cleared and
forestland was diverted to other purposes (Figure 1).
With rising population
2 zamindari system: Most of the economic and social activities in the villages were controlled by large landholders
or zamindars and their families, who were treated like kings of the villages.
610 Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001)
Table 6 Occurrence of various forest types in the country and their extent
Forest type Area in million ha (% of total) Change (%)
Tropical wet evergreen 5.1 (8.0) 4.5 (5.8) -0.62 (12.10)
Tropical semi evergreen 2.6 (4.1) 1.9 (2.5) -0.74 (28.03)
Tropical moist deciduous 23.7 (37.0) 23.3 (30.3) -0.40 (1.68)
Littoral and swamp 0.4 (0.6) 0.7 (0.9) +0.30 (75.00)
Tropical dry deciduous 18.7 (28.6) 29.4 (38.2) +10.70 (57.22)
Tropical thorn 1.7 (2.6) 5.2 (6.7) +3.50 (205.88)
Tropical dry evergreen 0.1 (0.2) 0.1 (0.1) -0.04 (28.57)
Sub-tropical broad-leaved hill forest 0.3 (0.4) 0.3 (0.4) +0.02 (7.14)
Sub-tropical pine forest 4.2 (6.6) 3.7 (5.0) -0.54 (12.73)
Sub-tropical dry evergreen 1.3 (2.5) 0.2 (0.2) -1.05 (84.00)
Montane wet temperate 2.3 (3.6) 1.6 (2.0) -0.74 (31.62)
Himalayan moist temperate 2.2 (3.4) 2.6 (3.4) +0.40 (18.18)
Himalayan dry temperate 0.0 (0.0) 0.2 (0.2) +0.17(566.67)
Sub-alpine and alpine 1.9 (2.9) 3.3 (4.3) +1.44 (77.42)
Total 64.6 77.0 +12.40 (19.19)
Source: Ministry of Environment and Forest (1999)
India currently has only 19.4% of its land area under forest cover, despite the
Forest Policy (1952) stipulation to keep 33.3% of the total geographical area under
forest cover. However, forest cover appears to have stabilised with only a 0.02–1.2%
decrease from 1987 to 1997, as mentioned above. Increasing forest cover was
observed in many states ranging from 0.016% in Himachal Pradesh to 3.3% in
Punjab. This increase could be due to plantation establishment.
Pressures on secondary forests
Existing secondary forests in India are subject to numerous degradation and
conversion pressures. Degradation pressures include shorter rotation swidden
agriculture, grazing, fire, and the accumulated small-scale collection of fuelwood,
timber, fodder, leaf manure, and other non-timber forest products by the local
people. Conversion pressures have reduced since 1980, namely, since the Forest
Conservation Act of 1980 was passed. During the 5-y period between 1991 and 1995,
the annual conversion rate was 15 500 ha and nearly 48% of the land diverted was
for the resettlement of people evacuated on account of development projects, and
encroachment for agriculture and its legalisation. We describe here the extent and
intensity of these different pressures.
Swidden agriculture was banned in 1848 and completely stopped in Orissa and
the southern states after the Wildlife Protection Act of 1974. However, it is still
practised in the north-eastern states of India, and fallow lengths are becoming
shorter with increasing land pressures, leading to land degradation. Ramakrishnan
Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001) 611
and Kushwaha (2000) provide a detailed account of swidden agriculture and
related secondary forests in the north-eastern states.
The collection of fuelwood and small-scale extraction
of other forest products
India depends largely on fuelwood for meeting domestic energy needs.
Fuelwood use in India was expected to have risen from the previous figure of 250
million m3 to 310 million m3 by the year 2000(Ministry of Environment and Forest
The collection of fuelwood affects the regeneration and standing biomass
stock of the secondary forests, leading to their degradation. Besides fuelwood
collection, the small-scale extraction of timber, fodder, leaf manure and other
non-timber forest products by the local people continues to have an impact on the
forests. There are no estimates as to how much forest is disturbed and degraded
due to the small-scale extraction of fuelwood and other forest products.
India has the largest livestock population in the world, estimated at 445 million
in 1987. It was estimated that in 2000 it will have exceeded 500 million. Of these,
270 million cattle graze on forest land, leading to its degradation.
Nearly 35 million ha of forests experience annual burning in India. Most states
experience fire on nearly 50% of their forest area (Ministry of Environment and
The fires are mostly low-intensity ground fires causing little or no
damage to trees or the canopy and thus not giving rise to secondary forest
formation. However, these low-intensity fires affect the regeneration of forests and
lead to forest degradation.
Resettlement following development projects
During the 5-y period from 1991 to 1995, 7440 ha of forest land per year was
diverted for the resettlement of people evacuated on account of development
projects. Of the 15 500 ha of secondary forests annually converted, 20% were
used for hydroelectric projects, 9% for mining, and the remaining 23% for power
transmission lines and roads (Ministry of Environment and Forest 1999).
Encroachment and its legalisation have been major problems in India. It is
estimated that 1.5 million ha of forest land has been encroached on since 1997
(Forest Survey of India 1997).
Encroached lands are largely converted to agriculture.
612 Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001)
Forest conservation and the regeneration of
secondary forests on degraded lands
Realising the need for forest conservation and regeneration, several policies and
programmes have been implemented by the Government of India. The Forest
Conservation Act of 1980 was enacted by the Government of India to check the
loss of forest area. Under the provisions of this act, approval by the Central
Government is necessary for the states to divert forest for non-forest purposes.
Under the same act, there is a clause that compensatory forest should be raised
by the State, equivalent to the area being diverted. As already noted, the rate of
diversion of forests to non-forest purposes has declined drastically to around 15 500
ha per annum, compared to 150 000 ha per annum prior to 1980 (Ministry of
Environment and Forest 1999).
Apart from this act, India launched the Social Forestry Programme in 1980 in
order to reclaim degraded forests and village commons and to meet biomass
demands. Subsequently, the Government of India also took the initiative to
involve local people in forest management, conservation and benefit sharing. To
involve local people in the forestry programmes, provisions were made to form
village forest committees to manage the forest under the Joint Forest Management
(JFM) programmes. These programmes are explained in detail below.
Social forestry to regenerate degraded forest lands
In order to reclaim degraded forests and village commons and to meet biomass
demands, India launched the Social Forestry Programme in 1980, on the
recommendation of the National Commission on Agriculture (1976).
This was an
innovative programme aimed at meeting the biomass needs of communities and
industries largely through community wood lots or plantations. It intended to
provide employment, and to reduce the pressure on other forests by providing local
needs such as fuel and fodder from the plantations raised on community forests,
wastelands and canal banks. The area covered under various afforestation
programmes from 1951 to 1998 is given in Figure 4.
In India, the annual area afforested was 1.37 million ha during 1980 to 1998
compared to 0.12 million ha afforested prior to 1980. This is one of the largest
afforestation programmes in the world (Ravindranath & Hall 1995).
forestry afforestation programme was dominated by monocultures of exotic species
such as Acacia auriculiformis, A. mangium, Eucalyptus spp., and Casuarina spp. The
programme was implemented wholly by the State Forest Department with minimal
participation of the local communities. One of the major criticisms of the social
forestry programme was that it did not meet its objectives. The programme was
helpful to the farmers who are market-oriented (such as those in Gujarat, Punjab
and Haryana) but less helpful to meet the subsistence biomass needs such as
fuelwood, fodder and NTFP (Ravindranath et al. 1997) of rural poor and tribal
communities. Therefore, the natural forests continued to be disturbed. Efforts
were therefore initiated to enhance forest cover through a participatory process
614 Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001)
Joint forest management and formation of secondary forest
The Government of India passed an order in June 1990 to enable a participatory
forestry programme in India primarily to cater to the aspirations of the communities
living in and around the forests. Under the joint forest management program, the
community and the Forest Department were to jointly develop forests, manage
them and share the benefits so derived. Since then, several states have initiated the
JFM programme leading to the formation of village forest committees and large
areas have been brought under joint management. Nearly 35 000 village forest
committees have been formed in the country in 15 states, managing over 7 million
ha of forest land (Ministry of Environment and Forest 1999) constituting nearly
11% of the total forest area. All forests brought under JFM are secondary forests
regenerated on degraded lands and extraction is permitted to meet local biomass
Secondary forests in the Western Ghats region, south India
A close look at ecologically sensitive regions would help us formulate better
management strategies at the micro level by understanding the causative factors for
the formation, use and maintenance of secondary forests. In India, four ecosensitive
areas have been identified: the Himalayan region, the Thar desert, and the
Western and Eastern Ghats. The Western Ghats covers a geographical area of nearly
14 million ha. It extends from the southern tip of the Indian peninsula (8° N)
northwards about 1600 km to the mouth of the river Tapti (21° N), and is spread
out over five states (Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu).
Forestry is the second largest land use category, occupying 30% of the land area
while agricultural land accounts for 45%. The Western Ghats area harbours 3500
species of flowering plants, which constitute 27% of the total plants listed in India.
There are as many as 1932 taxa which are endemic and have large representation
in the Western Ghats (Ravindranath et al. 1997).
According to the Forest Survey of
India (1987), 1 127 100 ha of the area of the Western Ghats is covered by national
parks and sanctuaries, which is roughly 21% of the total forest cover of this region
As per the legal status of forests, nearly 75% of the total forest area
is under reserved forest and 9% under protected forest. Thus, over 80% of the forest
is under State control (Table 8).
Like other parts of the tropics, with the growing demand for land and forest
products, extensive deforestation and forest degradation has taken place in the
Western Ghats region during the last 100 years (Menon & Bawa 1997) and most
remaining forests are secondary. The Forest Survey of India (1987) data show that
only 35.6% of the total geographic area of the Western Ghats is under forest cover.
Also, as per the Forest Survey of India (1987), the actual forest cover in different
states of the Western Ghats ranged from 13.6 to 32.6% (Table 8).
Tewari (1995), approximately 10% of the total forest area can be classified as forests
with a canopy of over 80%. Around 30% of the total forest has only 20% canopy
cover and is under various stages of degradation. The remaining 60% has canopy
cover ranging from 40–80%, which is also under various stages of degradation.
Journal of Tropical Forest Science 13(4): 601–620 (2001) 615
Table 8 Legal classification of forest area in the Western Ghats
State Total forest % area under % area under
area in the forest to total
Western Ghats geographical reserved protected unclassified,
(ha) area of the forest forest private and
state village forest
Goa 100 700 32.6 9.5 76.4 14.0
Karnataka 2 175 600 16.9 82.0 9.4 8.6
Kerala 923 200 26.6 86.6 1.4 11.9
Maharashtra 1 408 100 14.3 62.0 6.0 32.0
Tamil Nadu 676 700 13.6 80.0 18.0 2.0
Total 5 284 300 35.6 75.8 9.5 14.4
Source: Western Ghats Sub-Regional Plan, prepared by Town and Country Planning
Organisation, Ministry of Works and Housing, Government of India, 1983
Deforestation and degradation arose from the expansion of hill slope agriculture
(coffee and cardamom plantations, legume and millet cultivation), valley agriculture
(areca and coconut orchards and rubber plantations, paddy cultivation in the
valleys), fire, clearfelling, grazing and encroachment. Shifting cultivation was
prevalent in the early independence period, but is not in practice currently.
In recent times, forest cover and quality has stabilised and increased slightly in
most of the Western Ghats region, except for Maharashtra (Table 9).
open and scrub forest increased by 120 000 ha while dense forest decreased by
66 200 ha. The natural regeneration of secondary forests after a long period of
protection by local people is reported from villages such as Alalli, Hunasur and
Kugwe, in Karnataka (Ravindranath et al. 1996)
Considering the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats region, including its
secondary forests, and its importance in harbouring a variety of flora and fauna,
including many endangered species, the Planning Commission introduced a
special scheme called the Western Ghats Development Programme during the
Fifth Five-Year-Plan (1975–1979).
The main objectives were improving the economic
well-being of the hill people and regulating the exploitation of the resources of the
hill region. Several measures were taken to stop the degradation and to restore the
forest cover over the forest area.
Table 9 Forest change from 1993–1997 in the Western Ghats (area in km2)
Western Ghats Dense forest Open forest Scrub forest
state (canopy cover > 40%) (canopy cover 10 to 40%) (canopy cover