Deforestation in India: A Critical Assessment Using the Sustainable Development Framework
Renu Khator and Rita Kabra
Deforestation is a major issue in developing countries, but more so in India, where 1 billion people are aspiring to join the exclusive group of economi- cally advanced countries. India devotes only 20 percent of its labor force to manufacturing, but ranks among the top ten industrial nations in the world. Seventy-four percent of its population lives in the countryside, which is made up of more than 500,000 villages, and yet India's cities are stressed with population density and infrastructure decline. At a population growth rate of 1.8 percent, India adds 18 million people to its population each year, further stressing its supply of natural resources, including the forests.
At the turn of the twentieth century 40 percent of India's land was for- ested. Today only 20 percent falls in this category and, of this, only 40 per- cent is classified as dense forests. The dense forests, thus, make up only 8 percent of India's total land area. Deforestation has already claimed 1.14 million hectares of forest area since India gained its independence in 1947 and the numbers are only likely to grow in the future. The Indian govern- ment recognizes the need to preserve and protect its forests; however, its regulatory approach so far has failed to turn the destructive tide around. Recently, the government launched some new initiatives in sustainable for- estry management. This chapter offers a historical perspective on India's attempts to stop deforestation, from the British era to the present.