Forest Survey in India

Forest Survey in India – Historical Perspective

by - Smt. Kalpana Palkhiwala *Assistant Director ( M & C), PIB, New Delhi

The first authentic record of forest survey is traceable to the period of Chandra Gupta Maurya in the third century B.C. During his regime, the forests were classified according to the functions each type of forest was required to perform, such as religious, production, grazing for royal elephants, hunting and public use. However, no detailed surveys were undertaken and there are no records of forest maps, as forests resources were considered inexhaustible. During the Mughal period, forest surveys were confined to the establishment of hunting reserves for the royalty.

During the British period, the first step in forest surveys began in the South in the year 1800. A commission was appointed to enquire into the availability of teak in Malabar hills. The period from 1800 to 1860’s saw appointment of conservators and superintendents of forests for survey of forest resources and their management in the different parts of the country. In 1863, the Conservator of Forests of Madras made a systematic collection of all information related to the working of the forests and produced the first “Manual of Forests Operations”. This could be considered as the first step towards formal codification of the results of forest survey in the shape of written documents later to be known as “working plan”. In due course, these working plans contained, inter alia, detailed forest maps based on the results of forest survey.

In 1865, Brandis was appointed the first Inspector General of Forests working directly under the orders of Government of India. His job was to introduce a system of scientific management and conservation of forests through systematic forest surveys and preparation of working plans based on it.

National Forest Policy
Prior to 1910, forest surveys and mapping were carried out by Survey of India at scales decided by Superintendent of Survey in consultation with the forest departments. After 1910, forest surveys were made ancillary to topographical surveys. The boundaries of legal forest areas are indicated by double dot lines while information about forest cover is shown in the form of green wash in these maps. After Independence in 1947, all princely states were merged into the Indian Union along with their forest areas. A further big addition of forest areas took place as a result of abolition of zamindari and proprietary rights in forest. The National Forest Policy enunciated in 1952 laid emphasis on forest surveys and demarcation along with other aspects of forest development.
However, till 1960 non-availability of classified data of forest-wealth was a major problem in planning of scientific utilization of forest. To overcome this, a complete and broad survey of forest resources was required. Keeping this in view, a project named “Pre-Investment Surveys of Forest Resources” was undertaken by the Government in collaboration with UNDP/FAO in 1965.

The main objectives of this project were:
1. To conduct forests resources survey in selected areas and on the basis of results of forest inventory, issuing of recommendations for bringing in industries to set up their paper-pulp units.
2. Imparting adequate training to officials at all level of the organization and
3. To establish a practical survey unit in such a way that it could be able to conduct forest resources survey in forest areas selected in other parts of India.
4. Use of aerial photograph for thematic mapping.

To start with, three regions were selected viz. (1) Northern Zone including Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, (2) Central Zone – comprising of Madhya Pradesh , Andhra Pradesh, Orissa & Maharashtra and (3) Southern Zone – having some parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The main reasons for selecting these three regions were presence of rich type of forests in these areas, such as conifer forests of Northern region, deciduous mixed hardwood forests of Central region and semi-evergreen and evergreen forests in Southern region of India. Since study area of these zones was very different from each other because of topography and species, occurrence, different designs to carry out the ground surveys and photo-interpretation were formulated for these zones.

The objective of the project was to carry out intensive forest inventories for providing volumetric information at national, state and regional level. Another objective was to use the modern air-borne remote sensing techniques and aerial photographs for preparation of thematic maps on 1:50,000 scale showing forest types and forest cover. Survey of India had started using aerial photography for survey work in 1950’s and its first application in forest survey was made in 1963 in Kullu forests of Himachal Pradesh. Pre-Investment Survey of Forest Resources (PISFR) initiated the use of aerial photographs in forestry for preparation of thematic maps. The details of forestry features interpreted by the technicians of PISFR were transferred from aerial photographs to base maps by cartographers of India using suitable photogrammetric instruments.

After 1968, PISFR started functioning as a Government organization. In 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture, realizing the importance of collection of data of a more general nature on a national level, recommended the creation of a National Forests Resources Survey Organisation. As a result of this recommendation, PISFR was converted into Forest Survey of India (FSI) in June, 1981.

The Forests Survey of India (FSI), an organization of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is engaged in the assessment of the country’s forest cover and forest resources besides providing services of training, research and extension. After a critical review of activities undertaken by FSI, Government redefined the mandate of FSI in 1986 in order to make it more relevant to the rapidly changing needs and aspirations of the country. The headquarters of FSI is located at Dehradun and it has four regional offices located at Shimla (North Zone), Kolkata (East Zone), Nagpur (Central Zone) and Bangalore (South Zone). FSI is headed by a Director General supported by two Joint Directors and eight Deputy Directors at headquarters. Each Zonal Office is headed by a Regional Director and supported by one or two Deputy Directors. The Joint Directors at the headquarters head two wings namely National Forest Data Management Centre (NFDMC) and Training & Forest Inventory (TFI). NFDMC conducts assessment of forest cover, thematic mapping, production of maps, etc. TFI wing is concerned with inventory of tree resources inside and outside the forests, conducting of training courses, extension works, publication of reports, maintenance of library, etc. The total sanctioned strength of the organization is 402, which includes members of the Indian Forest Service and Indian Statistical Service on deputation.

Objectives of Forest Survey of India
Ø To prepare State of Forest Report biennially, providing assessment of latest forest cover in the country and monitoring changes in these.
Ø To conduct inventory in forest and non-forest areas and develop database on forest/tree resources.
Ø To prepare thematic maps on 1:50,000 scale, using aerial photographic.
Ø To function as a nodal agency for collection, compilation, storage and dissemination of spatial database on forest resources.
Ø To conduct training of forestry personnel in application of technologies related to resources survey, remote sensing, GIS, etc.
Ø To strengthen research & development infrastructure in FSI and to conduct research on applied forest survey techniques.
Ø To support State/UT Forest Departments (SFD) in forest resources survey, mapping and inventory.
Ø To undertake forestry related special studies/consultancies and custom made training courses for SFD’s and other organizations on project basis.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests is involved in various activities of preservation, conservation and management of environment and forests of India. A number of prime institutes under the Ministry are helping out in these activities.

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