As per the latest state of forests report of the Forest Survey of India, actual forest cover of India is 19.27% of the geographic area, corresponding to 63.3 million ha. Only 38 million ha of forests are well stocked (crown density above 40%).
This resource has to meet the demand of a population of 950 million people and around 450 million cattle. As such, country has to meet the needs of 16% of world’s population from 1% of world forest resources. The same forest has also to cater for 19% of world cattle population.
In Mumbai (Bombay), Gibson tried to introduce rules prohibiting shifting cultivation and plantation of teak forests. Forest reserves were established to secure material for imperial needs.
Scientific forest management systems were employed to regenerate and harvest forest to make it sustainable. Between 1926 and 1947, afforestation was carried out on a large scale in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. In early 1930s, people began showing interest in conservation of wild life.
Main areas of tropical forest are found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Western Ghats, which fringe the Arabian Sea coastline of peninsular India, and greater Assam region in north-east. Small remnants of rain forest are found in Orissa state. Semi-evergreen rain forest is more extensive than evergreen formation, partly because evergreen forests tend to degrade to semi-evergreen with human interference.
There are substantial differences in both flora and fauna between three major rain forest regions (IUCN, 1986; Rodgers and Panwar, 1988). Western Ghats Monsoon forests occur both on western (coastal) margins of ghats and on eastern side where there is less rainfall.
These forests contain several tree species of great commercial significance (e.g., Indian rosewood, Dalbergia latifolia, Malabar Kino, Pterocarpus marsupium, and teak, Terminalia crenulata), but they have now been cleared from many areas. In rain forests, there is an enormous number of tree species.
At least, 60 percent of trees of upper canopy are species which individually contribute not more than one percent of total number. Clumps of bamboo occur along streams or in poorly drained hollows throughout evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of south-west India, probably in areas once cleared for shifting agriculture.
Tropical vegetation of north-east India (which includes the states of Assam. Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya as well as plain regions of Arunachal Pradesh) typically occurs at elevations up to 900 m. It embraces evergreen and semi-evergreen rain forests, moist deciduous monsoon forests, riparian forests, swamps and grasslands. Evergreen rain forests are (found in Assam Valley, foothills of eastern Himalayas and lower parts of Naga Hills, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Manipur where rain fall exceeds 2300 mm per annum.
In Assam Valley, giant Dipterocarpus macrocarpus and Shorea assamica occur singly, occasionally attaining a girth of up to 7 m and a height of up to 50 m. Monsoon forests are mainly moist sal, Shorea robusta forests, which occur widely in this region (IUCN, 1991).
The Andamans and Nicobar islands have tropical evergreen rain forests and tropical semi-evergreen rainforests as well as tropical monsoon moist monsoon forests (IUCN, 1986). Dominant species is Dipterocarpus grandiflorus in hilly areas, while Dipterocarpus kerrii is dominant on some islands in southern parts of archipelago. Monsoon forests of Andamans are dominated by Pterocarpus dalbergioides and Terminalia spp.
Tropical forests classifications for greater India (Champion 1936) and present-day India (Champion and Seth, 1968) recognize 16 major forest types which are subdivided into 221 minor types. Forests cover 19.27% of India’s total geographical area including 63.73 million ha of dense forests, 0.487 million ha of mangroves, and 5.19 million ha of scrub (MoEF, 1999). Semi-evergreen rain forest is extensive than evergreen formation, due to degradation of evergreen forests to semi-evergreen with human interference.