• Recently, the Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) informed Rajya Sabha about the forest area in the country.
  • The data provided was as per the India State of Forest Report, 2019 that is the 16th biennial assessment of India’s forests by Forest Survey of India, Dehradun an organisation under the MoEFCC.
  • Information about the Wasteland in the country was also provided as per the Wasteland Atlas, 2019.

Important points:

  • The word ‘forest’ is not defined in any Central Forest Act, namely the Indian Forest Act (1927), or the Forest Conservation Act (1980).
  • The Central government has not laid down any criterion to define forest.
  • The Indian Forest Act, 1927 gives states the rights to notify Reserved Forests in their areas.
  • States are responsible for determining their definition of forests; this prerogative stems from a Supreme Court order called the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs the Union of India 1996 judgment.
  • In the judgement, the Supreme Court interpreted that the word “forest” must be understood according to its “dictionary meaning”.
  • This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise.

Total Forest Area:

  • The recorded forest area in the country is 7,67,419 sq km, however the ministry has so far not quantified the forest area that has been under dispute.
  • It is under direct supervision of the Government.
  • No public entry allowed for the commercial purpose of cattle grazing.
  • Total area under this category is 4,34,853 sq km.
  • It is looked after by the government.
  • Local people are allowed to collect forest produce and cattle grazing without causing any serious damage.
  • Total area under this category is 2,18,924 sq km.

Unprotected Forest Category:

  • They are unclassified Forests.
  • No restriction on cutting trees or grazing cattle.
  • Total area under this category is 1,13,642 sq km.


  • As per the Wasteland Atlas, 2019, published by the Ministry of Rural Development, the total wasteland in the country is 5,57,665.51 sq km.
  • Wasteland is defined not as desertified land, but land that is not used for agriculture, commercial use or as forest land.
  • For instance, it could use grasslands that are used by communities for grazing.


  • India’s forests are currently governed by the National Forest Policy, 1988 which has environmental balance and livelihood at its centre.
  • The Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.


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