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Role of the State on Forests: Case of Uttarakhand

The continuous shrinking of forest area for the rural population and increasing encroachment for bringing more land under infrastructure development, and the cultivation and abandonment of less productive land in Uttarakhand have put the state's rural people in a tough situation. Issues of equity and governance bear the key to a sustainable solution for the escalating ecological crisis in the state.

Role of the State on Forests: Case of Uttarakhand

The continuous shrinking of forest area for the rural population and increasing encroachment for bringing more land under infrastructure development, and the cultivation and abandonment of less productive land in Uttarakhand have put the state’s rural people in a tough situation. Issues of equity and governance bear the key to a sustainable solution for the escalating ecological

crisis in the state.


he forest in Uttarakhand embodies the challenges and contradictions of state control and governance, an issue also faced by the rest of India. As a matter of fact, forest management policies are identified more as ignoring the livelihoods of the people directly or indirectly dependent on it. It is also believed that such policies have alienated a vast majority of local communities from the forests across the country. However, despite stringent policies, acts and constitutional safeguard measures, Uttarakhand in particular and the country in general have lost forest wealth and continue to lose more everyday.

Presently, the total forest and tree cover accounts for 77.8 million hectares, which is about 23.68 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. Currently, approximately 400 million people are dependent on the forests for their livelihood security throughout the country. Among the forest-rich states in India, the conditions in Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand are different due to their historical evolution, user rights, institutional arrangements, and socio-cultural backgrounds. The case of Uttarakhand is interesting because it presents a case of gradual loss of forest ownership and user rights and yet maintaining the participation of people in the management of available forests. As a matter of fact, Uttarakhand is also increasingly seen as providing a model for conservation based on people’s participation.

Eight out of the 16 forest types existing in India [Champion and Seth 1968] can be found in Uttarakhand. These are the moist alpine scrub, sub-alpine forests, Himalayan dry temperate forests, Himalayan moist temperate forests, sub-tropical pine forests, tropical dry deciduous forests, littoral and swamp forests and tropical moist deciduous forests. The recorded forest area in government records in Uttarakhand is 34,662 sq km, which constitutes 64.81 per cent of its total geographical area. Whereas according to the latest Forest Survey of India (FSI) assessment (2003), the total forest cover in the state is 24,465 sq km representing 45.75 per cent of its total geographical area. Forest cover is represented in three density classes, viz, very dense forest with more than 70 per cent canopy density, moderately dense forest with density between 40 per cent and 70 per cent and open forest with canopy density between 10 per cent and 40 per cent. Of the 45.75 per cent forest cover, 8 per cent is very dense forest, 27 per cent is moderately dense forest and 11 per cent is open forest. The state has six national parks, six wildlife sanctuaries, one biosphere reserve, one UNESCO world heritage site and two elephant ranges.

The forest dwelling eco-friendly hill communities have in the past always ensured that the rich and diverse forest stretches are preserved and protected. More than 90 per cent of the rural populations of the state are fully or partially dependent on the forest for fuel besides many other resources. This dependence keeps increasing with increasing altitude as cooler climate necessitates more consumption of fuel wood for heating. The rural people in most of the remote areas have a unique and special relationship with forests that directly support their livelihoods. Some of the important forestbased resources are valuable medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), gum and wild edibles, etc, which contribute to some kind of environmental income. The rural population of Uttarakhand plays a pivotal role in the preservation of the forest wealth of the nascent state by their traditional practices and self-imposed rules, reveals a study. The contribution and initiative of local communities in the conservation of forests in the state has been based on the traditional knowledge of these hill people. As a result, Uttarakhand still has more than 45 per cent of the geographical area under forest cover. In addition to the fragile ecosystem, the increasing population with deficient agricultural production, large and unproductive bovine population, scanty returns from non-timber forest products (NTFP) and degraded community forests constitute a vicious cycle of poverty resulting in tremendous pressure on forests in the region.

Ecological Imperatives and Services

The agricultural economy of Uttarakhand is heavily dependent on the forests for its energy supplies in the form of fuel wood, fodder for livestock, and ultimately soil fertility in the form of leaf litter and animal manure. Each hectare of cultivated land requires sufficient uncultivated vegetated area for these needs. Studies from central Himalaya have indicated that agriculture practices in this region require a massive consumption of forest resources. However, the position at present is that only 24.9 per cent (7,473 sq km) of Garhwal Himalaya is now forested and only 4.1 per cent of the area has a forest with greater than 60 per cent crown cover. Further, 85 per cent of all agricultural land already suffers from severe erosion problems due to the shallowness of the soil and its acute slope. As a result of these problems recent years have witnessed a process of land abandonment due to the migration of young people from the region in search of new jobs and a 10 per cent decrease in the livestock population between 1972 and 1986.

It is estimated that about six ha of good quality of forest is needed to support one ha of agriculture in the hills on a sustainable basis. Forests also absorb excess water during the rainy season, prevent run-offs and release it in the post-monsoon period. Thus they perform a great economic function of reallocating water over time. Deforestation, apart from creating the immediate shortages of fuel wood and fodder, has reduced the quantity of drinking water.

Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007

Field observations have indicated that water resources are diminishing, particularly through the drying of springs and small streams on which most village communities depend. The exposure of large areas of bare soil, accompanied by the loss of leaf litter and humus from the severely degraded forests, leads to increased surface run-off and reduced infiltration. Soil erosion has reduced the fertility of agricultural lands which forces people either to encroach upon the common lands or to migrate. It has been estimated that the river Ganga carries 340 million tonnes of sediments per annum. The soil so washed away is forming an island in the Bay of Bengal. Each year the rains wash away more than 12 tonnes of soil from every sq km of the hill side.

The growth rate of total foodgrain production in the hilly areas of Uttarakhand has been either static or negative, except in the tarai and valleys which are better irrigated. While the hill population has increased continuously in all districts, the population density of all districts has increased between 1991 and 2001 (Table 1).

The poor quality of hill soils cannot absorb any chemical fertilisers especially because of the poor means of irrigation, and therefore, agriculture can be sustained only through organic manure supplied by livestock, which in turn depend on fodder and leaf supply from uncultivated lands. The present figure of cattle and livestock population only suggests that the pressure on forests and uncultivated land is very high and needs immediate population check of cattle and livestock in order to save the forests from further deterioration. This also explains why any further increase in the cultivated area at the cost of uncultivated area would be self-defeating as the supply of organic matter would decline. The extension of agriculture and horticulture crops in a few oak (quercus spp) forest areas in

Table 1: Demographic Profile of Uttarakhand, 2001

District Population Literacy (Per Cent) Population Sex Ratio Density (Number of (Per sq km) Females Per 1,000 Males) Total Male Female Total Male Female 2001 1991 2001 1991

Almora 630446 293576 336870 74.53 90.15 61.43 205 198 1147 1099 Bageshwar 249453 118202 131251 71.94 88.56 57.45 108 99 1110 1055 Champawat 224461 110916 113545 71.11 88.13 54.75 126 107 1024 945 Monohar - AD Chamoli 369198 183033 186165 76.23 89.89 63.00 48 43 1017 982 Dehradun 1279083 675549 603534 78.96 85.87 71.22 414 332 893 843 Haridwar 1444213 773173 671040 64.60 75.08 52.60 612 485 868 846 Nainital 762912 400336 362576 79.60 87.39 70.98 198 149 906 881 Pauri 696851 331138 365713 77.99 91.47 66.14 129 124 1104 1058 Pithoragarh 462149 227592 234557 76.48 90.57 63.14 65 59 1031 992 Rudraprayag 227461 107425 120036 74.23 90.73 59.98 120 106 1117 1094 Tehri 604608 294842 309766 67.04 85.62 49.76 148 128 1051 1048 Uttarkashi 294179 151599 142580 66.58 84.52 47.48 37 30 941 918 US Nagar 1234548 649020 585528 65.76 76.20 54.16 424 332 902 863 Uttaranchal 8479562 4316401 4163161 72.28 84.01 60.28 159 133 964 936

Source: Census 2001.

Table 2: Statistical Glimpses of Uttarakhand, 2004

Name of the Geographical Area* Forest Cover** Van Panchayats, 2003 District Sq km Sq km Per Cent*** Total No Area (ha)

Almora 3083 1505 48.82 1543 64928 Bageshwar 2303 1308 56.80 587 35968 Champawat 1781 1134 63.67 623 31233 Chamoli 7614 2607 34.24 603 142535 Dehradun 3088 1557 50.42 159 7659 Hardwar 2360 612 25.93 0 0 Nainital 3860 3122 80.88 496 28068 Pauri 5400 3237 59.95 1684 45028 Pithoragarh 7100 2104 29.63 1051 41748 Rudraprayag 1891 1169 61.82 250 16510 Tehri 4080 2240 54.90 96 2333 Uttarkashi 8016 3172 39.57 256 2165 US Nagar 2908 769 26.44 0 0 Uttaranchal 53483 24536 45.88 7348 418175

Sources: *Census of India, 2001, **State of Forest report 2001(FSI), Uttaranchal Revenue Department, ***Percentage of Geographical Area.

Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007 high altitude regions of Uttarakhand, and overexploitation of oak forests for fodder, fuel wood and timber for farm implements have reduced the seed production of oak. Natural regeneration of the oak forests is also affected due to pressure from seed predators such as langur, flying squirrel and deer species. This fact is testified by the absence of young seedlings of different species of oak and presence of only mother trees in two sites (Akash Kamini in Garhwal and Kilbury in Kumaun), some of which are 200 years old [GoI 2002]. Uncontrolled fires have also caused tremendous damage to the forest biodiversity of the state. Forest fires occur from March to June, as a result of high temperature, extreme dryness, windy conditions and low humidity in the forest floor.

Social Implications of Degradation

The total number of van panchayats in Uttarakhand is 7,348 and they cover an area of 4,18,175 ha (the district-wise break-up of forest statistics is presented in Table 2). Out of the total forest area of Uttarakhand, 69.2 per cent is with the forest department, 14.8 per cent of forest (civil and soyam forests) is under the control of the revenue department, 15.1 per cent under forest panchayats, and the rest belong to private parties, municipalities, cantonment and others [UEPPCB 2004]. Forest panchayats popularliy known as van panchayats are operational in the Kumaon and Garhwal hills since 1931, and were formed to enable the people to manage a portion of revenue forests lying in the vicinity of their villages. The forests under the van panchayats have been traditionally managed by the people with minimum interference by the state. The Uttaranchal Panchayati Forest Rules, 2001 further amended the existing Van Panchayat (VP) Act which managed their forests within the ambit of the Indian Forest Act. In 1990, the passing of the guidelines for joint forest management (JFM) by the ministry of environment and forests formalised the system of joint partnership between the ecosystem community and the forest department to manage and protect the forests. In 1997, the then UP government issued the guidelines for involving forest fringe communities in the regeneration and protection of degraded forests (reserved and protected).

However, after the birth of Uttaranchal as a new state a new anti-people ordinance, ‘The Uttaranchal Panchayati Forest Rules

– 2001’, has been promulgated. Accordingly, the Uttaranchal forest department has constituted many forest area development agencies (FDAs) to coordinate the activities of village development in JFM villages. Till January 2004, approximately 1,73,31,955 ha of forests in Uttaranchal were managed under JFM. The hill people are seeing this ordinance as a parallel body floated by the new government and marginalising the elected panchayats as per the provisions of the 73rd amendment and also discouraging the traditional systems of forest management. “Converting traditional Van Panchayats into Joint Forest Management (JFM) supported by the World Bank loan will lead to alienation of the local communities from the forest and bring to an end their major contribution through traditional wisdom” feel the hill people and the environmentalists. Taking over of the forest management by the forest department of the functioning of the van panchayats will fast erode this spirit of forest conservation by the local communities. It represents another example of the total disregard by the state of traditional, community-run systems of natural resource management and also the National Forest Policy 1988. The Uttaranchal Forest Rules 2001 made further amendments to the VP Act and has given greater control to the forest department in the management of their forest. In the civil and soyam forest division of the state, the forest department is now responsible for providing technical and managerial inputs while ownership lies with the revenue department. It has been reported that there is a lack of cooperation between the revenue department and the forest department, as is visible from the afforestation and intervention undertaken in these forests.

Linking Forest, Governance and Equity

The Forest Survey of India 2001 has estimated that at the present level of consumption of forest produce and the current productivity of forests, the country needs a minimum of 0.47 ha of forest land for every individual in order to meet basic needs. With this background, the consumption of forests in Uttarakhand for its 15,649 villages, 7,842 gram sabhas, 78 tehsils, 78 blocks, 86 towns (Table 3) around 18,865 schools of different categories and a population of 84,79,562 individuals can be calculated. The rising population and consumption can potentially overwhelm Uttarakhand’s forests. Three sources of threats to forests and their functions are unavoidable by the present and future societies of Uttarakhand. First are those threats that originate from competition for other land uses, especially from expanding infrastructure facilities like road networks, housing and shops, and expanding croplands. Second are threats related to the growing global demand for wood. Third are threats exogenous to forests, the most prominent being climate change and loss of biodiversity. Expanding croplands over the centuries have converted and reduced forests on a massive scale for agriculture. There now exists fierce competition between needs for the forests as habitat, and equally demanding needs for increased agricultural production. Since population is unlikely to stabilise before 2050, it will be essential to produce more food by diversifying and intensifying agricultural production. Converting woodlands to

Table 3: Statistical Glimpses of Uttarakhand, 2004

Name of the Villages Gram Sabhas Tahsils Blocks Towns Schools (2001-02)* District 1991 2003 2004 1991 2001 PS MS HS/HSS

Almora 2139 1125 09 11 04 1095 332 121 Bageshwar 885 362 04 03 01 971 285 103 Champawat 623 283 04 04 04 622 94 64 Chamoli 1186 552 05 09 06 1511 234 188 Dehradun 726 370 06 06 14 1203 260 124 Hardwar 503 929 03 06 10 490 111 53 Nainital 1095 450 08 08 08 1755 468 257 Pauri 3174 1164 09 15 06 979 223 127 Pithoragarh 1551 644 06 08 04 592 135 75 Rudraprayag 660 304 03 03 02 768 212 73 Tehri 1742 929 08 09 07 1468 404 180 Uttarkashi 678 427 06 06 03 957 278 80 US Nagar 687 303 07 07 17 1384 451 148 Uttaranchal 15649 7842 78 78 86 13795 3487 1583

Sources: *Selected Educational Statistics 2001-02, PS: Primary School, MS: Middle School, HS: High School, HSS: Higher Secondary School.

Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007 marginal farmland is the least desirable way to expand food supply. There is the need for a second green revolution, and a forceful change of food habits adapted to consumption of available food.

The emphasis on good governance and forest is particularly important and relevant when the issue of equity is being addressed. The studies on Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR) suggest that efforts to promote sustainable livelihoods among the rural poor are more successful when they simultaneously promote ecosystem stewardship and decentralise governance [Maikhuri et al 2001; Rao et al 2000]. For that reason, in the recent past, a number of developmental agencies and NGOs have emphasised and focused on the integration of environmental concerns and good governance. Despite increasing interest in this integration, its application to the alleviation of poverty is still new. Success will demand new ways to go beyond traditional economic development strategies, or at least to add a more deliberate recognition of the linkages between nature, power and poverty. Making governance friendlier to the rural community means tackling issues of forest rights, access to information and decision-making and adequate representation in planning.

The policy of the government to increase the protected area network gradually has brought more forest area under its control on the one hand, and people have lost their traditional rights and access over forests on the other. Such situations at Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, etc, have added to new conflicts between the local communities and the government authorities.1 The magnitude of people’s resentment is also reflected in the election manifestos of the major regional and national parties in the 2007 assembly election held in Uttarakhand.




1 The Indian state’s concern for conserving wildlife and biodiversity has led to the creation and establishment of national parks and protected areas in India and in many areas displaced villagers and the tribals from their traditional habitat including forests [Kothari et al 1996; Saberwal and Rangarajan 2003]. Simultaneously in the name of serving national interests, the state has implemented development projects and given mining leases that have degraded forestland and also displaced many forest-dwellers or alienated communities dependent on forest resources. Such exclusionist strategies have only generated conflicts over natural resources.


Champion, H G and S K Seth (1968): A Revised Survey of the Forest Types of India, Government of India Publications, New Delhi.

FSI (2001): State of Forest Report 2001, Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi.

– (2003): Status of Forest Report, Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi.

GoI (2002): Draft National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi.

Guha, R (1989): The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Kothari, A, N Singh and S Suri (1996): ‘People and Protected Areas: Towards Participatory Conservation in India’, Sage, New Delhi.

Maikhuri, R K S Nautiyal, K S Rao and K G Saxena (2001): ‘Conservation Policy-People Conflicts: A Case Study from Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (a World Heritage Site), India’, Forest Policy and Economics, 2: 355-65.

Rao, K S S Nautiyal, R K Maikhuri and K G Saxena (2000): ‘Management Conflicts in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, India’, Mountain Research and Development, 20 (4): 320-23.

Saberwal, V and M Rangarajan (2003): ‘Introduction’ in V Saberwal and M Rangarajan (eds), Battles Over Nature, Science and the Politics of Conservation, Permanent Black, Delhi.

UEPPCB (2004): State of Enironment Report for Uttaranchal, Uttaranchal Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Board, Government of Uttaranchal, Dehradun.

Economic and Political Weekly September 1, 2007

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