The India State of Forest Report (2019), a biennial assessment report of India’s forests elaborates, India has around 80.72 mha of forested land (forest and tree cover), which constitutes to 24.56% of the total land area. India’s annual change rate is positive and varies between 0.4 and 1.0 % per year, indicating a constant expansion in forest area by about 0.66 to 1 million ha per year through regeneration and afforestation projects. About 86% of forest area is publicly owned, administered by the government, for the other part those public lands are reserved for communities and indigenous groups, the other 14% is privately owned. Public lands can be classified as protected, reserved, unclassed and village forests. FAO has also released the State of World's Forests 2020 stating India has 72 mha forested land, constituting 2 % of the total land area.
India is one of seventeen mega-biodiverse countries, hosting 7% of the world's biodiversity. Many flora or fauna species are endemic to India.
Indian forest types include tropical wet evergreens, semi-evergreens, deciduous, tropical dry deciduous, subtropical pine forests, alpine, dry alpine scrub,temperate montane forests, swamps, mangroves, thorn. Champion & Seth in 1968 published a seminal classification system of forest types of India. It provides a description of 200 forest types and its higher hierarchical levels. The most widely distributed genera in tropical wet evergreen forests are Dipterocarpus, Hopea, Callophyllum, Syzgium, Lauraceae and Myrthaceae are also well represented. Tropical moist deciduous forests are characterized by Tectona grandis (teak) and others by Shorea robusta (sal). (ISFR, 2019)
A major threat to forests of India is the slash-and-burn shifting cultivation to grow food, especially in its northeastern states.
As per the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, prepared by the Space Applications Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation, Department of Space, an area equivalent to 96.4 million hectares or about 29.32 % of the total geographical area of the country is undergoing the process of degradation. From this about 10.67% of forests are under degradation. This is due to heavy land use pressure. Forests are under pressure due to several reasons, ranging from fuel wood collection, extraction of resources, fodder, wood, non-timber forest products (NTFP’s), grazing, etc. There are about 170,000 villages in and around forests with approximately 275 million people living in them.
Production and export
According to ITTO (2017) the industry of India produced in 2015 almost 50 million m3 of logs, of which only a minor portion was exported. In this year the export value of primary timber products exceeded 72.6 million US dollars.
India has a thriving range of industries for semi-processed and value-added timber products, including wooden handicrafts, pulp and paper, plywood and veneer and wooden furniture. Exports of wooden handicrafts in particular are on the rise.
Commonly harvested species from natural forests in India include, among others:
- Teak (Tectona grandis), both from natural and planted forests.
- Sal (Shorea robusta)
- Khair (Acacia catechu)
Common planted species include, among others, fast-growing (and short rotation) species:
- Teak (Tectona grandis) most widely planted timber species and most of it is harvested from planted forests
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.)
- Poplar (Poplus spp)
- Acacia (Acacia spp)
- Subabul (Leucaena leucocephala)
Although India is one of the world’s top producers of tropical logs, it is also one of the world’s largest consumers of wood products. India cannot meet its own demand for wood products with domestic supply and hence is one of the top most importing country of tropical woods.However India’s tropical log consumption levels has seen a decline in 2017 with previous year .India’s imports have continued to decline steadily, dropping to 2.6 million m3 in 2017 and 2.4 million m3 in 2018. The decline in imports reflects demand levels in India’s plywood industry which is a significant end-user of tropical logs.
Sources of information
- FAO (2020) FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020
- FAO (2020) The State of the World's Forests
- India State of Forest Report 2019
- Fordaq - timber trade network
- Forest Legality Initiative country profile – India
- Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India
- ITC (International Trade Centre) calculations based on UN Comtrade statistics
- ITTO (2015) Status of tropical forest management 2015 – India
- ITTO (2018) ITTO Biennial review and assessment of the world timber situation 2017-2018
- World Port Source - Map of ports in India with container liner service
In India the national (central) and state governments are jointly responsible for the sustainable management of the forest resources. In a practical sense, the state forest departments have a double role: they act as the custodians of the public forest resources and in capacity of forest authorities manage the forest resources on the basis of forest management plans (known as Working Plans). Often the state forest departments also perform a commercial function, becoming involved in production, processing and trade through Forest Development Corporations (FDCs) which have been set up for marketing the forest products.
International timber trade is regulated by the Export Import (EXIM) policy of India, which is a five-year policy directive under the central government’s Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 (FTDR). The Authority under the FTDR act is the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) under the Ministry of Commerce.
The most relevant ministries and agencies for forest governance are:
- Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC): Nodal agency in India for the planning, promotion, coordination and overseeing the implementation of India's environmental and forestry policies and programmes.
- Ministry of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare: Apex agency for formulation and administration of rules, regulations, laws, etc. dealing with matters affecting the improvement and development of agriculture resources (including agroforestry) in the country.
- Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry : A government body for formulating, implementing and monitoring the Forest Trade Policy (FTP) which provides basic framework of policy and strategy to be followed for promoting exports and trade
- Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development: A government body for formulating an efficient land use policy, transparent Land Records Management System (LRMS).
- Ministry of Tribal Affairs: This central ministry is responsible for implementing Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006, which is a landmark law related to recognition of forest related tenurial and usage rights of traditional communities dependent on forests.
- State Forest Departments (SFDs): The SFDs are the custodians of the state forests and responsible for its management and protection, including wildlife.
- State Forest Development Corporations: Legally registered entities under the Companies Act of India, or any such similar Act, with a mandate to work on commercial aspects of forests, raising industrial plantations of species of commercial importance such as teak and eucalyptus, enhancement of forest productivity, restoration of productivity of degraded forest areas, harvesting and trade to timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), facilitating establishment of forest based industries, providing support to farmers for production and marketing of the forest produce and to provide consultancy in raising bio-aesthetic plantations. The functioning of these corporations differs from state to state.
- Village Panchayat: A gram panchayat (village council) is the grassroots-level formalised local self-governance system in India at the village or small-town level and has a ‘sarpanch’ as its elected head.
- Wildlife Crime Control Bureau: Statutory multi-disciplinary body established by the functioning under the MoEF&CC, to combat organized wildlife crime in the country. It also assists and advises the customs authorities in inspection of the consignments of endangered flora & fauna as per the provisions of WildLife (Protection) Act of 1972, CITES and EXIM Policy governing such an item.
- National Green Tribunal: Established for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.
- Supreme Court Monitoring Committee: A special committee formulated by the direction of judges on matters they feel need technical expertise and strict monitoring through legal action. They perform constitutional and administrative duties for the court.
Major sources of timber in India are:
- Forest Development Corporations (FDCs): FDCs are state owned legally registered entities. The FDC harvest the forest areas through a long-term MoU with State Forest Department.
- State Forest Divisions (SFD): A forest Division is a territorially well-defined administrative unit of the state forest departments and the government owned forests. The divisions manage the forests through approved Working Plans*. The commercial harvesting of the trees/forest products is generally entrusted to state FDCs.
- Individual Tree Owners: Growing trees on farmlands has been an integral part of the traditional agriculture practices in India. The farm owners may be growing the trees as block plantations, windbreaks and shelterbelts or as bund/boundary planting.
- Private Plantations: Timber may also be grown on private plantations by individuals/corporate entities either alone or as an intercrop. There are practices of cultivation of tree crops as intercrops in coffee and tea fields etc.
*Working Plans - The Working Plan is a document that details the management of forests of a territorial division in all aspects such as forest protection and conservation, wildlife management and resource harvest etc. Each SFD maintains the forest as per the working plan approved by the Govt. Of India. The working plan is revised/updated periodically every 10 years.
The legal rights to harvesting follows different procedures for the forest area harvesting and private landowners/plantations harvesting. In the government owned forests, state forest department does the harvesting through FDCs or contractors (outsource) and issues harvest permits for the same. The harvesting is done in compliance or as per the permissible limits mentioned in the working plans (in compliance with existing laws)
Note: Green felling is banned in India. Only the dead and decaying, matured plants are removed from the forests. Such felling is prescribed in the working plan and forest department has the right for felling or harvesting activities.
The harvesting rights considers the following components:
1. Land tenure and use rights
The legality for the government land tenure is available through government notifications. The information related to that can be verified from the forest departments and depots. In some cases, the land and use right may be shared between different entities (department and locals) and the same is recorded in the form of declaration/Govt order and further included in the Management plan (e.g. unclassed forests).
The land ownership for the private areas can be verified through village panchayat head or revenue officer. The land tenure and use rights evidence is a necessity for obtaining the harvesting permits. In India, each state has its own separate laws relating to land usage rights and ownership of agricultural lands.
The concession rights of the private owned companies in the government owned forest lands has been discontinued, following FCA 1980 & supreme court orders on Godavarman vs Union of India case.
2. Management and harvesting planning
There are several national and state level policies; however, as the Constitution of India empowered Indian state governments to enact rules regulating various aspects of forest management, laws and rules differ from state to state. Different states have different restrictions on felling of wood/timber raised on private land, based upon area, intended use and species.
All forests are managed under the prescriptions of a Working Plan prepared for a period of 10 years, according to the National Working Plan Code (2014) on the basis of principles of sustainable forest management and recognized practices.
No forest management practices can be carried out in government forests without the approved Working Plan (as per supreme court) and no harvesting can be done in any forest area without an approved Working Plan. The harvest is carried out either by government forest department or corporation or contractors appointed by the department as per the working plan.
The National Working Plan Code defines the content of a Working Plan and the topics that should be covered, such as objectives, organizational structure, preparation of maps, monitoring and reporting, harvesting and exploitation up to compartment level. The MoEFCC is the authority that approves the Working Plan of a state forest department. The supreme court committee oversees the implementation of the working plan prescriptions.
Special attention is paid to forest dependent communities concerns. Joint Forest Management (JFM) is such a programme, wherein responsibilities, authority and usufructs are shared between the village community/ forest user group and the forest department. At present around 24.6 mha of forests are managed under JFM model in India. (Source: Joint Forest Management, ENVIS RP on Forestry and Forest Related Livelihoods)
No working plans are applicable/required for the private plantations for harvesting and maintenance.
3. Harvest permits
Government owned forests (Reserved Forests, Protected Forests etc): The process and criteria of issuing harvest permits is specified in respective state harvesting rules and the rules are applied by respective SFDs.
Private Plantations: Harvesting permission for defined or non-exempted species need a harvest permit granted by Government forest officers (Divisional Forest Officers or Deputy Conservators of Forests) or local elected representatives (panchayat) for common lands.
Under the IFA 1927 (Chapter VII), there are existing state harvesting and transit rules for collection of royalties for specified species. Harvesting rules are state specific. State Forest Department is the legal authority regarding collection of royalties and transit fees as specified in the regulations.
Mandi samities (local market committees) collect fees from farmers and private plantations for the species obtained from the agricultural land (through agroforestry, farm forestry, etc.), as per State APMC Act (Agriculture Produce Market Committee).
Goods and Service Tax (GST) is an indirect tax levied in India on the supply of goods and services. GST is levied at every step in the production process, but is refunded to all parties in the chain of production other than the final consumer. GST is levied on all transactions such as sale, transfer, purchase, barter, lease, or import of goods and/or services. The Goods and Services Tax (Compensation To States) Act, 2017 can be found here.
GST is administered by both the Central and State Governments. Transactions made within a single state are levied with Central GST (CGST) by the Central Government and State GST (SGST) by the State governments. For inter-state transactions and imported goods or services, an Integrated GST (IGST) is levied by the Central Government. All businesses are assigned a unique number, Goods and Services Tax Identification Number (GSTIN). The GST rates can be found here.
Government forest: The income from timber sale from government forests is considered as government revenue and no income tax is levied on such revenue.
Private forest: Income Tax Act 1961, Section 1 to 10. Not applicable in case of farm products i.e. income from timber sales in an agroforestry system.
Timber is harvested from government managed forests as per rules and conditions laid out in NWPC 2014 as permitted by SFD authorities.
No legally binding harvesting code is applicable
EIA requirements: NA for forest activities
NWPC 2014 includes best practices for sustainable management of forests and biodiversity in India. However, it is not a legislation. The code is implemented as part of preparation, development, implementation and modifications in the Working Plan. Such activities are not applicable to private plantations.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, states that hunting or collecting wild animals and plants in areas protected by the State requires approval from the Forestry Administration. According to the NWPC, SFDs must implement a Management Plan for Protected areas and a working plan/scheme, also adhering to the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.
Wildlife clearance from National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and/or its Standing Committee has to be obtained if the harvesting area falls within Protected Areas and is as per the management plan. Clearance has to be obtained from the Supreme Court of India, if harvesting areas are in the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. For some selected species, written permission in the form of a harvesting permit and transit pass are required for harvesting and transportation of designated species (even for private lands).
Health, Safety and Employment
There are laws (Plantation Labor Act, 1951) adopted by the state governments and private owned industrial plantations for ensuring the health and safety of the workers. Individual farmers/farm lands are outside the scope of such acts.
Further activities pertaining to the legal requirements for the personnel involved in harvesting activities are implemented by the state government (labour department) and the Panchayati Raj department as per the applicable laws. The latest notification regarding the minimum wages, state specific plantation labour act is used and implemented.
Minimum Wages Act 1948 defines the minimum wage in the country. It is defined separately for rural and urban areas on the basis of cost of living, which varies from state to state. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ensures that labourers in villages receive at least the minimum wage and work for a minimum number of days in a year. Harvesting having a specialized nature of work provides labourers with a higher wage than the minimum wage.
*Code of Wages 2019 bill ( a consolidation of the four labour laws including the Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act and Equal Remuneration Act ) has been passed in 2019 and will be enforce on date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette appoint.
The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, outlines the laws against engagement of children as labour. Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976 is implemented to ensure people are not employed under duress.
Forest Department notifications regarding JFM Committees, land use titles issued to forest dwellers by the Government under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, , has recognised and granted traditional rights to forest dwellers and local communities by government in government owned forests.
The rights of private plantations and agroforestry produce rests with the land owners.
Free, prior and Informed Consent - Government forest:
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, , incorporates suitable mechanisms to address the affected communities and families regarding any land acquisition measures for forestry activities or displacement of communities being declared as Wildlife Sanctuaries or National Parks. Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, covers declaration, establishment, expansion etc. of any Reserved Forests or Protected Area has to be notified and provisions regarding declaration, to be made available to potentially affected communities but does not require explicit consent from the affected community or persons to proceed with the proposed forest management activities under the aforementioned laws.
Extraction of forest produce is regulated in protected areas.The rights and provisions for local communities have been addressed in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act , under which written consent is required from local elected government (panchayats or gram sabhas), There are variations from case to case; but free, prior and informed consent has been increasingly acknowledged in India and awareness of stakeholders is steadily increasing.
Free, prior and Informed Consent - Private plantations/cultivations:
The land owners themselves are owners of the resource/produce and undertake management activities on their own.
Specific forest products are classified depending on whether they are restricted, regulated or prohibited. All species exported and imported are authorized by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) as per the EXIM policy. Importing or exporting entities must have a valid license/permit issued by DGFT. Entities must follow all transit rules for timber at international borders as enacted by the central government under section 41A of Indian Forest Act 1927, as well as State Transit Rules.
- State Forest Department Transit Fee Receipt, Transit pass are documents issued universally in India by SFDs for transit of wood from one place to another, detailing the classification and quantity of wood being transported the origin and destination of wood, vehicle details, route of transport, dispatcher and recipient. Without pass, timber consignments are deemed illegal unless otherwise mentioned in the State transit rules.
- For specific species grown on agricultural and privately-owned lands, requirement for a transit pass has been waived (only for movement within a state). In such cases, receipt of taxes paid to the Mandi Samiti, local APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) is considered a legal document of transit.
Saw mill companies must be legally registered with the forest department and hold a valid license according to applicable laws and regulations. Reference to the applicable Acts: Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, the Factories Act, 1948, the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, the Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 , the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the State Land Revenue Act, the State Tenancy Act, and the Town and Country Planning Act, Section 41 of the Indian Forest Act and the State’s Forest Act and Saw Mill Establishment Rules.
Updated Export Policy Schedule-2 (ITC HS 2018),(Chapters 44,47 ) makes mention of all goods banned from export or restricted for export which require licenses. All materials not mentioned in the Schedule can be exported freely without any license.
(Appendix 2) specifies the regulations related to export of CITES species. Similarly Import Policy Schedule I specifies the species related to import of CITES species.
International Standards for Phyto Sanitary Measures (IPSM), solid wood imports and other such imports are governed by it. Export inspection and phytosanitary certification of plants and plant products is carried out in accordance with Article IV of International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to meet the legal obligations of the member countries. This issue is handled by the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine & Storage.
The below listed key documents are based on the applicable legislation and are considered to play a key role in demonstrating legal origin. The full list of applicable legislation is accessible here.
Processing and trade
Bans and quota
- India has banned the export of unprocessed logs.
- India has placed an export ban on Sandalwood (Santalum album) timber.
- Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) logs and sawn timber is banned from export under the Indian Forest Act.
- Import of Sandalwood (EXIM Code No. 44039922) is ‘Restricted’ and subject to a ceiling in each licensing year. (Imports will be permitted only against an Import Authorisation issued in consultation with the MoEF&CC. The ceiling of Sandalwood for each financial year will be monitored by the MoEF&CC to ensure that it is not exceeded. License will be valid for a period of one year from the date of issue. No further revalidation of such authorisation shall be allowed.)
- Import of Red Sanders (Pterocarpus sautatinus) is prohibited.
Cites and protected species
The Government of India has banned the export for commercial purposes of all wild-taken specimens of species included in Appendices I, II and III, but permitted the export of cultivated varieties of plant species included in Appendices I and II - Notification 1999 / 039 of CITES.
There are some tree species listed on CITES Appendix II from India.
- Agarwood (Aquilaria spp.)
- Agarwood (Gyrinops spp.)
- Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis)
- Himalayan may-apple (Podophyllum hexandrum)
- Himalayan yew (Taxus wallichiana)
- Ramin (Gonystylus macrophyllus)
- Red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus). India will authorize the export of specimens of any type, from 310 metric tonnes of wood per year from artificially propagated source (Source "A") and a one-time export of specimens of any type, from 9090.09 metric tonnes of wood from confiscated or seized source (Source "I")
- Serpentine wood (Rauvolfia serpentine)
- Taxus fuana
During CoP 17 in 2016, CITES decided to protect all the species under genus Dalbergia under Appendix II making the trade in this wood illegal without a CITES permit. In december 2016 , India entered a reservation with reference to the inclusion of Dalbergia spp. in Appendix II of the convention.In 2017, MoEF Authorised EPCH in addition to WCCB as a one of the authority to issue comparable document in lieu of CITES permit i.e. VRIKSH Shipment Certificate for export of handicrafts products made from Dalbergia sissoo and Dalbergia latifolia. (Source: VRIKSH India; Notification to the Parties No. 2018/031).
National action on timber legality
India is not a VPA country. India does not plan to sign a VPA since it has banned the export of unprocessed logs. It is however a priority country for the EU FLEGT Asia Regional Support Programme (FLEGT Asia).
Third party certification
In May 2013, Ministry of Commerce and Industry nominated Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) as a nodal agency for certificate on due diligence adopted by the exporters in procuring wood from legal sources for handicrafts articles manufacture. (Source: DGFT Notification).
EPCH has developed: “VRIKSH” TIMBER LEGALITY ASSESSMENT AND VERIFICATION SCHEME – INDIA. This standard has been designed to allow organizations to avoid trading in illegally harvested wood, for verification of legality and legal origin of wood and wood products is intended for organizations who want to accurately track and make claims about the legal origin and transport of their products.
Compliance with this standard allows organizations to demonstrate that they are implementing best efforts to avoid the trade in illegally harvested timber, in support of the international Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) program, the European Union Timber Regulations (EUTR), The US Lacey Act Amendment 2008, The Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 and other such Global Timber Legality Verification Programs. It allows companies to start implementing their own responsible sourcing policies.
Four aspects of legality to be covered under the ambit of this standard are:
- Legal right to harvest and trade within legally gazetted boundaries
- Compliance with legislation related to forest management, environment, labour and welfare, health and safety
- Compliance with legislation related to taxes and royalties
- Compliance with requirements for trade and export procedures.
Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF)
NCCF, a non profit organisation launched the internationally benchmarked National Forest Management Certification Standard in January 2018. The Standard was developed following the standard setting process - a rigorous three year multi stakeholder consultation initiated in 2015. The NCCF Forest Management Certification Scheme has been endorsed by PEFC International, a global forest certification alliance, in 2019. Since then NCCF has certified approximately 450408.3 hectares area under this scheme. The accreditation body for the Forest Management Standard is NABCB.
NCCF has also developed the world's first of a kind Trees Outside Forest Certification Scheme in August 2019.
During the past years, the use of international forest certification systems, particularly Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, has increased, partly because of the response towards FLEGT among buyers in the EU (Forest Legality Alliance). Currently there are 8 valid FSC-FM-certificates, with a joint area of 522486 hectares. (Source: FSC Facts & Figures, Feb 2020).
Sources of information
- CITES database
- PEFC International
- Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests
- Vriksh standard Timber Legality Assessment and Verification Scheme – India
- FSC report “Facts & Figures”, Feb 2020
- Forest Legality Initiative country profile – India
Jorbagh Road 110003
Bhikaji Cama Place, 110066
It also assists and advises the Customs authorities in inspection of the consignments of flora & fauna as per the provisions of Wild Life Protection Act, CITES and EXIM Policy governing such an item.
It has 9 research institutes and 4 advanced centres to cater to the research needs of different bio-geographical regions. These are located at Dehradun, Shimla, Ranchi, Jorhat, Jabalpur, Jodhpur, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Allahabad, Chhindwara, Aizawl, Hyderabad and Agartala.
462003, Bhopal Madhya Pradesh
NCCF is PEFC NGB member and has developed country specific Forest Management Certification Standard.
Source: Transparancy International