India is one of Asia's fastest growing economies and is among the largest consumers of wood products. In addition, a large part of its population continues to depend on land, putting pressure on forests, especially in densely populated areas where people are cultivating on marginal lands. Overgrazing is also contributing towards desertification.
While the socio-economic pressures on the country's forests are tremendous, the government is clearly anxious to find solutions. Almost one third of the planted forests in Asia, mostly in China and India, have served the purpose of environmental protection. India has instituted a tree planting system to combat land degradation and desertification, including windbreaks and shelterbelts to protect agricultural land.
India has also launched a compensation afforestation programme under which any diversion of public forests for non-forestry purposes is compensated through afforestation in degraded or non-forested land. The funds received as compensation are used to improve forest management, protection of forests and of watershed areas. A government authority has been created specifically to administer this programme.
Forestry forms the second largest land use in India and the government actively monitors the growth of the trees. At the macro level it is done by the Forest Survey of India every two years. In general, indigenous species are planted in the forested area through the involvement of local people. Tree planting on public lands is also nationally monitored by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
The private sector is also engaged with tree planting. As part of the Green Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi, organizers have introduced an initiative to expand the forest coverage in the city.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: 'It is wonderful to have India join a campaign that will give so much in terms of trees and the future of the planet. In September we thought hitting seven billion trees was an enormous achievement but with this latest planting by India we have now reached over 10 billion in the Billion Tree Campaign that has galvanized governments and people around the world. It is this kind of solidarity that will make a difference for moving economies towards a low carbon and sustainable world.'