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Types of Forests in India

  • 26 Apr 2021
  • 12 min read


  • Definition of Forest:
    • At present, in India, there is no clear nationally-accepted definition of ‘forest’.
    • States are responsible for determining their definition of forests.
    • The prerogative of the states to define forests stems from a 1996 Supreme Court order called the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs the Union of India 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.
  • Constitutional Provisions:
    • Forests are included in the Concurrent List in the (Seventh Schedule) of the Constitution of India.
    • Through the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 Forests and Protection of Wild Animals and Birds were transferred from State to Concurrent List.
    • Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution states that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and Wildlife.
    • Article 48 A in the Directive Principles of State policy, mandates that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • Statute:
  • Forestry Report:
    • According to India State of Forest Report, 2019, tree and forest cover together made up 24.56% (8,07,276 sq km) of India's area.
    • The country is pursuing a long-term goal of having 33 percent of its land under forest cover.

Classification of Forests

On Administration-Basis

Reserved Forests Protected Forests Unprotected Forests
  • Under direct supervision of the Government.
  • Looked after by the government.
  • Unclassified Forests.
  • No public entry allowed for the commercial purpose of cattle grazing.
  • Local people are allowed to collect forest produce and cattle grazing without causing any serious damage.
  • No restriction on cutting trees or grazing cattle.
  • 53% of the Total Forest Area (TFA) of the country under this category.
  • Occupy about 29% of the TFA.
  • Occupy 18% of the TFA.

Classification as per Constitution of India

State Forests

Commercial Forests

Private Forests

  • Include almost all important forest areas of the country and are under full control of the government (state/central).
  • Owned and administered by local bodies (municipal corporations, village panchayats, district boards etc.)
  • Under private ownership.
  • Cover almost 94% of the TFA.
  • Cover 5% of the TFA.
  • Cover slightly more than 1% of the TFA.

On Merchantability


Non- Merchantable

  • Forests that are accessible.
  • Forests that are situated at high mountainous peaks; non accessible.
  • Cover 82% of the TFA.
  • Cover 18% of the TFA.

    Based on Composition

    Coniferous Forests

    Broad-Leaf Forests

    • Temperate Forests
    • Tropical and subtropical monsoon forests.
    • Found in middle and upper elevations of the eastern Middle Himalayas and N-E Indian states like Arunachal Pradesh.
    • Found in the plateaus, plains and mountainous areas of the country.
    • Cover 6.50% of the TFA of the country.
    • Cover about 94% of the TFA of the country.

      Based on Average Annual Rainfall

      In India, the Forests, on the basis of average annual rainfall, can be categorised broadly into five categories:

      Tropical Evergreen Forests

      • Moist Evergreen Forests:
        • Region: Found in southern India along the Western Ghats, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and north-eastern region.
        • Climatic Conditions: Found in warm and humid areas with an annual precipitation of over 200 cm and mean annual temperature above 22°C.
        • Trees: In these forests, trees reach great heights up to 60 m or above.
          • There is no definite time for trees to shed their leaves, flowering and fruition; these forests appear green all the year round.
          • Species found in these forests include Rosewood, Mahogany, Aini, Ebony, etc.
          • The more common trees that are found here are the jackfruit, betel nut palm, jamun, mango, and hollock.
      • Semi Evergreen Forests:
        • Region: Found in the less rainy parts of the regions where moist evergreen forests are found; Western Ghats, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Eastern Himalayas.
        • Trees: Such forests have a mixture of moist evergreen and moist deciduous trees.
          • The under growing climbers provide an evergreen character to these forests.
          • Main species are white cedar, hollock and kail.
      • Dry evergreen:
        • Region: Found in the Shivalik Hills and foothills of the Himalayas up to a height of 1000 metres in the north.
          • Found along Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka coast in the south.
        • Climatic Conditions: Usually have a prolonged hot and dry season and a cold winter.
        • Trees: Have mainly hard-leaved evergreen trees with fragrant flowers, along with a few deciduous trees.
          • Trees have a varnished look.
          • Some of the more common ones are the pomegranate, olive, and oleander.

      Tropical Deciduous Forests (Monsoon Forests)

      • Moist Deciduous Forests:
        • Region: These forests are found in the north-eastern states along the foothills of Himalayas, eastern slopes of the Western Ghats and Odisha.
        • Rainfall: Found in the regions which record rainfall between 100-200 cm.
        • Trees: Tall trees with broad, branched trunks.
          • Some of the taller trees shed their leaves in the dry season.
          • Teak, sal, shisham, hurra, mahua, amla, semul, kusum, and sandalwood etc. are the main species of these forests.
      • Dry Deciduous Forests:
        • Region: Found throughout the northern part of the country except in the north-east.
          • Also found in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
        • Rainfall: Covers vast areas of the country, where rainfall ranges between 70 -100 cm.
          • On the wetter margins, it has a transition to the moist deciduous, while on the drier margins to thorn forests.
        • Trees: As the dry season begins, the trees shed their leaves completely and the forest appears like a vast grassland with naked trees all around.
          • Tendu, palas, amaltas, bel, khair, axlewood, etc. are the common trees of these forests.

      Thorn Forests

      • Rainfall: The forests occur in the areas that receive annual rainfall less than 50cm.
      • Regions: This type is found in areas with black soil: North, West, Central, and South India.
        • Includes semi-arid areas of south west Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
      • Trees: The trees do not grow beyond 10 metres and consist of a variety of grasses and shrubs. Spurge, caper, and cactus are typically found in this region.
        • The plants remain leafless for most part of the year.
        • Babul, Acacia, Kokko, Khair, Khajuri, Ber, Neem, Khejri, Palas, etc.are common species of the forests.

      Montane Forests

      • Montane Wet Temperate Forests:
        • Region: Occur in the northern and southern India.
          • In the North, it is found in the region to the east of Nepal into Arunachal Pradesh, at a height of 1800–3000 metres, receiving a minimum rainfall of 200 cm.
          • In the South, it is found in parts of the Nilgiri Hills, the higher reaches of Kerala.
        • Trees: The forests in the northern region are denser than in the South.
          • This is because over time the original trees have been replaced by fast-growing varieties such as the eucalyptus.
          • Rhododendrons, Champa and a variety of ground flora can be found here.
      • Montane Subtropical Forests:
        • Climatic Conditions: Found in the region where average rainfall is 100-200 cm and temperature varies between 15°C to 22°C.
        • Region: Found in north-western Himalayas (except Ladakh and Kashmir), Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
        • Trees: Chir (Pine) is the main tree but Oak, Jamun and Rhododendron are also found in these forests.
      • Himalayan Forests:
        • Himalayan Moist Forests:
          • Region: Found in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and northern hilly parts of Bengal.
          • Elevation: Found in the belt where altitude varies between 1000-2000 m.
          • Trees: Oak, chestnut, chir, sal, shrubs and nutritious grasses.
        • Himalayan Dry Temperate:
          • Region: J&K, Chamba, Lahaul & Kinnaur districts (Himachal Pradesh) and Sikkim.
          • Trees: Mainly coniferous; deodar, oak, chilgoza, maple, olive, mulberry and willow.
      • Alpine and Subalpine Forests:
        • Elevation: In the higher reaches, there is a transition to Alpine forests and pastures occurring at altitudes of 2,500-4,000 m.
          • Sub alpine forests extend from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh between 2900 to 3500 metres.
        • Trees: In the Western Himalayas, the vegetation consists mainly of juniper, rhododendron, willow, and black currant.
          • In the eastern parts, red fir, black juniper, birch, and larch are the common trees.

      Littoral/Swamp Forests

      • Region: Found along the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the delta area of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.
        • Other areas of significance are the Mahanadi, the Godavari and the Krishna deltas.
      • Trees: Some of these forests are dense and impenetrable. Only a limited number of plants are found in these evergreen forests.
        • They have roots that consist of soft tissue so that the plant can breathe in the water.
        • It consists mainly of whistling pines, mangrove dates, palms, and bulletwood.
      • Mangroves in India: In India, the mangrove forests spread over 6,740 sq. km which is 7% of the world’s mangrove forests.
        • The forests stabilise the shoreline and protect the coastal areas from erosion.
        • Sunderbans along the Ganges delta is the largest tidal forest in the world.

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