Van Mahotsav or Forest Festival is celebrated in India every year since 1950 in the first week of July. Initiated on the behest of the then Union Agriculture and Food Minister of India Dr. K.M. Munshi, Van Mahotsav encourages the citizens of India to plant trees.
The timing of the Van Mahotsav, 1-7 July, has been carefully chosen since July is a conducive time for planting trees in most parts of India. The festival indeed is a symbol of the foresight and vision of Dr. Munshi and is used as an occasion for individuals, government and non-government agencies and companies to plant trees in large numbers. It has therefore been helping green a large part of India since the last 70 years. And it is not just the rural countryside that has benefited, but Van Mahotsav is equally celebrated in cities as well and the urban forests benefit greatly due to this festival.
India today is however facing a much bigger challenge of deforestation, which is further exacerbated by the ever increasing population. This is resulting in industrial as well as agricultural expansion thereby exerting great pressure on land resource. The impact of this is felt most on the forests, which are being ruthlessly cut down and are most threatened around the fringes. Wildlife living on these forests resources are also facing the heat and human-wildlife conflict in India today is more than it has even been in the last 70 years. However, a large section of the society remains unaware of these challenges being faced by the forest and wildlife of India.
Van Mahotsav therefore needs to go beyond planting trees and include forest awareness and education as part of this splendid festival. After all, we cannot fully celebrate what we don’t fully understand. Forest awareness will help citizens become more aware and sensitized about the forest resources on which they depend. It will also help raise awareness of the plight of our forests, the declining numbers of wildlife and help initiate action for the overall protection of the biodiversity. So how do we spread Forest Awareness and what pedagogy and awareness indicators can be used? Some of these are outlined below.
The total geographical area covered by the forest is called the Forest Cover. It is a universally accepted term and indicator. It is also regularly assessed in India as it is other countries who are concerned about protecting their forest resources. In India, the Forest Survey of India publishes a report on the forest cover in different states and union territories of India once every two years. This data provides useful information about the state and status of forests located around us.
Forest awareness should therefore focus on this theme and ensure that all citizens are made aware of at least the forest cover of their respective state or union territory, and also of India as a whole. Further, for a state or union territory to be sustainable, it is advocated that at least one-third of its geographical area (33%) must be covered with forests. Thus, citizens residing in states or union terrorists which have a forest cover less than this figure must strive towards advocating and actively working for reaching this figure.
As per India State of Forest Report 2019, the forest cover of Delhi is 13.18%.
A species of animal or plant that is at serious risk of extinction is known as an endangered (EN) species. When the species of animal or plant is at an even greater risk of extinction, it is known as a critically endangered (CR) species. These are globally accepted terminologies and have been popularized by the International Union of Nature & Natural Resources (IUCN). The IUCN also maintains a Red Data List online which can be accessed by anyone to find out the conservation status of different species.
This can become an important area for spreading forest awareness during the Van Mahotsav. Most of the endangered species live inside the forests and celebrating the forests will become even more meaningful if we understand the threats being faced by these animals and actively work at our own level to eliminate these threats. An interesting way to do this is by identifying by one forest-dwelling wild animal or bird for each of the 7 days of the Van Mahotsav and learn more about it. These could be:
- Asiatic Lion (EN)
- Bengal Tiger (EN)
- Indian Elephant (EN)
- Gharial (CR)
- Great Indian Bustard (CR)
- Nilgiri Tahr (EN)
- Kashmir Stag (CR)
Click here to download a brief list of Critically Endangered species found in India.
The forests of India are also the home to many different tribal populations. These tribal populations are rich in culture and also in traditional knowledge about the forest and forest produce. India has, in fact, the highest diversity of tribal population found anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, they do not form part of our textbooks and only find passing reference to them. How many Indians will be aware of the tribal of handful of the tribal living in North Sentinel Island in Andaman & Nicobar Islands who are perhaps the last tribal group untouched by modern civilization.
The tribals of India are the rich source of knowledge and many tribal groups are in fact the guardians of the forests in which they dwell. This makes them important in our efforts to protect the forests and frontline soldier in our fight against environmental degradation. On the seven days of the Van Mahotsav, we can ensure that we learn about at least 7 tribal groups inhabiting India on each of the 7 days. This will give us a rich reintroduction to our country, and will also enrich us culturally. A good book to pick up for this is The Illustrated Lives in the Wilderness, which is based on the three classic autobiographies of people (Jim Corbett, Verrier Elwin and Salim Ali) who have lived most of their lives in the forest.