Comparison with 2017 report
- The 2019 survey has found an increase of 5,188 sq km in total forest and tree cover in the country.
- Tree and forest cover together made up 24.56% (8,07,276 sq km) of India’s area. In the last assessment it was 24.39%.
- The nation’s tree and forest cover has largely hovered from 21-25% and is short of the National Forest Policy, 1988, which envisages 33% to be under such cover.
- Mangrove cover in the country has increased by 54 sq km (1.10%) as compared to the previous assessment.
Various factors attributed to the increasing trend
The increasing trend of forest cover is largely due to the various national policies aimed at Conservation and sustainable management of our forests. Few of them are:
Green India Mission: It has the broad objective of both increasing the forest and tree cover by 5 million ha, as well as increasing the quality of the existing forest and tree cover in another 5 million ha of forest/ non forest lands in 10 years.
PM Ujjwala Yojana: In India 67 per cent of the rural households depend on firewood for cooking.In order to address this problem, the Ujjwala scheme provides free LPG connections to BPL families in remote rural areas.
National Agroforestry Policy (NAP): A dynamic ecologically based concept which integrates woody perennials in the agricultural landscape diversifies and sustains production.
REDD+ policy: Its objective is to mitigate climate change through reducing net emissions of greenhouse gases through enhanced forest management in developing countries.
Joint forest management (JFM): It is the concept of developing relationships between fringe forest groups and forest department on the basis of mutual trust and jointly defined roles and responsibilities for forest protection and development.
National Afforestation Programme: It provides support, both in physical and capacity building terms, to the Forest Development Agencies (FDAs) which in turn are the main organs to move forward institutionalization of Joint Forest Management.
CAMPA: Funds under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) has proved instrumental in compensating forest land diverted for non-forest purpose which would mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land.
Critical evaluation of the report
- The latest report should seem heartening given, today this stands at 7.12 lakh sq km, up from 6.7 lakh sq km in 2005—that too, in the face of development needs compelling the diversion of forest land.
- The depletion in the northeastern states forest cover is worrying given these are very old forests, and have greater carbon sequestration capacity.
- The rapid increase in forest cover, especially with a fair share of the gain being concentrated in the dense forests category (canopy density higher than 40%), is likely rooted in two factors.
Flaws with the satellite imaging
- The Forest Survey of India has been using better satellite imagery with a 1:50,000 scale, compared to the 1:250,000 scale earlier.
- This means any area, even as small as 0.01 sq km, with a canopy density of more than 10% is captured as a forest; the earlier resolution meant land units under 0.25 sq km didn’t get captured as forest.
- Thus, land that has been denuded of forest cover but did not get recorded as forest earlier because it fell below the 0.25 sq km threshold now figures in the ISFR as a “gain” in forest cover.
Canopy as a basis of identification
- The tree canopy basis of identification doesn’t differentiate between natural forests, plantations, orchards, or even palm groves.
- This means the loss in diversity doesn’t get captured by the data.
- Thus, the growth in forest-cover could be attributed to fast-growing plantation trees like eucalyptus that are favoured in compensatory afforestation programmes.
- ISFR 2019, for the first time ever, gives data for forest diversity.
- The ‘plantations/trees outside forests’ already account for nearly 9% of the total area under forests—making plantations the fourth largest group.
- Some of these are fast-growing species such as bamboo in the north-eastern region and also rubber and coconut plantations in the southern states.
- Monoculture practices cannot substitute natural forests in biodiversity or ecological services.
Less realistic data
- The last two decades have been almost drought for Andhra Pradesh, and 60% of Karnataka reeled under drought in 9-11 years between 2001 and 2015.
- It is hard to see how the two states have performed so well in increasing forest cover.
- Where forest cover is concerned, India has set itself a target that needs a much higher rate of afforestation in the coming years than the current one of 35 million tonnes per year carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Even though a progress has been made in increasing the green cover over the past few years, India is still quite far from achieving its target of 33 per cent of the total geographical area by 2030.
- India has committed to the UNFCCC as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that, besides reducing emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35 per cent by 2030.
- The forest data needs to reflect more of the ground reality instead of becoming a tool to lull the country into inaction on forests.