Country still has large swathes of contiguous forests accounting for 40% of the forest cover

There has been an increase of 5,871 sq km of the country’s forest area since 2011, even as moderately dense forest areas have depleted due to population increase, grazing and encroachments, says the biennial “India State of Forest Report 2013,” which was released on Tuesday.

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar, who released the report, called for a mass movement to increase the forest cover. The report said the total forest cover of the country is 69.79 million hectares or 21.23 per cent of the geographical area of the country.

The tree cover is estimated to be 91,266 sq km or 9.13 million hectares, which is 2.78 per cent of the country’s geographical area. The total forest and tree cover is estimated at 24.01 per cent, according to the report.

However, India’s National Forest Policy 1988 aims at maintaining 33 per cent of the geographical area under forest and tree cover. The good news is that the country still has large patches of contiguous forests accounting for about 40 per cent of the forest cover, according to Forest Survey of India (FSI).

A solace

The North-eastern States account for one-fourth of the country’s forest cover and there is a net decline of 627 sq km in the forest cover compared to 2011. Mangrove cover in the country has decreased by 34 sq km.

A presentation by the FSI noted that Gujarat accounted for the largest increase in mangrove cover at 45 per cent, which is a solace considering that vast tracts of mangroves have been cut down in that State.

Importantly, the report points to the decrease in the growing stock both inside and outside forest areas and the main reason for this is the loss of 1991 sq km of moderately dense forests. The total carbon stock in forests is estimated to be 6,941 million tonnes and there is an increase of 278 million tonnes in the carbon stock of the country.

West Bengal on top

On the flip side, while 48 per cent of recorded forest area is having adequate regeneration, in 24 per cent it is inadequate and in 10 per cent of the forest area no regeneration has been observed.

A massive 73 per cent of the recorded forest area is affected by light to heavy grazing. The majority of the increase in the forest cover is in the open forest category, mainly outside forest areas.

The maximum increase in forest cover is in West Bengal (3,810 sq km), followed by Odisha (1,444 sq km) and Kerala (622 sq km) while Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have lost forests due to submergence, mining and shifting cultivation.

A senior FSI official said despite so much pressure, the country was able to maintain its forests. While there is no significant increase in the cover, there is no major depletion either. However, there is no measurement of forest land diverted for non-forest uses.