India’s forest cover has declined, with the maximum loss recorded in Andhra Pradesh, where the Centre blamed the Naxals for felling trees.

The reduction is to the tune of 367 square km in comparison to the 2009 assessment, says a new government forest survey report released on Tuesday.

Forest and tree cover of the country as per the biennial assessment report prepared by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) is 78.29 million hectares, which is 23.81 per cent of the geographical area. This includes 2.76 per cent tree cover.

Andhra Pradesh recorded maximum forest cover loss of 281 sq km, says the India Sate of Forest Report 2011 released by Environment Ministry Secretary T. Chatterjee. This is the twelfth report in the series.

While 15 States have registered aggregate increase of 500 sqkm in their forest with Punjab leading with increase of 100 sqkm, 12 States and Union Territories, mainly from the northeast, have shown a decline of 867 sq km.

Mr. Chatterjee said Naxals have cut trees in hundreds of acres in Andhra Pradesh’s Warangal and Khammam districts in last two years.

“In Warangal and Khammam, they cut because they wanted to get the people involved....The wood was auctioned later. These cuttings were done over a period of three days,” he said.

The assessment was made on the basis of satellite imageries. Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country at 77,7700 sqkm followed by Arunachal Pradesh at 67,410 sqkm.

In terms of percentage of forest cover in relation to total geographical area, Mizoram tops with 90.68 per cent followed by Lakshadweep with 84.56 per cent. Decline in 281 sqkm forest cover in Andhra Pradesh is also attributed to harvesting of mature plantation of eucalyptus and other species. Fall in forest cover in northeast is particularly due to prevailing practice of shifting cultivation in this region, says the report.