India's 'increase in forest cover': some questions

February 13, 2018 08:07 pm | Updated February 14, 2018 12:50 pm IST - Chennai

Photo for representational purpose only

Photo for representational purpose only

The forest cover in the country has increased by about 1% , according to the biennial State of Forests Report 2017 released by the Forest Survey of India on Monday, but questions abound about whether this increase is more due to a classification exercise.

 

According to the report, the southern states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were among the biggest gainers in terms of forest cover. The increases were attributed primarily to an increase in plantations and conservation efforts. The map below shows the percentage of forest cover in all States:

 

The findings of the increased forest cover should be read cautiously for three major reasons:

 

Loose definition

The term 'forest cover', according to the report, includes “all lands more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy of more than 10% irrespective of land use, ownership and legal status”. This means that private plantations of tea, rubber, coffee etc. are also included in the 'forest' area if they are more than one hectare in size with a tree canopy of over 10%. (The report clarifies that this is the case). However, the report does not make it explicit what percentage of the forest cover these account for. Hence, this is not 'forest cover' in the traditional sense; the traditional forest that springs to mind when one reads the term are classified as 'forest areas' in the report.

 

Increased scale

With the increasing accuracy of the equipment used, more areas are being surveyed. For instance, the 2017 survey incorporates 44 more districts across the country, which means that areas which were not surveyed before have now been included, and the new samples from these new districts also need to be accounted for.

 

Losses can't be offset

The naturally forest-rich North-East States, which encompass a fourth of the country's total forest area, are among the biggest losers of forest areas. Nagaland and Mizoram lost over 2.5% of their forest area compared to 2015. The report attributes this loss to shifting cultivation patterns, developmental activities and “biotic pressures prevalent in the region”. A decrease in a naturally forested area should not ideally be offset by an increase in another region; simply adding up the total forest area in the country may result in a net increase, but areas recording losses are where there is a silent call for action.

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