Dense cover-up

What's the purpose of the State of Forest Report 2003 ?

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- density of forest cover was once assessed by counting the patches of sunlight that came through the canopy. A lot has changed since. Satellite mapping, visual interpretation of that imagery digitally presented...we no longer depend on subjective guestimates. But the concept -- if something is really dense, no sunlight will ever come through -- is alive and kicking, as the latest State of Forest Report 2003 prepared by the Forest Survey of India (fsi) shows.

Large amounts of data, tweaked in bits and shifted in chunks every two years, and layers of truths and half-truths, do no better than obfuscate the true state of our forests. Factor in the political seasons, and the agendas of the Centre, of the states and of the Union ministry of environment and forests, and it's too cloudy a day for proper satellite mapping either. Perhaps government is justified in fooling us. The reality is that bad: data doesn't lie. It is clear we cannot manage what we have, let alone reach a utopian goal of 33 per cent forest cover -- itself a figure never questioned or rationalised.

Among other things, the Forest Survey of India has (1) counted trees outside forests to bolster the total numbers by mini per cents, since it has to show overall increase in cover; and (2) given the impression that simply because trees are growing elsewhere, it is not so bad to lose what we have. It is wonderful to read that almost 58,000 square km have been added to our dense forests in two years. But does that make it okay to lose other, existing dense forests? Such loss, of perhaps natural forests, with all the wealth of biodiversity and ecosystem services they provide, cannot be replaced in a lifetime. 83,881 sq km of dense forest, with or without 'interpretational corrections', is serious loss, and we need to know where, why, what.

But no answers are forthcoming. The fsi says their job is to monitor changes, not give reasons for them. So we can blame encroachers, jhum cultivators, dams, mines, terrorists, or who ever we feel most unkindly towards. The point is: would we rather be suspended in the aspic of reassurance, dimly feeding off filtered light? Or are we willing put our forests ahead of political machinations, the need for empty pats on the back?

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