Forests

India’s forest cover goes up by nearly 3% this decade; but all is not well

'Very dense forests', which absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, increased by a mere 1.14 % between 2017 and 2019, according to the State of India’s forest Report 2019

 
By Kiran Pandey
Last Updated: Monday 30 December 2019
India’s forest cover goes up by nearly 3% this decade; but all is not well
Shola forests in Kudremukh, Western Ghats. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Shola forests in Kudremukh, Western Ghats. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The total forest cover (TFC) of India is 712,249 square kilometres (sq km) according to the biennial State of India’s forest Report 2019 (SoFR 2019) released on December 30, 2019, by Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Prakash Javadekar.

India has set a target of bringing 33 per cent of its geographical area under forest cover. The TFC of India in 2019 is 21.67 per cent of the total geographical area (TGA) of the country as against 21.54 per cent (of TGA) in 2017.   

In 2011, the TFC in India was 6,92,027 sq km. Hence, even though the TFC increased by 20,222 sq km or three per cent since 2011, there are some concerns over the growth pattern of our forests this decade.

Forest cover this decade (In sq km)

Year

2019 

2017 

2015 

2013

2011

Very dense forests (VDFs)

99,278

98,158

85,904

83,502

83,471

Moderately dense forests (MDFs)

308,472

308,318

315,374

318,745

320,736

Open forests (OFs)

304,499

301,797

300,395

295,651

287,820

Total

712,249

708,73

701,673

697,898

692,027

In terms of canopy density classes, area covered by VDFs is 99,278 sq km (3.02 per cent), MDFs is 3,08,472 sq km (9.39 per cent) and OFs is 3,04,499 sq km (9.26 per cent).

A look at the forest cover this decade shows a consistent increase in the area under the OF category, which includes commercial plantations. And this seems to be happening at the cost of the MDF category, which is normally the area close to human habitations. 

While the area under “OF” increased by 5.7 per cent this decade, the area under “MDF” decreased by 3.8 per cent — from 320,736 in 2011 to 308,472 sq km in 2019, a loss of 12,264 sq km.

According to the report, India continued to lose its MDFs since 2011, but for a marginal increase of 0.04 per cent between 2017 and 2019. After a 0.62 per cent decrease in the area under this category between 2011 and 2013, it further decreased by 1.05 per cent between 2013 and 2015. Then, it declined by 2.2 per cent between 2015 and 2017. 

At the same time, India’s open forests increased this decade. After a 0.86 per cent increase in area between 2011 and 2013, there was a further increase by 1.60 per cent between 2013 and 2015. The area under “OF” increased by 0.49 per cent between 2015 and 2017 as well. Between 2017 and 2019, the forest cover under this category went up by 0.89 per cent, the report said. 

Just three per cent of India’s geographical area is home to VDFs. The category of ‘very dense forest’ — defined as a canopy cover over 70 per cent — is an important indicator of the quality of a forest. But this has increased by a mere 1.14 per cent between 2017 and 2019.

These forests absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and this marginal growth in “VDFs” needs to be considered vis-a vis the progress made in the 2017 forest report, when the forests under this category had increased dramatically by around 14 per cent between 2015 and 2017.

The Northeast

The report presents a gloomy picture of the forests in North Eastern States. The forest cover of six states, excluding Assam, has decreased by nearly 18 per cent between 2011 and 2019.

The region lost nearly 25,012 sq km of forest cover in a decade. Could it be that the loss of forests was one of the causes behind rainfall deficit in the North East this monsoon as shown  in the upcoming State of India’s Environment Report 2020 to be released by Centre for Science and Environment in the first week of January 2020?  

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