Forests

India’s forest cover increased during 2019-2021. Is it really as good as it sounds?

Moderately dense forests declined between 2021 and 2019. In 2021-2011, the country lost 4.3% of area under moderately dense forests

 
By Kiran Pandey
Published: Thursday 13 January 2022
Moderately dense forests declined between 2021 and 2019. In 2021-2011, the country lost 4.3% of area under moderately dense forests. Photo: istock

The total forest cover (TFC) of India increased 1,540 square kilometres between 2019 and 2021; it is 713,789 sq km in 2021, according to the biennial State of India’s Forest Report 2021 (SoFR, 2021) released by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change January 13, 2022.

The TFC in 2021 is 21.71 per cent of the total geographical area (TGA) of the country as against 21.67 per cent of the TGA of the country in 2019. In 2017, the TFC was 21.54 per cent of the TGA.  

India has set a target of bringing 33 per cent of its geographical area under forest cover as envisaged in the National Forest Policy, 1988.

This was also one of the key targets enlisted in the Strategy for New India @ 75 document released in December 2018 by the NITI Aayog.

Thus, India is off-target on increasing its forest cover. This was also stated in the State of India’s Environment Report, 2022 published by Down to Earth.   

 

But, there is a rider: A closer look at the data indicates that all is not well.

The marginal growth in India’s forest cover is primarily due to an increase in the area under open forests. The increase in open forests is led by commercial plantations.

But, the moderately dense forests or the area close to human habitations has declined between 2021 and 2019.

‘Dense forests’ are defined as those where the tree canopy density is 70 per cent or above; ‘moderately dense forests’ are areas with tree canopy density between 40-70 per cent. 

Between 2021 and 2019, the area under open forests increased 0.09 per cent (1,582 sq km).


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But the area under moderately dense forests (MDF) decreased 0.05 per cent (2,621 sq km). This decrease is happening after a marginal increase in the area under MDFs by 154 sq km between 2019 and 2017.

Thus, 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 decreased further 1.05 per cent between 2013 and 2015.

Then, it declined 2.2 per cent between 2015 and 2017

In a decade (2021-2011), the country has lost 4.3 per cent of the area under moderately dense forests.

This calls for attention since certain amendments to the Forest Act, 1980 are likely to further make easier the diversion of forest land for non-forest use. As much as 55,430.13 hectares of forest land across the country was approved for non-forestry use under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 between April 2018 and March 2021, according to data presented by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

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