Forests faults


By Bhanusingha Ghosh
Published: Monday 31 July 1995

The area under forest cover in India has been a subject of controversy and intense debate between the Forest Department anf the environmental groups and researchers. As more and more remote sensing data became available even in Forest Survey of India statistics the forest cover started shrinking considerably. This books uses all kinds of statistics which is rather confusing. At one point the author writes that as per the forest department statistics the total area under forestation is 75.1Mha. Later he quotes the FSI 1989 report estimatimg the actual forested area being 64.01Mha. The study also revealed that in all north eastern states, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Dadar and nagar Haveli the actual forest area is more than that of the recorded forest areas.

What is not mentioned that initially Landsat imagery assessment was done at a scale of 1:1 million. For the 1989 report the assessment was upgraded to a scale of 1:250,000. The minimum size that can be mapped onthis scale is 2x2mm or 25 ha on the ground. The primary implication of this is that treefelling for firewood does not appear on satellite imagery as the destrcution id scattered. According to an estimate made by FAO India loses 100,000 ha of forests each year for fire wood alone. Moreover, the FSI study does not distinguish between forest and plantations and includes plantaions as forests.

This kind of playing and juggling with facts and figures is there through out the book. While discussing the history of degradation the author usggests that maximum forest degradation took place in the mediveal times and during the times of Mahabharata ( which the author estimates to be approx. 1000 BC) forest degradtion had declinced with the decline in population. However, one thought that Khandavadahan, an important event inthe epic did signify how forests were claimed and forest based people were displaced. Moreover, the author claims that forests degradation in the Mughal anf British rules were similar in proportion. In the face of the historical facts I cannot but differ with the author in the ecological impact of British colonialism.

He also suggests that shifting cultivation as practiced by the different tribes through the ages is one of the prime causes of the destruction of forests. Scientific studies have, however, conclusively disproved these notions.Again what the author does not mention is that between 1981-88 46,000 ha of forests have been officially diverted to non-forest use, mainly yo river valley projects. The figure of course is much less when compared to the 4.3Mha of forests officially diverted between 1951-80.

The book is essentially a compilation of the Forest Departments views perceptions and 'facts' about forests. It seems more like a rehash of the forest department's documents. Perhaps the book is meant to be some easily digestible notes for the aspiring bureaucrats.

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