Forest land diverted increased in five years: Govt.

Table of Contents

According to the ‘State of Forest Report 2021’ of the Forest Survey of India, the India’s forest cover is 71.37 million ha.
  • The proportion of area diverted in five years may seem minuscule compared to India’s total forest cover, mainly because of the ambiguous definition of forests used by the Forest Survey of India (FSI).
Statics released for Forest cover:
  • The FSI’s ‘India State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2021’ which shows that ‘forests’ and ‘trees outside recorded forest areas’, put together, reported an increase of 2,261 sq. km (0.3%) last year compared to the previous assessment in 2019.
  • The estimates were under the forest definition including ‘forest’ as tea gardens, coconut plantations, urban built-up areas, native grasslands wrecked by invasive trees, and even sub-urbs desert shurbs.
About the information:
  • The diversion of around 90,000 hectares of forest land for development projects was approved between January 2018 and April 2023.
  • State-wise data:
    • The most was from Madhya Pradesh– 19730.36 ha,
    • Odisha- 13304.79 ha,
    • Arunachal Pradesh- 7448.34 ha and
    • Gujarat- 8064.76 ha,
    • Smaller states and Union Territories also such as Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Manipur recorded diversion of 100 ha and 603.75 ha respectively.
  • Concerns associated: The large-scale diversion of notified forests is worrying.
  • The proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes are considered under the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 on a case-to-case basis as per the rules and guidelines made thereunder.
Classification of Forest by FSI:
  • Very Dense Forest: Land with 70% or more canopy density.
  • Dense Forests: All land areas with tree canopy density of 40% and above
  • Open Forests: All land areas with tree canopy density between 10-40%
  • Tree Cover: Isolated or small patches of trees less than 1 hectare and not counted as forest are counted as tree cover by putting together the crowns of individual patches and trees.
 What are the Issues With current Forest cover Data?
  • Inclusion of Plantations in Forest Data: Loss of natural forests remains invisible due to inclusion of plantations, orchards, urban housings as dense forests.
    • The SFR 2021, for example, reports 12.37% dense forest by including random green patches.
    • Plantation forests have trees of the same age, are more susceptible to fire, pests and epidemics, and often act as a barrier to natural forest regeneration.
    • Natural forests are old and therefore stock a lot more carbon in their body and in the soil and support more biodiversity.
    • Plantations can grow a lot more and faster than old natural forests which mean plantations can achieve additional carbon targets faster.
    • But compared to natural forests, plantations are often harvested more readily, defeating carbon goals in the long term.
  • Compensatory Afforestation: The applicants for diverting forest land in a hilly or mountainous state with green cover covering more than two-thirds of its geographical area, or in a state/UT with forest cover covering more than one-third of its geographical area, will be able to take up compensatory afforestation in other states/UTs where the cover is less than 20%.
  • Allows Private Plantations: The rules make a provision for private parties to cultivate plantations and sell them as land to companies who need to meet compensatory afforestation targets.
    • Prior to the updated rules, state bodies would forward documents to the FAC that would also include information on the status of whether the forest rights of locals in the area were settled.
  • Allows building in Forests: Right to construct structures for bonafide purposes including forest protection measures and residential units (up to an area of 250 sq. meters as one-time relaxation).
Way Forward
  • Data transparency: It is important that maps are made available in public domain for scrutiny. We can take a clue from Brazil, which makes their forest data available on open web.
  • Comprehensive Assessment: As the forest survey report is published biennially, it may be carried hurriedly. Thus, this report should be complemented with a comprehensive assessment every 5 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *