• Recently, The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released the biennial “India State of Forest Report (ISFR)” 2019.
  • The report is published by the Forest Survey of India(FSI) which has been mandated to assess the forest and tree resources of the country including wall-to-wall forest cover mapping.
    • The ISFR 2019 is the 16th report in the series, the first being the report of 1987.
    • Up to the year 1999, the forest cover mapping used to be done largely by visual interpretation method. In the year 2001, a complete switch-over to digital interpretation based approach was adopted.

Objectives of the biennial forest cover mapping-

  • To monitor forest cover and changes therein at the National, State and District levels.
  • To generate information on forest cover in different density classes and changes therein.
  • To produce forest cover and other thematic maps derived from it for the whole country.
  • To provide primary base layer for assessment of different parameters including growing stock, forest carbon etc.
  • To provide information for international reporting.

Recorded Forest Area: The area recorded as forest in the Government records

Key findings of the report-

  1. Forest cover-
  • The total forest and tree cover of the country is 80.73 million hectare which is 24.56 percent of the geographical area of the country. 
    • As compared to the assessment of 2017, there is an increase of 5,188 sq. km in the total forest and tree cover of the country.
  • Total forest cover in the country as per the current assessment is 7,12, 249 sq km. which is 21.67% of the total geographical area of India.
    • The nation’s tree and forest cover has largely hovered from 21-25% and is short of the National Forest Policy, 1988, which envisages 33% to be under such cover.

Source - DTE

  • The increase in the forest cover has been observed as 3,976 sq km and that in tree cover is 1,212 sq. km.
  • Range increase in forest cover has been observed in open forest followed by very dense forest and moderately dense forest
  • The top three states showing an increase in forest cover are Karnataka (1,025 sq. km) followed by Andhra Pradesh (990 sq km) and Kerala (823 sq km).
  • Area-wise Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra.
  • In terms of forest cover as a percentage of total geographical area, the top five States are- 
    • Mizoram (85.41%),
    • Arunachal Pradesh (79.63%),
    • Meghalaya (76.33%),
    • Manipur (75.46%), and 
    • Nagaland (75.31%).
  • Decline of Forest Cover in North Eastern Region
    • Total forest cover in the North Eastern region is 1,70,541 sq km, which is 65.05% of its geographical area.
    • There has been a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 765 sq km (0.45%) in the region. Except Assam and Tripura, all the States in the region show decrease in forest cover.
    • The management of the forest has suffered in the recent past due to pressure on land, decreasing cycle of shifting cultivation, exploitation of forest for timber and lack of scientific management strategy.
  • Forest Cover in Tribal Districts
    • The total forest cover in the tribal districts is 4,22,351 sq km, which is 37.54% of the geographical area of these districts.
    • There has been a decrease of 741 sq km of forest cover within the Recorded Forest Area/ Green Wash (RFA/GW) in the tribal districts and an increase of 1,922 sq km outside.
    • There has been a decline in tree cover inside forests due to tribal populations getting “land titles” (patta) and there has been a rise in trees outside the forest area due to an increase in tree plantation and afforestation activities.
  1. Mangrove cover
  • Mangrove cover has been separately reported in the ISFR 2019 and the total mangrove cover in the country is 4,975 sq km.
  • An increase of 54 sq Km in mangrove cover has been observed as compared to the previous assessment of 2017.
  • Top three states showing mangrove cover increase are Gujarat (37 sq km) followed by Maharashtra (16 sq km) and Odisha (8 sq km).

  1. Total growing stock of India’s forest
  • The total growing stock of India’s forest and TOF is estimated 5,915.76 million cum of which 4,273.47 million cum is inside the forests and 1,642.29 million cum outside.
  • There is an increase of 93.38 million cum of total growing stock, as compared to the previous assessment.
  • There is an increased growing stock of 55.08 million cum inside the forests and 38.30 million cum outside the forest areas.
  1. Extent of bamboo bearing area
  • The extent of bamboo bearing area of the country has been estimated 16.00 million hectare.
  • There is an increase of 0.32 million hectare in bamboo bearing area as compared to the last assessment of ISFR 2017.
  • The total estimated green weight of bamboo culms is 278 million tonnes, slowly an increase of 88 million tonnes as compared to ISFR 2017.

  1. Total carbon stock in country
  • The total carbon stock in the country's forest is estimated 7,124.6 million tonnes and there an increase of 42.6 million tonnes in the carbon stock of country as compared to the last assessment of 2017.
  • The annual increase in the carbon stock is 21.3 million tonnes, which is 78.2 million tonnes CO2.

  1. Wetlands within forest areas
  • Due to the importance of wetlands, FSI has carried out an exercise at the national level to identify wetlands of more than 1 ha within RFA.
  • There are 62,466 wetlands covering 3.8% of the area within the RFA/GW of the country.

Critical Aspects-

  • Since Independence, a fifth of India’s land has consistently been under forests. The population has increased more than three times since 1947, and from 1951-80, a total 42,380 sq km of forestland was diverted — some 62% of it for agriculture. And yet, the country’s forest cover continues to hover just over 24.56%.
  • The FSI uses satellite images to identify green cover as forest, and does not discriminate between natural forests, plantations, thickets of weeds such as juliflora and lantana, and longstanding commercial crops such as palm, coconut, coffee, or even sugarcane.
    • In the last two years alone, added region under the dense forest category are all fast-growing plantations — not detected by satellites in the sapling stage, but considered dense forests once they’ve grown.
  • In the 1980s, satellite imagery mapped forests on a scale of 1:1 million, and thus missed details of land units smaller than 4 sq km. 
    • The significantly refined 1:50,000 scale now scans patches as small as 1 hectare (100 m x 100 m), and any unit that shows a 10?nopy density is considered ‘forest’.
  • Over the last one and a half decades 15,920 sq km of dense forests have become non-forest areas which is the conversion of non-forest areas to dense forest every two years. Since 2003, a total of 8,369 sq km of non-forest have become dense forest.
    • A decade later, while the FSI claimed an impressive biennial overall jump in dense forest cover but actually wiped out nearly thrice as much of dense forest between 2015 and 2019.

Therefore, The forest data is less than the sum of its parts. After four decades of surveys, it is probably time for the FSI to consider reporting India’s green cover under more explicit categories, including plantations, orchards etc.

National Forest Policy, 1988-

  • The principal aim of National Forest Policy, 1988 is to ensure environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance including atmospheric equilibrium which are vital for sustenance of all life forms, human, animal and plant.
  • The major achievements-
    • Increase in the forest and tree cover.
    • Involvement of local communities in the protection, conservation and management of forests through Joint Forest Management Programme.
    • Meeting the requirement of fuel wood, fodder, minor forest produce and small timber of the rural and tribal populations.
    • Conservation of Biological Diversity and Genetic Resources of the country through ex-situ and in-situ conservation measures.
    • Significant contribution in maintenance of environment and ecological stability in the country.

Amendment of Forest Act 1927-

  • The act replaces the Indian Forest (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 and amends the Indian Forest Act, 1927. 
  • The Act consolidated laws relating to forests, the transit of forest-produce and the duty to be levied on them.
  • Under the Act, the definition of tree includes palms, bamboos, stumps, brush-wood, and canes.  The Bill amends this definition of tree to remove the word bamboos.
  • Since bamboo is defined as a tree under the Act, its inter-state movement requires permit when in transit in other states.  Consequent to the amendment, felling or transportation of bamboos growing in non-forest areas will not require any permits.

Reason of increasing trend-

Increasing trend of forest and tree cover is largely due to the various national policies aimed at Conservation and sustainable management of our forests” like-

  • Green India Mission- 
    • It has the broad objective of both increasing the forest and tree cover by  5 million ha,  as well as increasing the quality of the existing forest and tree cover in  another 5 million ha of forest/ non forest lands in 10 years.
    • It also increase options of forest based livelihood of households living in the fringe of those landscapes where the Mission is implemented.
  • National Agroforestry Policy (NAP)- 
    • A dynamic ecologically based concept which integrates woody perennials in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production.
    • It is capable of enhancing ecosystem services through carbon storage, prevent deforestation, and conserve biodiversity, soil and water.
  • Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD plus) policy- 
    • Its  objective of mitigating climate change through reducing net emissions of greenhouse gases through enhanced forest management in developing countries.
    • Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+) was first negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005.
  • Joint forest management (JFM)- 
    • It is the concept of developing relationships between fringe forest groups and forest department on the basis of mutual trust and jointly defined roles and responsibilities for forest protection and development.
    • It is often abbreviated as JFM is the official and popular term in India for partnerships in forest movement involving both the state forest departments and local communities.
  • National Afforestation Programme- 
    • It provides support, both in physical and capacity building terms, to the Forest Development Agencies (FDAs) which in turn are the main organs to move forward institutionalization of Joint Forest Management.
    • It  has been conceived and established as a federation of Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) at Forest Division level to undertake holistic development in the forestry sector with people's participation.
  • Funds under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)-
    • It seeks to provide an appropriate institutional mechanism, both at the Centre and in each State and Union Territory.
    • It ensure expeditious utilization in an efficient and transparent manner of amounts released in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose which would mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land.
    • In a major boost to promoting afforestation and achieving “green” objectives of the country, the Centre handed over Rs 47,436 crore of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds to various States.
  • PMMUY-  
    • In India 67 per cent of the rural households depend on firewood for cooking.
    • In order to address this problem, Pradhan Mantri LPG Scheme ‘Ujjwala Yojana’ is implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Gas that provides free LPG connections to BPL families in remote rural areas.

  • Pilot project- 
    • India has launched a pilot project to restore degraded forest landscapes in five states which is conducting in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Karnataka.
    • The project launched in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) aims to enhance the capacity on forest landscape restoration (FLR) by developing and adapting best practices for sustainable land management and putting into place some monitoring protocols to combat desertification.

About FSI-

  • Forest Survey of India (FSI) is a premier national organization under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. 
  • It is responsible for assessment and monitoring of the forest resources of the country on a regular basis.
  • Established on 1st June 1981, Forest Survey of India succeeded the “Pre-investment Survey of Forest Resources” (PISFR), a project initiated in 1965 by Government of India with the sponsorship of FAO and UNDP.
  • The main objective of PISFR was to ascertain the availability of raw material for establishment of wood based industries in selected areas of the country.

Challenges to protect Forests in India-

  • Due to the rising population there is enormous pressure on forest land for extraction of forest based industries and encroachment for extension of agriculture.
  • Development at costs of forest-
    • As many as 26 cases across 11 states of forest land being acquired by the government for development projects surfaced throughout the year, according to Land Conflict Watch, an independent data-journalism initiative.
    • Maharashtra ranked fourth in India for maximum forest land diverted, with 40 proposals sanctioned over three years. The state lost 63 sq km of forest land in the past three years.
    • The Maharashtra government gave its nod to divert 467.5 hectares of Yavatmal forest land to Reliance for its cement plant. Recent Aarey milk colony in Mumbai is an important issue. 
    • Agra’s green activists successfully stalled the Northern Bypass road project through the protected Keetham forest along the Yamuna.
    • Hundreds of forest trees have been cut down and a 1,000 more will face the axe in different forest areas of Ganderbal district in central Kashmir to lay 220 kV Srinagar-Leh transmission line.
  • The climate change directly impacts the survival of planted saplings-
    • Climate changes directly and indirectly affect the growth and productivity of forests through changes in temperature, rainfall, weather, and other factors. In addition, elevated levels of carbon dioxide have an effect on plant growth.
    • Climate change will likely increase the risk of drought in some areas and the risk of extreme precipitation and flooding in others.
    • Warming temperatures generally increase the length of the growing season. It also shifts the geographic ranges of some tree species.
  • Low Productivity- 

    • Productivity of Indian forests is very low as compared to some other countries. For example, annual productivity of Indian forest is only 0.5 cubic metre per hectare while it is 1.25 cubic metre per hectare in the USA, 1.8 cubic metre per hectare in Japan and 3.9 cubic metre per hectare in France.

  • Nature of Forests and their Uneconomical Utilisation-

    • The forests are thick, inaccessible, slow growing and lack in gregarious stands in many parts of the country. 

    • Some of them are very thin and comprise only of thorny bushes. These factors make their utilization uneconomical because there is a good deal of wastage and this makes it very expensive in spite of the cheap labour available in India.

  • Lack of Transport Facilities-

    • One of the biggest problems faced by the Indian forests is the lack of proper transport facilities. 

    • About 16 percent of the forest land in India is inaccessible and does not have proper transport facilities. It must be remembered that the major product of the forests is timber which is a cheap and bulky commodity.

  • Lack of Commercial Forests- 

    • In India most of the forests are meant for protective purposes and commercial forests are badly lacking. 

    • Growing awareness about environmental degradation has forced us to look at forest wealth as a protective agent for environment rather than treating it as a commercial commodity.

  • Lack of Scientific Techniques-

    • Scientific techniques of growing forests are also lacking in India. Only natural growth of forests takes place in India whereas in many developed countries new scientific techniques are being used through which tree growth is quickened.

    • A large number of trees are malformed or consist of species which are slow growing and poor yielders.

  • Undue Concessions to Tribals and Local People-

    • In vast forest tracts, tribals and local people have been granted customary rights and concessions for free-grazing as well as removing timber fuel and minor forest products. They are also allowed to continue with age-old shifting cultivation. 

    • These practices have led to the reduction in forest yield. In addition, there has been encroachment on these forests by the village people inhabiting the peripheral areas.

Way Forward-

Interventions like agroforestry that incorporate tree species with rotation period greater than 10 years has great potential to improve the forest cover as well as in checking shifting agriculture.

  • Expanding forest cover should be prioritised in the years to come and non-conventional green cover such as home gardens and urban forests should also be considered.
    • Many non-conventional forests can be created in the form of home gardens etc. by encouraging people with incentives.
    • Such as creation of vertical gardens in place of concrete road dividers, is another option and these all could be mapped under green cover.
  • Control over Forest Fire:

    • In order to save forests from fire it is necessary to adopt latest techniques of firefighting.

    •  Some of the fire suppression techniques are to develop three metre wide five lanes around the periphery of the fire, back fires, arrangement of water spray, fire retardant chemicals should be sprayed from back tank and if possible by helicopters. There must be a trained staff of firefighters to control the fire.

  • Check over Forest Clearance for Agricultural and Flabitation Purposes:

    • For the conservation of forest, this should be checked and an alternative system should be suggested to them. 

    • Similarly, for the development of villages, towns and cities, forest lands have been cleared and this process continues to this day causing loss of forest cover.

  • Proper Utilisation of Forest Products and Forests:

    • There is a need to use all this waste material. Now several uses have been developed and products like waterproof glues, board, etc can be obtained. 
    • forests can easily be used or developed as tourist centres. By using them as tourist centres the country can earn substantial foreign exchange.
    • The concepts of ‘national park’ and ‘game sanctuary’ have now become popular and every country has developed its unique forest area as a ‘national park’. In India alone, there are as many as 21 national parks. This scheme is a good method of forest conservation.

Source - PIB & The Hindu & ISFR -