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India’s missing stretches of green

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    2nd Mar, 2022

Context

A total of 25.87 million hectares of recorded forest area — forest land under the control of state government’s forest department—is not accounted for in the India State of Forest Report 2021.

Analysis

It just does not exist anywhere in the report. There is no assessment in terms of its coverage.

There are pressing questions related to this missing land:

  • Does this land exist?
  • Is it encroached upon?
  • Is it just degraded?
  • So degraded that no forest can be counted here?

The Recorded Forest area (RFA) in 2021 report is 77.53 million ha

RFA with forest cover in 2021 report is 51.66 million ha

This means there is 25.87 million ha area under recorded forest which has no forest worth counting under forest cover.

How 25.87 million hectares got lost:

  • There is no explanation provided in ISFR 2021 on this massive discrepancy — and only in passing reference does it say that this is recorded forest without forest cover.
  • This lack of attention to the state of forests under the forest department is inexplicable.
  • This is when the Forest Survey of India (FSI) has received digital boundaries of recorded forests from 24 states and Union Territories.
  • An analysis of this from the very first State of Forest Report in 1987 shows for last three decades, the area in state forest records has remained constant — 23 per cent of the land. But what has changed is the analysis of how much of the forest cover is inside and outside this recorded forest.
  • In 2015 this changed, when the report added a new category of “forest cover outside recorded forest area”. Then the covered area under the recorded forests dropped to 15 per cent of the country’s land and the balance area of forest cover was shifted to outside. The sum remained the same — roughly 6 per cent of India’s area.

State’s share in loosing forest:

  • There are states where 30-50% of land classified as forest is missing from State of Forest Report 2021.
  • Madhya Pradesh has lost nearly 3 million ha, in other states the gap between recorded forest and the forest cover in recorded area is as big as 50%.

Issue at hand:

  • Till now, the debate on India State of Forest report 2021 has been about the counting of trees outside recorded forests.
  • But it has not focused on what is happening to forest inside, on lands controlled by the state forest department and set aside for conservation.
  • The biggest take away from ISFR 2021 is that massive areas of forests with forest department are missing and unaccounted. Possibly degraded to the point that they are not even classified as scrub.

What needs to be done?

  • The urgent agenda is to reinvent forest management for the future, so that we build a wood based future and still protect the ecologically fragile areas.
  • Protect the high quality forests for ecological security, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration. We must do this so that communities living near these forests get true value based ecosystem payments for their role in protection.
  • Focus on lands with forest department. The missing 25.87 million ha must be regenerated.
  • End license raj on trees outside forests. In the highly restrictive condition today, it is literally a crime to fell a tree even if you have planted it on your land.
  • Forest regeneration is not possible without active involvement of local communities. People must get rights not just over grass and minor forest produce but also the right to cut and sell the trees when they are ready to harvest.

Conclusion:

The bottom line is Indian forests aren’t in good shape. The increase in forest cover is miniscule considering our green goals. And what’s not said is 1/3rd of land under forest department is missing from ISFR 2021. This missing land which is bigger than Uttar Pradesh in area, is the real issue we must focus on. Otherwise our forests will be only paper forests- forests on paper and not real.

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