In school, studying social science was found to be boring, always studded with long drawn information. While going through geography I happened to read about the existing forest cover in India. Forests covering one-third of the total area of a country was considered ideal for the nations overall development. But at the time of reading the geography text India had a forest cover over 23% of its total area. But what does the present statistics lead to?
On further researching I came to know that the 23% forest cover was according to the statistics of the year 1988. In 1988 the National Forest Policy came into being which set a target of 33% of land area under forest and tree cover and maintaining two-third of the area in hills under forest cover in order to prevent erosion and land degradation and also to ensure maintenance of ecological balance and environmental stability.
Forest cover is defined as an area more than 1 ha in extent and having tree canopy density of 10% and above. No distinction with respect to the type of tree crops (natural or man made) or tree species has been attempted due to lack of techniques for making such distinction. So in the forest cover assessment all types of lands, forest, private, community or institutional, will become included if they satisfy the required criteria.
This was taken while on a visit to the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, Wayanad, Kerala
According to the Forest Survey of India (FSI), India’s forest cover stands at 20.6% of the total land area. And the good news is that we had only 0.11% reduction in forest cover since 2002 and the forest cover has remained more or less stable (in 2003 it was 20.64%).
And the main losses, according to FSI, were due to natural disasters and submergence of forests to dams. Though the amount of dense forests cover is a poor 1.66% of total land area, the moderately dense has 10.12% of total land area.
So the statistics surely shows a gradual decrease in forest cover though in the 1990s there was increased deforestation. The afforestation drive and social forestry initiative of the government has done little to improve the forest cover. There has been an addition of only an abysmally low area of 180,000 sq. km in the last 50 years to the forest cover.
In the revised National Forest Policy of 2002 the target to achieve 33% of land area under forest cover was set for the year 2012. So how are we going to have a nearly 60% increase in the forest cover? The forest cover in the hilly areas is a lowly 38.77% against the goal of 66%. What more can explain the increased landslide and soil erosion in the hill regions during rains? A little ray of hope can be found in the forest cover in the tribal areas where it is 60.04% of the total forest cover of the country when the tribal areas constitute only 33.6% of the total land of the country. The N-E states together constitute more than a quarter of the total forest cover(though it constitutes 7% of India’s land area) which is being lost year by year due to shifting cultivation and also wide felling of trees.
From the 1970s, the days of the Chipko Movement, people have become more interested and involved in conservation. Though it doesn’t constitute a good proportion of the vast population of our country, it may become instrumental in wakening others to the threat of going without forests and its rich natural beauty and resources and the flora and fauna it supports.
PS: Kerala has 28.9%, higher than the national average in spite of having the 2nd highest population density in the country (barring the UTs).
Also India has the 2nd highest forest cover as a percentage of total land area after Bhutan (58%) while Afghanistan has the lowest at 2% (Pakistan 3%) in South-Asia.
Next: Scientific Methodology behind forest cover estimation.