New Delhi: The government says India’s forest cover declined only marginally between 2003 and 2005, but activists and environmentalists say that there has actually been a loss of around 6,600 sq. km of forest cover and add that the trend (of forest cover depletion) is sure to have accelerated in the last two years, which saw the economy grow by 9.4% and 9.6%, respectively.
The ministry of environment and forests, or MoEF, released the latest Rs.state of forest report‘ on Tuesday. According to the report, India has lost about 1,500 sq. km of moderately dense forest between 2003 and 2005. However, a comparison with the original estimates, and not the upwardly revised estimates of 2003, records a loss of 6,600 sq. km of moderately dense forest cover.
“The decrease, however, is not worrying as India’s forest cover has more or less stabilized and (the country) ranks number 10 globally when it comes to per capita forest cover,” said Devendra Pandey, director general, Forest Survey of India, the government body which conducts the biennial survey.
Environmentalists do not agree with that claim.
“Since 1980, with the beginning of the Forest Conservation Act, the MoEF has allowed for the diversion of 11,40,177 ha of forest land for non-forest use. Out of that, approximately 3,11,220 ha has been cleared by the MoEF since 2003 till 2007, which is a quarter of the total clearances in four of the 26 years of implementation of the Act. So there is a quantum jump in the diversion of forest land for various development and industrial projects,” said Kanchi Kohli, member of Kalpavriksh, an activist group, which obtained the data through the use of Right to Information Act.
Environmentalists also say that India’s rapid economic growth began to accelerate from 2005 and hence the real reduction in forest cover will show up in the next survey. “If this is the trend, then the forest cover is bound to go down. But more importantly, it is not just the increase or decrease of forest cover in terms of trees, but the loss of quality of forests and the biodiversity that goes along with it. No compensatory afforestation can replace this,” added Kohli.
Overall, India has 67.71 million ha of forest cover, 20.6% of its geographical area, of which 1.7% is very dense forest, 10.12% is moderately dense and the rest is open forest, which includes mangroves. Among the states, Mizoram, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Andaman and Nicobar saw the largest depletion of forest cover. “Most of the losses have been due to cutting down of plantations, submergence due to hydroelectric projects and, in Mizoram, due to the flowering of bamboo,” added Pandey. When the plant flowers, an event that occurs once every 40 years, all bamboo die.
Based on the proportion of forest cover to total geographical area of states, hill states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram and Uttarakhand fared the best. The government has laid down that two-thirds of the area in these states should be under forest cover, while it has to be one-third for other states.
Principal chief conservators of forest from hill states, however, complain about the geographical restrictions which curb their ability to further increase forest cover.