“The growth in forest cover can be attributed to plantation and conservation activities, both within and outside the recorded forest areas," FSI director general Saibal Dasgupta told PTI in Dehradun.
Improvement in interpretation due to better radiometric resolution of the recent satellite data from Resourcesat-2 also helped in making the observation during 2015-17, he said in an interview.
Dasgupta said Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala have contributed to an increase of 2,141 sq km, 1,101 sq km and 1,043 sq km forest area respectively.
He said the total forest and tree cover in India, according to the current assessment is 8,02,088 sq km, which is 24.39% of the country’s geographic area.
“The present assessment shows that 15 states/UTs have above 33% of the geographical area under forest cover," said Dasgupta, who also holds the post of additional DG of forest in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change.
Besides, the forest cover in the hill districts of the country was recorded at 2,83,462 sq km, which is 40.22% of the total geographic area of these districts.
“The latest assessment shows an increase of 754 sq km in all hill districts of the country," he said. Likewise, the total forest cover in the tribal districts is 4,21,170 sq km, which is 37.43% of the geographical area of these districts, showing an increase of 86.89 sq km in all the tribal districts of the country, the FSI DG said.
There are 215 tribal districts spread over 27 states/UTs. Area wise, Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover (77,414 sq km) in the country, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (66,964 sq km), Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq km), Odisha (51,345 sq km) and Maharashtra (50,682 sq km), he said.
Referring to the northeastern region, deputy director FSI, E Vikram, informed that the total forest cover in the NE states was 1,171,306 sq km, which is 65.34% of its geographical area.
“The current assessment shows a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 630 sq km in the north eastern region," Vikram said.
He said all altitude zones above 1,000 metres have registered a small decrease in forest cover, while those below 1,000 metres show an increase. Vikram also said that according to a latest official report there has been a net increase of 2,647 sq km in the extent of water bodies over the decade (2005-15) in general.
“All the states/UTs show an increase, except Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa," he said, adding that Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka show an increase of over 100 sq km over the decade under review.
Similarly, mangrove cover has increased by 181 sq km and the bamboo bearing area grew by 1.73 million hectare, he said. Vikram said that going by the present assessment, the total carbon stock in forests was estimated at 7,082 million tonnes, showing an increase of 38 million tonnes over the last assessment in 2015.