In what could be music to ears of green activists, India's forest cover has increased, even if marginally by only 5,871 square kilometer, withstanding huge pressure for growth and development.
India's State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2013, which comes out biennially, released by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar Tuesday revealed that compared to ISFR 2011 the country has witnessed an increase of 5,871 sq km (about 0.18 %).
However, as per the Forest Survey of India (FSI) that prepared the report, the heartening fact is that forest cover in India has remained intact and in-fact increased, even if by very small number, despite huge pressure for diversion of forests for dams, mining or other industrial purposes. "We are very happy with this fact. It is a huge achievement," a top FSI official told dna.
FSI has been coming out with forest state reports since 1987 and the present report was 13th report in the series. As per the report, around 789,164 square kilometer area of India is under tree and forest cover which is about 24.01 percent of country's geographical area. It also revealed that hill and tribal districts in India have also witnessed an increase in forest cover by 40 square km and 2,396 square km respectively.
As per the forest report, states like West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand, Bihar and Tamil Nadu have witnessed high increase in forest cover while states like Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh noted decrease in forest cover.
The report also reveals that 15 States/UTs had above 33 percent of their geographical area under forest cover.
Northeastern India region, which accounts for only 7.98% of India's geographical area accounts for nearly one fourth of its forest cover. It is also identified as one of 18 biodiversity hotspots of the world but report showed that compared to 2011 the region has witnessed a decrease of 627 square kilometer of forest cover.
India's mangrove cover also witnessed a decrease of 34 sq km compared to 2011 report. Another point of concern was loss of about 1991 square kilometer of moderately dense forest which as per FSI officials was due to population pressure, grazing, diversion of forestland among other things.
Union Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar after releasing the report said, "Forest conservation and afforestation cannot become mass movement if it doesn't people's movement. It is a necessary step. Another important fact is that hill and tribal districts have witnessed an increase in forest cover. But area of concern is decrease in forest cover in northeastern India."
"During climate change debates, we would present that here is a country (India) that has witnessed an increase in forest cover in last one decade. So that it becomes a success story for world," said Javadekar who is also minister for climate change.
The environment minister further said that they are thinking about steps to be taken for degraded forests so that activity undertaken can also result in job creations for locals.
Meanwhile, compared to 2011 IFSR report, India has also witnessed an increase of 278 million tonnes in its carbon stock from 6663 million tonnes in 2011 to 6941 in 2013.