India’s forest cover growth has slowed to an eight-year low in 2021, with just 0.22 per cent increase over 2019, down from 0.85 per cent in 2013 and 0.94 per cent in 2017, the highest in the last decade.
The land under forest area has grown by just 1,540 sq km over 2019, according to the Forest Survey of India’s biennial India State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2021.
Similarly, the growth in tree cover is 0.76 per cent in 2021 over 2019, the lowest rate since 2015. As of 2021, the total forest and tree cover comprises 24.62 per cent of the geographical area of the country.
The highest amount of forest cover reduction is happening in the Northeast (N-E) states, which host some of the world’s richest and unique biodiversity. Nagaland has the country’s highest reduction of forest cover of 1.88 per cent (or loss of 235 sq km) since 2019. It is followed by Manipur with 1.48 per cent reduction (loss of 249 sq km), Mizoram 1.03 per cent, Meghalaya 0.48 per cent, and Arunachal Pradesh 0.39 per cent (loss of 257 sq km). Assam, whose forest cover increased since 2015, also saw a decline of 15 sq km in 2021.
The loss of forest cover in the N-E states has intensified in the last decade. The worst of all is Mizoram, which has shown no increase in the past decade and is showing a fast decline in the forest cover. Overall, 11 states witnessed a reduction in their forest cover, including Delhi and West Bengal, which follow the N-E states closely to forest cover loss.
A similar story is being played in the tree cover, too, where the N-E states are leading the pack of states that have seen their tree cover decline over 2019.
Another worrying trend that the report showcases is the increase in forest fire incidents. Between November 2020 and June 2021 period, 345,000 incidents of forest fire were detected by FSI sensors, a 177 per cent increase over incidents detected during November 2019-June 2020.
The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) in a statement said the total forest and tree cover of the country is 80.9 million hectare, which is 24.62 per cent of the geographical area of the country.
“As compared to the assessment of 2019, there is an increase of 2,261 sq km in the total forest and tree cover of the country. Present assessments reveal that 17 states and Union Territories have above 33 per cent of the geographical area under forest cover and that the focus of the government is not just to conserve the forests quantitatively but to enrich it qualitatively,” said Bhupender Yadav, minister for MoEFCC.
While the Centre claims an increase in the forest cover, several independent reports state that it is actually declining. The Global Forest Watch, on its dashboard, says: “From 2002 to 2020, India lost 349 kha of humid primary forest, making up.
19 per cent of its tree cover loss in the same time period. The total area of humid primary forest in India fell by 3.4 per cent in this time period.”
India has been reporting an increase in forest and tree cover in every biennial report, but the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 2019 had raised questions over the claims of the government. The expert committee of the UNFCC found the data to be “not accurate”, said reports.
ISFR is a biennial exercise by the Forest Survey of India, which does the assessment of forest cover of the country using mid-resolution satellite data. In the current report, FSI has introduced a new chapter related to the assessment of forest cover in the tiger reserves, corridors, and lion conservation area of India.