India's tree and forest cover has registered an increase of one per cent or 8,021 sq km in two years since 2015, according to the latest assessment by the government.
According to the report, the total forest cover is 7,08,273 sq km, which is 21.54 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. Forest and tree cover combined is 8,02,088 sq km or 24.39 per cent of the total geographical area.
"There is an increase of 8,021 sq km (about 80.20 million hectare) in the total forest and tree cover of the country, compared to the previous assessment in 2015.
"The increase in the forest cover has been observed as 6,778 sq km and that of tree cover as 1,243 sq km," Harsh Vardhan said.
He said that the encouraging sign was that much of the increase in forest cover has been observed in very dense forest (VDF) category, as they absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
"The increase in forest cover in VDF is followed by increase in open forest," the minister said, adding that ISFR 2017 has been prepared with the help of scientific tools.
He said Madhya Pradesh (77,414 sq km) has the largest forest cover in the country in terms of area, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (66,964 sq km) and Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq km).
In terms of percentage of forest cover with respect to the total geographical area, Lakshadweep with (90.33 per cent) has the highest forest cover, followed by Mizoram (86.27 per cent) and Andaman and Nicobar Island (81.73 per cent), he said.
"Work has already started for preparing ISFR 2019," he said.
The survey, which has for the first time assessed water bodies, said that these bodies inside forest cover have increased by 2,647 sq kms during last decade.
"Overall, almost all the states have shown a positive change in water bodies," it said.
Ministry officials said that these states are in the Northeast where the total forest cover is very high -- more than 70 per cent in each state.
The main reasons for the decrease are shifting cultivation, other biotic pressures, rotational felling, diversion of forest lands for developmental activities, submergence of forest cover, agriculture expansion and natural disasters, they said.
The present assessment also reveals that 15 states and union territories (UTs) have above 33 per cent of the geographical area under forest cover.
Out of these states and UTs, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur have more than 75 per cent forest cover, while eight -- Tripura, Goa, Sikkim, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Assam have forest cover between 33 per cent and 75 per cent.
"18,000 points have been physically surveyed in a scientific manner in the preparation of the report," Mahesh Sharma said.
"India is ranked 10th in the world, with 24.4 per cent of land area under forest and tree cover, even though it accounts for 2.4 per cent of the world's surface area and sustains the needs of 17 per cent of human and 18 per cent livestock population," Harsh Vardhan said.
The minister said as per the latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, India is placed 8th in the list of top ten nations reporting the greatest annual net gain in forest area.
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