Land under forest shrunk between 2011 and 2016, contrary to FSI’s findings
The built-up area in the country had increased by 2.39% between 2011-12 and 2015-16, but forest area had declined by 1.09%, according to a report on environmental accounts released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) on Wednesday.
The largest decline in vegetation was observed in case of deciduous and evergreen forests, the report revealed.
The area under inland wetlands had dropped by 6.9%. While 14.32% dip was recorded in barren or waste land, including in the Rann of Kutch, during the same period.
The report dwells on the state of various environmental assets such as forests, land, water bodies, grasslands, carbon stocks, biodiversity etc and their impact on the country’s economy.
The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), under its Natural Resources Census (NRC) project, has produced the land use and land change data sets for 2005-06, 2011-12 and 2015-16.
The data sets were utilised by the NSO to conduct an analysis on land use trends for its latest report.
However, the NSO’s analysis is at odds with the Forest Survey of India’s (FSI) reports that have shown an increase in the country’s forest cover.
The FSI’s report had shown last year that the country recorded a 0.56% improvement in its forest cover, as compared to 2017.
But, the NSO’s land use change matrix showed that forest area declined by 1.09%, as compared to a 0.5% increase in forest area shown in the FSI reports between 2013 and 2015.
An official from the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) said on condition of anonymity that this could be because of the difference in the way the FSI and the NRSC define forests.
The NRSC considers land with a tree canopy cover of more than 10% and an area of over 0.5 hectare (ha). It excludes other predominant land uses such as agriculture and certain monocultures, which the FSI doesn’t.
Union Minister for Environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar had said last year that India was among few countries to record increasing forest cover while citing the FSI’s data.
The NSO land use change matrix shows a reduction in forest area may be because of diversion to built-up area, agriculture and wasteland.
Similar reasons can be attributed to the loss in areas under wetland.
The NSO report has taken into account forest ecosystem services such as timber, non-timber forest resources and carbon retention and has suggested these economic activities are equivalent to 2.58% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The highest economic value per ha from forest ecosystem services during 2017-18 was recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, followed by Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, according to the analysis by the NSO of the FSI’s data.