Plantations count for 28% forest cover: FSI DG

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Jan 31, 2022 09:15 AM IST

As per IFSR 2021, India's forest cover increased from 21.67% of the total geographical area in 2019 to 21.71% in 2021

NEW DELHI: The ‘outside recorded forest area’ accounts for 28% of India’s forest cover, and comprises plantations of horticulture, pulpwood species as well as rural and urban greens, Anoop Singh, director general of Forest Survey of India (FSI) said.

India added 1,540 sqkm of forest cover to 713,789 sqkm in 2021, said the ISFR 2021. (Representative Image)
India added 1,540 sqkm of forest cover to 713,789 sqkm in 2021, said the ISFR 2021. (Representative Image)

Singh has drafted a note to address various concerns being raised on the India State of Forests Report (ISFR) 2021, released on January 13.

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“In Chapter 2, Table 2.6, the forest cover figures are divided as ‘Inside Recorded Forest Area’ and ‘Outside Recorded Forest Area’. Those inside RFA are basically natural forests and plantations. Forest cover outside RFA includes mango orchards, coconut plantations, and block plantations of agro-forestry. They are automatically separated out and are clearly mentioned in the table,” he wrote in the note, emphasising that India has been transparent about the extent of forests. In ISFR 2021, 72 % of forest cover figures pertain to recorded forest area and only 28% of forest cover is outside the forest area, the note said, refuting concerns over the extent of natural forests in the country.

“Most of the critics have not seen this table and have commented based on their pre-conceived notion. The areas of tea, coffee etc. are available with the respective boards and horticulture departments or from revenue records, where these details are recorded,” Singh added.

According to ISFR 2021, India’s forest cover has increased from 21.67% of the total geographical area in 2019 to 21.71% in 2021. In the period, the country added 1,540 sqkm of forest cover to 713,789 sqkm in 2021, said the ISFR 2021.

Out of the 1,540 sqkm increase, 1,509 sqkm is in the “outside RFA” category while only 31 sqkm is “inside RFA”, the report added.

In the same period, the country’s total tree cover also increased by 721 sqkm, taking it to 2.91% of total geographical area in 2021 from 2.89% in 2019, the report said, adding that an overall increase of 2,261 sqkm (0.28%) of forest and tree cover has been observed as compared to 2019. The marginal increase in forests inside RFA is an issue of concern, Singh said.

“This needs to be analysed and compared with the areas planted under various schemes of the central and state governments to re-strategise. Are we reaching saturation inside recorded forest area or are we losing areas or are the plantations less successful? I do not need to raise any alarm, but a serious thought and analysis is required,” the FSI director general said in the note, shared with select media on Friday. He informed that between November 2020 and June 2021, a total of 345,989 fire incidents have been reported in forests across the country, as compared to 124,473 in 2019-20 and 210,286 in 2018-19, adding it was also “worrying”.

Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research, said, “The FAQs have clarified the distinction the methodology makes between recorded forests and plantations, which is useful. However, there is a need to review whether both should collectively be referred to as forest cover or presented as land with green or tree cover. It gives a distorted picture.” 

Kohli added, "It is also useful for a state of forest report to present how much of the recorded forest area is still under forest cover or has been put to other uses. For instance, forest diversion approvals for industries, dams or highways often come with a condition that the legal status of the land will remain unchanged. Do these areas still get calculated as recorded forest area? This and several other questions would be important to clarify." 

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