Rework method to assess forest cover, panel tells environment ministry
An expert committee report has recommended that the Union environment ministry rework the methodology to determine forest cover by mapping areas under various monocultures plantations.
These include teak, sal, chir, bamboo, tea, coffee, cashew, mango orchards and others.
The report on developing a ‘strategy to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 and 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from forest and tree cover’ was released by environment minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday.
The report, authored by retired senior foresters and forest officials, stated that “there are always questions among stakeholders as to how much of the area is under plantations included in the forest cover reported by FSI”.
As per the government, an area of one hectare (ha) or more with at least 10% canopy cover, irrespective of land use and ownership, including all land that meets the forest thresholds-- tree crops, fruit orchards, bamboo and agro-forestry plantations – is considered forest cover.
However, this definition has been criticised by scientists because it does not provide an accurate picture of what is the extent of biodiversity-rich natural forests. An assessment of India’s submission on forest covers by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last year had also recommended that areas under plantations be delineated for an accurate assessment of carbon stocks.
A study by the Indian Institute of Science, published in the journal Current Science in 2014, had said India’s forest definition masks deforestation. As per the study, an increase in area under plantations reflects as increase in forest cover. At least 87,910 sq km or about 12.7% of the total forest cover could be plantations or orchards, the study had said.
“Since all such areas also contribute for the carbon sink…and are going to play a very important role in meeting carbon sequestration targets envisaged under India’s nationally determined contributions (under Paris Agreement), a separate and detailed assessment of these landscapes is important for transparent reporting of the forest and tree resources of the country,” the report released Friday stated.
The committee has also recommended that geo-referenced maps of forest areas be prepared for all states, in order to resolve discrepancy between notified forest area and digitised forest area, as seen in satellite maps.
“If the discrepancy in the area is due to technical reasons the committee will be empowered to approve the digitised area to be the new reference forest area for the future,” the report stated.
In its report, the committee has referred to a 2001-Supreme Court judgment in the Lafarge case, which ordered for creation of digitised maps of forest areas and wildlife corridors.
The report has also asked for compliance with the apex court’s December 1996 order in TN Godavarman case, which had directed identification of forests “irrespective of whether they are so notified, recognized or classified under any law”.
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