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The Great Forest Cover-Up

In February, the latest instalment of a little environmental kabuki played out when the Forest Survey of India (FSI) released its biennial report card of forests. It declared India’s forests were in fine fettle, with a net addition of 1,128 sq km, or 0.16%, in the last two years.

At 692,000 sq km, forests covered 23% of India’s land, and were directionally headed to reach the targeted 33%. What the Dehradun-based FSI did not declare, and tucked it away in definitions and methodologies, is how it computed that number. Take the very definition of ‘forest cover’ it has used since 2001. The FSI breaks up land into 1-hectare plots (100 metres by 100 metres) and looks at their satellite images. If tree canopy covers more than 10% of a 1-hectare plot, the FSI classifies it as a forest, regardless of who owns it, for what purpose and what kind of trees it has.

1n 2006, there was a large outcry when we realised that the environment ministry had been fibbing about tiger numbers. Well, something similar is happening with India’s forests as well. The definition that the FSI follows is so expansive that it counts tea and coffee plantations, orchards, parks and timber plantations, among others, as forests. At a time when forests are under increasing pressure, this definition (and previous methodological alterations) have enabled india’s forest establishment to claim India’s forest cover is rising. The complete story here.

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