India’s forest cover has increased by 1,540 square kilometer between Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2019 and ISFR 2021 assessment. As per latest ISFR 2021, the total forest cover of the country is 7,13,789 square kilometer which is 21.71 percent of the geographical area of the country. Forest Survey of India, an organisation of the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change has been monitoring India’s forest and tree resources through periodic assessments and presenting the findings in its biennial publication- ‘India State of Forest Report (ISFR). The first ISFR report was published by the ministry in the year 1987. The ISFR 2021 provides the latest status of the forest cover and tree cover of India, estimates of growing stock, extent of trees outside forests, mangrove cover, bamboo resources and assessment of forest carbon stock.
The publication is based on a survey of three different forest types, specifically Very Dense Forests (with a canopy density of greater than 70 percent), Forests with a moderate canopy density (between 40 percent and 70 percent) and Open forests (10–40 percent of their total area covered by canopy). The region is categorized as ‘scrubs’ instead of ‘forests’ where the canopy density is less than 10 percent.
The ISFR 2021 is different from the previous versions as for the first time, the ISFR report included Gir Forest (only habitat of Asiatic Lions), Tiger Reserves, and Tiger Corridors. Forest cover has shown a decadal increase in 20 of the total 32 tiger reserves, while the remaining 10 have reported a decline. While the amount of forest has increased slightly in tiger corridors, it has decreased somewhat in tiger reserves. Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal, Indravati Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) and Anamalai Tiger Reserve (Tamil Nadu) have witnessed a gain in the forest cover while on the other hand, Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana, Bhadra Tiger Reserve (Karnataka) and Sunderban Tiger Reserve in West Bengal have experienced loss in forest cover.
Talking about India’s Mangrove forest cover, its area has increased by 17 sq. km. India's bamboo forests have also shown an increase of about 26 percent between 2019 and 2021. There has been an increase in "Very Dense Forests" of about 500 sq. km. In the current assessment, very dense forest and moderately dense forest together constitute 57 percent of the total forest cover of the country.
Source: Indian State of Forest Report 2021
The seven sisters of the north-eastern states of India have topped the chart in percentage of area wise States with Highest Forest Cover. Mizoram has topped this category as it has a forest cover of 85 percent out of its total geographical area. Out of the total geographical area of 21,081 square kilometer, 17,820 sq. km is categorized as forest. Mizoram is followed by Arunachal Pradesh as out of the total geographical area of 83,743 sq. km, around 66,431 sq. km is designated as forest area. This shows that 79.33 percent of the total geographical area of Arunachal Pradesh is forest area. Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh are followed by Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and Goa. It is noteworthy that although making up about 24 percent of India's total forest cover, these 7 sisters only cover about 8 percent of the country's total land area.
When it comes to area wise states with highest forest cover, Madhya Pradesh continues to top the chart. The central Indian state has 77,493 sq. km of forest area which is highest in the country. Madhya Pradesh is followed by Arunachal Pradesh (66,431 sq. km), Chhattisgarh (55,717 sq. km), and Odisha (52,156 sq. km) and Maharashtra (50,798 sq. km).
The amount of "Moderately Dense Forests," also known as "Natural Forests," has decreased, according to India's State of Forest Report 2021. A significant increase in the area classified as "Open Forests" coincides with the trend and shows India's forests are degrading. It is also important to note that "Scrub Area" has increased significantly, which could indicate that forests have completely degraded.
There has been a general loss in forest cover of about 1000 square kilometres across the northeastern Indian states. The causes of this are thought to be increased human activity, such as changing agricultural and new infrastructure projects that result in large-scale tree cutting, as well as natural disasters such intense rains, landslides, floods, etc.
Source: Indian State of Forest Report 2021
Russia has the 20 percent of the total forest area of the world followed by Brazil with 12 percent, Canada (9 percent) and USA (8 percent). In Brazil, out of the total geographical area, 59.40 percent is forest area. In India, the central government and the state governments and also Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) have been taking a number of steps to protect forests and increase India’s forest cover.
Under a number of centrally sponsored programmes, such as the Green India Mission (GIM), the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change offers financial support to States and Union Territories in order to complement and support their efforts. The Financial Year 2015–16 saw the beginning of GIM activity. Seventeen States and one union territory have each received Rs. 755.68 crores over the past five years to kick off afforestation projects. The Ministry has also implemented Centrally Sponsored Scheme, National Afforestation programme for regeneration of degraded forest and adjoining areas in the country. Under the scheme, an amount of Rs. 108.57 crore has been released during the years 2019-20 to 2021-22. National Afforestation Programme is now merged with Green India Mission.
With the help of the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Indian Forest Act of 1927, the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, and the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, India has created a solid legal and policy framework for the management of its forests. The National Forest Policy of 1988 establishes a strategy for protecting forests with the major goal of guaranteeing environmental stability and maintaining ecological balance by covering at least one-third of the nation's total land area with trees or other forms of vegetation.
Activities related to afforestation are also carried out under a number of line ministry programmes and initiatives, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Bamboo Mission, the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry, etc., as well as state and UT administration initiatives through various departments, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, corporate entities, etc. The country's forest cover has been improved and conserved thanks to cross-departmental cooperation. The multi departmental efforts have yielded good results in conserving and enhancing forest cover in the country.
Our forests must be conserved at all costs as they are the green lungs of the nation and provide various ecological services like clean air, water, maintenance of soil-moisture regime by checking soil erosion etc. Forests preserve the natural balance and stability of the environment. Biodiversity is centered in natural forests because of the enormous variety of flora and fauna there. Forests directly absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and are essential for preventing climate change and global warming.