The economic development of a society depends to a large extent on the judicious management of its natural resources, renewable as well as non-renewable. Among renewable resources, forest cover occupies a unique position owing to its role in maintaining ecological balance, environmental stability and sustainable economic development. However, under pressure of demands from an ever-increasing population, forests, which initially seemed inexhaustible, are now struggling to survive.
In the present scenario, it has become essential that remaining forests ought to be managed under a well-organized system that will ensure their proper conservation and availability for a longer period.
The National Forest Policy of India, formulated in the year 1988, aimed at maintaining 33 per cent of the country’s geographical area under forest or tree cover against the world’s average of 26.6 per cent at that time. To achieve this objective, The Ministry Of Environment,Forests And Climate Change (MoEFCC) had launched several policy related programs and legislation’s etc. throughout the country wherein, depletion of forest cover could be hindered and growth of forest cover enhanced in a periodic manner through increased decentralization and active participation at the very initial stage.
To understand the impact of measures taken, it is imperative that forest cover trends of the country must be assessed periodically. Periodic assessment of forest cover provides qualitative measure of the extent of land area under forest cover along with the density. It helps with the monitoring of changes in the cover. Forest cover information serves as a useful study for the national and state policy planning.
Forest Survey Of India (FSI), an organization under theMoEFCC, has been carrying out assessment of the forest resources in the country since its inception as Pre in 1965. Initially FSI assessed the forest resources in different parts of the country through ground inventory and interpretations of aerial photographs. However, since the early eighties, it started using satellite data to assess the forest cover of the country. As per its revised mandate of 1986, FSI has to asses forecast cover of the country on a two-year cycle and to publish the information in the State of Forest Report (SFR). Its first assessment was published in1987 and the latest one was the 15th assessment which came out in the year 2017.
All the lands with tree canopy density of more than 10 per cent can be designated as forest cover, although they may not be statutorily notified as forest. Forest cover is further subdivided into dense forest and open forests. With respect to forest the terms ‘forest cover’ and ‘recorded forest area/land’ are often used interchangeably, although they are quite different from each other.Recorded forest areas are all lands statutorily notified as forest although they may not necessarily bear tree cover. Forest cover constitutes all lands, more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10 per cent. Such lands may not statutorily be notified as geographical area.
According to the MoEFCC India had a spread of 640,819 sq kms forest cover in the year 1987. The total forest cover area was 19.49 per cent of the total geographical area of the country in 1987.
In the year 1991 the forest cover trend saw a steep fall from 640,819 sq kms in 1987 to 639,364 sq kms in 1991. This trend continued for the next four years. The forest cover was yet again lowered to 638879 sq kms in the year 1995. There was a decrease of -0.05 per cent during the year of 1991 to 2001. Whereas in the year 2001, the forest cover trends saw a bloom of 2.35 per cent as compared to the forest cover trends in the year of 2005 to 2011. The forest cover was 692,027 sq kms in the year 2011 and by the year of 2013, the it raised to the number of 697,898 sq kms. There was a increase of 0.18 per cent in the total geographical area of forest as compared to that of the year 2011. Further in the year of 2015 the forest cover area has increased 3,775 sq kms as compared to its growth in the year 2013. The percentage of growth in the forest cover area to the total geographical area has increased by 0.11 per cent as compared to that of the year 2013.
The total forest cover in the country as per the recent assessment is 708,273 sq. km which is about 21.54 per cent of the geographical area of the country. Keeping in mind that India’s forest constitutes roughly 2 per cent of the world’s forest and India’s human and livestock population is around 17 per cent of the world’s human and livestock population, it is indeed commendable that the country has tried to maintain a healthy forest and tree cover over the years. However, with increasing awareness and participating at the grassroot level, coupled with effective policies and legislation’s of the government, it is expected that the forest cover will prosper in the future.