India has managed to place itself on 10th position in the world in terms of forest area with 24.4% of its land under forest and tree cover; an increase of over one percent in comparison to the last forest survey conducted in 2015.
The good news is that there has been an increase in the "very dense forest" (VDF) category (lands with tree canopy of 70 per cent and above) of about 9,525 sq kms with Karnataka adding the most to this segment.
Harsh Vardhan said that three states - Andhra Pradesh (2141 sq km), followed by Karnataka (1101 sq km) and Kerala (1043 sq km) have shown the maximum increase in forest cover. "The increase in forest cover in VDF is followed by increase in open forest", he said. The target was later modified to bring one-third of the area under tree and forest cover. The largest patch lies in the northeast and covers 1,58,439 sq km. Out of these States and Union Territories, seven States/UTs namely Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur have more than 75 per cent forest cover, while 8 states - Tripura, Goa, Sikkim, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Assam have forest cover between 33 per cent to 75 per cent.
However, the situation continues to worsen in the northeast which is constantly seeing its rich forest cover shrink as shown by forest survey reports since 2013. "Just by being satisfied with the increase in mangrove cover, we can not go on destroying prime forest areas, as we need oxygen to breathe due to increasing pollution", says Siddarth Karapurkar, a social activist said.
The NE also contributes heavily to India's carbon sequestration with very high per hectare carbon stock and soil organic carbon.
According to the report, the increasing trend of forest and tree cover is largely due to the various national policies aimed at conservation and sustainable management of forests like Green India Mission, National Agro-Forestry policy (NAP), REDD plus policy, Joint Forest Management (JFM), National Afforestation Programme and funds under Compensatory Afforestation to States.
The report unveiled by India's Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan says the country stands eighth in terms of annual forest gain.
Though estimation of carbon stock is a regular feature of the India State of Forest Report, the present report has highlighted the state level estimates. There is an increase of 19 million tonnes in the bamboo-growing stock as compared to the last assessment done in 2011. Maharashtra added the maximum mangrove cover, 82 sq.km, since 2015, and the report attributed this rise to plantations and regeneration.
FSI used remote sensing as well as ground work.
Besides assessing water bodies, the report also for the first time listed number of forest fires across the country.