Madhya Pradesh has managed to cling onto its tag of being the state with the largest forest cover, according to the Indian State of Forest Report -2021, a biennial report released by Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change Minister Bhupendra Yadav a few days ago.
The 2019 report had recorded an increase of 69.49 sq km of forest cover in Madhya Pradesh as compared to similar data released by the Forest Survey of India in the year 2017. It was an increase of around 0.03% in the green cover while the same stands at 0.01% as compared to the data reported from the central Indian state in the year 2019.
Last time, the state had reported a forest cover of 77,482 sq km. This time, it has surged marginally by 11 sq km this time round and stands at 77,493 sq km in the latest findings.
Area-wise, Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country, followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra. In terms of forest cover as percentage of total geographical area, the top five states are Mizoram (84.53%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.33%), Meghalaya (76.00%), Manipur (74.34%) and Nagaland (73.90%). Increase in forest cover has been observed in open forest followed by very dense forest. Top three states showing increase in forest cover are Andhra Pradesh (647 sq km) followed by Telangana (632 sq km) and Odisha (537 sq km), says the report.
In terms of forest canopy density classes in Madhya Pradesh, a total of 6,665 sq km falls under Very Dense Forest (VDF), total 34,209 sq km under Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) and 36,619 sq km under Open Forest area. The forest cover contributes 25.14% of the total geographical area of the state, said the report.
The state’s protected forest area is spread across 10 national parks and 25 wildlife sanctuaries. Among the most populace tiger reserves, Bandhavgarh, which has 104 tigers, officially has a core area of 716.90 sq km and a buffer zone of 820.04 sq km. Pench tiger reserve has a total protected area of 1179 sq km and 61 tigers, while Kanha tiger reserve has a total protected area of 2051 sq km and 88 tigers in the territory. These reserves have high tiger density per sq km and which is the reason the big cats venture out of these protected areas and engage in man-animal conflicts, said a wildlife activist from the state who added that protected forest areas too are under severe biological pressure as open forest areas in MP.
In the last few years, incidents of tigers, leopards and other wild animals venturing into residential areas have gone up and wildlife enthusiasts attribute the trend to shrinking forest cover. The latest incident was reported on Wednesday when an adult tiger drowned in a well in Kauwasarai area in Shahdol district.
The state had reported 526 tigers in the last tiger estimation in the country and forest minister Vijay Shah has time and again claimed that the numbers have crossed 600 presently. This is despite large number of big cat mortalities, including several which ventured outside protected areas in search of new territories, away from saturated tiger reserves.
Wildlife experts and activists cry foul over the glittering data of the forest cover as shown in the FSI reports year after year.
Amit Bhatnagar, an environment activist who works extensively in Bundelkhand area, told News18.com that forests are under immense pressure amid mega projects and construction of national highways. Buxwaha diamond project coming up in Chhatarpur district will lead to felling of lakhs of trees and so will the project of Ken-Betwa River linking, which also includes a sizable area of Panna tiger reserve, added Bhatnagar.
Anil Garg, a lawyer from Betul and an expert in forest laws, claimed that the state governments of MP and Chhattisgarh present forged data of forest cover to the Centre. Garg had complained to the MoEFCC last year through MLA Dr Hiralal Alawa on the forgery but the minister had replied that these figures are forwarded by the states and FSI has no legal authority to declare any land under forest category.
The FSI has been compiling report of forest cover since year 1987 but it seems the accurate and clear reporting of unclassified forest region was never done by the states, he added.
A state like MP has a provision of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) which recovers deforestation costs from projects and later uses them to afforestation purposes. However, the fund remains under the scanner for wasteful departmental buying and plantation projects entailing inflated investments.
IFS (retd) officer Azad Singh Dabas told News18.com that CAMPA funds are utilised in compensatory plantations but the investments are deliberately kept quite high to keep margins also high. “For example, a plantation of 100 hectares could easily be done at 1,000 hectares in the same budget if funds are utilised judiciously.”
Besides, upkeep and protection of such plantations also remains an issue, said the officer, adding if 10 per cent plants survive and remain as part of the forest, it’s satisfactory.
MP forest minister Vijay Shah is yet to react to the findings of ISFR 2021.
India reports 2,261 sq km increase in forest cover
Total forest and tree cover of the country is 80.9 million hectare, which is 24.62 per cent of the geographical area of the country. As compared to the assessment of 2019, there is an increase of 2,261 sq km in the total forest and tree cover of the country. The present assessment reveals that 17 states/UT’s have above 33 per cent of the geographical area under forest cover. The total forest and tree cover of the country is 80.9 million hectare which is 24.62 per cent of the geographical area of the country. As compared to the assessment of 2019, there is an increase of 2,261 sq km in the total forest and tree cover of the country. Out of this, the increase in the forest cover has been observed as 1,540 sq km and that in tree cover is 721 sq km.
Chhattisgarh records increase of 106 sq km in forest cover
Chhattisgarh has reported a total forest cover of 55717 sq km, including 7068 sq km in VDF, total 32279 sq km in MDF and an OF category of 16370 sq km in the latest report. In the 2019 FSI report, the state had reported a total forest cover of 55611 sq km. This makes an increase of around 106 sq km forest areas in the last two years.