As per the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) released on Monday, the forest cover in Maharashtra has seen a marginal increase of 95.56 square kilometres or 0.19 per cent as compared to the forest cover recorded in 2017. ISFR is a biennial report published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to assess the forest and tree resources of the country. The exercise was started in 1987 and a total of 16 assessments have been completed so far.
The tree cover, which estimates presence of trees outside the forest areas, have seen encouraging improvement.
As per the report, in Maharashtra the ‘very dense forest’ and ‘moderately dense forests’ have actually seen a decline of 95 square kilometres but with an increase the ‘Open Forest’ category by 191 square kilometres, the cumulative forest cover has increased by 95.56 square kilometres.
‘Dense forest’ are defined as those where the tree canopy density is 70 per cent or above; ‘moderately dense forests’ have been defined as areas with tree canopy density between 40 to 70 per cent and ‘open forest area’ is when the canopy density is between 10 to 40 per cent.
The report number shows that when it comes to improving the forest cover, Maharashtra is still far behind despite the previous government led by Devendra Fadnavis launching Green Maharashtra drive and claimed to have planted 50 crore saplings in the state -with roughly 50 per cent plantations happening in forest areas – in between 2016 and 2019. The numbers show that states like Karnataka have shown much better improvement with the addition of 1027 square kilomters (2.23 per cent) of green cover compared to 2017 assessment. Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have performed much better with an addition of 990 (3.52 per cent) and 823 square kilometres (4.05 per cent) forest cover respectively.
What needs to be noted, however, is that the report covers the status of the green areas until January 2018, when Maharashtra’ government’s green drive had completed two years and was gearing for the third year of the drive held in July 2018.
Tree cover in Maharashtra which accounts for trees found outside the forest areas, has seen a significant improvement. ‘Tree cover’ estimates trees occurring in patches of size less than one hectare and may include trees in village woodlots, homesteads, horticultural orchards of less than 1 ha size and those along roads, bunds and canals. As per the report, the tree cover of Maharashtra has increased by 975 square kilometres as compared to the previous assessment in 2017. The total tree cover in the state now stands at 10,086 square kilometres.
As per the report, while the state was implementing the ‘Green Maharashtra’ drive it also diverted forest land for non-forest use between 2015 and 2019.
“In Maharashtra, during the period 1st January 2015 to 5th February 2019, a total of 3797.16 hectares of forestland was diverted for non-forestry purposes under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. As per the information received from the SFD, a total area of 1,47,814 hectare has been notified as reserved forests by 2019,” reads the report.
The report was released by Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in Delhi. As per the report, on the national level the forest cover has increased by 3,976 square kilometres. However, it has seen a sharp decline in some states, most notably those in the northeast including Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram. At 712,249 square kilometres, the forest cover constitutes 21.67 per cent of the nation’s geographical area or 0.12 per cent more than last year.
The top three states showing an increase in forest cover are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
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