India's forest cover increased by 1.48% to 24.16% of total area: report

India's forest and tree cover has increased by 5, 081 sq km, or 1.48 per cent, to 79.42 million hectare, which is 24.16 per cent of the total geographical area, according to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2015 released on Friday.

While the total forest cover of the country has increased by 3,775 sq km, the tree cover has gone up by 1,306 sq km, says the report.

The total carbon stock in the country's forest is estimated to be 7,044 million tonnes, an increase of 103 million tonnes, which is an increase of 1.48 per cent over the previous assessments.

Speaking after releasing the India State of Forest Report 2015, union minister of environment, forest and climate change, Prakash Javadekar said that the increase in the carbon stock is an assurance to the negotiators at COP 21 that India remains committed to increase the carbon sink. The increase in the carbon stock is in line with the INDC targets. The INDC target for forestry sector envisages creation of additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes of CO2, the minister said.

The majority of the increase in forest cover has been observed in open forest category mainly outside forest areas, followed by very dense forest. While open forest area has increased by 4,744 sq km, which is 9.14 per cent of the geographical area, the area under very dense forest has increased by 2,404 sq kms, which is 2.61 per cent of the geographical area, the report points out.

About 40 per cent of forest cover is in nine big patches of 10, 000 sq km and more.

The report also claims that the increase in total forest cover also includes an increase in the mangrove cover.

Complimenting the states for the increase in forest cover of the country, Javadekar said the government is committed to take necessary steps to ensure that the forest cover goes up from 24 per cent to 33 per cent of the total geographical area.

The maximum increase in forest cover has been observed in Tamil Nadu – 2,501 sq km, followed by Kerala – 1,317 sq km and Jammu & Kashmir – 450 sq km. Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover of 77, 462 sq km in the country, followed by Arunachal Pradesh, with a forest cover of 67,248 sq km and Chhattisgarh – 55,586 sq km. Mizoram, with 88.93 percentage of forest cover has the highest forest cover in percentage terms, followed by Lakshadweep with 84.56 per cent.

The ISFR 2015 states that 15 states/union territories have above 33 per cent of the geographical area under forest cover. Out of these, 7 states/union territories – Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Island, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur have more than 75 per cent forest cover, while 8 states – Tripura, Goa, Sikkim, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Assam have forest cover is between 33 per cent to 75 per cent.

The minister emphasized that more than planting trees, ensuring the survival of trees beyond five years is crucial. He added that the government has taken several steps to combat pollution and has held four meetings with environment ministers of states of the National Capital Region (NCR) and all concerned agencies of these states.

The minister said the government is planning to implement Bharat IV norms by 2017, Bharat V norms by 2019 and Bharat VI norms by the year 2021.

The India State of Forest Report 2015, the 14th report in the series, is based on interpretation of LISS III sensor data of indigenous Resourcesat – II satellite. The satellite data interpretation is followed by extensive and rigorous ground truthing.