What's the article about?
- It talks about the recent IE-ICIJ investigation that shines a light on deficiencies in the mapping of forests in India by the FCI.
Relevance: GS3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation; Prelims
- The last four assessment reports of the Forest Survey of India have shown a steady increase in the country’s forests.
- The last survey report showed that the country added more than 1,500 sq km of forest between 2019 and 2021.
- But experts have maintained that these reports are not satisfactory indicators of ecological health.
- The area under plantations has gone up while the country has consistently lost good forests in the past three decades.
- In this article, the writer explores the findings of the IE-ICIJ investigation in this regard.
What is the India State of Forest Report (ISFR)?
- ISFR is a biennial publication of Forest Survey of India (FSI), an organization under the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change.
- The ISFR assesses the forest and tree cover, bamboo resources, carbon stock and forest fires.
- Significance of the Forest restoration:
- Forest restoration is critical to India’s climate goals. The country has committed to creating an additional sink of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by increasing its forest cover.
- This would require it to increase its forest cover by about 25 million hectares in the next seven years.
- But the ground realities are different:
- Plantations grow fast and on paper, they can help attain carbon targets more quickly.
- But trees in such green patches are also cut down more frequently.
- Moreover, plantations are mostly monocultures that are no substitute for biodiverse ecosystems. They are susceptible to fires, pests and epidemics and often act as a barrier to natural forest regeneration.
- Deforestation vs afforestation programmes:
- In the last 10 years, more than 1,600 square km of forest land has been cleared for infrastructure or industrial projects — nearly a third of this has been diverted in the past three years.
- But the government has also embarked on a number of afforestation programmes.
- In 2016, it made it incumbent on developers to offset the loss of forests due to developmental projects and initiated the Compensatory Afforestation Programme (CAP).
- The investigation shows that large sums of money deposited in the afforestation fund are lying unused. Funds are, however, just one part of CAP’s problem.
- The programme’s plantation-centred approach means that compensatory afforestation takes place in discontinuous patches — the new green tracts are a far cry from the dense forests they are meant to replace.
- The government’s reluctance to reveal the granular data of the country’s forest cover means that such anomalies rarely come to light. The key takeaway of the investigation is that the government needs to be more transparent in the way it maps the country’s forests.