Lutyens’ bungalows, RBI, encroachments are ‘forests’ in govt’s forest cover map

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Source: The post is based on the article Lutyens’ bungalows, RBI, encroachments are ‘forests’ in govt’s forest cover map published in Indian Express on 2nd March 2023.

What is the News?

In Delhi, bungalows of ministers and senior officers, even the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) building on Sansad Marg are shown as “forest” in the official forest cover map.

What is the issue with India’s forest cover shown in government records?

For over four decades, around one-fifth of India has remained consistently under green cover on government records.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) publishes this forest cover data in its biennial State of Forest Reports (SFRs).

Ground verification of the FSI’s latest (SFR 2021) forest cover data offered a glimpse of what can be labeled as forest under the official interpretation of satellite images.

For instance, official forest cover maps have shown forests as private plantations on encroached and cleared reserve forest land, tea gardens, betel nut clusters, village homesteads, roadside trees, urban housing areas, VIP residences, parts of educational and medical institutes, etc.

Why are bungalows of ministers, RBI buildings shown as “forest” in the official forest cover map?

The explanation lies in India’s definition of forest cover.

The global standard for “forest” is provided by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations: at least 1 hectare of land with a minimum of 10% percent tree canopy cover.

The FAO definition of forests does not include areas “predominantly under agriculture or urban land use” in a forest.

But India counts all 1-hectare plots with 10% canopy cover “irrespective of land use” as forest. This broad definition, experts say, inflates the country’s forest cover.

Due to this definition of forest cover, patches of land like bungalows of ministers, and RBI buildings may look green from the sky, but they do not support a fraction of the biodiversity we associate with a forest.

What are the other issues with India’s forest cover?

Over the years, several independent studies have reported a significant loss of forests in India. According to Global Forest Watch, a World Resources Institute platform, India lost 1,270 sq km of natural forest between 2010 and 2021.

But the FSI reported a gain of 2,462 sq km in dense forest and 21,762 sq km in overall forest cover for the same period.

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