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'Missing' Forests in India: Around 26 Million Hectare Forest Cover Not Accounted For in the Official Report

India's recorded forest cover stands at 77.53 million ha. The forest cover on these lands is estimated to be 51.66 million ha- as much as 34% of the area classified as forests (25.87 million ha) is missing in the assessment.
forest land.

Representational use only.

A Down To Earth (DTE) analysis has revealed many holes in the forest cover estimations of the recently released The India State of Forest Report 2021 (ISFR 2021). As per DTE, "India is "missing" almost 26 million hectares of its forests," which is not accounted for in the report.

As per the official definition, two kinds of forests exist in India- those inside the officially recorded forest area and those outside it. The ISFR 2021 estimated that the country's recorded forest area is 77.53 million ha.

The forest cover on these lands is estimated to be 51.66 million ha, meaning "that as much as 34% of the area classified as forests — 25.87 million ha — is missing in the assessment! The India State of Forest Report 2021 does not explain what is happening to this huge tract of forest land — equal in size to the state of Uttar Pradesh."

This land isn't even classified as "scrub"; the report just says that it is "recorded forest without forest cover."

Among states and Union territories where the missing forest area lie, forested Madhya Pradesh accounts for 3 million ha, where "the difference between recorded forest area and forest cover is close to 32%." In Jharkhand, the difference is over 50%.

As per DTE editor Sunita Narain, "The biggest takeaway from this report is that huge areas of forests that are under the control of the forest department are 'missing' and unaccounted for — possibly degraded to the point that they are not even classified as scrubs. In fact, one can say that the forest cover is growing in spite of government, not because of it." "This is the real story of forest loss in our country — and it should worry us enormously," she added.

Narain further explains that one can argue that this forest cover was always 'missing', and it wasn't possible to assess what was 'inside' or 'outside' as forest boundaries were not digitised. "And that now that this has been done, the forest survey can tell us that 28 per cent of forest cover is on lands outside the forest department's control."

The DTE analysis raises a question that the report hasn't answered. "What is the state of this massive land area under the control of the forest department, which does not even get classified as scrubs in the forest cover assessment?"

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