Eco ministry says its satellite tech use is optimal
MUMBAI: According to the Union environment ministry, there are 6.5 million hectares of plantations outside the recorded forest area, which primarily includes native plant species mixed with others. The ministry also says certain forest areas have been diverted (with native forests) for nonforestry purposes, which are then compensated by afforestation and plantations.
Refuting the research paper Cryptic Destruction of India's Native Forests, written by a trio of Australian and Indian scientists, the ministry mentions improvements in satellite data and interpretation tools over a decade resulting in changes in the measurement of forest cover. "The assessed extent of forest cover in different periods (done with different methodologies ) will therefore be not comparable for figuring out the real change in forest cover between two time periods," the Forest Survey of India, which comes under the ministry, said.
But the authors of the paper argue that the ministry has expressed the view that the deforestation of native forests has been neither massive nor cryptic without the existence of supporting data to substantiate this view.
"Two convergent series of observations tend to prove that the problem nevertheless is real as we asserted. Firstly, regional assessments of native forest degradation by various teams were close to 1% per year. Secondly, not more than 12% of the forest cover area is with forest cover greater than 70%, which shows widespread degradation of native forests. Close to 100 million tons of wood were collected in 2006," said Prof William F Laurance of James Cook University, Queensland, and Pondicherry-based scientists Jean-Philippe Puyravaud and Priya Davidar in an email to TOI.
As opposed to the government claim of a nearly 5% increase in India's forest cover in 1997-2007, the paper argues that when exotic tree plantations are subtracted from the total forest cover, there is a net decline in the country's native (natural) forests of 1.5%-2.7% per year.
"One of the reasons cited by the (ministry) to not discriminate native forests from plantations is technical limitation of remote sensing (satellite) technology. This is no longer the case. Take the false colour images provided by Google Earth... Since high spatial resolution and hyper-spectral technology are becoming less expensive, this kind of assessment is feasible," the scientists said in the email.