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The case for open, verifiable forest cover data

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Conservation-related issues


Source: IE 

Context: The article highlights how India mapped its forest cover over four decades and why making the data freely available will improve the quality of this vital policy input.


Forest and tree cover in India:

  • While the Forest Survey of India (FSI) started publishing its biennial State of Forest reports in
  • Since 19.53% in the early 1980s, India’s forest cover has increased to 21.71% in 2021.
  • The country’s total green cover now stands at 24.62%, which was arrived after adding 2.91% tree cover estimated in 2021.
  • The forest maps are based on the images purchased from the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), another arm of the government (Dept of Space).


How have these figures arrived?

  • All plots of 1 hectare or more, with at least 10% tree canopy density, are counted within forest cover (irrespective of land use/ownership).
  • All land areas with tree canopy density of 70% or more are considered very dense forests, 40% and more – dense forests and those between 10-40% – open forests.
  • Isolated or small patches of trees (less than 1 hectare) and not counted as forest are assessed for determining tree cover.


Issues with green cover data in India:

  • Green cover data in India disregards the UN benchmark that does not include areas predominantly under agricultural and urban land use in forests.
  • Recorded forest area vs green cover
    • In India, land recorded as forest in revenue records or proclaimed as forest under a forest law is described as a Recorded Forest Area.
    • Divided into Reserved, Protected and Unclassed forests, Recorded Forest Areas account for 58% of India.
  • The inclusion of commercial plantations, orchards, village homesteads, urban housings, etc., as dense forests.
  • The steady replacement of natural forests with plantations is worrisome, as natural forests support a lot more biodiversity and stock a lot more carbon.
  • The outcome of the refinement of satellite images was that the forest cover fell within the forest area while it increased outside.
  • Lack of manpower limits the FSI’s scope for verifying the quality of remotely sensed data in the field.
  • The FSI never made its data freely available for public scrutiny and bars the media from accessing its geo-referenced maps.


Best practice: Brazil maintains an open web platform, TerraBrasilis, for queries, analysis and dissemination of data on deforestation, forest cover change and forest fire.



  • India is one of the few countries to have a scientific system of periodic forest cover assessment that provides valuable inputs for planning, policy formulation and evidence-based decision-making.
  • Making the field data freely available to the public can enable them to volunteer to verify the country’s forest data on the ground.


Insta Links:

State of Forest Report 2021


Prelims Links: (UPSC 2021)

Consider the following statements:

Statement 1: The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Arbor Day Foundation have recently recognized Hyderabad as the 2020 Tree City of the World.

Statement 2: Hyderabad was selected for recognition for a year following its commitment to growing and maintaining urban forests.


Which one of the following is correct in respect of the above statements?

      1. Both Statement 1 and Statement 2 are correct and Statement 2 is the correct explanation for statement 1
      2. Both statement 1 and Statement 2 are correct but Statement 2 is not the correct explanation for Statement 1
      3. Statement 1 is correct But Statement 2 is not correct
      4. Statement 1 is not correct but Statement 2 is correct


Ans: 4