A green start
With the release of the biennial State of Forest Report (SFR), it comes to be known that there has been an overall gain of 3,976 sq km of forests in India since 2017. But reading between the lines of the report, there is also a loss of 2,145 sq km of dense forests that have turned into non-forests in those two years. On paper, much of the destruction of quality natural forests was compensated by plantations with a total of 10,227 sq km of non-forests becoming dense forests in successive two-year windows since 2003. This loss primarily comes about with the conversion of 1,858 sq km of non-forest areas to dense forests since 2017; Dense forests are defined by canopy cover: over 70 per cent is considered very dense and 40-70 per cent medium dense. As against the growth of natural forests, commercial plantations grow rapidly and appear as dense cover in satellite images. Although the green cover may be restored, the quality of that remains the question as a monoculture cannot substitute natural forests in biodiversity or ecological services. Moreover, with such a lopsided approach that is not very mindfully been encouraged, the long-term impacts of such a method of progression could be rather perilous. The fast-growing species such as bamboo in the north-eastern and rubber and coconut plantations in the southern states mark a region green on paper but eventually it is a compromise on the quality of natural diversity, and to some extent, even resources. Well-known ecologist Dr Madhav Gadgil said that "It is not possible to reconcile such matrix unless the FSI shares the spatial data. With so much advancement in science, the government should make its grid data public for open scrutiny and value addition." The fact remains that instead of focusing only on data, taking into account the qualitative aspects of the resource will help present a more holistic picture and status of the forest environment.