The India State of Forests Report (ISFR) 2021, released on January 13 with much hype by Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, has been withdrawn apparently after several mistakes were pointed out in a map and methods of interpretations.
The report claimed that the country’s forest cover has gone up by 2,261 sq km since 2019. Of this, 721 sq. km growth was reported in forest land. It also claimed that the north-eastern states have seen a considerable decrease in its forest cover.
An authority in geo-analytics pointed out several shortcomings in the biennial report, prepared by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), which could have prompted the withdrawal of the report.
Raj Bhagat Palanichamy, senior program manager, Geo Analytics for Sustainable Cities and Transport, World Resources Institute, said the map of India in Chapter 13 of the report does not mention Shaksgam Valley (part of Pak occupied Kashmir) in India. “It is illegal to publish such a faulty map,” he told The Federal. Palanichamy said the FSI could have withdrawn the report mainly because of this mistake.
Referring to some city maps of forests, Palanichamy said the file for Mumbai is riddled with gaps between subdivisions. “There are white patches in between because someone did not digitize it properly and these errors crept into statistics,” he added.
“For the first time, the FSI had used city level maps for six major cities. The boundaries used for cities were municipal corporation limits, but for Bengaluru the FSI used planning area boundary. Be it known that Bangalore Development Authority has a larger area than Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike and covers some forest patches as well,” he said.
Besides these errors, it looks like the report carried forward the same methodology used in previous reports, which hypes forest reach. “Take Kanniyakumari district for instance. The areas covered by coconut and rubber plantations are labelled as ‘forests’. Also, they have classified Tiruchirappalli as a tribal district. In Census 2011, Trichy had just 0.67 percent tribal population,” added Palanichamy.
The senior program manager, who has been advocating the need for maps produced by the governments to be made accessible for researchers, said the data policies in this regard are “weird”. “The maps cost Rs 2,000 for every 1 degree by 1 degree grid cell. It comes to roughly Rs 7 to Rs 8 lakh for the map of the entire country. And, it comes with a lot of restrictions. Even if one buys the data, it cannot be copied from the CD,” he said.
Anoop Singh, director general, Forest Survey of India (FSI), told The Federal that people are unable to access the report because of a technical glitch in the server. “There is no error in the report. In another couple of hours, we would be able to upload the report and people can access it,” he said.