July 19, 2005

India unlikely to meet 2012 forest cover target

By Kamil Zaheer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is unlikely to meet a target of
increasing forest cover to one-third of its territory by 2012
because some trees will be cut for industrial activity to meet
the needs of economic development.

The environment and forests ministry said in its 2003
forest report released Tuesday that 23.68 percent or 778,229 sq
km (300,373 sq miles) of the nation's area was covered by
forests, which included trees in non-forested areas, up a
marginal 0.65 percent from 2001.

"To reach the 2012 target is a herculean task. We may face
hurdles," Andimuthu Raja, the environment and forests minister,
told a news conference.

"If we do not give some (forest) land to industrial and
mining sectors, we would jeopardise economic growth."

But Raja said that with current afforestation efforts,
India would reach its 2007 target of 25 percent forest cover.

Illegal felling of trees is a huge concern as India's
billion-plus population increases and more people cut trees for
fuel, they say.

The forest ministry said it could not ignore the
development needs of Asia's third-largest economy while
protecting the country's forests, mainly concentrated in
Himalayan regions in the north and northeastern states.

Raja defended the policy of allowing limited mining in
forested areas but added that mining firms had to compensate by
planting twice the number of trees they cut.

The ministry's forest report said while the overall forest
cover increased marginally in 2003, the area under dense
forests -- which have a canopy density of above 40 percent --
was down by 26,245 sq km from 416,089 sq km in 2001 due to

But the area under open forests -- which have less than 40
percent canopy density -- rose 29,040 sq km in 2003 to 287,769
sq km from the 2001 figure.

Environmental groups said that wasn't enough.

"This marginal increase in forest cover needs be scaled up.
A key priority should be restoring degraded forest areas
involving local communities," said Sudipto Chatterjee,
coordinator of the forest program for the World Wide Fund For
Nature-India. ($1 = 43.54 rupees) REUTERS KZ SUG