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NGT Demands Central Government Response on 2.33 Million Hectares of Tree Cover Loss

NGT sights reports from Global Forest Watch stating over 60% of India’s Tree Cover Loss Concentrated in Northeast States. 

Tree Cover Loss Overview

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has called for responses from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Survey of India (SoI), and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) following a report revealing that India has lost 2.33 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to 6%, since 2000. This action was initiated suo motu based on an Indian Express article titled “India lost 2.33 million hectares of tree cover since 2000: Global Forest Watch.”

Key Findings from Global Forest Watch

Chairperson Justice Prakash Shrivastava, judicial member Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi, and expert member Dr. A Senthil Vel noted the report, which cited data from Global Forest Watch (GFW). GFW uses satellite data and other sources to monitor forest changes in near real-time.

Primary Forest and Carbon Sink Data

Between 2002 and 2023, India lost 414,000 hectares of humid primary forest, accounting for 18% of the total tree cover loss during this period. The report highlighted that from 2001 to 2022, Indian forests emitted 51 million tons of CO2 equivalent annually while removing 141 million tons, resulting in a net carbon sink of 89.9 million tons per year. Cumulatively, 1.12 gigatons of CO2 equivalent were emitted in this timeframe.

Forests as Carbon Sinks and Sources

Forests serve as both carbon sinks and sources, absorbing carbon dioxide when standing or regrowing, and releasing it when cleared or degraded, which accelerates climate change. Tree cover loss results from both human activities, such as logging, and natural events like fires and storms. Between 2013 and 2023, 95% of tree cover loss in India occurred in natural forests.

Regional Tree Cover Loss

Global Forest Watch data indicates that five states—Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Manipur—accounted for 60% of India’s tree cover loss between 2001 and 2023. Assam experienced the highest loss with 324,000 hectares, followed by Mizoram (312,000 hectares), Arunachal Pradesh (262,000 hectares), Nagaland (259,000 hectares), and Manipur (240,000 hectares).

Deforestation Rates

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, India had a deforestation rate of 668,000 hectares per year from 2015 to 2020, ranking second highest globally.

Legal and Environmental Implications

The NGT identified potential violations of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, and the Environment Protection Act. Consequently, it issued notices to the MoEFCC, SoI, and CPCB, scheduling the matter for further hearing on August 28.

Survey of India Directive

Additionally, the SoI Director has been instructed to submit a detailed report on the status of forest cover in India, with a focus on the Northeast, from the year 2000 onwards, in five-year intervals, up to March 2024.

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