New Delhi: What constitutes a forest in India? There is no answer for this simple and plain question even 62 years after independence if one goes by a RTI reply from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The reason cited by the ministry in its reply is that "definition" of forests is under active consideration and it is yet to be "finalised".
"Definition of forests is under active consideration and yet to be finalised. However regarding definition of Forest, we may like to refer to the judgement of Honourable
Supreme Court dated December 12, 1996 in the case of TN Godavarman versus Union of India and others in Writ Petition civil No. 202/1995," an official of the Forest Policy Division with the ministry said.
Ajay Marathe, a resident of Mumbai, had filed an Right To Information (RTI) application asking for state-wise and area-wise comparison statement showing increase in forest area
and the forest cover in the last decade.
Marathe said, "Its surprising that in the report on `Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation` updated on 30 March 2011 they talk in length and breadth on how 3 million hectares of forest cover have been added over the last decade.
"This too when we get to read news reports of encroachment on forest area by builders, chopping off trees in other places leading to forest being completely erased in many
states. This is why I asked them to provide what was the definition of forests for preparing the report."
Marathe also said he sought a definition of the quality of forests.
"The report speaks of shifting focus from increasing the quantity of forest towards increasing its quality and improving provision of ecosystem goods and services. That is why I have asked them to define quality of forest and how it is measured."