Uttar Pradesh, with a geographical area of 2,40,928 km2 constitutes 7.3% of the total area of the country. It has 70 districts falling in two of the fourteen main physiographic zones of India viz the Northern Plains or the vast Gangetic Plains having highly fertile alluvial soil including 64 districts and the Central Highlands or the smaller Southern hill plateau covering 10 districts. Agra Allahabad, Chandauli and Mirzapur fall partly in both zones. The main forest types in the state are Tropical Semi Evergreen (0.21%), Tropical Moist Deciduous (19.68%), Tropical Dry Deciduous (50.66%), Tropical Thorn (4.61%) and Littoral and Swamp forests (2.35%).
The recorded forest area in undivided U.P. in 1951 was 30,245 sq. km. Additional areas were notified gradually and by 1998-99 the forest cover went up to 51,428 sq. km. In 1999 Uttaranchal was separated from U.P. and Uttar Pradesh was left with only 16,888 sq.km. of recorded forest. The 2011 State of Forest Report reports the recorded forest area as 16,583 sq.km, a decline of 305 sq.km. of recorded forest area. In the case of Uttarakhand while it was left with 34,540 sq.km. after 1999 the recorded forest area in 2011 has gone upto 34,651 sq.km. – an increase of 111 sq.km. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the decline in forest cover has been attributed to diversion of forest land for non forest purposes in view of the increasing demands for roads, irrigation, power, drinking water, mining products etc. In addition to this huge chunks of forest lands have been encroached upon and diverted illegally to non-forest uses. The forest department, it is believed is actively involved in getting the encroachments vacated.
Based on the interpretation of satellite data collected from October 2008 to January 2009, the forest cover in U.P. has been estimated as 14,338 km2, with 1,626 km2 very dense, 4,559 km2 moderately dense and 8,153 km2 open forest.
An analysis of the trend of forest cover as presented by the respective State of Forest Reports for 2003,2005,2009 and 2011 indicates that the forest cover has been constantly improving for U.P. (14,118 km2 in 2003 to 14,338km2 in 2011) and although much below the policy guidelines or the actual National figures growing from 5.86% of the States Geographical area to 5.95%. The area under very dense forests has also increased (1,297 km2 in 2005 to 1,626 km2 in 2009 and 2011) while the area under moderately dense forest has registered a decline. The tree cover has come down from 7,715 km2 in 2003 to 7,382 km2 in 2011.
In terms of district wise forest cover, while the State of Forest Report for 2003 mentioned 10 districts with a forest cover less than 1%, the 2011 report indicated 11 districts. The new entrant here is Ghazipur which has shown a declining trend in forest cover from 2003 to 2011 (1.39% to 0.92%). Two of the districts Ballia and Moradabad are still below 1% but have shown an improvement over 2003, Azamgarh, Deoria, Mainpuri have exhibited a decline while Badaun, SantKabir Nagar, Sant Ravi Das Nagar and Varanasi have not reported any change.
A majority of the districts in the State (32) were included in the 1 to 3% class in the 2003 report. The 2011 report has witnessed a decrease. 30 districts exhibit this range, 13 of these show a decline from the 2003 status, 11 an improvement and the rest no change.
Bulandshahar (3.99%), Hamirpur (4.16%),Jyotibaphule Nagar (3.65%), Jhansi (4.02%), Mathura (3.26%), Oraiya (3.42%), Rampur (3.04%). Sitapur (3.76%) and Sultanpur (3.94%) were included in the 3 to 5% class. Of these Bulandshahar, Hamirpur, Jhansi, Sitapur have registered a decline in forest cover, Jyotibaphule Nagar, Mathura, Rampur and Sultanpur have increased their forest covers and Oraiya has not demonstrated any change from 2003.
The 5 to 10% class was reported for Agra (6.78%), Bijnore (9.27%), Etawah (8.01%), Jalaun (5.41%) and Unnao (5.07%). Agra, Etawah and Unnao have improved their tree cover through 2011, Bijnore, Jalaun have registered a decline. Bahraich (12.37%), Lalitpur (11.35%), Lucknow (11.79%) and Saharanpur (10.06%) were included in the 10 to 15% class. Lucknow and Saharanpur have registered an improvement, Bahraich, Lalitpur have registered a decline.
Six districts had a forest cover between 15 to 20% as per the State of Forest Report of 2003. Balrampur with 15.89% in 2003 has shown an increase to 17.75% in the report of 2011, Chitrakoot with 17.92% in 2003 has also been able to add to its forest cover as in the report of 2011, Mahrajganj (15.62%) does not report any change over the years, Mirzapur (17.30%) increases to 19.16% in 2011,Kheri (17.11%) registers a constant, Pilibhit 19.92% is almost constant at 19.92% but has registered a decline over 2009.
Only Chandauli (20.36%) and Sonbhadra (36.37%) were beyond 20%. Sonbhadra is almost constant while Chandauli has registered an increase to 22.17%.
At the state level a reduction in the total forest cover in terms of percentage has been observed from2003 to 2011. Some districts exhibit a constant data over all the 04 reports reasons for which may have to be spelt out.
The gap between the Recorded Forest Area and the actual forest cover may also need to be bridged. In 2011 the Recorded Forest Area was 16,583 km2 and the forest cover 14,338 km2. Forest cover estimations are done by including plots larger than 1 hectare for the survey.The forestry programmes in U.P. are focussed on activities related to increasing the forest cover and productivity and protecting the existing forests assisted by adoption of modern technologies, peoples participation, encouraging industrial and pulpwood plantation, focusing on plantation in reserved forest, open and degraded forests and non cultivable forest trades.
A centrally sponsored scheme of grants-in-aid for greening India is being implemented by the forest department with the co-operation of N.G.O.’s whose projects are sanctioned by the National Afforestation Eco-development Board (NAEB), GOI. The state forest department has also taken up the task of establishing nurseries to grow quality planting material owned by the Department, Schools, Farmers and other private agencies. A plan scheme is being implemented to promote urban forestry by the forest department in the State.
The State Environment Department has prescribed minimum standards for green belts in case of industries and industrial areas. Directions have been issued under section – 18 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and section – 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 that new industrial units with an investment of more than Rs. 5 crores will have to plant trees in atleast 33% of their total area. Units with an investment of less than Rs. 5 Crores will have to ensure that 20% area is planted with trees.
In case of existing industries, 33% of the existing open spaces has to be planted with trees while for industrial areas, road side plantation will be done 3 to 4 metres on both sides of industrial area roads in addition to plantation in 30% of the total developed area. NOC’s from the Pollution Control Board have to impose these requirements. The State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority is also stipulating conditions for green belts for industrial projects as above and for non-industrial development works in accordance to local byelaws for plantation.
The paucity of forest cover has obvious adverse impacts on forest resources, on the soil and water resources and on the functioning of the biogeochemical cycles. The ability to sequester carbon is also adversely effected leading to increased greenhouse gases The National Forest Policy prescribes that the National Goal should be to have a minimum of one third of the total land area of the country under forest cover. In the hills and in mountain regions the aim should be to maintain 2/3 of the area under forest cover. U.P. is at 9.01% (Forest + Tree Cover) as of 2011 against the National cover of 23.81% (Forest + Tree).