India's forest cover not declining: Govt

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New Delhi, Mar 20 (UNI) The Government today denied that India's forest cover had depleted in the recent years and said programmes are being launched to protect the existing forests.

Replying to supplementaries in the Rajya Sabha during the Question Hour, Minister of State for Environment and Forests S Reghupathy said at present the total forest cover in the country is 23.39 per cent as per the 2005 report of the Forest Survey of India.

''The report, conducted on biennial basis, has established that the forest cover more or less has stabilised,'' he added in reply to the question raised by BJP member Gyan Prakash Pilania.

The Minister said the forest cover of the country has increased by 23,918 sq km between 2001 and 2003 assessment and decreased marginally by 728 sq km between 2003 amd 2005.

''In the 2003 report, the cover was put at 677,816 sq km and in 2005 it was put at 677,088 sq km, with Nagaland reporting the maximum decline,'' he said.

For protection of the existing forests, Mr Raghupathy said the Government had launched a centrally sponsored scheme ''Integrated Forest Protection Scheme (IFPS) from the 10th Five Year Plan.

''During the 10th five year plan, Rs 204.57 crore was released to states and Union Territories. This scheme is being continued during the 11th plan... In the first year of the 11th plan -- 2007-08 -- Rs 66.98 crore was released on March 17,'' he informed the House.

The Minister said the financial assistance is made available on sharing basis for fire control and management, strengthening of infrastructure, preparation of working plans and other protection related measures.

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