India — The deathly blow of the axe and thuds of trees falling to illegal-chopping in Indian forests reach the corridors of power in Delhi in feeble measures. The sounds will now be heard loud and clear and the count of Indias green heritage will be taken accurately. Indian forests will get a protective birds eye view under ISROs wings, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) under the Modi government the exact imagery of forest and tree cover in the country. MoEF has decided to launch a dedicated forest satellite to keep an eye on the countrys forest cover on a daily basis.
MoEF is in talks with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to work out intricate details for the launch. ISRO will provide the ministry with real time data of forests in the country and the ministry officials will monitor the hotspots, watch illegal chopping of forests and forest fire, and update national forest inventories. The move could bring a massive change in the management and monitoring of forests in India and will also help in expediting green clearances as the projects sometimes get delayed due to the unavailability of accurate forest data. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is taking special interest in the project to follow Prime Minister Narendra Modis directions to all central ministries on increasing the use of satellite technology. The Railway Ministry is already seeking ISROs help for containing accidents on unmanned railway crossing and the Minister of Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation on checking polluting industries along banks of Ganga.
A senior MoEF official who has attended meetings held with ISRO said Currently, we get the data from other agencies. It is analysed by them and there are a lot of discrepancies. FSI data puts the forest cover at 22 percent of the countrys geographical area while the ISRO has different figures. It is very embarrassing that two government agencies have two separate figures for the forest in the country. Having our own satellite means we will get the raw data from ISRO and our experts will analyse forest cover. A dedicated satellite can offer governments, businesses and communities insight into how forests in the region are changing. The official added, The need (for a dedicated forest satellite) was felt as project clearances sometimes get delayed due to unavailability of accurate and up-to-date data related to pristine forest. Several mining projects are also stuck because there is confusion over the density and quality of forest cover. While diverting forest cover for non-forest purposes, project proponents are expected to submit a detailed report of the number of trees chopped. Many times the data was found to be inaccurate. Having real time data will solve the entire problem and help in expediting green clearances.
Though the cost of the satellite will be decided after the ministry finalises the specifications and the sensors it will require, Javadekar has decided to take up the matter with the Department of Space to make it cost-effective. The ministry has given its requirement and specifications to the ISRO and has asked them to provide a detailed report on the cost and resources needed. Senior ministry officials have held several meetings with ISRO to discuss the plan. The Forest Survey of India (FSI) reveals the state of Indian forest in reports once in two years. MoEF has recently started using GIS (geographic information system) to monitor afforestation across the country in lieu of diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes to companies for infrastructure and other projects.