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‘Up to date forest survey helps in planning and policy making’

AK Wahal, Director General, Forest Survey of India
AK Wahal
Director General, Forest Survey of India

Forest Survey of India used Landsat imagery to prepare the first India State of Forest Report (ISFR) in 1987. Since then FSI has evolved as the premier national organisation for assessing forest resources in India. AK Wahal, Director General of FSI talks about various initiatives taken by the organisation to emerge as the most sought after repository of forest data.

What is the mandate of Forest Survey of India (FSI) and how it has evolved over the years?
Forest Survey of India is the premier national organisation engaged in assessment of forest cover and inventory of forest resources in the country. FSI was started as a UNDP project by the name ‘Pre-Investment Survey of Forest Resources (PISFR)’ in 1965. Since then it has evolved into a full fledged national organisation for assessing the status of forest resources in India.

The organisational mandate of FSI is to prepare a comprehensive State of Forest Report (SFR) including National Vegetation Map (NVM) once every two years. It prepares thematic maps through the use of remote sensing data with minimum essential ground truth verification (most ground-truth verification would be done by the respective state governments) on a ten-year cycle. FSI also collects, stores and retrieves necessary forestry and forestry related data for national and state level planning to create a computer-based National Basic Forestry Inventory System (NBFIS).

The mandate also binds FSI to design methodologies relating to forest surveys and subsequent updating. We also undertake work in regard to preparation of forest inventory in selected States/UTs on agency basis till the establishment of their own resources survey units. FSI also imparts training in modern forest survey techniques to foresters at various levels of responsibilities in the States/UTs/GOI.

Having up-to-date forest resources survey not only helps in providing data, on various parameters related to forestry sector, which helps in planning and policy making at national and sub-national level, but also helps forest managers in their day-to-day work, which involves planning and decision making at various districts/divisional levels.

The new Expenditure Finance Commission (EFC) Memorandum of FSI has been approved by the Ministry of Environment & Forests in the 12th plan. As a result, financial aid to the extent of Rs 160 crores has been approved for the 12th plan period. As per the EFC Memo, FSI would now be designated as nodal agency for monitoring and evaluating all centrally sponsored schemes of Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India.

How is FSI leveraging on geospatial technology in fulfilling its mission and objectives?
FSI has been using geospatial technology since 1985-86. Infact, we used Landsat imagery to prepare the first India State of Forest Report (ISFR) in 1987. Moreover, India is among one of the few countries in the world which is carrying out wall-to-wall mapping of its forest cover and monitoring the same on a biennial basis. All this is possible by utilising state-of-the-art geospatial technology and building capabilities of human resources in the organisation towards achieving these objectives.

FSI initiated digital image processing (DIP) of satellite data in 1999-2000 and the ISFR 2001 was completely based on DIP. We have tried to keep pace with the technological advancements by using the latest satellite data available at different points of time and by upgrading the facilities of hardware/software used in their interpretation.

Our recent initiatives in leveraging geoinformatics are towards establishing ‘National Forestry Information System’ and also developing decision support systems for the Ministry.

Does the restriction on high-resolution imaging affect FSI’s work?
It is not correct to say that quality of remote sensing data in any way affects our forest mapping work. In fact, Indian Remote Sensing data is reckoned as one of the best in its quality and extent. At present, we are using LISS-III data at 23.5 m resolution which is adequate enough to carry out a national exercise of assessment of forest cover or in their land use mapping work. Now that LISS-IV data is also being made available for the country as a whole, we have planned to switch over to the same in near future.

Digitised forest boundaries are no doubt, critical factors in assessing changes taking place within the forest areas under the command of respective State Forest Departments (SFDs). For this, we have already approached the SFDs. Eleven States/UTs have already furnished digitised boundaries of their forest areas. Once the other states have done so, we would be in a position to bring out changes taking place within and outside the forest areas under control of SFDs.

Does FSI as an organisation subscribe to an open data policy? What initiatives has it taken towards this?
Forest data generated by FSI has always been in public domain right from the beginning. Of late, we have also taken initiative to upload our digital data for public viewing. In 2011, our Geoportal was launched. We have also joined hands with NSDI for sharing our data through NSDI portal. With more and more organisations taking initiative under the umbrella body like NSDI or NGIS, it may be possible to bring out domain data on to a common platform for easy accessibility by the user community. As far as open data policy is concerned, FSI shall stand by and abide by the national policy and approaches in that regard.

Initiatives like NSDI, NGIS etc. would automatically bring various data producing organisations on a common platform which will provide easy access to various domain data to all the stake holders and in turn generate spatial literacy in the country.

FSI has taken initiative to join hands with NSDI for data sharing and facilitation through the common platform.

Does FSI face a lack of trained manpower resources?
We have adequately trained human resources. We also try to augment our human resources through contract staff. FSI is also playing a key role in dissemination of knowledge in the field of geomatics. Every year, we train a good number of personnel through our full fledged training wing established at FSI Headquarters in Dehradun. We also send our trainers to the field to train forestry personnel, at ground levels (Foresters, Deputy Ranger officers and Range Forest Officers), in usage of GPS/DGPS.

What is the future of geospatial technology in India?
Future of geospatial technology is very promising in our country. We are already at the forefront of this technology and have to maintain that edge. Technical institutions/universities should also promote skilled based education and research in this arena and come forward in working with national organisations so that we are able to keep pace with the technical advancements in this arena. The private sector/ corporate bodies can also play an important role in hardware/software development and other tools to tap the vast potentials of this technology.