India and International Year of Biodiversity 2010

By: Staff Reporter
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) to raise awareness about the underlying threats to and the need for biodiversity conservation. As a mega-diverse country and as a Party to the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), India had committed itself to achieving the 2010 Biodiversity Target, adopted by the sixth Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the CBD, to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity.

India’s 2010 target to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity losses has been summarised in relation to eleven goals outlined by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in the following sections.

Goal No. 1

Promote Conservation of Biological Diversity of Ecosystems, Habitats and Biomes

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The varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions of India have resulted in a wide range of ecosystems and habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, coastal and marine ecosystems, and deserts which in turn have contributed to immense biological diversity. With only 2.4 per cent of world’s land area, India accounts for 7 to 8 per cent of the recorded plant and animal species of the world, and is recognised as a megadiverse country.

India has ten biogeographic zones, (Trans Himalayan Zone, Himalayan Zone, Indian Desert Zone, Semi-arid Zone, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plains, Coasts, North-East Zone and Islands) and four global biodiversity hot spots (Eastern Himalaya, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka and Sundaland). The country is endowed with vast forest resources. The total forest and tree cover of the country is estimated as 23.39 per cent of the geographic area, of which forest cover alone accounts for 21.02 per cent covering an area of 69.09 mha. The forests in India have been classified into 16 major types and 251 subtypes on the basis of climatic and edaphic features. India ranks among the top ten species-rich nations and shows high degree of endemism with a large mosaic of 21 distinct agro-ecosystems contributing to diverse cropping systems across the country.

Protected Areas(PAs): Jim Corbett National Park covering an area of 325 km2 came into being as the India’s first and the world’s third National Park in 1936. Today, India has an elaborate network of PAs covering 4.79 per cent of total geographic area of the country. Initially only National Parks (NPs) and Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLSs) were the two types of PAs. Two more categories – Conservation Reserve (ConR) and Community Reserve (ComR) have been added through an amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA) in 2003. As of now, the number of PAs in India is 659 comprising of 99 NPs, 513 WLSs, 43 ConR and 4ComR.

Biosphere Reserves: A ‘Biosphere Reserve Programme’ is being implemented since 1986 to conserve biological diversity and genetic integrity of plants, animals and microorganisms in their totality as a part of the natural ecosystem. Fifteen biodiversity rich areas of the country covering an area of approximately 74,000 km2 have been designated as Biosphere Reserves (BRs) applying the UNESCO/MAB criteria. Four BRs viz. Nilgiri, Nanda Devi, Sunderban and Gulf of Mannar have been recognised by UNESCO under World Network of BRs and four more BRs are under consideration. Also, fourteen more potential sites have been identified for designating as BRs.

Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs: Specific programmes have been launched for scientific management of fragile ecosystems such as wetlands, mangroves and coral reef ecosystems. Wetlands, important for regulating water cycle and playing critical role in maintaining the health of rivers, estuaries and coastal waters, are estimated to cover about 58.2 mha of the country. A National Wetland Conservation Programme is under implementation since 1987 in which 115 wetlands have been identified covering 25 states and 1 union territory. Internationally significant wetlands are declared as Ramsar sites under the Ramsar Convention. Presently, 25 Indian wetlands have been designated as Ramsar sites in India and six new sites are under consideration for designation. A project on ‘National Wetland Information System and Updation of Wetland Inventory’ is under implementation which includes biodiversity mapping. Mangroves in India account for about 5 per cent of the world’s mangrove areas and are spread over an area of 4,445 km2 along the coastal states/UTs of the country. West Bengal has the maximum extent of mangroves in the country, followed by Gujarat and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Sunderban delta is the largest mangrove forests in the world. Mangroves are protected by regulatory measures such as Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991. India is also partner in ‘Mangroves for Future’ a strategy for promoting investment in Coastal Ecosystem Conservation being coordinated by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) covering six tsunami affected countries. Coral Reefs in India occupy an extent of about 2375 km2. The major coral reef ecosystems are Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kachchh, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakswadeep islands. The Andaman islands have around 80 per cent of the global coral diversity. Assistance is being provided for intensive conservation and management of coral reefs in all the 4 areas.

Lake Conservation: The MoEF has been implementing the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) since 2001 for conservation of polluted and degraded urban/semi-urban lakes, leading to lake rejuvenation in terms of improvement in water quality and biodiversity. The key features of the plan are to prevent pollution from point source; in situ measures of lake cleaning; catchment area treatment and lake front eco-development. 42 lakes in 12 states have been covered under the plan so far.

River Conservation: A National River Conservation Plan (NRCP), launched by the MoEF in 1993, is under implementation in 160 towns along the polluted stretches of 34 rivers spread over 20 states, the major rivers being Ganga, Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar, Satluj, Krishna, Cauvery and Godavari. The objective of the NRCP is to check pollution in rivers through implementation of various pollution abatement activities.

Community Conserved Area(CCA) and Sacred Groves: Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity have been an integral part of Indian ethos. It is amply reflected in our ancient religious scriptures. The vast array of CCAs, encompassing diverse ecosystems, is testimony to their traditions. Many of these local efforts at conservation, regeneration and management have continued for generations and many other are emerging in newer circumstances. In the past few decades, much work has been done towards documenting traditional systems and knowledge related to CCAs and providing support for the same. A directory on ‘Community Conserved Areas in India’ has been recently brought out.


Goal No. 2

Promote Conservation of Species Diversity

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Several species specific projects are being implemented for flagship animal species such as tiger, elephant, rhinoceros, gharial, hangul and snow leopard, birds such as vulture, great Indian bustard, and plants such as orchids, rhododendron and citrus. In addition, an All India Coordinated Project on Taxonomy is under implementation to build capacity in taxonomy, especially for lesser studied groups of plants and animals.

Species Specific Programmes: Tiger, one of the most endangered large predators in the world, has been facing major population losses primarily due to the loss of habitat and demand for body parts in the illegal international market. The Project Tiger was launched by the Government of India in April, 1973. At present there are 38 tiger reserves extending in an area of 38,620 km2, which is 1.17 per cent of the total geographic area of the country. Also approval for declaring eight new Tiger Reserves has been accorded. However, the sudden disappearance of tigers in 2005 from the Sariska Tiger Reserve necessitated measures for improvement and a scientific methodology for estimating the population of tigers (including copredators, prey animals and assessment of habitat status) has been evolved and mainstreamed. Around 31,111 km2 of critical/core tiger habitats have been identified in 17 states. Tiger estimation report released in February 2008, enumerates the current tiger population range between a minimum of 1,165 to a maximum of 1,657. The results include figures from 16 tiger states and are exclusive of Jharkhand and Sunderban.

Project Elephant was launched in 1992. Today 26 Elephant Reserves (ERs), extending over about 60,000 km2 have been formally notified. Consent for establishment of 6 more ERs has also been accorded. Gharial was at the brink of extinction in the 1970s. Today the gharial conservation programme is considered as one of the most successful. India has 9 PAs linked to both captive breeding and ‘ranching’ operations where eggs collected from the wild are raised in captivity and then released back into the wild. The wild population in India is estimated at around 1,500 animals. The Indian Rhinoceros became a globally endangered species in the 19th century. A great success story of conservation, today, about 3,000 Indian rhinos live in the wild, 1,800 of which are found in Assam alone. Hangul or Kashmir stag is a critically endangered species found mainly in the Dachigam National Park and its adjoining areas. A Species Recovery Plan was prepared in 2009 for a period of 5 years for its conservation. Out of nine species of vultures found in India, the population of three species i.e. white backed, slender billed and long billed vulture has declined drastically over the past decade which is largely attributed to the use of diclofenac, a veterinary drug used to treat domestic livestock. The Great Indian Bustard, the most endangered member of the bustard family in the world, is found in the grass and desert plains of west Rajasthan and Gujarat. The total population in wild may not exceed even 700. The Indian Sarus Crane, one of the five species of cranes occurring in India, is under severe threat due to its peculiar preference for water-logged agriculture fields and open areas around human habitations. The Himalayas in northern India are home to about 200 to 600 snow leopards, a highly endangered species. Orchids exhibit an incredible range of diversity in size, shape and colour of their flowers and fetch a very high price in the international market. The Sessa Orchid Sanctuary has been established in Arunachal Pradesh for its conservation in the wild. Rhododendrons found at upper temperate locations, have a characteristic slow growth rate and sizable horticultural value. Out of over 90 rhododendron species reported from the Eastern Himalaya, 43 are considered to be of conservation concern. National Citrus Gene Sanctuary for in situ conservation of citrus, in the West Garo Hills District, Meghalaya, spread over an area of over 47 km2, has been established with the aim to protect the mother germplasm
of Citrus indica.


Goal No. 3

Promote Conservation of Genetic Diversity Gene Banks

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Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has set up four national Bureaus for the ex situ conservation of plants, animals, economically important fish and microorganisms.

  • National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) leads activities concerning collection, introduction, exchange, evaluation, documentation, conservation and sustainable management of diverse germplasms of crop plants and their wild relatives. The NBPGR network has 10 regional stations and holds more than 2,50,000 accessions of seeds for various crop plants and wild species.
  • National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) was established in an effort to conserve livestock genetic resources. Various bull mother farms and frozen semen banks are interlinked for ex situ conservation of semen of indigenous breeds for posterity.
  • National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (NBFGR) has documented over 2,200 fin fish species of India.
  • National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Microorganisms (NBAIM) with a repository has 2,517 cultures, promotes mainstreaming of microbial biodiversity by undertaking projects on molecular and germplasm collection and characterisation of antagonistic microorganisms of soil borne fungal pathogens.


Goal No. 4

Promote Sustainable Use and Consumption

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Sustainable use of biological diversity is emphasised through various legislative measures and policy statements of the Government.

Legislative Measures: The Environment (Protection) Act, (EPA) 1986, is an umbrella Act which enables the central government to promulgate notifications and notify rules for protecting and improving the quality of environment. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 1991 and the notification pertaining to ecologically sensitive areas have been issued to regulate development activities. The Biological Diversity Act (BOA), 2002 primarily aims at conservation of biological diversity and their sustainable use. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 entitles a rural household for 100 days of work in a financial year. Many of the works permissible relate to forestry activities, like afforestation, tree plantation, water conservation and water harvesting, etc. Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, enacted in 2006, is a tool to provide occupational and habitational rights to the people.

Joint Forest Management: Began in the 1980s as scattered initiatives by some forest officials, that transformed into a national programme in 1990, Joint Forest Management (JFM) is an ambitious attempt by the Government at regenerating and sustainably using forests. Though the initial thrust of JFM was towards timber production, both communities and forest officials are realising that sharing of forest produce other than timber is far more sustainable and beneficial.

Goal No. 5

Pressure from Habitat Loss, Degradation Reduced

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In order to harmonise development efforts with conservation, initiatives have been taken towards minimising adverse impacts of developmental activities as well as restoration of degraded areas.

EIA: The system of environmental clearances was introduced as an administrative measure in 1978-79, initially for river valley projects and extended later to industrial projects. EIA has been made mandatory for 32 categories of developmental projects in the sector of industry, thermal power, mining, river valley projects, infrastructure and nuclear power by the EIA Notification issued in 1994 under the EPA, 1986.

CRZ Notification, 1991: The Notification declares the coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and back waters which are influenced by tidal action, up to 500 m from the high tide line (on the landward side) and intertidal zone as the CRZ

Ecologically Sensitive Areas/Zones: These areas/zones are notified under the EPA, 1986 with the objective of imposing restrictions on industries, and other developmental activities in the region which have detrimental effects on environment, to provide for restoration of denuded areas, management of catchment areas and, watershed, etc., for planned development. It is also intended to ensure sustainable livelihoods for local communities and other stakeholders. Seven such ecologically sensitive areas have so far been notified. These are Murud Janjira area in Raigarh District, Maharashtra; Doon Valley, Uttarakhand; Dahanu Taluka, District Thane, Maharashtra; Aravali Range, Gurgaon District, Haryana and Alwar District, Rajasthan; No Development Zone around Numaligarh Refinery Site in Assam; Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Satara District, Maharashtra; and Matheran, Maharashtra.

National Afforestation and Eco-development Board (NAEB): Constituted by the MoEF in 1992, the Board gives special attention to regeneration of degraded forest areas and lands adjoining forest areas, national parks, sanctuaries and other PAs as well as ecologically fragile areas. 743 forest development authorities (FDA) towards this  have been operationalised so far since its launch in the 2000-01.

National Action Programme to Combat Desertification: A 20 year National Action Programme to Combat Desertification has been prepared with the objective of community based approach to development, activities to improve the quality of life of the local communities, drought management preparedness and mitigation, and interventions which are locally suited and strengthening self governance leading to empowerment of local communities.

Greening India Scheme: Increasing forest and tree cover to one third of its geographical area, as envisaged in the National Forest Policy 1988, is essential for economic and ecological security of the country. Achieving this target, however, stipulates fourfold increase in the rate of current annual tree planting mostly on lands outside recorded forest area.

Goal No. 6

Control Threats from Invasive Alien Species

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Among the major threats faced by native plant and animal species (and their habitats), the one posed by the invasive alien species (IAS), is considered second only to habitat loss. Examples include; zebra mussels affecting fisheries, mollusc diversity and electric power generation, water hyacinth blocking waterways, decimating aquatic life and livelihoods of local people, and creating ideal conditions for diseases and its vectors, and deadly new disease organisms such as avian influenza. A multi-agency and multi-programme approach, involving several ministries and agencies, is being followed for regulating introductions and managing IAS. In general, the Ministry of Agriculture deals with cultivated plants, fish and farm stock and has sponsored projects on eradication and management of invasive species. The MoEF deals with all forest and wildlife related invasives. It also supports and coordinates programmes on prevention, eradication/control measures/utilisation of such species in different forest areas and conducts national surveys on their spread, prepares reports on damages caused and undertakes restorative measures.

Damages Caused by IAS in India

  • Alien aquatic weed, water hyacinth (popularly known as ‘blue devil’ is increasingly choking waterways and degrading freshwater ecosystems.
  • Lantana and Parthenium (carrot grass) cause major economic losses in many parts of India.
  • Parthenium has naturalised in most parts of India and is causing allergy and respiratory problems, besides being a noxious weed.
  • Highly invasive climbers i.e. Chromolaena and Mikania species have over run the native vegetation in North East Himalayan region and Western Ghats.
  • Pests and pathogens such as coffee berry borer, turnip stripe virus, banana bunchy top virus, potato wart and golden nematode have invaded agro ecosystems becoming serious menace.
  • Illegally introduced catfishes (like the African magur) and also the big thread carp are known to have adversely affected native fish diversity.
  • Accidental entry of silver carp in Govindsagar Lake and its subsequent dominance over the native catla and mahseer fish created significant damage.
  • Tilapia has similarly been reported to have adverse effects on indigenous species in Vaigai Reservoir in Tamil Nadu.
  • A recent intruder the Thai magur seem to have posed even far greater threats to native fish fauna.

Goal No. 7

Address Challenges to Biodiversity from Climate Change and Pollution

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According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, climate change is likely to become the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss by the end of the century. Climate change is already forcing biodiversity to adapt either through shifting habitat, changing life cycles, or the development of new physical traits. Agriculture and forestry sectors are considered more vulnerable to the projected effects of climate change particularly affecting water availability and temperature regimes.

National Mission on Green India: This Mission aims at enhancing ecosystem services such as carbon sinks. It builds on the Prime Minister’s Green India campaign for afforestation of 6 million ha and the national target of increasing land area under forest and tree cover from 23 to 33 per cent.

Pollution Impacts: Biodiversity in India is facing threats from improper disposal of municipal solid waste, inadequate sewerage, excessive use of chemical pesticides and continuous use of hazardous chemicals. The present legislative framework is broadly contained in the umbrella EPA; the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; the Water Cess Act. 1977; and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Augmentation of pollution abatement is being undertaken through initiatives such as River Action Plans, network programme on pesticide degradation, integrated biotechnological approach for bioremediation, etc. Under various river action plans, pollution abatement works have been undertaken in 14 states covering 30 rivers and 68 towns. Sewage treatment capacity of 869 million litres per day (mld) has been undertaken under Ganga Action Plan and Yamuna Action Plan, respectively. Auto fuel policies are being enunciated to address the issues of vehicular emissions technologies and auto fuel quality.


Goal No. 8

Maintain Capacity of Ecosystems to Deliver Goods and Services and Support Livelihoods

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Programmes such as JFM, already discussed before, not only strengthen conservation of forest areas but also help recharge the groundwater table and control soil erosion. Various programmes including National Afforestation Programme, management of Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs), ecotourism, commercialisation of medicinal plants, sustainable aquaculture practices, etc., focus on participation of communities with the aim to improve their livelihoods. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, provides for occupational and habitational rights to the people. Many of works permissible in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 relate to forest management activities.


Goal No. 9

Protect Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices

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Traditional knowledge refers to innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities. India is rich in traditional knowledge associated with biological resources, which is both coded, as in the texts of Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha; and non coded, which exists in oral undocumented traditions. India is also engaged in the teaching of traditional knowledge since 1950, more than 300 graduate and post graduate colleges have been established and the use of traditional medicines in national health programmes have been legalised. The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is a value added digital database developed by the Government for (i) presentation of traditional knowledge; (ii) prevention of misappropriation by breaking the language and format barriers of traditional knowledge systems; and (iii) promotion of linkages with modern science to initiate research projects for new drug discovery and development.


Goal No. 10

Ensure the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits of the use of Genetic Resources

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India has taken significant legislative measures and integrated these principles in various policies and programmes.

Legislative Measures: India has enacted the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which primarily aims at regulating access to biological resources so as to ensure equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use. The Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPV&FRA), 2001 and the PPV&FR Rules, 2003 deal primarily with the protection of plant breeders’ rights over new varieties developed by them and the entitlement of farmers to register new varieties and also to save, breed, use, exchange, share or sell the plant varieties, which the latter have developed, improved and maintained over many generations.


Goal No. 11

Parties have Improved Financial, Human, Scientific Technical and Technological Capacity to Implement the Conservation

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Multidisciplinary, holistic and integrated institutional mechanisms are in place to address mainstreaming of biodiversity concerns. These include relevant departments in the states such as forest, agriculture, horticulture, irrigation, science and technology, and various specialised national and state level institutions that deal with biodiversity issues.

Financial Outlays: Allocations for biodiversity conservation programmes in various geographic as well as thematic areas are steadily increasing over the years. Bilateral funding channels such as Swedish International Development Agency, Department for International Development, Ford Foundation and several others are used for supporting biodiversity related projects. Funds from Global Environment Facility (GEF) are accessed through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank and other agencies for projects for implementation. Since 1991, India has accessed USD 61,828,403 as GEF grant and leveraged USD 163,365,722 as co-financing for 11 biodiversity related projects.

National Biodiversity Action Plan(NBAP): India within 5 years of ratifying the CBD, had developed a National Policy and Macro Level Action Strategy on Biodiversity in 1999. The NBAP, 2008 has been prepared by updating the above document by using the final technical report of an externally aided and highly participatory National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) project (2000-2004), the National Environment Policy, 2006 and a number of other relevant policies and plans of the country.


End Note                                                                                                

The CBD, one of the key agreements adopted during the historic Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is the first comprehensive global agreement which addresses all aspects relating to biodiversity. The Convention, while reaffirming sovereign rights of nations over their biological resources, establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. India has conformed and worked towards all the goals outlined in the CBD. It is thus with great conviction that India is going to host the eleventh Conference of Parties (COP) to the CBD in October 2012 in New Delhi. This would mark the twentieth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. The hosting of this COP shows not only India’s role as a major megadiverse country, but also its commitment to playing a global leadership role in biodiversity conservation.

Inputs from  Achieving 2010 Biodiversity Target: India’s Contributions, Ministry of Environment and Forests, January 2010

(MoEF 2009-10/5)

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