"It shall be the duty of every citizen (g) to protect the forests and improve the natural environment, forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures."
Article 51A, Indian Constitution.
The environment of India is a mosaic of climatic and soil conditions and a variety of habitats. India has a total land area of 329 million hectares which comprises the snow covered Leh to the tropical Kanyakumari, from deserts of Rajasthan to the wet evergreen forests of North-East. The country has a coastline of 7516-km and two island systems, with rivers flowing over contrasting landforms like mountain ranges, plateaus and wetlands. The immense diversity of the Indian environment poses a great challenge to the task of environment management in the country.
The need to protect the environment was emphasized way back in the Fourth. Five Year Plan (1968-73). The Plan document recognises "the interdependence of living things and their relationship with land, air and water". Since then the environmental dimension has been added to the entire process of national development. The development plans of all sectors are consistent with the concept of "Sustainable Development". The objective of all developmental programs is to achieve environmental harmony, economic efficiency, and equity with social justice, conservation of resources and local self-reliance.
The process of development facilitated by industrialisation and agricultural expansion has led to economic growth but it has also increased the pressure on natural resources and resulted in pollution of air, water and land. The government of India has over the years implemented a series of measures to protect the environment. In 1972, a committee on Human Environment was created. The Central Department of Environment was set up in 1980, which was converted into Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1985. The Ministry is the nodal agency, which formulates environmental policies, and legislation's and implements the various programs for environment management. The Ministry has been provided with a plan outlay of Rs.850 crore in the year 2000-2001 as against an approved outlay of Rs.700 crore in the previous year.
Forests are renewable natural resources, which play a significant role in the maintenance of ecological balance. Forests are an important source of timber, fuel wood and minor forest products like cane, resins, lac and honey, which are of economic value to the tribals. The forest also serves as repositories of the wild strains of the cultivable crops and medicinal plants. The total forest cover of the country is 63.34 mha, i.e. 19.27% of the geographic area of the country. The break up of the forest cover in the country is given in Fig. 1.
The entire program of forest conservation has been revamped by the National Forest Policy, 1988. Based on this policy a National Forestry Action Plan has been formulated for sustainable development of the forests in the country in the next 20 years and to achieve the national goal of 33 per cent of geographic area of the country under the forest and tree cover. This target is to be achieved by the integration of tribal knowledge and modern foresty management practices. The participatory approach to forest management by the constitution of Joint Forest Management committees comprising of local people and officials has enabled the government to achieve the twin objective of forest conservation and economic development of the local people. The National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board has specific programs which promote afforestation, tree-planting and Eco-development activities for the regeneration of degraded forestlands. The enforcement of the Forest (Conservation) Act has resulted in a significant six-fold decrease in the diversion of forest land after 1980.
WETLANDS, MANGROVES AND CORAL REEFS
India has a wealth of wetland ecosystems directly or indirectly linked with the river systems like the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Narmada, etc. The wetlands exhibit great ecological diversity and are of great economic, aesthetic and scientific importance. They support fishes, birds and other wild life. They play an important role in flood control, treatment of waste-water, reduction of sediment loads and pollution treatment. A national committee on Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs has identified 22 wetlands for conservation and management. Six Indian wetlands have been designated as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In February 2000, 10 new wetlands with a covered area of 1.1. million hectare have been identified which are to be designated as Ramsar sites in consultation with the concerned state governments.
Mangroves are salt tolerant forest ecosystems, which stabilize the shoreline and act as bulwark against sea erosion. Mangroves occur all along the Indian coastline comprising a total area of 6740 sq. kms, which is nearly seven percent of the world's mangrove areas. Sunderbans in West Bengal is the world's largest mangrove. Fifteen mangrove areas have been identified for conservation and management practices. The occurrence of super cyclone in Orissa in October 1999 re-emphasised the need to conserve and protect mangroves ecosystems. The five coastal states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have been identified as cyclone prone states and mangrove conservation programmes are being strengthened in these states. India has four Coral Reef areas located in Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kutch, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A conservation and management action plan for these reefs has been approved and financial assistance is extended to the concerned States/UTs for its implementation.
India comprises 2% of the world's landmass but is home to 7% of the flora and 6.5% of the fauna of the world. India is one of the 12 mega-diversity centers of biological diversity. India can be divided into 20 biogeographic zones and 25 biotic provinces, which represent all the major ecosystems of the world. Surveys conducted by the Botanical Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India have revealed that there are 47,000 species of plants and 81,000 species of animals in the country.
India can be divided into eight floristic regions, which include Western Himalayas, Eastern Himalayas, Assam, Indus plain, Deccan, Malabar and Andamans. An estimated 33% of the Indian flora are endemic. The breakup of the floral composition of India is given inFig.2
The fauna of India is equally rich and diverse as its flora. Of the 81,000 species of animals recorded 372 are mammals, 1228 are birds, 428 reptiles, 204 amphibians, 2546 fishes, 57,245 insects, 5,042 mollusces and several other species of invertebrates.
The biodiversity of India is threatened due to factors like habitat destruction, illegal poaching and over-exploitation of natural resources. The biodiversity conservation plan of India is based on biographic project, commissioned in 1984 .The objective of the conservation programme is to establish a "representative network of protected areas" in the different biogeographic zones covering the entire range of biological diversity. India has a protected area network 1.53 lac sq. mts. comprising 86 national parks and 480 wild life sanctuaries. Besides India has set up 12 biosphere reserves to protect representative ecosystems and to serve as laboratories to evolve alternate models of development, in tune with the Man and Biosphere programme of UNESCO. The government has recently introduced the Biological Diversity Bill, 2000 in the Lok Sabha to provide for conservation of biodivesity and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources. A National Policy and Action Strategy of Biological Diversity has been drawn up as a macro-level statement of strategies, gaps and further actions needed for conservation, sustainable use and strategies and realisation of actual and potential value of biological diversity.
This project was launched in 1972 to save the Tiger from the brink of extinction. The tiger is at the apex of the ecological pyramid. Thus the well being of the tiger is synonymous with the health of the ecosystem. At present, there are 27 tiger reserves in the country covering an area of 35,000 sq.kms. This project has helped to increase the number of tigers from 2,000 in 1973 to 3,800 today. This achievement has been possible due to the enforcement of strict anti-poaching measures and scientific conservation practices.
The government has launched this project in 1991-92 with the objective of saving the Asiatic elephant. The project covers the major elephant populations extending over 12 states and inhabiting an area over 60,000 sq. kms. The project is being implemented with the collaboration of the state governments with the aim to provide corridors of protected areas for the free movement of elephant herds. This measure would help in the preservation of the gene pool and also minimise the man-elephant conflict.
Besides this in-situ conservation measures, India has a comprehensive ex-situ conservation programme. There are 33 Botanical Gardens, 275 zoos, deer parks, safari parks, acquaria etc. A Central Zoo Authority was set up to secure better management of zoos. The zoos help in creating awareness among the people and also serve as captive breeding centres to replenish the wild stock. Germ plasm banks have been set up, which help in the preservation of the genetic diversity of the Flora and Fauna of India. These repositories conserve about 260 strains of marine cyanobacteria, 650 blue green algae, 10,000 industrial micro-organisms and 800 in-vitro conserved crop accessions. A strong institutional infrastructure to cater to the needs of India's conservation programs has been set up. A number of premier bodies like Zoological Survey of India, Botanical Survey of India and institutes like Wild Life Institute of India, Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education, Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Salim Ali School of Ornithology are engaged in wild life education and research.
The task of pollution control in India is complex due to the large number of heavy, large and small-scale industries involved. Further the rise in the number of vehicles coupled with poverty and the large population puts tremendous pollution pressure on air, water and land. A comprehensive approach to pollution control is being undertaken based on the following principles:
The government aims to achieve these objectives with the use of a judicious mix of instruments in the form of legislation, fiscal incentives, voluntary agreements, educational programmes and information campaigns. The Central and State pollution control Boards are entrusted with the task of enforcing measures for pollution control. Environmental Impact Assessment has been made statutory for 30 categories of developmental projects under various sectors like industrial mining, irrigation, power, transport and others.
Noise pollution has become a major problem in the metropolitan cities and in other urban areas. With a view to regulate and control noise producing and generating sources, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has notified the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, for prevention and control of noise pollution in the country. The Notification seeks to control noise in public places from various sources such as industrial activity, construction activity, generator sets, loud speakers, public address systems, music systems, vehicular horns and other mechanical devices in order to avoid any adverse affects on human health including physical and psychological impacts.
The sources of Air Pollution are industries like thermal power plants, sugar mills, distilleries, paper mills etc. Vehicular emissions are another source of air pollution. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has classified the industries as red, orange and green depending on the degree of pollution caused by them. It further specifies the various pollution control measures to be adopted by these industries. The important measures taken by the government to control air pollution are:
The rivers of India are part of its cultural heritage. Over the years, the quality of the water has deteriorated due to the uncontrolled release of effluents by industries into the rivers. A pioneering effort to control the pollution of Indian rivers was launched in 1985 by implementing the Ganga Action Plan Phase I (GAP), which has come to an end in March 2000. The schemes implemented under the Plan are interception, river front development and provision of low-cost sanitation etc. The pollution caused by industries was regulated by enforcement of existing acts and regulations. In the first phase of GAP, only about 35 per cent of the pollution generated in towns along the Ganga has been tackled.
The success of the GAP has led to the extension of this programme to the other polluted rivers of the countries in two steps, namely the GAP Phase II, covering rivers Yamuna, Gomati, Damodar and the main stem of Ganga. Yamuna Action Plan has already been launched and is likely to be completed by the end of Tenth Plan. A National River Conservation Plan (NRCP), which includes second phase of GAP also, has been formulated which aims to control the pollution of grossly polluted rivers of the country. A National River Conservation Authority has been setup to review the implementation of the programmes related to cleaning of rivers. The NRCP covers 141 towns located along 22 interstate rivers in 14 states. The total cost of the scheme is Rs.2013 crores. A National Lake Conservation Plan envisaging the conservation of lakes by prevention of pollution by catchment area treatment, desilting, weed control, based on the integrated water shed development approach, is under implementation.
The government of India has formulated comprehensive legislations to enable the institutions like pollution control boards to effectively protect the environment. A list of laws is given below:
INDIAN ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATIONS
People' s Participation in Environmental Protection
The success of India's environmental programmes depends greatly on the awareness and consciousness of the people. A National Environmental Awareness Campaign has been launched to sensitise the people to the environmental problems through audio-visual programmes, seminars, symposia, training programmes etc. Paryavaran Vahinis have been constituted in 184 districts involving the local people to play an active role in preventing poaching, deforestation and environmental pollution. 4000 NGOs have been given financial assistance for creating environmental awareness. An Environmental Information System (ENVIS) network has been setup to disseminate information on environmental issues. India has a large network of NGO's which are involved in spreading the message of sustainable development to the grass roots. The website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (http://envfor.nic.in) provides latest information about the new policy initiatives, legislations and projects given environmental clearance.
India and the Global Environmental Initiatives
India has played a significant role in the global environmental campaign. It has participated actively in the various environmental conferences and programmes launched since the UNEP conference held in Stockholm in 1972. India is a signatory to various conventions and agreements like the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), Vienna Convention for the protection of Ozone Layer, Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete Ozone Layer, Conventions on Biodiversity and Climate Change and the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Substances etc. India hosted the first Global Environmental Facility Assembly in the month of April 1998."Nature has for every man's need, but for no ones greed."