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Wednesday, April 10

Biodiversity Conservation in India

India is home to forests with rich wildlife. However, being the second most populated country in the world, the enormous pressure of the exploding human population of the country is shrinking the forests, wiping off the rich fauna and flora. To conserve the remaining greenery and the rare life forms, India has made efficient in-situ conservation programmes to conserve ecologically important areas by regulating human intervention. These efforts have established a protected area network in the country within this period.

Protected Area Network in India

Forests and Wildlife are included in the concurrent list by the Indian constitution which holds federal states responsible for implementing the policies formulated by the Centre to conserve forests and wildlife. In India, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) formulates the policy framework for forest and wildlife conservation. The board, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, has formulated and adopted National Wildlife Action Plan in 2002, which will extend till 2016.

Sambar deer, Rusa unicolor, Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka wildlife, Indian wildlife
A Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) at Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, India
According to Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), India has 668 protected areas in the country, as of 2010. However, they together constitute just 4.90 percent of the total area of the country. Among these, 102 are National Parks, 515 are Wildlife Sanctuaries, 47 are Conservation Reserves and 4 are Community Reserves.

The terms are indeed confusing and often rake up unnecessary issues  when used by scaremongers.

What is a National Park?
According to Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, a National Park should be an area with enough ecological, geo-morphological and natural significance, obviously, with rich fauna and flora. Central Government enjoys the freedom to declare any specific area in the country a National Park, but often based on the recommendations made the state governments. A National Park is declared to protect, to propagate and to to develop wildlife or its environment. Actually the major difference between a National Park and other protected areas is that the rights of the people living inside the limits of a national Park are often tightly regulated. While grazing by livestock inside a national park is strictly prohibited, removal of forest produce needs recommendation from National Board of Wildlife.

What is a Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS)?
Agasthyamalai, Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala wildlife, kerala forest
One of the peaks of Agasthyamalai ranges as seen from Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala

Though a WLS is again an area with zoological, ecological and geomorphological importance and with rich fauna and flora, it has certain differences with National Parks and other protected areas in India. Despite the fact that it is declared by the Central Government to protect wildlife and to develop natural habitats, the rights of the people living inside the limits of the sanctuary differs very much from other PAs. Comparatively, people living inside the limits of a Wildlife Sanctuary have more rights than their counterparts within a National Park. It is also allowed that the District Collector, in consultation with the Chief Wildlife Warden may decide to allow the continuation of any right during the settlement of claims.

Conservation Reserves in India
Unlike NPs and WLS, a conservation Reserve is declared by state governments. Usually the area will be owned by the government and lies near to Wildlife Sanctuaries or National Parks. These often function as a buffer zone for a protected area or a link which connects two protected areas together. However, an area will be declared as Conservation Reserve only after holding adequate consultations with the local people. (In fact, that happens with the other PAs also.) There are no regulations on the rights of the people living inside a Conservation Reserve.

Community Reserves in India
Again, declared by state government, a Community Reserve can even be privately or community owned land declared so when an individual or community volunteers to conserve the area and its natural fauna and flora. Apart from protecting the natural habitat and environment, Community Reserves may also protect cultural values and practices related to the area. There are no regulations on the rights of the people living inside a Community Reserve. Till date, there are only four community reserves in the country - Kokkare Bellur Community Reserve in Karnataka, Kadalundi- Vallikkunnu Community Reserve in Kerala (both are for conserving birds), Lalwan Community Reserve and Keshopur-chhamb Community Reserves in Punjab also.

Biosphere Reserves (BRs)
Biosphere Reserves are another term which often pops up when it comes to biodiversity conservation in India. However, unlike NPs, WLS and Community or Conservation Reserves, BRs are larger in their areas, and are not formed according to the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

According to MoEF, BRs are “areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which are internationally recognized within the framework of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme of the UNESCO.” Thus, Biosphere Reserves may have one more national parks or Wildlife Sanctuaries in it.

While National Board of Wildlife is the apex body to decide on National Parks, The Indian National Man and Biosphere (MAB) Committee constituted by the MoEF is the apex body in the case of BRs in the country.

In India, the programme was started in 1986, with which so far, 18 sites have been declared as Biosphere Reserves (BRs). However, out of the 18 BRs, only eight has been accepted as part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of UNESCO.  They are

1.            Nilgiri (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka) 
2.            Gulf of Mannar (Tamil Nadu)
3.            Sunderban (West Bengal)
4.            Nanda Devi, (Uttarakhand) 
5.            Pachmarhi (Madhya Pradesh) 
6.            Similipal (Odisha) 
7.            Nokrek (Meghalaya) 
8.            Achanakmar-Amarkantak (Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh) 

India has submitted a revised nomination for Great Nicobar (Andaman & Nicobar Islands) also. 

You can have a look at the MoEF document about the protected area network below.


  1. Replies
    1. numerounity,

      Thanks for the comment. Glad to know that you liked the post.

  2. Wonderful post and its have a lots of good information :)

    1. Amresh,

      Happy to see that the post was useful for you. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Lovely, the image from the national park in Kerala

    1. Dear Sunil,

      Thanks for the comment.
      The beauty of that place in our photograph is just a tip of an iceberg. Btw, it is not an NP but a WLS.

  4. great post with full of information...

    1. Hitesh,

      Great to know that you liked our post. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Great post .. It will help in exams too
    Cheers :)

    1. Mixofthoughts,

      Glad to see that our post is helpful. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Nice post ,I was expecting some knowledge sharing on Biosphere Reserves as well.
    Anyways, informative as always. Keep going !

    1. MJ_ryts!,

      That's an excellent suggestion from you. We should have mentioned it also in the post since that is also a term which makes people confused when it comes to protected areas in the country. We will soon update the post as per your suggestion. Thanks for the help. Please feel free to make such suggestions in the future too. For us, such suggestions value more than any monetary support.

      Thanks a lot.

    2. Excellent post ever! Very crisp and much informative! hats off! thank you so much!

  7. this is the info i was looking for. thanks a lot and the agasthyamala shot is simply awesome. I was going through some plans to visit it, but now i am sure i want to visit :-)

  8. excellent post with great knowledge of biodiversity-conservation-india
    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article.


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