Country Profiles

India - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

India is one of the recognized mega-diverse countries of the world, harbouring nearly 7-8% of the recorded species of the world, and representing 4 of the 34 globally identified biodiversity hotspots (Himalaya, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, Sundaland). India is also a vast repository of traditional knowledge associated with biological resources. So far, over 91,200 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants have been documented in the ten biogeographic regions of the country. Inventories of floral and faunal diversities are being progressively updated with several new discoveries through the conduct of continuous surveys and exploration. Along with species richness, India also possesses high rates of endemism. In terms of endemic vertebrate groups, India’s global ranking is tenth in birds, with 69 species; fifth in reptiles with 156 species; and seventh in amphibians with 110 species. Endemic-rich Indian fauna is manifested most prominently in Amphibia (61.2%) and Reptilia (47%). India is also recognized as one of the eight Vavilovian centres of origin and diversity of crop plants, having more than 300 wild ancestors and close relatives of cultivated plants, which are still evolving under natural conditions.

The varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions and years of geological stability have resulted in a wide range of ecosystems and habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and coastal and marine ecosystems. Arid and semi-arid regions cover 38.8% of India’s total geographical area. The cold arid zone located in the Trans-Himalayan region covers 5.62% of the country’s area. The region is the stronghold of three cat predators – the lion, leopard and tiger. Of the 140 species of known birds, the Great Indian Bustard is a globally threatened species. The flora of the Indian desert comprise 682 species, with over 6% of the total plant species being endemic. The cold desert is the home of rare endangered fauna, such as the Asiatic Ibex, Tibetan Argali, Wild Yak, Snow Leopard, etc., and the flora is rich in endemism and economically important species.

India has a variety of wetland ecosystems ranging from high altitude cold desert wetlands to hot and humid wetlands in coastal zones with diverse flora and fauna. About 4,445 km2 of the country is under mangroves. India is blessed with rich fish diversity that dwells in the inland waters. The major rivers of India and their tributaries traverse through varied geoclimatic zones, displaying high diversity in their biotic and abiotic characteristics throughout their 28,000 km linear drift. The current distribution of 783 species of freshwater fishes, belonging to 89 genera under 17 families, which includes 223 endemic fishes, is recorded in India. In total, the Indian fish population represents 11.72% of species, 23.96% of genera, 57% of families and 80% of the global fishes. The country is the third largest producer of fish in the world, with 2,411 fish species.

India has a vast coastline of 7,517 km, of which 5,423 km belong to Peninsular India and 2,094 km to the Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands, and an EEZ of 2.02 million km2 with a very wide range of habitats (e.g. estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, backwaters, salt marshes, rocky coasts, stretches and coral reefs, all of which are characterized by rich and unique biodiversity components).

Another crucial ecosystem for India is its forest, covering 23.39% of the geographical area of the country (of which 75% occurs in the northeastern states) and counting over 16 major forest types and 251 sub-types. Against the global trend of deforestation, it is worth underlining the achievement made by India in stabilizing its area under forest cover over the years.

The mountain ecosystems of India are largely described under two global hotspots, viz., the Eastern Himalaya, and the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. They contribute prominently in geographic extent, biophysical and socio-cultural diversity and uniqueness. The extent of species endemism in vascular plants alone ranges from 32% to 40% in the mountain ecosystems. Other groups, such as reptiles, amphibians and fish show more than 50% of species endemism in Western Ghats. Of the 979 bird species recorded from the Himalayan region, four Endemic Bird Areas have been delineated for priority conservation measures and, likewise, identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) has been initiated in Western Ghats.

As per the IUCN Red List version 2010.4, 94 species of mammals, 78 species of birds, 66 species of amphibians, 30 species of reptiles, 122 species of fish, 113 species of invertebrates and 255 species of plants in India are listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable. So far, 758 animal and plant species are listed as globally threatened in India by IUCN, which is about less than 1% (i.e. 0.55%) of species documented in India.

For India, conservation of biodiversity is crucial not only because it provides several goods and services necessary for human survival, but also because it is directly linked with providing livelihoods to and improving socio-economic conditions for millions of local people, thereby contributing to sustainable development and poverty alleviation. An example of a benefit derived from biodiversity in India is reflected by the forest sector, which is increasingly being looked upon as a major performer in poverty alleviation programmes. India’s forests neutralize nearly 11% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 200 million people are dependent on forests for livelihood in India. As per formal estimates, forestry and logging contributed to approximately 1.5% of the total gross domestic product (GDP) of the country in 2001-2002 – a figure that includes neither informal trade and use of forest products nor the non-tangible benefits derived from them (such as their role in terms of CO2 fixation). Joint Forest Management (JFM) is aimed at regenerating and sustainably using forests through the involvement of local communities. At present, there are more than 100,000 JFM Committees involving 2.2 million people living in and around forests. To complement this initiative, a National Afforestation Programme is being implemented which aims to rehabilitate degraded forests and fringe areas through people’s participation and adherence to the principles of JFM.

As a part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), and with a budget of 10 billion USD over a ten-year period, India recently launched the Green India Mission (GIM) with the objective of doubling the area for afforestation/ecorestoration to 20 million ha, improve ecosystem services, biodiversity and carbon sequestration in 10 million ha, and increase forests-based livelihood incomes for 3 million forests-dependent households. Realizing the crucial role of forests in maintaining ecological balance and socio-economic development, the National Forest Policy (NFP) aims at maintaining a minimum of 33% of the country’s geographical area under forest and tree cover.

India’s vast coastline also supports a huge human population, which is dependent on the rich coastal and marine resources. It is estimated that nearly 250 million people live within the swath of 50 km from the coastline of India. Therefore, the ecological services of marine and coastal ecosystems of India play a vital role in India’s economic growth.

The world’s largest social security scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (2005) (MGNREGA) has created nearly five million green jobs in activities such as afforestation, water harvesting, soil conservation and land development.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The main threats to biodiversity include: habitat fragmentation, degradation and loss; over-exploitation of resources; shrinking genetic diversity; invasive alien species; declining forest resource base; climate change and desertification; impact of development projects; impact of pollution. In the backdrop of the varying socio-cultural milieu and often conflicting demands of various stakeholders, there is an urgent need for augmenting and accelerating the efforts for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Pursuant to the CBD, a first major step was the development of the National Policy and Macrolevel Action Strategy (1999) that called for consolidating existing biodiversity conservation programmes and initiating new steps in conformity with the spirit of the Convention. This was followed by implementation of a UNDP/GEF-sponsored NBSAP Project (2000-2004) that yielded micro-level action plans adequately integrating crosscutting issues and livelihood security concerns. Some of the major programmes that contribute to its implementation include: Protected Areas (PA) network and its steady growth over the years, consolidation of Biosphere Reserves (BRs) (15), establishment of more species-specific reserves, growth in designated Ramsar sites, augmentation of ex situ efforts through the establishment of the network of Lead Gardens and initiatives in the conservation of genetic resources, etc.

Subsequent to the approval of the National Environment Policy (NEP) in 2006, preparation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan was taken up by revising the 1999 document in consonance with the NEP, using the NBSAP project report as one of the inputs. The National Biodiversity Action Plan (2008) defines targets, activities and associated agencies for achieving the goals, drawing upon the main principle in the NEP that human beings are at the centre of concerns of sustainable development and they are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. Work is currently in progress to develop national targets within the framework of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020).

Following the ratification of CBD and after widespread consultations, India also enacted the Biological Diversity Act in 2002 and notified the Rules in 2004, to give effect to the provisions of the CBD, including those relating to its third objective on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). India was one of the first few countries to enact such legislation. The Act is to be implemented through a three-tiered institutional structure: National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs), Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the local level, in line with the provisions for decentralized governance contained in the Constitution. The Biological Diversity Act is a path-breaking and progressive legislation which has the potential to positively impact biodiversity conservation in the country.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The protected area network in India has been used as a tool to manage natural resources for biodiversity conservation and for the well-being of resource-dependent populations. So far, India has established a network of 679 Protected Areas (PAs), extending over 1,62,365.49 km2 (4.9% of the total geographic area) and comprising 102 National Parks, 517 Wildlife Sanctuaries, four Community Reserves and 56 Conservation Reserves. These wildlife protected areas also include 39 Tiger Reserves and 28 Elephant Reserves, along with 6 World Heritage Sites within UNESCO’s framework. Scientific monitoring and traditional observations confirm that depleted natural resources are being restored and/or pristine ecological conditions have been sustained in well-managed PAs. So far, 115 wetlands have been identified under the National Wetland Conservation Program and 25 wetlands are already classified as Ramsar sites. Particular attention is also drawn to forest protection, with numbers of programs, projects and vast regulation aimed at reforestation (the National Forest Policy aims to maintain a minimum of 33% of the country’s geographical area under forest and tree cover), conservation and sustainable development, eco-development of degraded forests, development of community conservation reserves outside PAs, economic valuation of ecosystem services and climate change, and finally inculcating awareness and imparting training to a range of stakeholders, including school students, ex-servicemen, farmers, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), extension workers, community groups, etc. In parallel, recovery programs have been initiated for critically endangered species, and reintroduction of threatened species into their natural habitats has been carried out for crucial species, such as pitcher plants, rhinoceros and mangroves. As a result of improved conservation effectiveness, some positive trends have already been reported for several species. Tiger and elephant populations have been increasing in recent years, and the Indian rhino’s endangerment level has been modified from endangered to vulnerable. In terms of ex situ conservation, several national gene banks were created for plants, animals, insects, fish and agriculturally-important micro-organisms (which notably hold 366,933 unique accessions of plant genetic resources and 2,517 microorganisms). Moreover, India, being a CITES Party, actively prohibits the international trade of endangered wild species and several measures are in place to control threats from invasive alien species (e.g. certificates for exports, permits for imports, etc.).

Towards achieving Aichi Biodiversity Targets 11 and 14, 106 coastal and marine sites have been identified and prioritized as Important Coastal and Marine Areas (ICMBA). Along India’s west coast, 62 ICMBAs have been identified, and an additional 44 ICMBAs identified along the east coast. These sites have also been proposed as Conservation or Communities Reserves with the participation of local communities. Efforts are currently underway to secure and strengthen community participation in the management of the marine protected area network in India.

India has six natural World Heritage Sites having ‘Outstanding Universal Values’ (e.g. Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Keoladeo National Park, Nandadevi National Park (including Valley of Flowers), Sundarbans National Park and Western Ghats serial site). More natural sites of India are tentatively listed for assessment and evaluation in regard to consideration of their inscription as World Heritage Sites. Further, India has identified 12 Transboundary Protected Areas through bilateral and/or multilateral cooperation that has been initiated with neighbouring nations.

India’s contribution to crop biodiversity has been impressive with repositories of over 50,000 varieties of rice, 5,000 of sorghum, 1,000 varieties of mango, etc. The National Genebank, primarily responsible for ex situ conservation of unique germplasm on a long-term basis, holds nearly 400,000 unique accessions of plant genetic resources. India’s National Gene Bank is considered among the most dynamic and prominent systems in the world.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, based on local knowledge systems and practices, are engrained in Indian ethos and enshrined in the Constitution of India (Article 48A and Article 51(g)). Key laws, strategies and policies related to biodiversity include the Biodiversity Act (2002), National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016), National Environmental Policy (2006), NBAP (2008) and NAP for Climate Change (2008). In addition, India has recently strengthened implementation mechanisms in policy, legislative and administrative measures for biodiversity conservation and management. In this context, major positive initiatives include: (i) Biological Diversity Act and Rules; (ii) Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006); (iii) Wildlife Crime Control Bureau; (iv) Green India Mission; (v) Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; (vii) setting up the National Fisheries Development Board (2006). Biodiversity has been mainstreamed in the agricultural sector (e.g. National Policy for Farmers (2007); Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act; International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), Ministry of Agriculture), in forestry policies (e.g. Forest Rights Act), in planning and development (e.g. EIA Notification 2006), in tourism (e.g. National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP)), and in the fishery sector (e.g. National River Conservation Programme, National Lake Conservation Plan, National Wetland Conservation Programme).

Preparation of an easily navigable database of codified traditional knowledge on Indian systems of medicine (Ayurveda, Sidha and Unani), in the form of a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), has been a pioneering initiative of India so as to prevent misappropriation of India’s traditional knowledge at international patent offices. Non-disclosure agreements on TKDL have been entered into with the patent offices of the USA, EU and some EU countries. Following this, citation of TKDL references as prior art has led to setting aside of decisions to grant patents, or cancellation of intent to grant patents, or withdrawing of patent applications in over 50 cases in European patent offices in recent years.

India has made remarkable progress regarding capacity-building in several areas such as: (i) forest-based enterprises; (ii) development of Self Help Groups for synergy of Joint Forest Management with other schemes of the Government; and (iii) CEPA. The involvement of diverse stakeholders is enhanced through partnerships with NGOs, community groups, government, entrepreneurs and industry while regional and international cooperation for conservation and management of biodiversity is promoted through various extant and evolving bilateral agreements and MEAs.

India hosted COP-11 in Hyderabad from 1-19 October 2012. As the first Champion under the Hyderabad Call for Biodiversity Champions launched during CoP-11, India has earmarked a sum of USD $50 million during India’s Presidency of COP to strengthen institutional mechanisms, enhance the technical and human capabilities for biodiversity conservation in India, and to promote similar capacity-building in other developing countries.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Various monitoring programs have been put in place in several ecosystems as well as for particular species (e.g. monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE); participatory natural resource monitoring in selected villages in Uttara Kannada district; monitoring of climate change and forests; monitoring of genetic variation using techniques such as DNA fingerprinting under LaCONES; pollution monitoring and control; monitoring for Success in World Natural Heritage Sites under the UNESCO-IUCN project ‘Enhancing Our Heritage: the management effectiveness evaluation of Keoladev National Park, Rajasthan and Kaziranga National Park’; and water quality monitoring stations which have been further upscaled to over 158 in 10 rivers). Finally, a crucial task is completed by the monitoring committee of the National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) which periodically assesses the status of the establishment and management of Indian PAs. India has advanced a forests mapping programme. The Forest Survey of India undertakes a biennial assessment of forest and tree cover.