Environmental Status


Some of the natural resources in many parts of the country are already under stress because of the demands from an ever increasing population, Environmental status in the country has to be seen, therefore, in the light of population concentration and demographic trends to ensure that, at least, human misery can be contained and minimized.


5.1 Demographic Profile

Population in India has been on the increase over the last 50 years and now stands around 1 billion with an overall population density of roughly 290/sq.km. Densely populated areas, however, have population density of more than 700/km2 with some urban pockets displaying a density of 6500/km2 and more.

Some major areas of concern are -almost half the population is below the poverty line with 40% of the urban population living in slums. Yet, there is hardly any time-bound programme to stabilize the population. This is underlined by the haphazard expansion of the settlements by diverting agriculture and forest land for housing development as is shown in Figure 1 for Delhi in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The present population projections indicate that we shall have to feed 1.65 billion people by the middle of the next century requiring almost 500 million tonnes of foodgrains the rate of 300 kg/capita/annum. The floodplains of the great rivers are our food bowls and food production has been able to keep abreast of the increasing population largely because of the first Green Revolution which unfortunately has also been accompanied by high environmental costs-high yielding varieties replacing the numerous locally adapted varieties making crops vulnerable to diseases, deficiency of micronutrients and incidence of salinity in intensively cultivated areas. But, land mass being limited, the requisite increase in foodgrains availability can be brought about only by; at least, a three fold increase in the productivity from the present level, and that too in an environment characterised by climate change and doubling of CO2 concentration etc. This calls for a Second Green Revolution covering whole of the farming community unlike the first one that remained confined just to about 12-15% of the farmers in North-West India. Alternatively, there is no escape from stabilising the population on top priority. This is equally applicable to the cattle population which has to be supported on less than 4% of the over grazed land classified as pastures.

We also need to reorient the educational system to encourage creativity and imparting of skills to enable our youth to contribute to the national wealth rather than merely facilitate acquisition of degrees. Pursuit of excellence is at a low premium while mediocrity is celebrated thereby threatening to rapidly make the third largest technical manpower into just a third rate one.

While food production has doubled, the population has trebled over the same period. Malnutrition, overcrowding, increased incidence of air and water borne diseases, poverty and unemployment, etc. are causing human misery and turning a large proportion of manpower from an asset to a liability . Unemployed and unskilled youth, with rising expectations, take to crime aggravating law and order situation.

Since, the population profile is becoming even younger, the need for channelising the energy of the Indian youth in a productive and constructive manner has become absolutely essential through a carefully planned merit based system of incentives .


5.2 Land and Agriculture

Land use in the country, over the last five decades, has undergone a drastic change- Land under agriculture has almost doubled, forest cover has dwindled to less than half, large tracts of fertile agriculture and forest land have been diverted by the so-called "developers" for urbanisation and settlements. Deforestation contributes to loss of precious top soil which amounts to 35% of the global sediment load going ( about 6000 million tonnes) to the oceans even though water flowing through our rivers is only 5% of the flow of the rivers in the world.

Excessive soil erosion with consequent high rate of sedimentation in the reservoirs and decreased land fertility have become serious environmental problems with disastrous economic consequences. Of the 16 rivers of the world which experience severe erosion and carry heavy sediment load, 3 rivers, namely, Ganges, Brahmputra and Kosi occupy the 2nd, 3rd and 12th position respectively. Because these trends have not been reversed, many other catchments of the Indian rivers are also becoming equally problematic as is evident from the ever increasing Central assistance released to the States for floods, droughts and other natural calamities (average annual assistance at current prices has increased from Rs.5.6 crores during the First Five Year Plan to about Rs. 1100 crores during the 7th Five Year Plan).

The combined effect of soil erosion, flood irrigation leading to salinity and water logging, excessive use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides in the wake of Green Revolution has rendered almost 13 m.ha of irrigated land unfit for agriculture and another 125 m.ha is estimated to be generally degraded. Agriculture yield, despite Green Revolution, still remains very low in the country. Subsidised provision of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, especially in the absence of adequate and timely irrigation, has contributed to land degradation and lowered productivity. The situation is further compounded by a shift from indigenous crop varieties to higher yielding ones.

Since food security depends on land fertility, therefore, a National Programme on Afforestation and Development of Wastelands through the National Wastelands Development Board was launched in 1985 with the objective of rehabilitating 5 m.ha degraded land annually. The responsibility for rehabilitation of degraded non-forest and private lands was transferred to Department of Waste Lands Development in 1992. Despite numerous schemes launched to ensure public participation -JFM, Zile Ki Sabse Hari Panchayat, etc. -the scheme has not been able to achieve its stated objectives so far. The challenge is to attempt to integrate modern know-how of the foresters with the traditional knowledge & experience of the tribals and local communities.

A summary of the demands, consequences and what needs to be done in the Land Environment is indicated in Figures 2 and 3. It is clear that :


5.3 Forest Cover & Wildlife Conservation

Multipronged pressures on forests come from gross population, cattle grazing, fuel & fodder collection, industry and forest fires, etc. The remaining good forest cover is, therefore, estimated to be just 11% against the desirable 33% of the total land area as per the National Forest Policy. Upto the late seventies, forest land was a prime target for diversion for resettlement, agriculture and industrialization, and this trend was contained only by the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

A two pronged strategy to increase forest cover essentially comprises of

India is a also signatory to several International Conventions like CITES, International Whaling Convention (IWC); Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), World Heritage Convention (WHC), etc. India has recently taken the lead in the formation of the Global Tiger Forum.


5.4. Biodiversity Conservation

As one of the 12 mega centres of biodiversity, the biological wealth in Indian region is estimated to have over 45,000 plants and 65,000 animal species. There is an abundance of wild relatives of food crops, cereals, mallets, leguminous crops, vegetables, oil seeds, spices and condiments in India. About 60 of the 250 wild crop relatives in India are either rare or threatened. Biological resources once lost cannot be replaced at any cost. Plant biodiversity as a national and global resource is extremely valuable, but is poorly understood, inadequately documented and often wasted. The preservation of biodiverity is both a matter of Investment and insurance to:

Biodiversity the world over is in peril 'because the habitats are threatened due to such development programmes as, creation of reservoirs, mining, forest clearing, laying of transport and communication networks, etc.

Over the last .12000 years of evolution of agriculture practices, the S & T inputs have only succeeded in evolving just about 10% of the genetic stock found in the wild into palatable and higher yielding cereals, fruits and vegetables (Figure-4). For security demands that the remaining 90% of the stock should be preserved: Firstly, for developing additional higher yielding varieties to feed the increasing population and Secondly; to protect and provide immunity to the existing higher yielding varieties when they under attack from insects, pests and epidemics -Figures 5 & 6.

Rice originated in India along southern and northern slopes of Himalayas about 15,000 years ago. Almost 120,000 cultivars are estimated exhibiting great diversity in the region of Assam, Meghalaya to mountain ranges of south-west China and south-east Asia. Until recently 30,000 rice varieties were being grown by Indian farmers which are feared to be reduced to just 50 by the year 2000. Nevertheless. India has made significant contributions through the development of resistant cultivar IR-36 also by saving rice crops against Grassy Stunt Virus and Grass Hopper disease by providing immunity through Oryza nivara (Central India) and Pitambi rice (Silent Valley). The continuous dwindling of the rice varieties is a cause of concern and needs to be arrested.

Realising the importance of Genetic Stock for food security, the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources of ICAR has long been identifying areas rich in bio-diversity and Gene Pool for cereals, fruits and vegetables. Not withstanding the ban on export of 29 endangered medicinal plants, we need to protect our rich heritage of herbs, shrubs & medicinal plants. Bio-Banks created have seed as well as tissue samples of the requisite crops. There is, however, still need to establish centres for in-situ as well as ex-situ conservation of bio-diversity especially in the wake of the International Convention on Bio-diversity to which India is a signatory. "Recombinant DNA safety Guidelines" for personnel and environmental safety in the use of genetically manipulated organisms in research, manufacture and applications have been evolved.

Declaration of eco-sensitive zones, introduction of Biological Diversity Act and other initiatives are expected to help in conservation & sustainable use of biological resources.