India as a mega-diversity nation

India, the largest democratic republic of the world, has the seventh largest area (328.73 million ha) and second largest human population (more than 1 billion). With about 2.5% of the world’s geographical and 1.8% of the forest area, the country at present is supporting 16% of the world’s population and 18% of the domestic cattle population, amounting to about 500 million.

India is a country of diversity. It has diverse geographical features and varied climates. It has 14 major basins through which drain numerous rivers. While rivers such as the Ganga originating from the mountains are snow-fed, those emanating from central and southern India are rain-fed, with little perennial water.

The annual rainfall varies from less than 37 cm in Rajasthan to 1500m in Cherapunji, Meghalaya. Three different seasons – winter, summer and monsoons are experienced. However, the seasonal severity varies considerably.

The diversity in physical and climatic setting produces a markedly diverse fauna and flora. The vegetation ranges from xerophytic in Rajasthan, evergreen in the North-East and the Ghat areas, mangroves of coastal areas, conifers of the hills and the dry deciduous forests of central India to alpine pastures in the high reaches of the Himalaya.

These account for about 8% of world’s biodiversity, and make India one of the seventeen mega biodiversity countries of the world. It also has two global terrestrial biodiversity hot spots – the North-eastern States and the Western Ghats. Naturally, such a diverse flora provides for a very diverse fauna.

The forests of the country (from tropical rain forests in the south and the northeast to the dry alpine forests in the (northwest Himalaya) have been classified into 16 types and 251 subtypes on the basis of climatic and edaphic conditions. Some of the principal commercial species are highly valued and are becoming increasingly costly, e.g. teak (Tectona grandis), Sal (Shores robusta), Dipterocarpus spp., and conifers (pne, fir, spruce, deodar, etc.).

Together with a host of non-timber forest product such as gums, resins, fruits, nuts, oil, dyes and medicinal plants, the value of forest products, both for subsistence and industrial use, is increasing exponentially. Forests are also the most important source for fibre for paper and pulp industries, with bamboo occupying the key position.

India’s natural habitats range from the Palearctic Trans-Himalayan in the north to the Indo-Malayan region in the northeast, the Indo-Ethiopian region in the west and the Oriental region in peninsular India besides the coastal and island ecosystems. These ecosystems have given India 10 biodiversity rich zoogeographic zones.

Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes of which they are part including diversity within and between species and ecosystem. Biodiversity has direct consumptive value in food agriculture, medicine and in industry. India is one of 17-Mega diverse countries which together posses 60 to 70 percent for the world’s biodiversity.

India ratified the International Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) on 18 Feb. 1994 and became Party to the Convention in May 1994. The CBD is an international legal instruments for promoting conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity taking into account the need to share cost and benefit between developed and developing countries and ways and means to support innovation by local people.

It was resolved to evolve an international regime on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing with the aim of adoption of an instrument with the provisions of CBD. Till date, eight ordinary meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) had been held. The eighth meeting of Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD had been held in Curitiba, Brazil from 20-31 March 2006. India has prepared the Third National report to the convention of Bio-diversity.

A scheme on biodiversity conservation was initiated earlier to ensure coordination among various agencies dealing with the issues related to conservation of bio-diversity and to review, monitor and evolve adequate policy instruments for the same. Important steps taken are—

(i) A comprehensive project National Bio-diversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) was launched for preparation of planning document relating to ecological security and livelihood of people depending on national resources.

(ii) A National Biodiversity Authority has been set up at Chennai under Biological Diversity Act 2002.

(iii) Seventeen countries i.e. Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, and Venezula rich in biological diversity and associated traditional knowledge have been formed the group of like-minded Megadiverse Countries (LMMC).

(iv) Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the first international regulatory framework for safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organism (LMDS) was negotiated under the aegis of the Convention on Biological Diversity.