Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.


What are the consequences of illegal mining? Discuss the ministry of environment and forests’ concept of “GO AND NO GO” zones for coal mining.

Enumerate the National Water Policy of India. Taking river Ganges as an example, discuss the strategies which may be adopted for river water pollution control and management. What are the legal provisions for management and handling of hazardous wastes in India?


Environmental Impact Assessment studies are increasingly undertaken before a project is cleared by the Government. Discuss the environmental impacts of coal-fired thermal plants located at coal pitheads.


Discuss the Namami Gange and National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) programmes and causes of mixed results from the previous schemes. What quantum leaps can help preserve the river Ganga better than incremental inputs?


Rehabilitation of human settlements is one of the important environmental impacts which always attracts controversy while planning major projects. Discuss the measures suggested for mitigation of this impact while proposing major developmental projects.


Not many years ago, river linking was a concept but it is becoming reality in the country. Discuss the advantages of river linking and its possible impact on the environment. 

‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How will India be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change?  


What are the impediments in disposing of the huge quantities of discarded solid wastes which are continuously being generated? How do we remove safely the toxic wastes that have been accumulating in our habitable environment?

What is wetland? Example the Ramsar concept of ‘wise use’ in the context of wetland conservation. Cite two examples of Ramsar sites from India.

How does biodiversity vary in India? How is the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 helpful in conservation flora and fauna?


Coastal sand mining, whether legal or illegal, poses one of the biggest threats to our environment. Analyse the impact of sand mining along the Indian coasts, citing specific examples.

Define the concept of carrying capacity of an ecosystem as relevant to an environment. Explain how understanding this concept is vital while planning for sustainable development of a region.

Environment protection in India

The regulatory and institutional decision-making framework for environmental protection in India is embodied in twelve major acts of the Indian Parliament enumerated below:

Most of the above Acts and Notifications are aimed at strengthening the command-and control regime. New initiatives, especially in the form of a mix of regulations and legislation, fiscal incentives for technology acquisition, voluntary agreements, educational programs and information campaigns are required.

Although the government has introduced some of these measures, more is required because the regulatory structure of a central authority, the ministry of environment and forests (and other ministries) and state-level implementation agencies have proved to be largely unsuccessful in effectively managing the protection of the environment.

The ministry of environment and forests is charged with the responsibility of planning, promoting, coordination and overseeing the implementation of various environmental and forestry programmes. Responsibilities include environmental management to promote health considerations, focus on poverty alleviation by enhancing access of the poor to natural resources for livelihood and heightening awareness regarding environmentally sound living process by focusing on nature-human synergy.

National Environmental Policy. 2006:

NEP, 2006 is a response to India’s national commitment to a clean environment, mandated in the Constitution of India in Articles 48A and 51A (g) and strengthened by the judicial interpretation of Article 21. For the purpose of better understanding, NEP, 2006 defines the term Environment to comprise all entities, natural or manmade, external to oneself, and their interrelationships, which provide value, now or perhaps in the future, to humankind. The NEP, 2006 is framed on three foundational aspirations. These are, Human beings should be able to enjoy a decent quality of life; Humanity should become capable of respecting the finiteness of the biosphere; and Neither the aspiration for the good life, nor the recognition of biophysical limits should preclude the search for greater justice in the world.

Principles of NEP, 2006: The National Environmental Policy, 2006 establishes the following fourteen principles as guiding principles for the protection of environment and conservation of nature and natural resources.

1. Human Beings are at the Centre of Sustainable Development Concerns.

2. The Right to Development Both the present and future generations have a right to development which must be respected while making provisions for environmental protection.

3. Environmental Protection is an Integral part of the Development Process

4. The Precautionary Approach: Sometimes we are uncertain about the full impacts of a developmental activity. NEP, 2006 provides measures to ensure that lack of scientific evidence will not be used as a reason for not taking suitable measures for environmental protection.

5. Economic Efficiency: An important guiding principle of NEP, 2006 is that economic efficiency will lead to greater environmental benefits. For ensuring this, NEP suggests that economic valuation of environmental resources and ecosystem service be carried out in a comprehensive manner.

5a) Polluter Pays: Sometimes the actions of one individual or company may have an impact on another individual or company even when they may not have any direct economic relationship with

each other. NEP, 2006 advocates that in all such cases the polluter must bear the cost of such externalities.

5b) Cost Minimization: When the economic valuation of the impact on environment of a development activity cannot be calculated, the economic costs of realizing the benefits of such a development activity must be minimized.

6. Entities with incomparable Values: There are some natural resources like unique landscapes or symbols of heritage like the Taj Mahal which cannot be included in the ambit of cost-benefit analysis. Such entities must be prioritised over any economic calculations.

7. Equity: All human beings must be given equitable access to nature and natural resources such as clean air, water etc.

8. Legal Liability Any person or company causing harm to the environment must be liable in the court of law and must be penalized as already discussed in the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

8 a) Fault Based Liability: In addition to the above, a person or company may be penalized for not following the set environmental standards.

8 b) Strict Liability: If the actions or inaction of a person or a company cause damage to another person or company, then the first person or company must compensate the second person or company even if the first person or company has not broken any law or duty.

9. Public Trust Doctrine: This is an important doctrine in the NEP, 2006 according to which the State is not an absolute owner but only a trustee of the natural resource wealth of the country.

10. Decentralization: Local environmental problems need local solutions.  The NEP, 2006 advocates such a decentralization and the transfer of powers for ensuring sustainable solutions to environmental problems.

11. Integration: The inclusion of environmental consideration in sectoral policymaking across all sectors and the strengthening of linkages between various agencies at the Central, State and Local levels is required for ensuring sustainable development.

12. Environmental Standard Setting: The setting of environmental standards goes a long way in protecting the environment. An environmental standard may be an upper concentration value of a certain pollutant beyond which a certain type of factory cannot pollute in a unit time.

13. Preventive Action: Preventing environmental damage is far times better than degrading the environment and paying up later on to restore the degraded environment.

14. Environmental Offsetting: There are exceptional cases where threatened or endangered species or natural systems required for supporting life cannot be protected for some reason. In this case, the policy advocates that cost-effective offsetting measures must be undertaken to restore and/ or reclaim the damages so that the lost environmental services are returned to the public.

Why Conservation fails?

A variety of external driving factors including climate change, have brought about a shift in terms of social and ecological processes across the landscapes protected for biodiversity conservation. Further, in view of the fact that these changing socio-economic and ecological processes are more visible in the protected areas, it is necessary that agencies, managers, policy makers, scientists and the public do a rethink in terms of devising innovative policy responses for biodiversity conservation and sustainable socio-economic development.

The need of the hour and a possible solution, particularly in view of a possible threat looming large over the future generation, is to think of natural resources as one integrated piece of asset on this planet. These resources should be governed by uniform use policy, be it land, water or air or even forest or minerals.

 In fact, natural resource management with conservation and resource enhancement and preservation and pollution abatement as its primary goals, should be the focus of a new set of policies by the government. An integrated natural resource management policy can be a directive principle underlying the policy for states to administer with various departments and the Centre to monitor and evaluate the programmes.

An umbrella legislation like the well-drafted EPA (Environmental Protection Act) 1986, can go a long way in making a thematic conservation strategy for resource utilization and regeneration possible.

Fundamental changes, necessary for preventing a large-scale destruction of the nations (and the world’s) natural resources, can occur only if people could enjoy greater incentives so as to be able to rethink and reform their behavior towards the environment.

Ecology entails an interrelated existence of living beings and natural resources with environmental justice as the touching stone of resource conservation. Considering that resource conservation is a necessary condition for ensuring environmental justice, reorienting the legal regime towards this goal becomes significant in terms of policy and effects.

The interlinkage between water (jal), soil (jameen) and forest (jungle), calls for a long-term plan for developing forests, stopping the expansion of deserts, conserving soil fertility and nurturing groundwater through rain water harvesting, especially for meeting the challenges of droughts.

The lack of integrated approaches and definitive standards in this sphere allows different statutory bodies to adopt different criteria and policies while exercising overlapping controls with communication gaps so as to escape public accountability through mutual accusations. Unless conservation and preservation become the main aim of policy-making, environment in general and resources in face a possible threat of extinction.

Nature as a harmoniously unified entity, cannot tolerate a proverbial situation of “too many cooks spoiling the broth”


Biodiversity profile of India: India, a megadiverse country with only 2.4% of the world’s land area, accounts for 7-8% of all recorded species, including over 45,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. It is situated at the tri-junction of the Afrotropical, Indo-Malayan and Palaearctic realms, all of which support rich biodiversity.

Being one of the 17 identified megadiverse countries, India has 10 biogeographic zones and is home to 8.58% of the mammalian species documented so far, with the corresponding figures for avian species being 13.66%, for reptiles 7.91%, for amphibians 4.66%, for fishes 11.72% and for plants 11.80%.

Four of the 34 globally identified biodiversity hotspots, namely the Himalaya, Indo-Burma, the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka and Sundaland, are represented in India. India is an acknowledged centre of crop diversity and harbours hundreds of varieties of crop plants such as rice, maize, millets etc. The diverse physical features and climatic conditions have resulted in a variety of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, desert, coastal and marine ecosystems which harbour and sustain high biodiversity and contribute to human well-being.

Biological diversity deals with the degree of nature’s variety in the biosphere. This variety can be observed at three levels; the genetic variability within a species, the variety of species within a community, and the organisation of species in an area into distinctive plant and animal communities constitutes ecosystem diversity.

Value of biodiversity:
Environmental services from species and ecosystems are essential at global, regional and local levels. Production of oxygen, reducing carbon dioxide, maintaining the water cycle, protecting soil are important services. The world now acknowledges that the loss of biodiversity contributes to global climatic changes.

Forests are the main mechanism for the conversion of carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen. The loss of forest cover, coupled with the increasing release of carbon dioxide and other gases through industrialization contributes to the ‘greenhouse effect’. Global warming is melting ice caps, resulting in a rise in the sea level which will submerge the low-lying areas in the world. It is causing major atmospheric changes, leading to increased temperatures, serious droughts in some areas and unexpected floods in other areas.

Biological diversity is also essential for preserving ecological processes, such as fixing and recycling of nutrients, soil formation, circulation and cleansing of air and water, global life support (plants absorb CO2 , give out O2 ), maintaining the water balance within ecosystems, watershed protection, maintaining stream and river flows throughout the year, erosion control and local flood reduction.

Food, clothing, housing, energy, medicines, are all resources that are directly or indirectly linked to the biological variety present in the biosphere. This is most obvious in the tribal communities who gather resources from the forest, or fisherfolk who catch fish in marine or freshwater ecosystems. For others, such as agricultural communities, biodiversity is used to grow their crops to suit the environment.

Urban communities generally use the greatest amount of goods and services, which are all indirectly drawn from natural ecosystems. It has become obvious that the preservation of biological resources is essential for the well-being and the long-term survival of mankind. This diversity of living organisms which is present in the wilderness, as well as in our crops and livestock, plays a major role in human ‘development’. The preservation of ‘biodiversity’ is therefore integral to any strategy that aims at improving the quality of human life.

1. Consumptive use value: The direct utilisation of timber, food, fuelwood, fodder by local communities. The biodiversity held in the ecosystem provides forest dwellers with all their daily needs, food, building material, fodder, medicines and a variety of other products.

Biodiversity of an area influences every aspect of the lives of people who inhabit it. Their living space and their livelihoods depend on the type of ecosystem.

Even people living in urban areas are dependent on the ecological services provided by the wilderness. We frequently don’t see this in everyday life as it is not necessarily overt. It is linked with every service that nature provides us. The quality of water we drink and use, the air we breathe, the soil on which our food grows are all influenced by a wide variety of living organisms both plants and animals and the ecosystem of which each species is linked with in nature.

While it is well known that plant life removes carbon dioxide and releases the oxygen we breathe, it is less obvious that fungi, small soil invertebrates and even microbes are essential for plants to grow. That a natural forest maintains the water in the river after the monsoon, or that the absence of ants could destroy life on earth, are to be appreciated to understand how we are completely dependent on the living ‘web of life’ on earth. The wilderness is an outcome of a long evolutionary process that has created an unimaginably large diversity of living species, their genetic differences and the various ecosystems on earth in which all living creatures live.

2. Productive use: The biotechnologist uses biorich areas to ‘prospect’ and search for potential genetic properties in plants or animals that can be used to develop better varieties of crops that are used in farming and plantation programs or to develop better livestock. To the pharmacist, biological diversity is the raw material from which new drugs can be identified from plant or animal products. To industrialists, biodiversity is a rich store-house from which to develop new products. For the agricultural scientist the biodiversity in the wild relatives of crop plants is the basis for developing better crops. Genetic diversity enables scientists and farmers to develop better crops and domestic animals through careful breeding. New crop varieties (cultivars) are being developed using the genetic material found in wild relatives of crop plants through biotechnology. Thus, these wild species are the building blocks for the betterment of human life and their loss is a great economic loss to mankind.

Preservation of biodiversity has now become essential for industrial growth and economic development. A variety of industries such as pharmaceuticals are highly dependent on identifying compounds of great economic value from the wide variety of wild species of plants located in undisturbed natural forests. This is called biological prospecting.

3. Social values: While traditional societies which had a small population and required less resources had preserved their biodiversity as a life supporting resource, modern man has rapidly depleted it even to the extent of leading to the irrecoverable loss due to extinction of several species. Thus, apart from the local use or sale of products of biodiversity there is the social aspect in which more and more resources are used by affluent societies.

The consumptive and productive value of biodiversity is closely linked to social concerns in traditional communities. ‘Ecosystem people’ value biodiversity as a part of their livelihood as well as through cultural and religious sentiments. A great variety of crops have been cultivated in traditional agricultural systems and this permitted a wide range of produce to be grown and marketed throughout the year and acted as an insurance against the failure of one crop.

In recent years farmers have begun to receive economic incentives to grow cash crops for national or international markets, rather than to supply local needs. This has resulted in local food shortages, unemployment (cash crops are usually mechanised), landlessness and increased vulnerability to drought and floods.

4. Ethical and moral values: Ethical values related to biodiversity conservation are based on the importance of protecting all forms of life. All forms of life have the right to exist on earth. Apart from the economic importance of conserving biodiversity, there are several cultural, moral and ethical values which are associated with the sanctity of all forms of life.

Indian civilization has over several generations preserved nature through local traditions. This has been an important part of the ancient philosophy of many of our cultures. We have in our country a large number of sacred groves or ‘deorais’ preserved by tribal people in several States. These sacred groves around ancient sacred sites and temples act as gene banks of wild plants.

5. Aesthetic value: Knowledge and an appreciation of the presence of biodiversity for its own sake is another reason to preserve it. Biodiversity is a beautiful and wonderful aspect of nature

Watch a spider weave its complex web. Observe a fish feeding. It is magnificent and fascinating. Symbols from wild species such as the lion of Hinduism, the elephant of Buddhism and deities such as Lord Ganesh, and the vehicles of several deities that are animals, have been venerated for thousands of years.

6. Option value: Keeping future possibilities open for their use is called option value. It is impossible to predict which of our species or traditional varieties of crops and domestic animals will be of great use in the future. To continue to improve cultivars and domestic livestock, we need to return to wild relatives of crop plants and animals. Thus, the preservation of biodiversity must also include traditionally used strains already in existence in crops and domestic animals.

Ecosystems and habitats: India has wide range of ecosystems and habitats, including forests, wetlands, grasslands, coasts, marshes and deserts. Almost all the major ecosystem types in the world can be found in India.

The most important among these are discussed below.

  1. Forests: India is among the top 10 forested countries in the world. The total forest and tree cover in the country is over 78 million hectares, or 23.8 percent of the country’s geographical area.
  2. Grasslands: India has a rich array of grasslands – semi-arid pastures in the western part; Banni grasslands in the Kutch salt desert; humid, semi-waterlogged tall grasslands in the Terai (plains just south of the Himalayas); rolling Shola grasslands on the Western Ghats hilltops; and high altitude alpine pastures in the Himalayas (Bugiyals).
  3. Wetlands: Wetlands in India exist across different geographical regions and have varied origins. They cover about 10 million hectares or three percent of the country’s geographical area and support a variety of life-forms including around 150 amphibian and 320 bird species (UNEP, 2001). Many wetlands serve as important wintering sites for migratory birds.
  4. Coral reefs: The Indian reef area is estimated to contain about 200 coral species belonging to 71 genera spread around 0.24 million hectares. Coral reefs primarily occur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar and Lakshadweep Islands. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands alone have 179 coral species (UNEP, 2001).
  5. Mangroves: India has some of the finest mangroves in the world, nestled in the alluvial deltas of the Ganga, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri rivers and on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Mangrove vegetation is spread over 0.47 million hectares or 0.14 percent of the geographical area. India accounts for around three percent of the world’s mangrove vegetation and almost half of it is located in Sundarbans in West Bengal.


The forests in India are spread over an area of 2,692,027 km, covering 21.05% of the geographical area of the country. There are 16 major forest types and 251 sub-types (FSI 2011). The forest cover of the country has been classified on the basis of the tree canopy density into pre-defined classes: Very Dense Forest (VDF), Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) and Open Forest (OF). Scrub, though shown separately, is not counted as forest cover.

While in many developing countries, forest cover has either remained static or has reduced, India has added around 3 million hectares of forest and tree cover over the last decade. Forests neutralise approximately 21.17% of India’s Green House Gases (GHG) emissions.

Government initiatives for Conservation:

Realizing the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity as well as fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of it, India has developed a relatively robust legislative and policy framework for biodiversity governance. Although some measures date back several decades, concerted action on this front started from the 1970s onwards.

The idea of protection of the environment, including biodiversity, is enshrined in the Constitution of India. It enjoins both the State and the citizens to take appropriate steps in this direction.

Article 48-A of the Constitution of India states that `[t]he State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’, and

Article 51-A (g) states that `[i]t shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

Forest Conservation Act, 1980: The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 (FCA) can be seen as a single biggest legislative initiative in Indian history to slow deforestation caused by the conversion of forestlands to non-forest purposes. Under this Act, no State Government can authorise such conversion without securing Central Government’s approval.

Note that the FCA does not itself ban any non-forest activity or the de-reservation of forest land. The Act has been given credit by some for slowing the rate of deforestation in India, in part by providing a defence against political pressures –where the State Governments may be particularly vulnerable – for converting forest areas to other uses.

Indian Forest Act, 1927: The Indian Forest Act of 1927 (IFA) and its progeny in the various states provide the overarching framework for forest management in India. The preamble to the Act states that the Act seeks to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest produces and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.

Indian Forest Act establishes three categories of forests. The most restricted category is “reserved forest.” In reserved forests, most uses by local people are prohibited unless specifically allowed by a forest officer in the course of “settlement.” In “protected forests,” the government retains the power to issue rules regarding the use of such forests, but in the absence of such rules, most practices are allowed. Among other powers, the state retains the power to reserve specific tree species in protected forests which has been used to establish state control over trees whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products have revenue-raising potential.

A third classification is “village forests” in which the state government may assign to “any village-community”. Such reservation has been done extensively in the State of U.P which will be seen the section on Uttar Pradesh and biodiversity the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest.

Although a number of government agencies work on different aspects of biodiversity governance, the nodal agency for planning, promoting, coordinating and overseeing implementation of policies and programmes related to biodiversity governance at the national level is the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). There are five important types of biodiversity governance prevalent in India. They are as follows:

1. Protected areas: Formal protected areas cover around 4.9 percent of the country’s geographical area. They are an important component of India’s biodiversity conservation strategy.

Although several more protected areas were gazetted in the ensuing decades, the real thrust came in the 1970s with the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the launch of Project Tiger in 1973.

In the 1980s, a need was felt for a more planned network of protected areas to encompass the full diversity of the country’s natural ecosystems. In response to this, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) developed a biogeographic classification system. Subsequently, many more protected areas, including coastal and marine protected areas, were established.

Since the 1990s, there have been attempts to introduce a participatory approach in the management of protected areas, most notably through the concept of ‘ecodevelopment’.

New categories such as ‘Community Reserves’ and ‘Conservation Reserves’, which have been introduced recently, also attempt to broaden the concept of protected areas and encourage greater involvement of local people.

2. Autonomous community efforts: Autonomous community efforts (ACE) are initiated by communities for conservation and management of biological resources. ACEs in India are extremely diverse in Biodiversity governance models in India. Such efforts can be broadly classified into two categories – 1) Community conserved areas (CCAs) and 2) Sacred groves (SGs).

The main difference between the two lies in resource use. While resources in CCAs are generally appropriated for use, those in SGs are used only in exceptional circumstances, or for religious/ spiritual reasons.

While there is no comprehensive database, one estimate considers the total area under CCAs in India to be at least as great as the area under formal protected areas. Similarly, while estimates vary widely, according to one, the number of SGs in the country could be between 100,000 and 150,000.

So far, it is mainly civil society and community-based organizations (CBOs) that have played a key role in highlighting the importance of ACEs. As many ACEs are facing extreme challenges on account of rapidly changing socio-economic and political environments, a number of steps may be needed at different levels to ensure their long-term survival.

3. Territorial forests: Nearly a fifth of India’s geographical area is classified as forest lands. There are two main categories – reserved and protected forests – that mainly differ in the extent of rights and privileges accorded to the local people.

The management of these lands has profound implications for biodiversity governance in the country. For example, as many as eight carnivore species have been recorded in Jeypore in the state of Assam, which is not a formal protected area, but a reserved forest.

Although outside the country’s formal protected areas network, these forest lands nonetheless qualify as protected areas under IUCN categories.

Territorial forests are now managed according to the principles of sustainable forest management (SFM) through working plans. There is increasing emphasis on conservation and meeting subsistence needs of local communities.

4. Co-management of forests: In recent decades, India has experimented with the concept of co-management of State-owned natural resources such as forests. Although community involvement in the management of State forests has a long history, it was a few successful experiments in community involvement on State forest lands in the 1980s that sowed the seeds of Joint Forest Management (JFM).

Under JFM, the state Forest Department enters into an agreement with the local community, which is allowed greater access to the forest resources as well as a share in revenue, in return for protection of the forests against unauthorized extraction, encroachment and damage.

This idea received a major policy boost in 1988 when the National Forest Policy advocated the creation of a ‘massive people’s movement’ to achieve national goals of afforestation/reforestation and meet the requirements of small timber, fuel wood, fodder and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) of the rural and tribal populations.

The programme was formally launched in 1990 and has grown to become one of the largest community forestry programmes in the world. There are presently over 118,000 Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) that protect/manage around 23 million hectares of forest lands.

Recently, attempts have been made to federate the JFMCs into Forest Development Agencies, which are provided with financial support by the central government. The JFM programme is likely to play a significant role in Indian forestry in the coming decade as it has been identified as a major programme to tackle climate change under the ‘Green India Mission’

5. Decentralized governance of biodiversity: India has devolved considerable powers to local self-government institutions in rural areas, which are known as Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992 devolves power over minor forest produce, social forestry, farm forestry and fisheries to PRIs.

Ex-situ and In-situ conservation:

Policy background to forest and wildlife conservation in India has undertaken a range of conservation measures to protect its biodiversity, including ex-situ and in-situ measures.

In-situ conservation: Biodiversity at all its levels, genetic species and as intact ecosystems, can be best preserved in-situ by setting aside an adequate representation of wilderness as ‘Protected Areas’.

There are four main categories of protected areas, viz., National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves. Both National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries are areas with significant ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural or zoological features. The main difference between the two lies in the rights of the people living inside them – while certain use rights can be allowed inside a Sanctuary, no rights are allowed in a National Park.

Conservation Reserves can be declared by the state government in any area owned by the government, particularly the areas adjacent to National Parks and Sanctuaries and those areas which link one protected area with another. The rights of people living inside a Conservation Reserve are not affected.

Community Reserves can be declared by the state government on any private or community land, not comprised within a National Park, Sanctuary or Conservation Reserve, where an individual or community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat. As in the case of Conservation Reserves, the rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.

The protected area network extends over 16.1 million hectares or 4.9 percent of the country’s geographical area. While many protected areas are focused on terrestrial fauna, some have been established mainly to protect marine habitats or plants such as wild citrus, rhododendrons and orchids (MoEF, 2001). By and large, these protected areas are managed through ‘the ecosystem approach’ with a core-buffer strategy for conservation.

Apart from the four main categories of protected areas listed above, there are other, often overlapping, categories as well. There are 18 Biosphere Reserves, of which so far seven have been included in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Also 25 wetlands have been declared as Ramsar sites and six protected areas have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Other categories of biodiversity-rich areas requiring conservation focus have also been established under different national laws.

Although the formal protected area network covers around 4.9 percent of the country’s geographical area, the actual extent of area under conservation is significantly higher. For example, many reserved and protected forests outside the protected area network are managed with conservation as an important objective.

 A significant proportion of the coastal zone has been offered protection under the Coastal Regulation Zone notification16 issued under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. India has special schemes for conservation of vulnerable ecosystems.

Thirty-eight mangrove areas and four coral reef areas have been identified for intensive conservation and management. The National River Conservation Plan covers 39 rivers and considerable efforts have been made to improve water quality through pollution abatement. Under the National Lake Conservation Plan, projects for conservation of as many as 61 lakes have been taken up since 2001. Under the National Wetlands Conservation Programme, 115 wetlands have been identified for conservation (MoEF, 2012). In-situ conservation of medicinal plants is being undertaken by a number of government agencies and NGOs. The central government runs a programme (Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats) that inter alia provides support for protection of wildlife outside the protected areas.

Throughout the world, the value of biologically rich natural areas is now being increasingly appreciated as being of unimaginable value. International agreements such as the World Heritage Convention attempt to protect and support such areas.

India is a signatory to the convention and has included several protected Areas as World Heritage sites. These include Manas on the border between Bhutan and India, Kaziranga in Assam, Bharatpur in U.P., Nandadevi in the Himalayas, and the Sunderbans in the Ganges delta in West Bengal.

Ex-situ conservation: Conservation of a species is best done by protecting its habitat along with all the other species that live in it in nature. This is known as in-situ conservation, which is conserving a species in its own environment by creating National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

However, there are situations in which an endangered species is so close to extinction that unless alternate methods are instituted, the species may be rapidly driven to extinction. This strategy is known as ex-situ conservation, i.e. outside its natural habitat in a carefully controlled situation such as a botanical garden for plants or a zoological park for animals, where there is expertise to multiply the species under artificially managed conditions.

These breeding programs for rare plants and animals are however more expensive than managing a Protected Area. There is also another form of preserving a plant by preserving its germ plasm in a gene bank so that it can be used if needed in future. This is even more expensive. When an animal is on the brink of extinction, it must be carefully bred so that inbreeding does not lead to the genetic makeup becoming weak. Breeding from the same stock can lead to poorly adapted progeny or even inability to get enough offspring.

Modern breeding programs are done in zoos that provide for all the animal’s needs, including enclosures that simulate their wild habitats. There may also be a need to assist breeding artificially. Thus, while most zoos are meant to provide visitors with a visual experience of seeing a wild animal close up, and provide the visitors with information about the species, a modern zoo has to go beyond these functions that include breeding of endangered species as a conservation measure.

In India, successful ex situ conservation programs have been done for all our three species of crocodiles. This has been highly successful. Delhi zoo has successfully bred the rare Manipur brow antlered deer. However, the most important step of a successful breeding program is the reintroduction of a species into its original wild habitat. This requires rehabilitation of the degraded habitat and removal of the other causes such as poaching, disturbance, or other manmade influences that have been the primary cause of reducing the population of the species.

Institutions created for wildlife conservation:  

 1. National Board for Wildlife (NBWL): Formerly known as the Indian Board for Wildlife, NBWL is a multidisciplinary body comprising government functionaries, NGOs, conservationists and ecologists. NBWL advises the government on wildlife conservation, illegal trade and poaching, management of protected areas, impact assessment of projects, and other related issues.

Constituted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister.

2. National government: At the national level, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) deals with wildlife conservation. The Wildlife wing in MoEF, headed by the Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife), is responsible for formulating broad policies on wildlife conservation, providing financial and technical assistance to conservation programmes through various centrally sponsored schemes, declaring Tiger Reserves and Elephant Reserves, enacting wildlife laws, negotiating international conventions and treaties, setting standards for zoos, regulating international trade in wildlife, promoting policy, research and capacity building.

3. National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA): The Authority is a statutory body established in 2006 by an amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act. Important functions of NTCA include:

 1) evaluating and assessing various aspects of sustainable ecology in tiger-bearing habitats and disallowing ecologically unsustainable land use in them;

2) laying down normative standards for tourism;

3) measures to address human-animal conflict;

4) developing future conservation plans, estimation of tiger and prey populations, status of habitats, disease surveillance, mortality surveys etc.;                                                                                                                 

5) approving and coordinating research and monitoring of tigers, co-predators, prey, habitat, and related ecological and socio-economic parameters;

6) supporting Tiger Reserve management in biodiversity conservation through ecodevelopment and people’s participation; and

7) facilitating skills development of officers and staff of Tiger Reserves.

4. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB): The Bureau is the national agency to deal with wildlife crime. Established in 2007, WCCB complements the efforts of state governments and other enforcement agencies.                                                                                                         5. Central Zoo Authority (CZA): The Authority was created in 1992 to enforce minimum standards and norms for the upkeep and healthcare of animals in Indian zoos so that they complement and strengthen national efforts on the conservation of wild fauna. The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) emphasizes the role of zoos for ex-situ breeding of endangered species and their rehabilitation in the wild as per IUCN guidelines for reintroduction.

 Other federal institutions empowered to investigate forest and wildlife offences include Indian Coast Guard, Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Railway Police Force, Customs Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation etc.

Important Wildlife Protection Projects by Indian Government

Apart from conserving critical habitats through the protected area network, another important strategy adopted is species-focused conservation. The two flagship schemes are Project Tiger and Project Elephant. Initiated in 1992 by the Government of India Project Elephant aims at conserving elephants and their habitat and of migratory routes by developing scientific and planned management measures.

At present, there are 41 Tiger Reserves and 32 Elephant Reserves in the country. In addition to tiger and elephant, recovery programmes for 15 other critically endangered species have also been launched recently. These include Asiatic lion, One-horned rhinoceros, Snow leopard, Asian wild buffalo, Malabar civet (Viverra civettina), Edible nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), Hangul (Cervus eldi eldi), Nilgiri tahr, Manipur brow-antlered deer (Rucervus eldii eldii) and Swamp deer.

Here are other few important steps that Government of India has taken for the wildlife protection:

  • GoI also launched ‘Monitoring system for Tigers’ Intensive Protection and Ecological Status (M-STrIPES)’ for effective field patrolling and monitoring as a part of Project Tiger.
  • Crocodile Conservation Project is yet another successful venture by Government of India to conserve the Indian Crocodiles, whose species were on the verge of extinction once.
  • With an objective to conserve the Olive Ridley Turtles, the UNDP Sea Turtle Project was initiated by Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun as the Implementing Agency in November 1999.
  • Apart from these projects, GOI also has been handling projects like Vulture Conservation and India Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020.
  • Special organizations like Wildlife Institute of India, Bombay Natural History society and Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History are formed to conduct research on conservation of wildlife.
  • To check the dwindling population of Gyps vulture in India, Government of India has banned the veterinary use of diclofenac drug.
  • India has also signed the Convention in the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) which is intended to reduce the utilization of endangered plants and animals by controlling trade in their products and in the pet trade.
  • Since 1983, India is also a Party to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the conservation and management of migratory species such as Siberian cranes, Marine turtles and Dugongs.
  • The State Governments have been asked to strengthen the field formations and increase patrolling in and around the Protected Areas.
  • GOI intensified anti-poaching activities and initiated special patrolling strategy for monsoon season. Also, deployment of anti-poaching squad.
  • A Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) has also been constituted and is deployed in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha.
  • E-Surveillance has been started in few national parks like the Kaziranga National Park in Assam and borders of Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Issues:
    Protected Areas must also be integrated with each other by establishing corridors between adjacent areas wherever possible so that wildlife can move between them. In our country, which has a rapidly growing human population, it is not easily feasible to set aside more and more land to create Protected Areas.
  • The need to provide a greater amount of land for agricultural and other needs has become an increasing cause of concern in land and resource management. This forms a major impediment for creating new Protected Areas. Having said this, there is an urgent need to add to our Protected Areas to preserve our very rich biological diversity.
  • Much of the natural wilderness has already undergone extensive changes. The residual areas that have high levels of species richness, endemism or endangered plants and animals must be notified as National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. Other areas can be made into Community Conserved Areas which are managed by local people.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources states that it is essential to include at least 10% of all ecosystems as Protected Areas if biodiversity is to be conserved in the long-term.
  • India has under 5% of land in its Protected Areas. However much of this includes plantations of sal or teak, which were developed for timber in the past and are thus relatively poor in diversity and have a low level of ‘naturalness’.
  • There are only a few good grasslands left in our country that are notified as Protected Areas. Some are overgrazed wastelands in areas that were once flourishing grasslands.
  • Only a few wetlands have been made into Sanctuaries. These require better management.
  • A major strategy to reduce impacts on the biodiversity of the PAs should be to provide a sustainable source of resources for local people living around them. A Protected Area curtails their traditional grazing practices and access fuelwood sources. These resources must be provided by developing them in buffer areas. Plantations of fuel wood and good grassland management in areas outside Protected reas can help reduce the pressure on the habitat of wildlife in the Protected Area. Management must ensure that local people derive a direct economic benefit from the presence of the PA.
  • Involving local people in Protected Area management and developing tourist facilities that support the income generation for local people helps in involving their support for the Protected Area.
  • A carefully designed management plan which incorporates an ‘ecodevelopment’ component aimed at providing a source of fuel wood, fodder and alternate income generation for local people, is an important aspect of PA management.
  • A Community Conserved Area must have specific conservation goals that can be achieved without compromising the area’s utilitarian potential.

Way forward:

An effective protected area governance paradigm is crucial for securing India’s ecological security. Despite impressive gains over the years, the protected area system needs to adapt to changing times.

Expansion of Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves: While these two new categories of protected areas were introduced in 2002, the number of Community and Conservation Reserves has not increased much. More resolute efforts are needed to promote them.

Protection of wildlife outside protected areas: A significant population of wildlife outside the protected area network is under grave threat due to the absence of biodiversity mainstreaming policies governing these areas. Since 2008, MoEF is implementing a programme on Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats for strengthening wildlife conservation outside the legally designated protected areas. This programme needs more outreach.

Expansion of marine protected areas: India needs to considerably strengthen its marine protected area network. This requires amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act to create spaces for the specific requirements of marine protected areas. Further, this requires harmonization of various sectoral policies and legislation.

Integrating protected areas into wider landscapes: There is a perceptible shift in protected area governance from the earlier `people-exclusive’ Protected Areas – Reservoirs of Biodiversity approach to the new landscape-based approach which involves engaging a range of stakeholders. However, more efforts are required for mainstreaming protected area management into development planning – at national, sub-national and local level.

Articulating an economic case for protected areas: Securing adequate financial resources for protected area management remains a challenge. The economic contribution of protected areas in terms of provisioning ecosystem goods and services and supporting livelihoods (e.g. grazing, NTFPs etc.) needs to be assessed and articulated strongly in policy circles.

Securing livelihoods of local communities and generation of sustainable livelihoods: Identification, planning and implementation of successful and scalable ecodevelopment activities that support livelihoods while weaning communities from negative dependence on biological resources is a priority.

Adapting to climate change: Climate change is projected to have significant impact on protected areas. Due to sub-optimal technical capacity and resources, building resilience to climate change and climate proofing of protected areas has not made much progress in the country. Such efforts need to be initiated and strengthened.

Identification of inviolate areas for wildlife conservation: Given the high dependence on protected areas and the highly involved procedure for voluntary relocation of communities living therein, the identification and demarcation of inviolate areas pose a major challenge for protected area managers. This requires priority attention.

Formal recognition of CCAs: While a beginning has been made in identifying and mapping CCAs across the country, concerted efforts are required to formally recognize and support them. Providing greater recognition and support by developing a national level database of CCAs; documenting cases of CCAs and awarding exemplary initiatives; developing information base (including maps) and making information available to communities to help them prepare management plans for CCAs, and to take informed decisions regarding use and management; and creating national, state or sub-state systems and institutions for continuous support and guidance to CCAs.

In case the communities desire, CCAs can be recognized under the available laws like the Indian Forest Act (as village forests), or state-specific laws such as the Village Council Act of Nagaland. The legal status of CCAs may not be changed unless the community agrees on this and is fully aware of the implications of such a change.

Biological Diversity Act, 2002:

Arising out of its obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity held at Rio de Janerio in 1992, and “to provide for conservation of Biological Diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and knowledge”, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 (BD Act) was enacted by India to regulate access to, and use of, its biological resources.

In essence, the BD Act mandates approvals from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and to inform State Biodiversity Authorities (SBAs) for people to access and use biological resources, or knowledge associated thereto, for research purposes, commercial utilisation, bio-survey and bio-utilisation, for applying intellectual property or for transferring results of research.

The scope of the Act extends to “biological resources” occurring in and obtained from India and knowledge associated thereto. Section 2 (c) of the Act defines “biological resources” as plants, animals and micro-organisations or parts thereof, their genetic material and by-products (excluding value-added products) with actual or potential use or value but not including human genetic material.

The Act requires that a person/entity obtain prior approval from the NBA to:

  1. Access biological resources or traditional knowledge associated with it for the purposes of research, bio-survey, bio-utilisation or commercial utilization.
  2. Make any application for any intellectual property rights.
  3. Transfer any results of research.

It also stipulates that certain persons or entities are required to inform respective SBAs for obtaining certain biological resources occurring in and obtained from India for the purpose of commercial utilisation or bio-survey and bio-utilisation.

The other salient features of this Act may be broadly specified as follows:

  • Other than local communities all Indian nationals were regulated for collection and use of biodiversity.
    • Measures for sharing of benefits from the use of biodiversity, including transfer of technology, monetary returns, joint research & development, joint IPR ownership, etc.,
    • Measures to conserve and sustainably use biological resources, including habitat and species protection, environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of projects, integration of biodiversity into the plans, programmes, and policies of various departments/sectors;
    • Provisions for local communities to have a say in the use of their resources and knowledge, and to charge fees for this;
    • Protection of indigenous or traditional knowledge, through appropriate laws or other measures such as registration of such knowledge;
    •  Regulation of the use of genetically modified organisms.
    • Setting up of National, State, and Local Biodiversity Funds, to be used to support conservation and benefit-sharing;
    • Setting up of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) at local village level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBB) at state level, and a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA).

Issues with the Act:

  1. It provides for putting stringent limits on access to biological resources or related knowledge for all foreigners
  2. It differentiates between domestic companies and the MNCs, although the provisions of TRIPS demand that MNCs be treated at par with domestic companies.
  3. Given the lack of extraterritorial jurisdiction of the National Biodiversity Authority and its inability to monitor applications overseas though, the efficacy of such a provision will remain in doubt.
  4. Overall, one of the striking features of the regime is that it completely obliterates common property arrangements whose importance and extent in the context of the management of biological resources is still immense.
  5. The Act centralizes property rights either in the hands of the state through sovereign appropriation or in the hands of private inventors through monopoly intellectual property rights.
  6. It does not, however, provide a framework for the rights of all other holders of biological resources and related knowledge.
  7. It has been criticised that the NBA has not been able to perform satisfactorily. One of the factors responsible for this seems to be the government apathy.
  8. The Act supposedly empowers the BMCs to take decisions on conservation and control. However, the Rules severely dilute this and state that the main role and function of the BMC is to merely maintain Peoples Biodiversity Register (PBR).
  9. Even though communities create and maintain a database of their resources of knowledge, there is no requirement that their consent would be sought when it comes to accessing the information in the PBRs.

Biosphere Reserves: India’s biological diversity is immense, and efforts are being made to conserve it. Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which are internationally recognised within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. The concept recognises that human developments, conservation of social and cultural resources are as important as the biological resources for sustainability.

The Biosphere Reserve Programme is a pioneering effort designed to preserve the genetic diversity in representative ecosystems. The objectives of these reserves are:

  • to conserve diversity and integrity of plants, animals and micro-organisms;
    • to promote research on ecological conservation and other environmental aspects; and
    • to provide facilities for education, awareness and training.

The reserves recognised are required to meet a minimal set of criteria and adhere to a minimal set of conditions before being admitted to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves designated by UNESCO. The world’s major ecosystem types and landscapes are represented in this Network.

These reserves contain genetic elements evolved over millions of years that hold the key to future adaptations and survival of living organisms. The high degree of diversity and endemism and associated traditional knowledge held by the people of these reserves are the product of centuries of human innovation and experimentation. These sites are of global importance, having tremendous potential for future economic development, especially as a result of emerging new trends in biotechnology.

These reserves are rich in biological and cultural diversity and encompass unique features of exceptionally pristine nature. The goal is to facilitate conservation of representative landscapes and their immense biological diversity and cultural heritage, foster economic and human development which is culturally and ecologically sustainable, and to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange.


India is bestowed with a rich diversity of wetlands, ranging from high altitude lakes of the Himalayas, floodplains and marshes of the Gangetic – Bramhaputra alluvial plains, saline flats of Green Indian Desert to extensive mangroves marshes bordering the country’s East and West coastline. India has total of 757,060 wetlands covering a total area of ca. 15.26 million ha, roughly equal to 4.6% of its land area.

Of this, inlands wetland constitutes 69.22% (10.56 million ha). India is a signatory to Ramsar Convention and 26 sites have been designated as Wetlands of International importance under the Convention.

Distribution of Wetlands (Where wetlands occur today?)

Wetlands occur in all climatic zones – from tropical deserts to cold tundra, and at all altitudes – from below the sea level to about 6000 m elevation in the Himalaya. Wetlands occur wherever water accumulates for enough long periods that allow the establishment of plants and animals adapted to the aquatic environment. Water need not be present permanently and the depth may generally fluctuate.

Thus, wetlands occur in or along all water bodies – from temporary ponds to shallow or deep lakes, springs, streams and rivers. Typically, wetlands are recognised by the presence of aquatic plants (called macrophytes) other than microscopic algae (phytoplankton or filamentous algae) (see types of macrophytes in the figure). The macrophytes play the most significant and predominant role in determining the functions of all wetlands.  

The growth and distribution of the macrophytes is determined among various factors by the water depth and is usually restricted to a depth of two metres. Submerged plants may occur under clear water conditions to a depth of about 4 metres. Therefore, only the shallow and usually the periodically flooded marginal areas of large rivers (called the floodplains) and lakes and reservoirs (called the littoral zones) are considered to be proper wetlands.

A similar situation exists in case of another kind of wetlands – the mangroves- which also lie between higher land and the deep open waters of the sea. Many wetlands have been modified and are managed by humans for specific purposes. For example, majority of the paddy fields and fish ponds have been created out of the natural wetlands by manipulating their vegetation and fauna.

Hundreds of thousands of human-made wetlands owe their existence to a wide range of human activities such as excavation of soil for making bricks or roads, stone quarrying, or due to waterlogging of low-lying lands along the canals.

Wetland Functions (What wetlands do and how?)

Wetlands perform the transfer of energy within their bio zones but differ among themselves in the magnitude and efficiency according to their hydrological regimes and climate which govern the biodiversity.

All macrophytes and various algae produce organic matter which is consumed directly or indirectly by the animals. Besides food, the macrophytes also provide habitats and support many other plants and animals. Submerged macrophytes oxygenate the water column whereas the emergent and rooted floating leaved plants help exchange of gases between the soils and the atmosphere. They transport oxygen to their root zones and carry methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere.

All macrophytes sequester carbon in their biomass which remains undecomposed under certain conditions for very long periods, and sometimes turns into peat. Macrophytes transform nutrients through uptake, assimilation and storage but also immobilise some heavy metals on their root surfaces.

Many macrophytes have the ability to take up and accumulate more nutrients than their requirements if the nutrient availability increases. Macrophytes function both as a source (from soils to water) and sink (from water to soils) of nutrients. Macrophytes influence also the hydrological cycle as they enhance or lower the loss of water to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. Emergent macrophytes facilitate also the movement of water into the ground.

Ecosystem Services of Wetlands (How do we benefit from them?)

Humans use wetlands in several ways but also benefit from them indirectly. Various kinds of benefits derived from an ecosystem by the people and the society have recently been termed as ecosystem services.

These benefits are often categorised into Provisioning (food, fiber, fodder, fuel, water, and other materials), Regulating (regulation of biogeochemical cycles including climate), Supporting (e.g., soil formation, supporting biodiversity) and Cultural (aesthetics, recreational and spiritual activities) services.

Among the direct and most important benefits from wetlands to humans are the production of rice and fish which are the staple food for more than half of the world’s human population.

Macrophytes are also used for extracting several vitamins and essential oils (e.g., Vetiveria zizanioides). Wetlands are known to be among the most productive systems and some macrophytes may produce up to 20 tonnes per ha of biomass annually.

High organic production in wetlands causes a reduction in the atmospheric carbon dioxide which is sequestered in the plant or animal biomass or as organic matter in the soil. Thus, wetlands contribute to regulating climate change.

All wetlands, through their nutrient cycling strategies, regulate water quality. Submerged macrophytes oxygenate the water column, lower the nutrient content and keep the water clean and transparent unless the systems are heavily human impacted. Perennial macrophytes often accumulate large amounts of nutrients in their belowground organs.

These processes in the littoral zones and floodplains help maintain the water quality in open water areas by intercepting and transforming the nutrients and a wide range of pollutants, particularly from nonpoint sources. Wetland have indeed been called as ‘Kidneys of the Earth’. The water quality improvement function of macrophytes has been utilised in developing the constructed wetland technology which is widely used in many countries.

The flowing water systems also regulate water quality through their waste-assimilation capacity that is limited by the characteristics of their flow regimes, and is aided by the riparian and floodplain wetlands. Further, wetlands with perennial macrophytes and woody plants control soil erosion and stabilise shore lines. This is also helps improve water quality as sediments are trapped by the vegetation.

The fine sediments bring with them also the nutrients. In wetlands such as the floodplains humans benefit from this sediment trapping by way of renewed soil fertility and better crop yields. The most important benefit from the wetlands (and all inland aquatic ecosystems) lies in their regulation of water regimes.

All wetlands receive their water from the catchments, retain it for varying periods of time, transport it downstream and allow some of it to infiltrate into the ground. Some water also evaporates back into the atmosphere. This regulation of water movement, according to their water holding or flow carrying capacity, benefits the humans by making it available over longer time and greater space (distance) as well as by protecting them from the hazards of floods and droughts caused by events of extreme precipitation.

The macrophytes influence this function by reducing the water storing potential and obstructing the flow, but the emergent macrophytes also improve the hydraulic conductivity and help greater infiltration into the ground. Humans benefit from the wetlands which are in general the most preferred sites for a variety of recreational and socio-cultural activities.

Macrophyte dominated wetlands are highly valued for recreation involving bird watching, boating, angling, and resting or similar leisurely activities. Rivers, lakes and reservoirs are valued for recreational activities such as river rafting, diving, swimming, which require avoiding shallow areas with abundant submerged or floating macrophytes. Emergent macrophytes together with other wildlife (birds, mammals, and insects) invariably enhance the aesthetic appeal of the landscape. Many rivers and lakes, especially the high-altitude glacial lakes, in the Himalaya have very high spiritual and religious value; they are held sacred and attract numerous visitors. The benefits of such non-consumptive uses are difficult to quantify, and their value depends on individual and cultural assessments.

Threats to wetlands:

Dense human population in catchments, urbanisation, and various anthropogenic activities has resulted in over exploitation of wetland resources, leading to degradation in their quality and quantity. Now, there is increasing concern to conserve and restore perishing wetlands and endangered habitats to achieve ecological sustainability.

As per one of the studies, wetlands in our country are disappearing at a rate of 2% to 3% every year. Some of the major threats to wetlands are as given below:

• Urbanization- increasing developmental pressure for residential, industrial and commercial facilities.

• Anthropogenic activities-unplanned urban and agricultural development, industries, road construction, impoundment, resource extraction and dredge disposal.

• Agricultural Activities- conversion of wetlands for paddy fields; construction of a large number of reservoirs, canals and dams; diversion of streams and rivers to provide for irrigation.

• Deforestation-removal of vegetation in the catchment leading to soil erosion and siltation.

• Pollution-unrestricted dumping of sewage, solid wastes and toxic chemicals from industries and households.

• Salinization-over withdrawal of groundwater has led to salinization.

• Aquaculture-pisciculture and aquaculture ponds.

• Introduced Species-exotic introduced plant species such as Water Hyacinth and Salvinia clog waterways and compete with native vegetation.

• Climate change- increased air temperature; shifts in precipitation; increased frequency of storms, droughts, and floods; increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration; and sea level rise.

Wetlands Conservation – Indian Scenario:

The National Wetland Management Committee was formed in 1987. The functions of this committee are as follows:

• To create a policy related to Wetland, to guide the conservation, management, and research of Wetland.
• Selecting a Wetland for Conservation.
• Reviewing the implementation of programs.
• To advise the preparation of disinvestment inventory over Indian Wetland.

Other Legislative measures:

1. In 2008, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a Draft Regulatory Framework for Wetlands Conservation, under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA), 1986.

2. The Draft 2008 ‘Regulatory Framework for Wetland Conservation’ was put out for comments and suggestion and many organisations made suggestions.

3. In May 2010, another draft of Regulatory Framework was put out for comments, which included the draft Rules, 2009. Again, a number of comments and suggestions were sent to MoEF.

4. Seeking to protect over 2 lakh wetlands across the country, the Centre has come out with rules to identify and manage these ecologically fragile areas which play an important role in flood control, groundwater recharge, preserving plant varieties, supporting migratory birds and protecting coastlines.  

5.  Finally, on the 2nd of December 2010, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests notified the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010, thus these rules now become a law.

6. It calls for the constitution of a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority.

7. It seeks to regulate wetlands which include Ramsar Wetlands, and what it calls ‘Protected Wetlands’ which include ecologically sensitive wetlands, UNESCO sites or wetlands near UNESCO sites, above the elevation of 2500 meters or below the elevation of 2500 meters, but with an area more than 500 hectares or any other wetlands suggested by the Central Wetland Regulatory Authority.

8. Restricted Activities within the wetlands include reclamation, setting up industries in vicinity, solid waste dumping, manufacture or storage of hazardous substances, discharge of untreated effluents, any permanent construction, etc.

9. Regulated Activities (which will not be permitted without the consent of the state government) include hydraulic alterations, unsustainable grazing, harvesting of resources, releasing treated effluents, aquaculture, agriculture, dreading, etc.

10. The major functions of the authority include identification of new wetlands for conservation, ensuring that the Rules are followed by the local bodies, issue clearances, etc.,

11. The State Governments are to submit a ‘Brief Document’ identifying and classifying wetlands in their state. The Authority will then assess the wetland and if accepted, the Central Government shall notify it as a ‘Protected Wetland’.

12. The Brief document includes: broad geographical delineation, zone of influence size of wetland, account of pre-existing rights and privileges, consistent or not with the health of the wetland

13. Any appeals against the decision of the Authority can be made to the National Green Tribunal.

14. The new rules, notified by the environment ministry in 2017, decentralise wetlands management by giving states powers to not only identify and notify wetlands within their jurisdictions but also keep a watch on prohibited activities.

15. The new rules, notified by the environment ministry, decentralise wetlands management by giving states powers to not only identify and notify wetlands within their jurisdictions but also keep a watch on prohibited activities.

16. It also indirectly widens the ambit of permitted activities by inserting the ‘wise use’ principle, giving powers to state-level wetland authorities to decide what can be allowed in larger interest.

The notification says, “The wetlands shall be conserved and managed in accordance with the principle of ‘wise use’ as determined by the Wetlands Authority.”

The Centre’s role under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, will be restricted to monitoring its implementation by states/UTs, recommending trans-boundary wetlands for notification and reviewing integrated management of selected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention.

The Ramsar Convention:

The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on 2nd February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea.

Ramsar is the first of the modern global intergovernmental treaties on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, but, compared with more recent ones, its provisions are relatively straightforward and general.

The official name of the treaty, The Convention on Wetlands of International

Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, reflects the original emphasis upon the conservation and wise use of wetlands primarily as habitat for water birds.

Over the years, however, the Convention has broadened its scope of implementation to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognizing wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation and for the well-being of human communities, thus fulfilling the full scope of the Convention text.

Issues and way forward:

  1. Right now, there are multiple agencies involved in river and lake conservation, right from planning to implementation and monitoring. There is a need to consolidate all these functions under an umbrella agency for better coordination and accountability.
    1. MoEF/States need to ensure that projects for source control of all kind of pollutants entering the lakes is included in projects for conservation and restoration of lakes, especially sewage and agriculture runoff which leads to nutrient over-loading of the lake.
    1. MoEF should ensure that all lakes facing encroachment and resultant filling up are included in NLCP.
    1. Further, all State governments should declare bio-conservation zones around lakes so that encroachment of shoreline is prevented.
    1. States should involve citizens in proposing and monitoring programmes to control pollution of rivers and lakes.
    1. Both natural and human-made wetlands should be declared as specific land use category and their hydrological characteristics (sources and regimes) should be identified.
    1. Their conversion to any other land use or any reduction in their area or alteration in their water regime should be prohibited, except for strategic reasons after exploring other options and providing for compensatory measures.
    1. The total biodiversity of all wetlands should be assessed and periodically monitored. All ecosystem services of all wetlands should be assessed and valued in economic terms.
    1. All development projects such as those related to urban or industrial development, or those concerned with storage, diversion and abstraction of water from any source should consider all kinds of wetlands to be affected directly or indirectly, within the project area or far away from them.
    1. The assessment of ecosystem services and their economic valuation should particularly address the benefits to the local community and their livelihoods. A few kilograms of rhizomes of lotus or the leafy shoots of Ipomoes aquatica may not be priced significantly but may have a high value for the local community in terms of vegetable use and nourishment a no cost to them.


Proximal and distal causes of land degradation:

The causes of desertification, in general, may be divided into proximal and distal reasons. These are explained below.

The proximal are biophysical in terms of the vulnerability of soils due to topography and climatic factors such as temperature, rainfall and wind, but also due to unsustainable land management practices.

Unsustainable forest management results from deforestation, degradation, overgrazing, and conversion to other land uses, forest fires, excessive fuel wood collection and unsustainable harvests of non-timber forest. In the Indian context, forest degradation rather than deforestation is one of the major reasons for land degradation.

Unsustainable agricultural practices result from extensive and frequent cropping, excessive fertilizer and pesticide use and shifting cultivation with short fallows. Decreases in soil fertility often result from prolonged cultivation and erosion, and extensive application of fertilizers is used to maintain crop yields.

Expansion of canal irrigation to arid and semi-arid areas has caused widespread salinization and water logging. Mining and quarrying also inevitably result in land degradation particularly if inadequate land restoration measures are taken.

The distal reasons which precipitate or exacerbate land degradation are far more systemic. These include weak institutions and poor governance, policy and market failures (e.g. subsidizing fertilizer use), land fragmentation and uncertain tenure, demographic and socio-economic factors as well as the impacts of globalization.

Escalating demands for products in areas far removed from where they are produced is often responsible for inappropriate policies and land use practices. This makes the externalization of environmental and social costs a huge risk in this age of globalisation.

Poor governance that fails to recognize or promote traditional, community-based land management systems, decentralisation and institutions based on traditional knowledge can aggravate land degradation.

Soil Quality and Soil Carbon:

Soil quality is important for two reasons. First, unscientific use of soil can damage itself and the ecosystem; therefore, we need to match the management of land to the soil’s capability. Second, we need to establish a baseline understanding about soil quality so that we can recognize changes as they occur.

Soils are a major carbon reservoir comprising more carbon than the atmosphere and terrestrial vegetation combined. Soil Carbon is the backbone of soil fertility. Soil carbon includes both inorganic carbon as carbonate minerals, and as soil organic matter. Many tropical soils are poor in inorganic nutrients and rely on the recycling of nutrients from soil organic matter.

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is the engine of any soil and plays an important role in maintaining fertility by holding nitrogen, phosphorous and a range of other nutrients. It helps in improving soil properties such as water-holding capacity and providing gaseous exchange and root growth. The loss of SOC indicates a certain degree of soil degradation and soil degradation is a severe problem in countries like India with high demographic pressure.

However, if more amount of carbon is stored in the soil as organic carbon, it will reduce the amount present in the atmosphere, and therefore help to alleviate the problem of global warming and climate change. The process of storing carbon in soil is called “soil carbon sequestration”.

Restoring the quality of degraded soils is a challenging task, especially in regions dominated by small, resource-poor landholders. Re-carbonization of the depleted SOC pool, which is essential to numerous functions, requires regular input of biomass-C and essential elements (i.e., N, P, and S).

Evolution of land resource management policies and approaches:

Though the subjects of “land”, “agriculture” and “water” are subjects with the States as per the Constitution, the concerns for arresting and reversing land degradation and desertification have been reflected in many of the national policies for nearly 40 years.

Current policies and key legislation include The National Water Policy 2012; National Forest Policy 1988; National Agricultural Policy 2000; Forest (Conservation) Act 1980; Environment (Protection) Act 1986; National Environmental Policy 2006; National Policy for Farmers 2007; National Agroforestry Policy 2014 etc which have enabling provisions for addressing these problems. 

The evolution of schemes and programmes to address the various aspects of land degradation actually reflect the progressive acquisition of knowledge and development of improved packages of practice, as well as the shifts in focus based on national priorities. Some of the key milestones along this process include:

  • Adoption of watershed approach and planning based on micro-watersheds; use of remote sensing data and spatial data in planning at the micro-watershed level
  • Integrated treatment incorporating contouring, gully plugging, vegetative as well as engineering-based solutions for soil-moisture conservation, covering agricultural as well as non-agricultural lands. Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Social Fencing by involving local communities.
  • Integrated farming-based approach incorporating fodder and fuelwood supply, farm-forestry and agroforestry and silvi-pastures; stall feeding, improved chullahs etc.
  • Focus on water management, aquifer recharge and water budgeting as well as crop planning
  • Focus on social aspects: participative planning at micro-watershed level; transect walk; Constitution of Watershed Committee under the Gram Sabha; Water User Association development; social audit.
  • Incorporation of livelihood related activities and development of micro-enterprises; involvement of Self-Help Groups (SHGs); programmes such as Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) focusing on increasing capabilities women farmers with a view to increasing sustainability.
  • Adoption of climate-adaptation related solutions both with regard to floods and intense precipitation as well as temperature and moisture stress, and orienting employment generation programmes like MGNREGA in this direction.
  • Increasing the role of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and ensuring “convergence” between Government programmes and programmes executed by PRIs.

There are three basic strategies of restoring soil quality  

  • minimizing losses from the pedosphere or soil solum – minimising top soil loss
  • creating a positive soil C budget, while enhancing biodiversity; and
  • strengthening water and elemental cycling. (Element cycles are the biogeochemical pathways by which elements are transformed and moved through various states by geological and biological processes. E.g., Carbon Cycle, Nitrogen Cycle).

Soil Erosion: A major factor responsible for the degradation of the natural resources is soil erosion. In general, soil erosion is more severe in mountainous than in undulating and plain areas. Inappropriate soil management, unsuited to the location like tilling along the slope, lack of crop cover during heavy rainfall, etc. is responsible for accelerated soil erosion with consequent loss of land productivity.

Because of different processes like slaking and dispersion, mechanisms of soil structural collapse and degradation vary climatically and from one soil type to another. Soil erosion by water is one of the most serious degradation in the Indian context.

Improving Soil/Agro-Biodiversity: Soil biota are important to soil quality and reduce risks of degradation and desertification. Indeed, soil biota comprise a major component of global terrestrial biodiversity and perform critical roles in key ecosystem functions (e.g., biomass decomposition, nutrient cycling, moderating CO2 in the atmosphere, creating disease suppressive soils, etc.). Improving activity and species diversity of soil fauna and flora (micro, meso and macro) is therefore essential to restoring and improving soil quality and reducing risks of soil degradation.

The importance of macro-organisms (e.g., earthworms, termites) for restoring soil quality has been widely recognized for centuries. Risks of soil degradation can be mitigated through adoption of land use and management systems which improve soil biological processes, and introduction of beneficial organisms into soils by selective inoculation.

For these and other reasons, the presence of earthworms, termites and other soil biota are often identified as important indicators of quality in tropical soils.

Soil Restorative Farming/Cropping Systems: Similar to arable lands, managing quality of rangeland soils is also essential for reducing risks of degradation. Sustainable management of rangeland soils is especially challenging because of high variability, harsh environments, and the temptation for over-grazing. 

Improving Soil Resilience: The term soil resilience refers to the ability of the soil to recover its quality in response to any natural or anthropogenic perturbations. Soil resilience is not the same as soil resistance, because resilience refers to “elastic” attributes that enable a soil to regain its quality upon alleviation of any perturbation or destabilizing influence. There are also some organic management options for reducing soil degradation risk and improving human health, that may have site-specific niches.

Salinization and Alkalization: The expansion of irrigation has been one of the key strategies in achieving self-sufficiency in food production. In most of the expansion, the area is increased under canal irrigation that leads to rise in groundwater Table resulting in the soil deterioration through accumulation of salts.

Acidity: The largest areas covered by acid soils in India belong to laterites and various latosol soils. The management of acid soils include

(a) addition of lime and/or other chemical amendments to correct the acidity and manipulate the agricultural practices so as to obtain optimum crop yields,

(b) grow acid tolerant crops and cultivars/varieties and to supplement nutrients through suitable carriers, and

(c) water management and other agronomic practices.

Light and frequent irrigation practice helps in enhancing water and nutrient-use efficiency on these soils. Problems of high evaporative demands on crusting soils can be managed by mulching the crop lands with available paddy straw. Mulching not only lowers evapo-transpiration of the crops but also saves irrigation water to the tune of 15-20 % in different crops.

Loss of soil Carbon: Removal or in-situ burning of crop residues, no or least addition of organic manures, and intensive cultivation are the major reasons for the depletion of soil organic carbon. Balanced and integrated use of inorganic and organics, management of crop residues, etc. are desirable options for sequestering organic carbon in soil.

Nutrient Imbalance: Nutrient losses could occur in many ways, i.e., via emission to the air as NH3, N2O, NO, and N2, and discharge to the water through runoff, leaching and erosion. The wide use of fertilizer and booming developed of the livestock production contributed to the vast N losses to the environment.

Both of the N imbalance and the N losses can be improved greatly, without sacrificing the crop yield, such as balanced and integrated use of fertilizers and organic manures, which are effective in increasing crop yields, nutrient use efficiency and minimizing environmental impacts.

Pollution/Contamination by Toxic Substances: Both geogenic and anthropogenic factors cause pollution/contamination of soil and water resources. However, their impact varies with rainfall pattern, and depth and geology of aquifer.

Unfinished tasks and the way forward:

Though it would seem that there has been very substantial development with regard to the national imperative of checking land degradation, the visible impact of programmes on the ground is clearly less than impressive. A provisional diagnostic would suggest:

  • Lack of consistency in data collection as impact assessments are carried out by different agencies from those implementing the project and hence project implementers view these evaluations as an external issue.
  • Failure to evaluate non-market and societal co-benefits that provide a more holistic picture of these programmes
  • Lack of post-project monitoring and impact assessments to evaluate the contribution of these projects to building resilience to drought and long-term restoration of ecosystems.
  • Insufficient coverage by government programmes for addressing land degradation primarily because of funding constraints but also because of management and technical capacity constraints.
  • Need to focus on more sustainable agricultural practices. Depleting groundwater, the spread of problem soils (acidic, saline & alkaline), loss of soil organic carbon (SOC) and yield plateaus manifest the different dimensions of the problem and challenge.
  • Perverse incentives such as free power for groundwater pumping; nitrogenous fertilizer subsidy; Minimum Support Price (MSP) only for a few crops (thus influencing crop choice) etc. may be causing degradation of additional areas.

In the last analysis sustainable management of land (and water) resources have to be by, and in close collaboration with, local communities. It is no coincidence that the few outstanding examples of sustainable management are all traceable to visionary local leadership supported by the host communities and assisted by public policies for sustainable use of resources, infrastructure creation, knowledge accretion and transmission, and development of entrepreneurship.

Checking and reversing land degradation has to be essentially based on self-regulatory practices with regard to a sustainable use of resources and energy. The task of public policies must include incentivisation of such regulation.

Hazardous waste:

Modern society produces large quantities of hazardous waste which are generated by chemical manufacturing companies, petroleum refineries, paper mills, smelters and other industries. Hazardous wastes are those that can cause harm to humans or the environment.

Wastes are normally classified as hazardous waste when they cause or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible or incapacitating reversible illness or pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported or disposed of.

Characteristics of hazardous wastes: A waste is classified as a hazardous waste if it exhibits any of the four primary characteristics based on the physical or chemical properties of toxicity, reactivity, ignitability and corrosivity. In addition to this waste products that are either infectious or radioactive are also classified as hazardous. Toxic wastes are those substances that are poisonous even in very small or trace amounts. Some may have an acute or immediate effect on humans or animals causing death or violent illness. Others may have a chronic or long-term effect slowly causing irreparable harm to exposed persons.

Toxicity can be acute or chronic. Acute toxicity is readily apparent because organisms respond to the toxin shortly after being exposed. Chronic toxicity is much more difficult to determine because the effects may not be seen for years. Certain toxic wastes are known to be carcinogenic, causing cancer and others may be mutagenic causing biological changes in the children of exposed people and animals.

Reactive wastes are those that have a tendency to react vigorously with air or water, are unstable to shock or heat, generate toxic gases or explode during routine management. For example, gunpowder, nitro glycerine, etc. Ignitable wastes are those that burn at relatively low temperatures (less than 60 C) and are capable of spontaneous combustion during storage, transport or disposal.

Radioactive waste is basically an output from the nuclear power plants and can persist in the environment for thousands of years before it decays appreciably. Environmental problems and health risks caused by hazardous wastes. As most of the hazardous wastes are disposed of on or in land the most serious environmental effect is contaminated groundwater. Once groundwater is polluted with hazardous wastes it is very often not possible to reverse the damage.

Pesticides are used increasingly to protect and increase food production. They form residues in the soil which are washed into streams which then carry them forwards. The residues may persist in the soil or in the bottom of lakes and rivers. Exposure can occur through ingestion, inhalation and skin contact resulting in acute or chronic poisoning.

Today we have an alternative to the excess use of pesticides through the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The IPM system uses a wide variety of plants and insects to create a more natural process. The natural balance between climate, soil and insect populations can help to prevent an insect from overpopulating an area and destroying a particular crop.

Lead, mercury and arsenic are hazardous substances which are often referred to as heavy metals. Lead is an abundant heavy metal and is relatively easy to obtain. It is used in batteries, fuel, pesticides, paints, pipes and other places where resistance to corrosion is required. Most of the lead taken up by people and wildlife is stored in bones. Lead can affect red blood cells by reducing their ability to carry oxygen and shortening their life span. Lead may also damage nerve tissue which can result in brain disease.

Thousands of chemicals are used in industry every day. When used incorrectly or inappropriately they can become health hazards. PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) are resistant to fire and do not conduct electricity very well which makes them excellent materials for several industrial purposes.

Rainwater can wash PCBs out of disposal areas in dumps and landfills thus contaminating water. PCBs do not break down very rapidly in the environment and thus retain their toxic characteristics. They cause long term exposure problems to both humans and wildlife. PCBs are concentrated in the kidneys and liver and thus cause damage. They cause reproductive failure in birds and mammals.

Vinyl chloride is a chemical that is widely used in the manufacture of plastic. Usually people are only exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride if they work with it or near it but exposure can also occur from vinyl chloride gas leaks. After a long continuous exposure (one to three years) in humans, vinyl chloride can cause deafness, vision problems, circulation disorders and bone deformities.

Vinyl chloride can also cause birth defects. It is essential to substitute the use of PCBs and vinyl chloride with chemicals that are less toxic. Polyvinyl chloride use can be lowered by reducing our use of plastics.

Thus, by reducing waste, encouraging recycling and using products that are well made and durable we can greatly reduce our consumption of these chemicals thus curtailing our exposure to these substances. We may not realize it but many household chemicals can be quite toxic to humans as well as wildlife.

Most of the dangerous substances in our homes are found in various kinds of cleaners, solvents and products used in automotive care. When these products are used incorrectly, they have the potential to be harmful.


Today, air pollution has emerged as a global public health problem and is identified as a major environmental health hazard by agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments around the world.

A study published by the World Bank in 2016 revealed that air pollution cost India approximately 8% of its GDP or $560 billion, as a result of lost productivity due to premature mortality and morbidity.

In recent years, air pollution has acquired critical dimensions and the air quality in most Indian cities that monitor outdoor air pollution fail to meet WHO guidelines for safe levels.

The levels of PM2.5 and PM10 (Air-borne particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter and 10 micrometres in diameter) as well as concentration of dangerous carcinogenic substances such as Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) have reached alarming proportions in most Indian cities, putting people at additional risk of respiratory diseases and other health problems. Furthermore, the issue of indoor air pollution has put women and children at high risk.

There are five key sources of pollution:

a. Vehicles – grossly polluting vehicles like trucks and diesel vehicles as well as growing numbers that negates the impact of cleaner fuel and emission technology;

b. Combustion in power plants and industries using dirty fuels, like pet coke, FO (and its variants), coal and biomass

c. Garbage burning, both in landfills and other places where there is no collection, processing or disposal;

d. Dust management on roads, construction sites etc, which adds to the particulate pollution.

e. Crop residue burning because farmers do not have alternatives for use of straw.

Indoor air pollution: 

Individuals spend close to three-fourths of their day (around 18 hours) in indoor environments, which include residences and workplaces. Indoor activities such as cooking, heating, cleaning, incense burning, tobacco smoking, refrigeration, and air conditioning are significant contributors of air pollutants emissions.

The infiltration of ambient air into indoor environments through ventilation intakes, doors and windows also result in household air pollution (HAP).

Fine and ultrafine particulates, biological aerosols, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of sulphur and nitrogen (SOx and NOx) are typically found indoors in households where biomass is used for cooking or heating.

 Close to 60% of Indian households use biomass (in the form of firewood, charcoal, manure, and crop residues) as their main energy source for cooking. Biomass combustion, involved in cooking and heating practices, is the principal source of HAP in India.

Over the years, a strong body of evidence has been established linking HAP with three broad categories of health outcomes in India – acute lower respiratory infections in children under five years of age, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in women, and lung cancer (especially in users of coal).Poverty, inaccessibility to improved cooking fuel, and lack of awareness about harms of biomass emissions are among the major factors that drive their widespread use.

Major Pollutants:

Particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5)

Particulate matter (PM) is made up of small airborne particles like dust, soot and drops of liquids. The majority of PM in urban areas is formed directly from burning of fossil fuels by power plants, automobiles, non-road equipment and industrial facilities.

Other sources are dust, diesel emissions and secondary particle formation from gases and vapours.

Coarse particulate matter (PM10, particles less than 10 microns in diameter) is known to cause nasal and upper respiratory tract health problems.

Fine particles (PM2.5, particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter) penetrate deeper into the lungs and cause heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and bronchitis, as well as premature death from heart ailments, lung disease and cancer. Studies show that higher PM2.5 exposure can impair brain development in children.

Black carbon (BC)

Black carbon is one of the components of particulate matter and comes from burning fuel (especially diesel, wood, and coal). Most air pollution regulations focus on PM2.5, but exposure to black carbon is a serious health threat as well.

Populations with higher exposures to black carbon over a long period are at a higher risk for heart attacks and stroke. In addition, black carbon is associated with hypertension, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, and a variety of types of cancer.

Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2)

Nitrogen oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are produced primarily by the transportation sector. NO is rapidly converted to NO2 in sunlight. NOx (a combination of NO and NO2) is formed in high concentrations around roadways and can result in development and exacerbations of asthma and bronchitis, and can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.

Ozone (O3)

Ozone high in the atmosphere can protect us from ultraviolet radiation. But ozone at ground level (where it is part of what is commonly called smog) is a well-established respiratory irritant. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere through reactions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, both of which are formed as a result of combustion of fossil fuels.

Short-term exposure to ozone can cause chest pain, coughing and throat irritation, while long term exposure can lead to decreased lung function and cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition, ozone exposure can aggravate existing lung diseases.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2)

SO2 is emitted into the air by the burning of fossil fuels that contain sulphur. Coal, metal extraction and smelting, ship engines, and heavy equipment diesel equipment burn fuels that contain sulphur.

Sulphur dioxide causes eye irritation, worsens asthma, increases susceptibility to respiratory infections and impacts the cardiovascular system. When SO2 combines with water, it forms sulfuric acid; this is the main component of acid rain, a known contributor to deforestation.

Government Initiatives:

Amid growing concerns pertaining to rising air pollution, government of India has taken various initiatives as well as introduced policies to address the issue. In order to prevent and control air pollution, the Parliament of India enacted the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Salient features of the Act are given below:

AQI and health index

CPCB in association with various State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) monitors the ambient air quality according to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

The National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) set up 629 stations in 264 cities and towns, across the country, to regularly monitor PM10, NOx, and SO2.

The data suggests that about 80% of Indian cities do not meet the prescribed national standards of PM10, while NOx is exceeded in only 8% of cities.

National Air Quality Index notified by the government which classifies air quality of a day considering criteria pollutants through colour codes, air quality descriptor along with health advisory which is as follows.

On a positive note, SO2 concentrations have been reduced, and now just 1% of the cities violate the national standards. 

Steps to curb vehicular emission: With the increase in number of vehicles on Indian roads, air pollution resulting from vehicular emissions has become the main source of air pollution in the urban centres of the country. Government has notified early implementation of BS-VI norm from 2020 to reduce emission from vehicles.

National Urban Transport Policy: Most Indian cities are increasingly relying on motorized personal transport. With this in mind, the National Urban Transport Policy launched to prioritize the use of public transport running on cleaner fuel and technology and develop a people-centric sustainable multi-modal urban transport network.

Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME-India) Scheme, which was launched in 2015 under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) aims to create the infrastructure for and promote e-mobility.

The purpose of Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) is to (iii) reduce pollution by switching to public transport or constructing facilities for non-motorized transport. 

National Mission for a Green India is aimed at protecting, restoring and enhancing India’s diminishing forest cover and responding to climate change by a combination of adaptation and mitigation measures.

National Biomass Cookstoves Programme: The National Biomass Cookstoves Programme (NBCP) was launched by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to promote the use of improved cookstoves, which would result in reduced emissions and offer cleaner cooking energy solutions.  Initiative to design, develop an efficient and cost-effective device and assess the status of improved chulhas.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) aims to safeguard the health of women & children by providing them with a clean cooking fuel – LPG, so that they don’t have to compromise their health in smoky kitchens or wander in unsafe areas collecting firewood. Renewable Energy: the new area of focus to reduce dependency on coal India is extremely rich in renewable energy (RE) sources, such as wind, solar and small hydro, however, green energy accounts for only 12.14% of India’s total installed power capacity. It is imperative that the country alters its existing energy mix and reduce its reliance on coal and shift to greener modes of energy.

It is in line with this idea that the government has set an ambitious target to achieve 175,000 MW of green energy by 2022.

Solar Power:  Solar power is to become a crucial component of India’s power portfolio The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), part of the missions launched as part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change seeks to tap the immense potential of solar power as a future energy source in the country.

As part of the mission, it is envisaged that the installed capacity of solar power – both solar thermal and solar photovoltaic – should be ramped up to 20 GW by 2022 in three phases. This mission has been largely successful and the government has revised the target to 100 GW by 2022.

National ‘Air Quality Index’ to enable common man to understand Air Quality Announced in October 2014 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the National Air Quality Index (AQI) is a measurement index consisting of 8 parameters, which would disseminate information in a simple and effective manner to the common man as characterized by its slogan “One Colour, One Number and One Description”. 


  • Several control measures have been introduced from time to time to combat the pollution levels, but the pace at which the emission levels have increased is very high compared to that of control measures.
  • Barriers for this controlled pace of introduction of air pollution control equipment (APCE) are varied ranging from financial constraints to lack of awareness levels.
  • Every investment under the umbrella of environmental protection demands for financial support by the government. While India being a developing country, the main priority is firstly the investment in development sector and provide basic amenities to the burgeoning population. Thus, allocation of funds for this sector comes as a second priority.
  • In few sectors like power lack of capacity of vigilance authorities is a major reason behind control of emissions. APCEs (electrostatic precipitators) have been made compulsory for all the power plants by the government. But proper inspection and maintenance system is missing in terms of regular check on efficiencies of these APCEs.
  • In case of residential sector, traditional chulhas and traditional fuel are the main cause of emissions. Despite of information regarding better available technologies around the world, dissemination of the same across the entire country becomes a big challenge.
  • Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitaran Yojana – RGGLVY started by the government is active since 2009. But to reach each remote village is a challenge. Since all the villages are still not electrified, villagers still rely on kerosene for lighting purpose which lead to increased emission of pollutants.
  • Similarly, though improved cookstoves have been introduced by the government through different programs but the scale of these programs is not sufficient to cater the needs of the entire country. Also, complete awareness regarding the importance of protecting environment is still low among rural communities.
  • Shift freight transport from road to lower-emission modes such as rail, inland waterways, and coastal shipping.
  • Provide cleaner fuels (LPG, Electricity) and biomass stoves with an efficiency of 50% or more and with a forced draft fan to those who cannot afford LPG.
  • Develop business models for collection, transport, and storage of agriculture residues and farm manure. Convert agriculture residues and farm manure to electricity for rural power and biomass pellets for women who depend on biomass stoves.
  • Adopt cleaner and efficient production technologies such as supercritical technologies in power sector, vertical shaft kilns, hoffman kilns, and tunnel kilns for brick manufacturing.

Technology specific initiatives for the way forward are given in the table below:

  • Deploy National Emission Trading Schemes (ETS) with cap and trade for power generation and other large polluting industries.
  • Implement stringent emission standards to control gaseous pollutants
  • (NOx, SO2) and fine particulate (black carbon and fly ash) emissions from both power plants and big industries.
  • Implement wall-to-wall paving of streets and vacuum cleaning of roads; enforce ban on open burning of solid waste; manage waste and recovery of methane from landfills.

Effects of air pollution on the stratosphere: The upper stratosphere consists of considerable amounts of ozone, which works as an effective screen for ultraviolet light. This region called the ozone layer extends up to 60 kms above the surface of the earth. Though the ozone is present upto 60 kms its greatest density remains in the region between 20 to 25 kms.

The ozone layer does not consist of solely ozone but a mixture of other common atmospheric gases. In the densest ozone layer, there will be only one ozone molecule in 100,000 gas molecules. Therefore, even small changes in the ozone concentration can produce dramatic effects on life on earth.

Ozone is a form of oxygen with three atoms instead of two. It is produced naturally from the photodissociation of oxygen gas molecules in the atmosphere. The ozone thus formed is constantly broken down by naturally occurring processes that maintain its balance in the ozone layer.

The total amount of ozone in a ‘column’ of air from the earth’s surface up to an altitude of 50 km is the total column ozone. This is recorded in Dobson Units (DU), a measure of the thickness of the ozone layer by an equivalent layer of pure ozone gas at normal temperature and pressure at sea level. This means that 100 DU=1mm of pure ozone gas at normal temperature and pressure at sea level.

In the absence of pollutants, the creation and breakdown of ozone are purely governed by natural forces, but the presence of certain pollutants can accelerate the breakdown of ozone. Though it was known earlier that ozone shows fluctuations in its concentrations which may be accompanied sometimes with a little ozone depletion, it was only in 1985 that the large-scale destruction of the ozone also called the Ozone Hole came into limelight when some British researchers published measurements about the ozone layer.

Soon after these findings a greater impetus was given to research on the ozone layer, which convincingly established that CFC’s were leading to its depletion. These CFCs (chloro-flurocarbons) are extremely stable, non-flammable, non-toxic and harmless to handle. This makes them ideal for many industrial applications like aerosols, air conditioners, refrigerators and fire extinguishers.

Many cans, which give out foams and sprays, use CFCs. (eg: perfumes, room fresheners, etc.) CFCs are also used in making foams for mattresses and cushions, disposable Styrofoam cups, glasses, packaging material for insulation, cold storage etc.

However, their stability also gives them a long-life span in the atmosphere. Halons are similar in structure to the CFCs but contain bromine atoms instead of chlorine. They are more dangerous to the ozone layer than CFCs.

Halons are used as fire extinguishing agents as they do not pose a harm to people and equipment exposed to them during firefighting. The CFCs and the halons migrate into the upper atmosphere after they are released. As they are heavier than air, they have to be carried by air currents up to just above the lower atmosphere and then they slowly diffuse into the upper atmosphere. This is a slow process and can take as long as five to fifteen years.

In the stratosphere unfiltered UV-radiation severs the chemical bonds releasing chlorine from the rest of the CFC. This attacks the ozone molecule resulting in its splitting into an oxygen molecule and an oxygen atom. Despite the fact that CFCs are evenly distribute over the globe, the ozone depletion is especially pronounced over the South Pole due to the extreme weather conditions in the Antarctic atmosphere. The presence of the ice crystals makes the Cl-O bonding easier.India has signed the Montreal Protocol in 1992, which aims to control the production and consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances.

Montreal Protocol:

In 1985 the Vienna Convention established mechanisms for international co-operation in research into the ozone layer and the effects of ozone depleting chemicals (ODCs). The Protocol called for the Parties to phase down the use of CFCs, halons and other man-made ODCs.

The Montreal Protocol represented a landmark in the international environmentalist movement. For the first time whole countries were legally bound to reducing and eventually phasing out altogether the use of CFCs and other ODCs. Failure to comply was accompanied by stiff penalties.

Using CFC compounds in devices would be cheaper than using replacement compounds harmless to ozone. An international fund was therefore established to help developing countries introduce new and more environmentally friendly technologies and chemicals. The depletion of the ozone layer is a worldwide problem which does not respect the frontiers between different countries. It can only be affected through determined international co-operation. 

Ozone depletion-What does it do? Changes in the ozone layer have serious implications for mankind.

1. Effects on human health: Sunburn, cataract, aging of the skin and skin cancer are caused by increased ultra-violet radiation. It weakens the immune system by suppressing the resistance of the whole body to certain infections like measles, chicken pox and other viral diseases that elicit rash and parasitic diseases such as malaria introduced through the skin.

2. Food production: Ultra violet radiation affects the ability of plants to capture light energy during the process of photosynthesis. This reduces the nutrient content and the growth of plants. This is seen especially in legumes and cabbage. Plant and animal planktons are damaged by ultra-violet radiation.

In zooplanktons (microscopic animals) the breeding period is shortened by changes in radiation. As planktons form the basis of the marine food chain a change in their number and species composition influences fish and shell fish production. Effect on materials: Increased UV radiation damages paints and fabrics, causing them to fade faster.

3. Effect on climate: Atmospheric changes induced by pollution contribute to global warming, a phenomenon which is caused due to the increase in concentration of certain gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, methane and CFCs.

Observations of the earth have shown beyond doubt that atmospheric constituents such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and Chloro Fluro Carbons trap heat in the form of infra-red radiation near the earth’s surface. This is known as the ‘Greenhouse Effect’.

The phenomenon is similar to what happens in a greenhouse. The glass in a greenhouse allows solar radiation to enter which is absorbed by the objects inside. These objects radiate heat in the form of terrestrial radiation, which does not pass out through the glass. The heat is therefore trapped in the greenhouse increasing the temperature inside and ensuring the luxuriant growth of plants.

  1. Effects on Bio-geo-chemical Cycles: Increased solar UV radiation could affect terrestrial and aquatic bio-geo-chemical cycles thus altering both sources and sinks of greenhouse and important trace gases, e.g. carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), carbonyl sulphide (COS), etc. These changes would contribute to biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks responsible for the atmosphere build-up of these gases.
  • Other effects of increased UV-B radiation include: changes in the production and decomposition of plant matter; reduction of primary production changes in the uptake and release of important atmospheric gases; reduction of bacterioplankton growth in the upper ocean; increased degradation of aquatic dissolved organic matter (DOM), etc.
  • Aquatic nitrogen cycling can be affected by enhanced UV-B through inhibition of nitrifying bacteria and photodecomposition of simple inorganic species such as nitrate. The marine sulphur cycle may also be affected resulting in possible changes in the sea-to-air emissions of COS and dimethylsulfied (DMS), two gases that are degraded to sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere and troposphere, respectively.
  • Effects on Air Quality: Reduction of stratospheric ozone and increased penetration of UV-B radiation result in higher photo dissociation rates of key trace gases that control the chemical reactivity of the troposphere. This can increase both production and destruction of ozone and related oxidants such as hydrogen peroxide which are known to have adverse effects on human health, terrestrial plants and outdoor materials.

Changes in the atmospheric concentrations of the hydroxyl radical (OH) may change the atmospheric lifetimes of important gases such as methane and substitutes of chlorofluoro carbons (CFCs). Increased troposphere reactivity could also lead to increased production of particulates such as cloud condensation nuclei from the oxidation and subsequent nucleation of sulphur of both anthropogenic and natural origin (e.g. COS and DMS).

  • Effects on Materials:  An increased level of solar UV radiation is known to have adverse effects on synthetic polymers, naturally occurring biopolymers and some other materials of commercial interest.

UV-B radiation accelerates the photo degradation rates of these materials thus limiting their lifetimes. Typical damages range from discoloration to loss of mechanical integrity. Such a situation would eventually demand substitution of the affected materials by more photo stable plastics and other materials in future.

Clean Air Mission for India – Ten Solutions


India’s 14 major, 55 minor and several hundred small rivers receive millions of litres of sewage, industrial and agricultural wastes. The most polluting source for rivers is the city sewage and industrial waste discharge. Presently, only about 10 per cent of the waste water generated is treated; the rest is discharged as it is into our water bodies.

Causes of water pollution:There are several classes of common water pollutants. These are disease-causing agents (pathogens) which include bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasitic worms that enter water from domestic sewage and untreated human and animal wastes.

Human wastes contain concentrated populations of coliform bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Streptococcus faecalis. These bacteria normally grow in the large intestine of humans where they are responsible for some food digestion and for the production of vitamin K. These bacteria are not harmful in low numbers.

Large amounts of human waste in water, increases the number of these bacteria which cause gastrointestinal diseases. Other potentially harmful bacteria from human wastes may also be present in smaller numbers. Thus, the greater the amount of wastes in the water the greater are the chances of contracting diseases from them.

Another category of water pollutant is oxygen depleting wastes. These are organic wastes that can be decomposed by aerobic (oxygen requiring) bacteria. Large populations of bacteria use up the oxygen present in water to degrade these wastes. In the process this degrades water quality.

The amount of oxygen required to break down a certain amount of organic matter is called the biological oxygen demand (BOD). The amount of BOD in the water is an indicator of the level of pollution. If too much organic matter is added to the water all the available oxygen is used up.

This causes fish and other forms of oxygen dependent aquatic life to die. Thus, anaerobic bacteria (those that do not require oxygen) begin to break down the wastes. Their anaerobic respiration produces chemicals that have a foul odour and an unpleasant taste that is harmful to human health.

A third class of pollutants are inorganic plant nutrients. These are water soluble nitrates and phosphates that cause excessive growth of algae and other aquatic plants. The excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants due to added nutrients is called eutrophication. They may interfere with the use of the water by clogging water intake pipes, changing the taste and odour of water and cause a build-up of organic matter.

As the organic matter decays, oxygen levels decrease and fish and other aquatic species die. The quantity of fertilizers applied in a field is often many times more than is actually required by the plants. The chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides pollute soil and water. While excess fertilizers cause eutrophication, pesticides cause bioaccumulation and biomagnification.

Pesticides which enter water bodies are introduced into the aquatic food chain. They are then absorbed by the phytoplankton and aquatic plants. These plants are eaten by the herbivorous fish which are in turn eaten by the carnivorous fish which are in turn eaten by the water birds. At each link in the food chain these chemicals which do not pass out of the body are accumulated and increasingly concentrated resulting in biomagnification of these harmful substances.

One of the effects of accumulation of high levels of pesticides such as DDT is that birds lay eggs with shells that are much thinner than normal. This results in the premature breaking of these eggs, killing the chicks inside. Birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and other fish-eating birds are affected by such pollution. Although DDT has been banned in India for agricultural use and is to be used only for malaria eradication, it is still used in the fields as it is cheap.

A fourth class of water pollutants is water soluble inorganic chemicals which are acids, salts and compounds of toxic metals such as mercury and lead. High levels of these chemicals can make the water unfit to drink, harm fish and other aquatic life, reduce crop yields and accelerate corrosion of equipment that use this water.

Another cause of water pollution is a variety of organic chemicals, which include oil, gasoline, plastics, pesticides, cleaning solvents, detergent and many other chemicals. These are harmful to aquatic life and human health. They get into the water directly from industrial activity either from improper handling of the chemicals in industries and more often from improper and illegal disposal of chemical wastes.

Sediment of suspended matter is another class of water pollutant. These are insoluble particles of soil and other solids that become suspended in water. This occurs when soil is eroded from the land. High levels of soil particles suspended in water, interferes with the penetration of sunlight. This reduces the photosynthetic activity of aquatic plants and algae disrupting the ecological balance of the aquatic bodies.

When the velocity of water in streams and rivers decreases the suspended particles settle down at the bottom as sediments. Excessive sediments that settle down destroys feeding and spawning grounds of fish, clogs and fills lakes, artificial reservoirs etc.

Water soluble radioactive isotopes are yet another source of water pollution. These can be concentrated in various tissues and organs as they pass through food chains and food webs. Ionizing radiation emitted by such isotopes can cause birth defects, cancer and genetic damage. Hot water let out by power plants and industries that use large volumes of water to cool the plant result in rise in temperature of the local water bodies.

Thermal pollution occurs when industry returns the heated water to a water source. Power plants heat water to convert it into steam, to drive the turbines that generate electricity. For efficient functioning of the steam turbines, the steam is condensed into water after it leaves the turbines. This condensation is done by taking water from a water body to absorb the heat.

This heated water, which is at least 150C higher than the normal is discharged back into the water body. The warm water not only decreases the solubility of oxygen but changes the breeding cycles of various aquatic organisms. Oil is washed into surface water in runoff from roads and parking lots which also pollutes groundwater.

Groundwater pollution: While oil spills are highly visible and often get a lot of media attention, a much greater threat to human life comes from our groundwater being polluted which is used for drinking and irrigation. While groundwater is easy to deplete and pollute it gets renewed very slowly and hence must be used judiciously.

Groundwater flows are slow and not turbulent hence the contaminants are not effectively diluted and dispersed as compared to surface water. Moreover, pumping groundwater and treating it is very slow and costly. Hence it is extremely essential to prevent the pollution of groundwater in the first place.

Types of Groundwater Contamination: Groundwater pollution caused by human activities usually falls into one of two categories: point source pollution and nonpoint source pollution.

Point-source pollution refers to contamination originating from a single tank, disposal site, or facility. Industrial waste disposal sites, accidental spills, leaking gasoline storage tanks, and dumps or landfills are examples of point sources.

Chemicals used in agriculture, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are examples of nonpoint-source pollution because they are spread out across wide areas. Similarly, runoff from urban areas is a nonpoint source of pollution.

Because nonpoint-source substances are used over large areas, they collectively can have a larger impact on the general quality of water in an aquifer than do point sources, particularly when these chemicals are used in areas that overlie aquifers that are vulnerable to pollution.

Water quality issues: The Water Quality Assessment Authority (WQAA) was constituted by the Central Government to exercise powers of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for issuing directions and for taking measures to standardize method(s) for water quality monitoring and to ensure quality of data generation for utilization thereof and certain other purposes. Main issues with water quality are:

 Ground water and Surface water interactions: Groundwater and surface water are essentially one resource, physically connected by the hydrologic cycle. Although water law and water policy often consider groundwater and surface water as separate resources, groundwater and surface water are functionally inter-dependent. Groundwater and surface water interactions are controlled by their hydraulic connection.

Hydraulically Connected Systems: If the groundwater table is in physical contact with the stream bed, it is a hydraulically “connected” system. The exchange of water between the groundwater system and a stream is controlled by the difference in elevation between groundwater table and the water level in the stream.

Hydraulically disconnected streams: If a stream is separated from the groundwater table by an unsaturated zone, it is a hydraulically “disconnected” system. In disconnected systems, although groundwater pumping does not affect streams, streams do affect groundwater through streambed seepage that recharges the groundwater system.

Legislations, policies and programmes for water pollution in India

The Indian Parliament drew immense inspiration from the proclamation adopted by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place at Stockholm, 1972 and enacted the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

Salient features of Water Act:
Water act came into effect in 1974 to prevent pollution of water by industrial, agricultural and household water.
 ‘Water’ being a ‘state subject’, the Parliament can exercise the power to legislate on “water” only under Articles 249 and 252 of the Constitution of India. Accordingly, the Parliament enacted the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. The Water Act represents one of the India’s first attempts to deal with an environmental issue comprehensively. The main features of this act are listed below:

Under Water Act, 1974, pollution control boards were created, who are responsible for implementation of its provisions. One of the important provisions of the Water Act, 1974 is to maintain and restore the ‘wholesomeness’ of aquatic resources. On national and state levels, there are several policies and regulation like Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 to regulate pollution discharges and restore water quality of our aquatic resources including the prescription of monitoring activities.


  1. Overall planning for the control of pollution on part of MoEF and the States falls short of an ideal situation. This would have repercussions on implementation of programmes for control of pollution and their outcomes.
  2. MoEF has not framed any legislation which specifically identifies pollution as an environmental offence and restoration of water bodies as a priority action.
  3. In the absence of an inventory for rivers and lakes, MoEF would not have adequate knowledge and information on the water resources for setting objectives for water pollution prevention and control and implementing responses to it.
  4. Absence of inventory of water bodies and keystone species associated with them leads to an incomplete understanding of water quantity and quality. The absence of such a database weakens the process of planning comprehensive and effective pollution control programmes.
  5. No studies have been carried out by MoEF/CPCB to probe the effects of industrial activities like paper mills, pharmaceutical industry, chemical plants, distilleries, tanneries, oil refineries, sugar factories and mining.
  6. MoEF/CPCB have set no water quality goals for the country. NRCD projects deal only with stretches where pollution has already occurred.
  7. Neither MoEF nor the States have introduced any programmes to prevent pollution of ground water. They have also not addressed the concerns of pollution from agricultural sources.
  8. A formal, periodic high-level review of implementation of the different elements of the National Environment Policy is essential at least once a year.
  9. While the outputs of the actions of CPCB and SPCBs are co-related, there is no functional co-relation between them at the input stage. There is no single agency to take charge of the issue of control of water pollution on a nation-wide basis.

Way Forward:

  1. MoEF/CPCB should initiate steps, along with other client ministries like Ministry of Water Resources and all the States to draw up a comprehensive inventory of all rivers, lakes and ground water sources in India.
  2. It should also undertake a survey to list all the keystone species associated with each river and lake in India. This inventory should also be placed in the public domain
  3. MoEF/CPCB and most States need to intensify their efforts in developing biological indicators to ensure that the functional integrity of aquatic ecosystems are safeguarded.
  4. MoEF and most of the States need to also take steps to identify and quantify the effect that human activities like industries, agriculture, mining, urbanisation etc., have on water quality of rivers, lakes and ground water.
  5. MoEF can also coordinate with Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in assessment of risks to health posed by polluted water and get diseases caused by water pollution included in the Health Status Indicators published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  6. MoEF should take into account the basin approach while planning for reduction of pollution of all rivers and lakes in the country. The basin approach will allow it to address the pollution of rivers and lakes holistically and integrate policies and plans with other ministries and civil society/research organisation.
  7. Establish enforceable water quality standards for rivers, lakes and ground water that would help protect human and ecosystem health. Penalties need to be levied for violations of water quality standards.
  8. Enhance capacities for spatial planning among the State and Local Governments, with adequate participation by local communities, to ensure clustering of polluting industries to facilitate setting up of common effluent treatment plants, to be operated on cost recovery basis.
  9. Minimum flow should be ensured in the perennial streams for maintaining ecology and social considerations.
  10.  As maintenance of water resource schemes is under non-plan budget, it is generally being neglected. The institutional arrangements should be such that this vital aspect is given importance equal or even more than that of new constructions.
  11.  The Water Quality Assessment Authority at the central level and the Water Quality Review Committee at the level of the States should be revitalized and strengthened so that it can act as a cross-sectoral nodal body for water pollution issues.
  12.  MoEF should also start real time monitoring so that red flags are raised immediately when pollution levels rise alarmingly and remedial action can be taken in time.
  13.  There is a need to augment financial resources either by improving effectiveness in realization of cess, increasing the rate of Water Cess or exploring other sources of revenue for control of water pollution.

Resettlement and rehabilitation of people: its problems and concerns

Major projects such as dams, mines, expressways, or the notification of a National Park disrupts the lives of the people who live there and may also require moving them to an alternative site. None of us would like to give up the home we grew up in. Uprooting people is a serious issue. It reduces their ability to subsist on their traditional natural resource base and also creates great psychological pressures.

Especially tribal people, whose lives are woven closely around their own natural resources, cannot adapt to a new way of life in a new place. Thus no major project that is likely to displace people can be carried out without the consent of the local people.

In India, lakhs of people have been unfairly displaced by thousands of dams created since independence to drive the green revolution. The dams have been built virtually at the cost of these poor local people who have been powerless to resist the Government’s will. The Government is expected to find ‘good’ arable land to resettle displaced persons and provide them with an adequate rehabilitation package to recover from the disruption. This has rarely occurred to the satisfaction of the project affected individuals.

In many cases across the country, this has not been implemented satisfactorily for decades. Resettlement requires alternate land. However, in our overpopulated country, there is no arable high-quality land available. Thus, most project affected persons are given unusable wasteland.

Rehabilitation involves more than just giving land. In most cases this is also not adequately done. The greatest battle to save their own precious land has been carried out by the tribal people of the Narmada River. They have fought to save their lands for decades.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan has shown how bitter people can get over this issue. Resettlement not only puts pressure on the project affected people but also on the people who have been living in the area that has been selected for resettlement. Thus, both the communities suffer and conflict over resources is a distinct possibility in future.

There are however situations where communities request for shifting to a new site. This is often observed where people live inside or on the periphery of a National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary. In these situations, such as the Gir in Gujarat, the local people have asked to be given alternate land where they could live peacefully away from lions that kill their cattle, but the Government has been unable to find suitable areas where they can be shifted for decades.


The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an EIA as ‘‘The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.’’

EIAs commenced in the 1960s, as part of increasing environmental awareness. The USA was the first country to enact legislation on EIA. The United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and subsequent conventions formalized EIA.

The EIA has the following objectives:

(i) Predict environmental impact of projects;

(ii) Find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts;

(iii) Shape project to suit local environment;

(iv) Present the predictions and options to the decision-makers.


India has invested considerable effort in implementing the universally accepted principles of Rio Declaration. In one of its 27 principles, the Rio Declaration calls for environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be undertaken for activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment (United Nations, 1992). As per its commitment India has instituted legal and institutional framework for application of EIA as an important tool to achieve sustainable development.

The EIA notification was first issued in 1994 by the Central Government (Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF)) in exercise of its power to take any measure to protect and improve the environment as provided under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The MOEF functions as Impact Assessment Agency which could consult a Committee of Experts set up for this purpose.

The MoEF notified another EIA legislation in September 2006. The notification makes it mandatory for various projects to get environment clearance. However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the new legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the State government depending on the size/capacity of the project.


The EIA consists of eight steps with each step equally important in determining the overall performance of the project.


The screening is the first and simplest tier in project evaluation. Screening helps to clear those types of projects, which from past experience are not likely to cause significant environmental problems. The activity may take one of the following several forms:

  1. Measurements using simple criteria such as size or location.
  2. Comparing the proposal with list of projects rarely needing an EIA (e.g. schools) or definitely needing one (e.g. coal mines).
  3. Estimating general impacts (e.g. increased in infrastructure needed) and comparing these impacts against set thresholds.
  4. Doing complex analyses, but using readily available data.


The first task of the EIA study team is scoping the EIA. The aim of scoping is to ensure that the study address all the issues of importance to the decision makers.

After “scoping” the main EIA begins. The EIA attempts to answer five questions basically:

  1. What will happen as a result of the project?
  2. What will be the extent of the changes?
  3. Do the changes matter?
  4. What can be done about them?
  5. How can decision makers be informed of what needs to be done?


This is done through two processes namely identification and prediction.


It means the answer to the first question, i.e. “what will happen as result of the project?”.

This identification phase of the study may use these or other methods

  1. Compile a list of key impacts (e.g. changes in air quality, noise levels, social and cultural systems from other EIA s for similar projects)
  2. Name all the projects sources of impacts (e.g. smoke emissions, water consumption, construction jobs) using checklists of questionnaires, then list possible receptors in the environment.
  3. Identify impacts themselves through the use of checklist, matrices, networks, overlays, models and simulations.


The next step called predictions answers the EIA’s second question: “what will be the extent of the changes?”

Prediction draws on physical, biological, socioeconomic and anthropological data techniques. In quantifying impacts, it may employ mathematical models, physical models, socio cultural models, economic models, experiments or expert judgments.

All prediction techniques by their nature involve some degree of uncertainty. So along with each attempt to quantify an impact, the study team should also quantify the predictions uncertainty in terms of probabilities or margins of error.


The next question addressed by the EIA – “do the changes matter?” is answered in the next step. Evaluation is so called because it evaluates the predicated adverse impacts to determine whether they are significant enough to warrant mitigation.


In this phase the study team formally analyses mitigation. A wide range of measures are proposed to prevent, reduce, remedy or compensate for each of the adverse impacts evaluated as significant. Possible mitigation measures include:

  • Changing project sites, processes etc.,
  • Introducing pollution controls.
  • Offering (as compensation) restoration of damaged resources.


The last step in the EIA process, which answers the question – how decision makers be informed of what needs to be done? In documenting an EIA, this means identifying the key decisions makers, perceiving the question they will be asking and providing them with straight forward answers formatted for easy interpretation in relation to their decision making (e.g. tables, graphs, summary, points).

An EIA report should contain:

  1. An executive summary of the EIA findings.
  2. A description of the proposed development projects.
  3. The major environmental and natural resource issues that needed clarification and elaboration.
  4. The projects impact on the environment (in comparison with a base line were identified and predicated.).
  5. A discussion of options for mitigating adverse impacts and for shaping the project to suit its proposed environment, and an analysis of the trade-offs involved in choosing between alternative actions.
  6. An over view of gaps or uncertainties in the information.
  7. A summary of the EIA for the general public.

Once the EIA reports have been completed, the project proponent needs to submit the report along with other information or documents to the SPCB for getting the non-clearance certificate (NOC).

On receiving the required documents from the project proponents, it is the responsibility of the SPCB to conduct the public hearing. After completion of the public hearing the project proponents has to submit to the secretary of MOEF for the environmental clearance.


The MOEF is the nodal agency for environmental clearance. The application is evaluated and assessed by the Impact Assessment Agency (IAA). The IAA may consult a committee of experts constituted by it or other body authorized by it in this regard, if necessary.

The IAA prepares a set of recommendations based on technical assessment of documents and data, furnished by the project authorities or collected during visits to sites or factories and details of public hearing


A fully informed public participation has been recognized as an essential element in EIA.

In India public hearing of development projects has been made mandatory for environmental clearance by the Amendment to the EIA Notification of April 10, 1997.

The salient features of the public hearing notification are as follows:

Notice for public hearing: The SPCB must issue notice for environmental public hearing by publishing it in at least two newspapers circulated in the region around the project with date, time and place of public hearing. The notice must be given at least 30 days prior to the public hearing.

Involvement of the public: Written suggestions, views, comments and objection by the public can be handed over to the SPCB within 30 days from the date of publication of the notice. Oral /written suggestions can be made to the SPCB during the public hearing.

Who can participate? All the affected person, including residents residing in and around the project site or the site of displacement or site of alleged adverse environmental impact. It also includes environmental groups and any association of persons whether incorporated or not, likely to be affected by the project and/or functioning in the field of environment. Persons who own or have control over the project can also participate.

Access to the documents: The public are entitled to have access to the executive summary containing the salient features of the project, both in English as well as the local language. They are also entitled to the Environmental Impact Assessment Report.

Drawbacks in Indian EIA system:

  1. A number of projects with significant environmental and social impacts have been excluded from the mandatory public hearing process. There are also concerns on how much value is given to opinions expressed during the public hearing.
  2. Most projects are located in the resource rich tribal and rural areas. Due to the inherent social conditions in such areas, such as lack of literacy and the simple nature of Tribals, people are easily convinced and lured by the prospect of money and jobs.
  3. The local environmental and social groups face a uphill task educating the people about the true nature and impacts of the project and getting them to forcefully raise objections and issues of concern.
  • Similarly, the affected peoples are informed just few days before the stipulated date of public hearing. The local administration also supports the projects owner.
  • Many EIA reports tend to justify the need for the project, shifting the focus of the EIA from a process that provides insights in to the viability and desirability of the project, to one that finds justification for the projects.
  • The notification does not prescribe clear and well-defined guidelines for conducting the public hearing. The bearing of the expenses involved in conducting the public hearing are not dealt with by the notification. This is another problem with no clear answers.
  • The documents which the public are entitled to are seldom available on time. The notification prescribes a number of places where one can access these documents, but does not stipulated who is responsible for ensuring that the documents are made available at these locations.
  • In many cases minutes of public hearing or recommendations of the public hearing panels do not reflect the actual proceedings and objections raised.
  • Further the recommendations of the public hearing panel are only advisory and it is not mandatory for the impact assessment agency to even consider these while granting environmental clearance to projects.
  1. As it stands today, there are several projects with significant environmental impacts that are exempted from the notification either because they are not listed in schedule1, or their investments are less than what is provided for in the notification.
  1. Projects are granted clearances based on certain conditions, which the project authorities need to comply with. These are both related to the construction phase and post construction phase of a project. However, the local population does not even know of these conditions and are not a part of its monitoring.
  1. Access to these compliance reports is only subject to public interest. The lack of access to compliance reports has severe repercussions on the rights of people who were opposed to the project and for whose benefits some conditions may have been laid out for the project to follow.
  1. While monitoring compliance with conditions imposed for environmental clearance, it is found that pollution control boards have their own standards, whereas the standards under the EPA, which the MOEF and the regional offices follow, are quite different.
  1. Another problem in monitoring is the location of the regional offices and their large jurisdictions, which make it difficult for them to discharge their functions effectively.
  1. There is an urgent need to build capacities of government agencies, communities, NGOs and the judiciary with regard to the implementation of the existing EIA notification. For instances, the public hearing panel often has no clue on the scope of their role in environmental clearance process.
  1. The present redressal mechanism meant exclusively for the challenging environmental clearance is extremely weak and limited in its scope. The process of seeking redressal from courts requires a fair amount of energy and financial allocation. It is not possible for all those with grievances to take on legal battles against large and powerful project proponents.


  1. Independent EIA Authority: Civil society groups have suggested the need for an independent Environmental Impact Assessment authority headed by a judicial officer and the decision of this authority would be binding on the MOEF.
  • Sector wide EIA s needed: There is a need to conduct policy-level and sector-wide EIAs in the form of strategic impact assessments (for various sectors including mining, power and so on). This is critical to judge the impacts of macro- economic, developmental and other policies, schemes and programmes.
  • Conduct options Assessment: EIAs should follow only after an options assessment and a least cost plan for a project is done by the state or central government.
  • Creation of an information desk: An information dissemination desk may be assigned within the MOEF which anyone can write to regarding the status of clearance of projects. Since all meetings and discussion are documented as electronic data, the officers should furnish this information regarding the status of clearance, with a record of the discussions in the Expert committee on the projects.
  • Environmental Risk Assessment: New approaches such as Environmental Risk Assessment which enable more flexible and dynamic assessments of direct and indirect impacts must be explored.
  • Issue a complete notification: The MOEF must issue and maintain on its website at all times a consolidated notification incorporating all the amendments till date.
  • Quality of EIA reports: At present EIA reports are extremely weak when it comes to assessment of biological diversity of a project area and the consequent impacts on it.
  • This gap needs to be plugged through a specific guideline and if necessary, through amendments to the EIA notification. The checklist needs to include impacts on agricultural biodiversity, biodiversity related traditional knowledge and live hoods.
  • It is critical that the preparation of an EIA is completely independent of the project proponent. One option for this could be the creation of a central fund for the EIA s which contains fees deposited by project proponents while seeking that an EIA be done for their proposed project.
  1. State and central governments should maintain a list of credible, independent and competent agencies that can carry out EIAs. A national level accreditation to environment consultancy should be adopted.
  1. Public hearings: The public hearing should be held for all projects which are likely to have environmental and social impacts. This should be strictly implemented.
  1. The preliminary hearing may be required to explain the process of conducting the assessment so that the scope of the assessment is decided with the participation of the public.
  1. The second can be with a purpose of presenting and discussing all aspects of the assessment’s findings, with the help of booklets presentation in local languages.
  1. The third hearing can be held after a week but no later than a month following the second meetings. This period being intended to give people a chance to analyse the information and points they have at the earlier hearing.
  1. Accountability should be built in to the public hearing procedure. The minutes of the public hearing should be compulsorily available.
  1. Grant of clearance: The notification needs to make it clear that the provision for site clearance does not imply any commitment on the part of the impact Assessment agency to grant full environmental clearance.
  1. The prior informed consent of local communities and urban wards or resident’s association needs to be made mandatory before the grant of environmental clearance.
  1. Composition of expert committees: The present executive committees should be replaced by expert people from various stakeholder groups, who are reputed in environmental and other relevant fields.
  1. The process of selection of those committees should be open and transparent, the minutes of the committee meetings, decisions and advice by these committee should be open to public.
  • Monitoring, compliance and institutional arrangements: The EIA notification needs to build within it an automatic withdrawal of clearance if the conditions of clearance are being violated, and introduce more stringent punishment for noncompliance. At present the EIA notification limits itself to the stage when environmental clearance is granted.
  • The MOEF should set up more regional offices, each with smaller areas of jurisdiction, to effectively monitor the compliance of clearance conditions. Such a monitoring body should be given powers to address compliance of both sets of clearance conditions together and to take punitive action against the project proponent in case of non-compliance of any of the conditions.
  • Local communities should be brought in to the formal monitoring and reporting process of the compliance of conditions presently done by the regional offices of the MOEF.
  • Redressal: The scope of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) needs to be expanded to deal with more than just challenging environmental clearance of projects.
  • Capacity building: NGOs, civil society groups and local communities need to build their capacities to use the EIA notification towards better decision making on projects that can impact their local environments and live hoods.

Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) refers to systematic analysis of the environmental effects of development policies, plans, programmes and other proposed strategic actions. This process extends the aims and principles of EIA upstream in the decision-making process, beyond the project level and when major alternatives are still open. SEA represents a proactive approach to integrating environmental considerations into the higher levels of decision-making and this would be the way forward to realise the true objective of EIAs.