India has established a robust network of protected areas to conserve its rich biodiversity. This Protected Area Network includes various types of areas with varying regulations and objectives. Along with conserving the wildlife and natural heritage of India, these areas play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance and promoting sustainable development.
What are Protected Areas?
Protected Areas, also known as Conservation Areas, refer to the areas that are designated and managed with the specific goal of conserving biodiversity, protecting ecosystems, and providing long-term benefits to both wildlife and human communities. These places serve an important role in preserving natural habitats, maintaining ecological balance, and protecting threatened or endangered species.
IUCN defines a protected area as: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”
Protected Area Network in India
Under the provision of the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972, a wide variety of protected areas have been established in India. Major categories of protected areas falling under the Protected Area Network in India are explained as follows:
A National Park is a designated area set aside for the conservation of ecosystems, the protection of biodiversity, and the provision of opportunities for recreation and environmental education.
- They are established under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972.
- These are established in those areas deemed to be of sufficient ecological, geomorphological, and natural significance.
- These parks are protected areas that are set aside for the conservation of wildlife and their habitats.
- They are also popular tourist destinations for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts.
- At present, there are around 106 National Parks in India.
- Prominent examples – Jim Corbett National Park, Kaziranga National Park, etc.
A wildlife sanctuary is a protected area designated for the conservation of wildlife species and their habitats. Unlike national parks, wildlife sanctuaries may allow certain human activities within their boundaries, provided they do not interfere significantly with the well-being of the wildlife.
- They are also established under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972.
- An important component of the Protected Area Network in India, they serve as critical habitats for indigenous and migratory wildlife, contributing to the overall health of ecosystems.
- Some wildlife sanctuaries are strategically located to serve as wildlife corridors, facilitating the movement of animals between different areas and promoting genetic diversity and population health.
- Sustainable practices, community-based tourism, and collaborative conservation efforts enhance the overall effectiveness of sanctuaries.
- At present, there are around 573 Wildlife Sanctuaries in India.
- Prominent examples – Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamor Pingla Wildlife Sanctuary, etc.
Biosphere Reserve (BR) is an international designation by UNESCO for representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes that span over large areas of terrestrial, coastal/marine, or a combination of them.
- These are unique and carefully designated areas that integrate conservation, sustainable development, and scientific research.
- These are recognized as part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR), which facilitates the exchange of information and experiences among reserves worldwide.
- At present, there are 18 Biosphere Reserves in India.
- Prominent examples – Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, etc.
It refers to an area lying adjacent to national parks or wildlife sanctuaries, owned by the State Government adjacent, and is designated for protecting the landscape, seascape, and habitat of fauna and flora.
- These reserves were created under the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act of 2003.
- The State Government may declare any area a conservation reserve after having consultations with the local communities.
- It is managed by the Conservation Reserve Management Committee.
- At present, there are around 115 Conservation Reserves in India.
- Prominent examples – Tiruppadaimarathur Conservation Reserve, Sorsan Conservation Reserve, etc.
A community reserve is a type of protected area that is established and managed by local communities in collaboration with the government. They are aimed at the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of natural resources, and the overall well-being of the community.
- These reserves were created under the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act of 2003 and form an important component of Protected Area Network in India.
- The State Government may notify any private land or community land as a Community Reserve, provided that the individual or members of the community concerned agree to it.
- The Reserve is managed through a Community Reserve Management Committee.
- At present, there are around 220 Community Reserves in India.
- Prominent examples: Keshopur Chamb Community Reserve, Gogabeel Community Reserve, etc.
Sacred groves are areas of land, often small forests or patches of woodland, that are protected and revered by local communities due to their religious, cultural, or spiritual significance.
- These groves are considered sacred and are protected from exploitation or any kind of disturbance.
- People believe that any disturbance will offend the local deity, resulting in diseases, natural disasters, or failure of crops.
- At present, there are around 14,000 sacred groves in India.
- Prominent examples – Devara Kadu, Bugyal, etc.
Coastal and Marine Protected Areas
As defined by the IUCN, Marine Protected Areas refer to any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlaying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective
means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment.
- Marine Protected Areas in India aim to protect and conserve the natural marine ecosystems in their pristine condition.
- These areas focus on the marine reserves, which include estuaries, wetlands, seagrass beds, and other underwater habitats.
- At present, there are around 31 Marine Protected Areas in India.
- Prominent examples – The Gulf of Kachchh Marine National Park, Wandoor Marine National Park, etc.
These diverse categories of protected areas play a pivotal role in safeguarding India’s biodiversity and preserving our ecosystems. Establishing such a robust Protected Area Network showcases India’s commitment to promoting sustainable development and ensuring the coexistence of humans and nature.