India's Plant, Animal Species Under Severe Threat: Govt Report

T G Riju/New Delhi
India's Plant, Animal Species Under Severe Threat: Govt Report

India's plant and animal species, particularly in the global biodiversity hotspots of Himalayas, Western Ghats, Northeast and the Nicobar Islands, are under severe threat due to overexploitation, forest fires and climate change, says an official report.

The Environment Ministry report, came out in the midst of raging debate between environmental protection and industrial growth, rings alarm bells over destruction of forest and biodiversity in the country, which is home to 45,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals.

In a candid admission, the Ministry says that it has diverted an estimated over 1.7 million hectares of forest land for executing more than 23,000 developmental projects since the enactment of Forest Conservation Act in 1980.

The report says that "a considerable area of forests in the country is under low fragmentation (49.63 per cent of the total geographic area of the country), 21.89 per cent under medium while 5.16 per cent was under high fragmentation.

The Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), a copy of which is with PTI, was developed prior to CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

"Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation through conversion of land use through agriculture, urbanisation and industrial development, invasive alien species and over exploitation of natural resources, including plants and animals, are amongst the major threats faced by biodiversity globally and in India," says the report.

Mining and quarrying caused habitat loss and degradation, with severe consequences for the ecology of areas such as the Aravalli range and the Western Ghats.

Considering the outstanding universal values and exceptionally high levels of endemism in the Western Ghats, 39 sites in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2012.

"An increasing incidence of forest fires is also a growing threat, particularly in the Himalaya and in areas with dry deciduous forests in Southern India.

"Anthropogenic climate change remains an overarching threat, particularly for vulnerable ecosystems such as mountains and coastal areas," the report says.

Expressing concerns over the loss and degradation of grasslands across the country, it also says it has affected grassland dependent species such as members of the bustard family-Bengal florican, Lesser florican, Houbara bustard and Great Indian bustard as well as Blackbuck, Chinkara, Indian wolf, Golden jackal, Indian fox and Nilgai.

Traditional hunting practices for wild meat for domestic consumption as well as for commercial markets also threaten populations of species in some regions such as Northeast India.

According to the report, habitat loss and degradation are the major threats to coastal and marine biodiversity particularly in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, consisting of some of the most pristine island ecosystems in the world.

The Nicobar Islands are characterised by an absence of large mammals and the presence of a significant number of endemics, such as Nicobar tree shrew.

The Nicobar Islands are fringed by one of the most spectacular reefs of the Indian ocean and considered to be globally significant.

At a conservative estimate, India has spent approximately Rs 9,200 crore in the last financial year on activities that have a direct as well as indirect bearing on conservation of biodiversity.

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