India is a very vast country both in terms of geographical area and diversity of all sorts—religious, cultural, social and, on top of everything, natural resources. The term “natural resources”
is applied to all naturally occurring substances which are considered valuable in their relatively unmodified, i.e. natural form. The value of the natural resource is determined by the amount determined by its usefulness to production. A commodity is a natural resource as long as the primary activities associated with it are extraction and purification, not creation. Owing to this, mining, petroleum extraction, fishing, hunting, and forestry are categorised as natural resource industries. As agriculture is an industry related to creation, it is not called a natural-resource industry. The term “natural resources” was coined and popularised by E.F. Schumacher in his famous book “Small Is Beautiful” in the 1970s.
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Natural resources are, however, of two types—renewable and non-renewable living resources (fish, cattle, livestock, forests, etc.) are generally considered renewable resources. But all the renewable resources have to be used sustainably and they should not be overharvested. In other words, they should be consumed at a rate that should not exceed their natural rate of replacement. If not used in this manner, their standing stock will diminish and a time will come when they will not be available any longer. Thus, the rate of sustainable use of a renewable resource is determined by the replacement rate and standing stock of that particular resource. Nonliving renewable natural resources include soil and water. There is a different kind of renewable resource—flow renewable resource. Flow renewable resources do not need regeneration. They include the wind, tides and solar energy. Some resources are often categorised on the basis of their origin into two classes— biotic and abiotic. As the term itself suggests, biotic resources are those resources that are derived from living organisms. On the contrary, abiotic resources are the resources derived from the non-living world, i.e. land, water and air.
It is common knowledge that a nation’s natural resources are one of the major determinants of its wealth and status in the global economic system. A nation’s economic status is one of the greatest factors responsible for its global political influence. In recent years, the depletion of natural capital and attempts to move to sustainable development have been a major focus of development agencies. This is of particular concern in rainforest regions, which hold most of the Earth’s natural biodiversity—-irreplaceable genetic natural capital. Conservation of natural resources is the major focus of natural capitalism, environmentalism, the ecology movement, and Green Parties. There are some people who view this depletion of natural resources as a major cause of social unrest and conflicts in the developing nations.
As far as conservation of natural resources is concerned, the Government of India has enunciated several policies. Such policies take into consideration several cross-sectoral issues which directly influence conservation and sustainable uses of natural resources which include forestry and wildlife as well. In this regard, the biosphere reserves deserve to be discussed first of all. Biosphere reserves are the areas related to terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. These are globally recognised and come within the United Nations Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. The world’s major ecosystem types and landscapes are represented in this network. This network is devoted to conserving biological diversity, promoting research and monitoring as well as seeking to provide models of sustainable development in the service of humanity at large. The thirteen Biosphere Reserves set up in India till date aim not only to protect the representative ecosystem but also to serve as laboratories for evolving alternative models of development. The Ministry of Environment and Forests provides financial assistance to the respective State Governments for conservation and management of these Biosphere Reserves. Based on the proposal submitted by the Ministry to the International Coordinating Council (ICC) of Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) Programme of UNESCO, three Biosphere Reserves—Sunderbans (West Bengal), Mannar (Tamil Nadu) and Nilgiri, (Tamil Nadu)—have been included in the International Network of Biosphere Reserves. Efforts are being made for getting other Biosphere Reserves included in the Network.
Here, it is pertinent to mention the conservation and management of Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs. Wetlands are lands transitional between the terrestrial and aquatic system where the water table is usually near the water surface and the land is covered by shallow water. They are life support systems for people living in the area and are effective in flood control, waste-water treatment, in reducing sediment, in recharging of aquifers and also act as the winter resort for a variety of birds providing them shelter and conditions for breeding. They also provide a suitable habitat for fish and other flora and fauna. Besides, they act as the buffer against the devastation caused by hurricanes and cyclones as well as to stabilise the shoreline and act as the bulwark against the encroachment by the sea. Moreover, they check soil erosion and provide durable timber, fuelwood, protein-rich fodder for cattle, edible fruits, vegetables and traditional medicines. The following are the three factors which determine whether an area is a wetland or not :
1. If the area is permanently or periodically inundated.
2. If an area supports hydrophytic vegetation.
3. If an area has hydric soils that are saturated or flooded for a considerably long period to become anaerobic in the upper layers.
It is on the basis of these factors that the Ramsar Convention defines wetlands as areas of marsh or fen, peat-land or water, whether artificial or natural, permanent or temporary, with the water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres. Mangroves, corals, estuaries, bays, creeks, flood plains, sea grasses, lakes, etc., are covered under this definition. A programme on conservation of wetlands was initiated in 1987. At present, there are 27 wetlands which cover 15 States. Of late, the main focus of the conservation of wetlands has been on biological methods of conservation rather than of adopting engineering options under the catchment area treatment component. Four new wetlands have been added to the national list—East Kolkata and Sunderbans wetland from West Bengal, Pt. Calimer from Tamil Nadu and Kottuli Wetland from Kerala. The Government has recently released assistance for the conservation of wetlands to the following States: Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Manipur, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Kerala. Nineteen sites have been designated as Ramsar sites in India. Information on six more sites—Renuka and Chandertal (H.P.), Hokera and Surinsar-Mansar (J&K), Pulicat (A.P.) and Rudrasagar (Tripura) has been sent to Ramsar Bureau and data on six others in different States have been sent to Survey of India.
Mangroves are thought to be of very much importance when one talks for the conservation of natural resources. Mangroves (plants) are those which survive high salinity, tidal extremes, strong wind velocity, high temperature and muddy anaerobic soil. These are conditions hostile to other plants. Mangroves not only protect the coastal communities from the ravages of cyclones and coastal storms but also promote sustainable fisheries and prevent land erosion by seas. Besides, they are a source of medicine and fuelwood, apart from being home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Despite such gifts, many mangroves have been unsustainably exploited that has led to their degradation.
the mangroves in India comprise 69 species under 42 genera and 28 families. There were two separate schemes, one each on wetlands and mangroves earlier, which have now been merged. All the concerned States/Union Territories have constituted Steering Committees to monitor implementation of Management Action Plans for mangroves and coral reefs.
Among the policies made for the conservation for natural resources, biodiversity has got a very important place. Biodiversity is the variability amidst living organisms and the ecological complexes of which they are a part. Biodiversity has direct consumptive value in food, agriculture, medicine and industry. India is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries which together possess 60-70% of the world’s biodiversity. The International Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) is an international legal instrument for promoting conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It takes into account the need to share cost and benefit between the developed and the developing countries and the ways and means to support innovation by local people. India has been a party to CBD since May 1994. A National Biodiversity Authority has also been set up and has been working since 2003. It provides for the establishment of State-level Boards and Local-level Biodiversity Management Committees to deal with any matter relating to conservation of biodiversity, its sustainable use and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and associated knowledge. A protocol “The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety” was adopted in January 2000. It has been signed by 103 countries. The protocol came into force in September 2003 and hitherto, 84 countries have ratified the protocol.
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Besides, developing harmony in the working of laws in the sector with the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 has been stressed. The Twelfth Plan document says that a number of initiatives need to be undertaken to promote conservation. It is proposed to set up a National Environmental Monitoring Programme (NEMP) for monitoring forests, air and water quality, river and ocean pollution, noise and so on with sharing of real-time data from local to national levels which will also help in monitoring change. A multi-disciplinary autonomous body namely National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA) is proposed to be set up for strengthening the processes for grant of environmental clearances and monitoring thereof. NEAMA is also envisaged to grant clearances under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 including the coastal zone regulations and marine fisheries regulations.
In the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period (2012-17), the Central and State Governments also need to invest in strengthening the mechanisms for implementing rules notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 including the CR2 Notification and the Marine Fishing Regulation Act. A number of initiatives can be undertaken including the creation of a National Environment Restoration Fund (NERF) from voluntary contributions and the net proceeds of proposed economic instruments such as user fees for access to specified natural resources. The NERF may be used for restoration of environmental resources and clean-up of sites contaminated with toxic and hazardous waste. In addition, the mandate of different institutes engaged in forestry, biodiversity and wildlife research requires to be broadened to accommodate emerging needs for collaborative multidisciplinary research. Ecological processes that generate ecosystem goods and sendes are central for ecological sustainability. It is proposed to establish an Ecosystem Research Institute (ERI) under the Ministry of
Environment and Forests (MoEF) for undertaking research in ecosystems, biodiversity and sustainable development. There is a need for die creation of a ‘Green Fund’ for forestry activities by imposing Forest Development Tax on sale of forest produce and Forest
Conservation Tax/Cess on the sale of petroleum products and coal mining. Further, other similar taxes such as Ecotax in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other States may also be pooled in for this purpose as per the Twelfth Plan document.