The protected area network of India

17 Dec 2016


India with 2.4% of the world's land area is home to 7-8% of the recorded species of the world, which includes 46,000 plant species and 91,000 animal species. Conservation of wild flora and fauna has been an integral part of Indian history. From a network of 54 national parks and 373 sanctuaries giving a combined coverage of 3.34% of the country's geographical area in 1988, the protected area network has grown steadily.

Protected Areas in India

As of July 2016, the Protected Areas (PAs) in India comprising national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and conservation and community reserves cover about 4.89% of the country's geographical area. Currently, Madhya Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar islands have maximum numbers of national parks (nine each); followed by Kerala, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand and West Bengal (six each). Maximum numbers of wildlife sanctuaries are present in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (96) followed by Maharashtra (41) and Tamil Nadu (29).

National parks and sanctuaries are areas of significant ecological, floral, faunal or natural significance. They are notified by the State Governments; and protected by the Forest Departments under the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 & its amendments, Indian Forest Act of 1927 , Forest (Protection) Act of 1980, Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Hunting of wild animals, encroachment and/or destruction of habitat, construction of tourist lodges and other such activities are prohibited in protected areas. A National park is a protected area which is reserved forthe conservation of only animals, where no human interference in any form of harvesting of timber, collecting minor forest products and private ownership rights is allowed; while a wildlife sanctuary is a protected area which is reserved forthe conservation of only animal and human activities like harvesting of timber, collecting minor forest products and private ownership rights are allowed as long as they do not interfere with the well-being of animals. While most of the provisions are common for sanctuaries and national parks, there are four key differences:

  • All rights of people within a national park have to be settled, while in a sanctuary certain rights can be allowed,
  • Livestock grazing is prohibited in a national park, but can be allowed in a regulated manner in sanctuaries,
  • A sanctuary can be upgraded to a national park, but a national park cannot be downgraded as a sanctuary, and
  • Boundaries of sanctuaries are not well defined and controlled biotic interference is permitted, while the boundaries of a national park are well defined and no biotic interference is permitted.

Details of the Protected Areas (PA) of India (As of July, 2016)

Type of PAs Number Area (km2) Geographical area of India (in %)
National parks 103 40500.13 1.23
Wildlife sanctuaries 537 118005.30 3.59
Conservation reserves 67 2349.38 0.07
Community reserves 26 46.93 0.001
Protected areas 733 160901.74 4.89

Source Wildlife Institute of India, 2016

Tiger Reserves

Certain national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which support a good tiger population have been re-designated as tiger reserves, and these PAs enjoy a special status with the highest level of protection. At present, there are a total of 49 tiger reserves in our country.

Biosphere Reserves

'Biosphere Reserves' - was initiated under UNESCO's 'Man & Biosphere1 (MAB) programme in 1971. The purpose of its formation is to conserve in situ all forms of life, along with its support system, in its totality, so that it could serve as a referral system for monitoring and evaluating changes in natural ecosystems. The first biosphere reserve of the world was established in 1979; since then, the network of biosphere reserves has increased to 564 in 109 countries across the world (MAB, 2010). Presently, there are 18 existing biosphere reserves in India. Some of the famous biosphere reserves are Sunderbans in West Bengal, Khangchendzonga mountain ranges in Sikkim, Nandnadevi mountain ranges in Uttarakhand, Gulf of Mannar, Rann of Kutch in Gujarat etc.

Thus, the protected area network plays a significant role in conservation, and regardless of the country - India or others, where the common aim is to preserve the ecological wealth by continuing conservation efforts.

Conserving Protected Areas

  • Reduce forest-based dependence of locals/tribals living on the forest fringes, by providing them alternate livelihood options.
  • Increased vigilance and patrolling to counter poaching and other crimes
  • Increased awareness amongst people and sensitivity towards the last strongholds of our country that support wildlife.
Protected areas
Forest conservation
Wildlife resources

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