• Natural vegetation of India reflects a state of perfect harmony with the relief and climatic conditions of the subcontinent. There is perfect correspondence between the annual rainfall and the altitude above the mean sea level on one hand and the types of vegetation that will be found in each major region of the country.

  • Most of our Himalayan and peninsular areas are covered with indigenous or endemic flora, while the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Thar desert contain plant species that have come generally from outside.

  • Plants have come from North Africa to the vegetation of the arid and semi-arid regions, such as the Thar, as well as a good deal of the Great Plains of India. Those immigrating from Indo-Malaysia have influenced the vegetal cover of the hilly regions of north-eastern India.

  • This process of the immigration of uninvited plant species is not only continuous, but has actually become more marked with the increase in communication with other lands, both by sea and air. Some of the exotic varieties are troublesome weeds. Examples are: lantana and water hyacinth (Terror of Bengal).


Geographical region % of total forest area of India
Himalayan Region 18
The Great Plains of India 5
Peninsular Plateau and Hills 57
Western-Ghats and Coastal Plains 10
Eastern-Ghats and Eastern Coastal Plains 10

  • On the basis of administration, the forests have been classified into the following three categories:

    • Reserved Forests: These forests are under the direct supervision of the government and no public entry is allowed for collection of timber or grazing of cattle. About 53 per cent of the total forest area falls in this category.

    • Protected Forests: These forests are looked after by the government, but the local people are allowed to collect fuel-wood/timber and graze their cattle without causing serious damage to the forests. These forests occupy about 29 per cent of the total forest area of the country.

    • Unclassified Forests: The unclassified forests are those in which there is no restriction on the cutting of trees and grazing of cattle. About 18% of the total forest area of the country falls under this category.

  • As per the Constitution of India, forests have been classified under the fo1lowing categories:

    • State Forests:These are under the full control of the government (State/Central) and include almost all the important forest areas of the country. They constitute about 94 per cent of the total forest area of the country.

    • Commercial Forests: These forests are owned and administered by the local bodies (municipal corporations, municipal boards, town areas, district boards, and village panchayats). They occupy about 5 per cent of the total forest area of the country.

    • Private Forests: These are under private ownership and cover slightly more than one per cent of the total forest area of the country,

  • On the basis of merchantability, Indian forests may be grouped under two categories:

    • Merchantable: These are accessible. About 82 per cent of the total forest area belongs to this category.

    • Non-Merchantable: These are not accessible being situated in high mountainous areas with inaccessible topographical features. About 18% of the total forest area (especially conifers) of the country fall in this category.

  • Based on Composition: Based on composition and types of leaves, Indian forests fall into two broad groups

    • Conifer Forests: These are temperate forests occupying about 6.50 per cent of the total forest area of the country.

    • Broad-leaf Forests: These are tropical and subtropical monsoon forests. About 94 per cent of the country's forests belong to this category. They are found in the plains, plateau and mountainous areas of the country.

Protected areas were formed after the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 was passed. There are 4 protected areas: National parks, Wildlife sanctuaries, Community reserves and Conservation reserves. As of 2013 they covered 4.9% of India's area.

Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks:

Both of these are declared by the state governments and central government under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The Wildlife sanctuaries are present in all states. Both these areas are of ecological significance. National parks enjoy higher degree of protection as certain activities like grazing which is regulated in sanctuaries isn't permitted in national parks. Sanctuaries are formed for particular species but not national parks which may be for multiple species.

Boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries shall be fixed by a notification. However no alterations can be made except on recommendation of the National Board of Wildlife.

Residence within these areas shall be done by the permission of Chief Wildlife Warden. Restriction shall be imposed on entry of people in such areas. Administration of such areas is with CWW. National board of wildlife shall make recommendations on setting up and management of protected areas. State Wildlife Boards shall advice state governments on selection and administration of such areas.

Community and Conservation reserves:

They can be setup under Wildlife protection act, 1972 amendment. They want a flexible system without compromising the community needs. The first conservation reserve was in Tamil Nadu and was setup by state government on land adjacent to sanctuaries and national parks owned by it. This was conservation of landscape, seascape and habitat. Community reserves are setup in private land with consent of owners by notification of state government. The tradition,customs are protected and also habitat of flora and fauna. Management committees are setup in such reserves.

Coastal Protection Areas:

These are formed to protect and conserve marine ecosystems in pristine conditions. Marine protected areas are for conservation of mangroves, lagoons,corals, sea grass beds and estuaries. They belong to the following classes:

  1. Category I - National parks and sanctuaries
  2. Category II - Islands
  3. Category III - Beaches
  4. Category IV - Semi or evergreen forests.

Biosphere Reserves

UNESCO came with the functions and concept of Biosphere reserve. These are areas where community and environment can co-exist while respecting each others needs. Such sites are recognised under UNESCO's Man and Biodiversity program. The scientific work carried out in BR's is shared with the global community to share best practices on sustainable development. BR's are maintained by State or UT's with financial support of the Union. The difference between them and existing protected areas are the coverage of entire biodiversity and not just a species.

Biodiversity Hotspots in India

India has three biodiversity hotspots namely Eastern Himalayas, Western ghats and Indo Burma. The criteria for hotspots was framed by Norman Myers which is It must contain 1500+ species of vascular plants as endemic and it must have lost 70% of its original area.

World Heritage Site

Sites that are categorized in the UNESCO's World heritage list formed after the Protection of Natural and Cultural heritage are World heritage sites. Sites can be of natural or cultural significance. They sites are designated if they meet any of the 10 criteria mentioned in the World Heritage Convention. India has 35 such sites [2016].

Q.Which one of the following National Parks has a climate that varies from tropical to subtropical, temperate and arctic? (UPSC CSAT 2015)

  • Khangchendzonga National park

  • Nandadevi National Park

  • Neora Valley National Park

  • Namdapha National park

Ans . D

  1. Namdapha National Park is the largest protected area in the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot and is located in Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India.

  2. The habitat changes with increasing altitude from tropical moist forests to Montane forests, temperate forests and at the higher elevations, to Alpine meadows and perennial snow. The park has extensive bamboo forests and secondary forests in addition to the primary forests.

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