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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

Project Tiger, salinization, low-lying land, overgrazing, fuelwood

India’s main environmental concern is its growing population, which is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2050. In order to feed so large a population, more groundwater will be needed to irrigate crops, increasing the risk of poor soil quality due to salinization (increased salt levels). More artificial fertilizer will likely be applied to crop fields, posing threats to drinking water. The demand for meat has increased with greater levels of prosperity, resulting in overgrazing and increasing wasteland. The demand for fuelwood has grown with rural populations, leading to the loss of trees and forests. To decrease reliance on fuelwood, the government has promoted the use of biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by decomposing organic matter) for cooking fuel.

Expanding agrarian population has also affected wildlife. Farmers and herders have encroached on national park and other wildlife sanctuary land, and the spread of cultivation has limited the range of animals such as tigers and elephants outside of parks as well. Poaching is also a problem. Up to 10 percent of India’s flora—about 1,300 species—are critically endangered, mainly because of the population-related pressures of deforestation and agriculture. Wetlands cover about 18 percent of the land, but most of them are under rice-paddy cultivation. To help combat these problems, the Indian government has enacted strong laws for forest conservation, wetland preservation, and wildlife protection. The Ministry of Environment and Forests was established in 1985.

India has a severe air pollution problem generated by industrial effluents and vehicle emissions. Water-treatment facilities have not kept pace with the increase in urban populations, and pollution of rivers and groundwater is a significant and worsening problem. Another major problem is toxic waste, generated by industry and deposited in rivers and oceans and on low-lying land within factory boundaries. The large number of small industrial workshops makes it difficult to enforce laws against industrial waste pollution.

A National Wildlife Action Plan provides a framework for species protection and directs the establishment of a protected areas network covering all the major habitat types for at least 4 percent of the total land area of the country. About 5 percent of the land is under protection, including 69 national parks and 410 sanctuaries established by 1990. India has a national goal of covering one-third of its land area with existing or planted forests. India has had tremendous success with species conservation. World-renowned programs include Project Tiger, which has established nine special tiger reserves, and the Crocodile Breeding and Management Project. Many nongovernmental organizations aid India’s conservation efforts.

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