Biosphere Reserves in India

Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which promote the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme and nominated by national governments. There are over 500 biosphere reserves in over 100 countries around the world.

Selection Criteria of Biosphere Reserves

The concept of Biosphere Reserves, especially its zonation, into Core Area(s) (dedicated to conservation), Buffer Area(s) (sustainable use) and Transition Area(s) (equitable sharing of benefits) were later broadly adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD ) process which entered into force on 29th December, 1993. There are primary and secondary criteria to select a biosphere reserve as follows:

Primary Criteria:

  • A site that must contain an effectively protected and minimally disturbed core area of value of nature conservation and should include additional land and water suitable for research and demonstration of sustainable methods of research and management.
  • The core area should be typical of a biogeographical unit and large enough to sustain viable populations representing all trophic levels in the ecosystem.

Secondary Criteria

  • Areas having rare and endangered species
  • Areas having diversity of soil and micro-climatic conditions and indigenous varieties of biota.
  • Areas potential for preservation of traditional tribal or rural modes of living for harmonious use of environment.

Legal Backing to Biosphere Reserves

There is no comprehensive legislation in India dealing with all aspects of the Biosphere Reserves. The wildlife protection act is complementary to the set up of Biosphere Reserves to the extent that it has considerable flexibility and latitude to establish such reserves. It does not define a Biosphere Reserve.

Financial Assistance

The Ministry of Environment and Forest provides financial assistance to the respective State governments for conservation of landscape and biological diversity and cultural heritage.

Does MAB programme provide any funds for Biosphere Reserves?

Normally, the MAB-related activities are nationally financed. However, some seed funding is provided to assist countries in developing projects and/or to secure appropriate partnership contributions. Further, not all Biosphere reserves of the country are come under the Man & Biosphere Programme.

Differences between Biosphere Reserves and National Parks/ Sanctuaries

The Key differences are as follows:

  • While National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves, Community Reserves and Tiger Reserves are established as per provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, there is no law as such under which Biosphere Reserves are established.
  • No grazing or private tenurial rights land rights are allowed in National Parks. In Wildlife sanctuaries, they may be provided at the discretion of Chief Wildlife warden. However limited economic activity (sand and stone mining) is permitted in biosphere reserves. Further, Biosphere reserves serve as ‘living laboratories’ for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity.
  • While wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are set up for the protection of mammals normally, biosphere reserves envisage protection of plant species, Invertebrates and biotic community as a whole.

Number of Biosphere Reserves in India

There are 18 notified Biosphere reserves in India. Out of them, 10 Biosphere Reserves are in the UNESCO’s MAB World Network.  These Biospehere Reserves and their respective years of including in MAB network are as follows:

Nilgiri (2000), Gulf of Mannar (2001), Sunderban (2001), Nanda Devi(2004), Nokrek (2009), Pachmarhi(2009), Similipal (2009), Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve (2012) , Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (2013) and  Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve (2016)

List of Biosphere Reserves in India

No. Year Name States Type Area
1 2008 Kachchh Biosphere Reserve Gujarat Semi-Arid 12454
2 1989 Gulf of Mannar Tamil Nadu Coasts 10500
3 1989 Sunderbans West Bengal Gigantic Delta 9630
4 1988 Nanda Devi Uttaranchal West Himalayas 5860
5 1986 Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka Western Ghats 5520
6 1998 Dehang Debang Arunachal Pradesh East Himalayas 5112
7 1999 Pachmarhi Madhya Pradesh Semi-Arid 4926
8 1994 Similipal Orissa Deccan Peninsula 4374
9 2005 Achanakamar – Amarkantak Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh Semi-Arid 3835
10 1989 Manas Assam East Himalayas 2837
11 2000 Kanchanjunga Sikkim East Himalayas 2620
12 2001 Agasthyamalai Kerala Western ghats 1701
13 1989 Great Nicobar Andaman and Nicobar Islands Islands 885
14 1988 Nokrek Meghalaya East Himalayas 820
15 1997 Dibru-Saikhowa Assam East Himalayas 765
16 2009 Cold Desert Himachal Pradesh West Himalayas NA
17 2010 Sheshachalam Hills The hill ranges spread in parts of Chittoor and Kadapa districts of Andhra Pradesh have been designated as Seshachalam Biosphere Reserve in Andhra Pradesh on 20th September, 2010. Eastern Ghats 4755
18 2011 Panna Biosphere Reserve Part of Panna and Chhattarpur districts in Madhya Pradesh NA

Rationale Behind Biosphere Reserves

It appears that the Biosphere reserves mean the duplication of the conservation efforts of the protected areas, but it is not so. The idea is the “Biosphere Reserves” is to strengthen the “National Efforts” in conformity to the “International Practices”. The basic truth is that “most of the National parks in India were previously hunting grounds. Most of the wildlife sanctuaries are declared by the state governments out of a vague idea of protecting a particular species”. The present domestic legislations don’t represent a “systematic selection of the ecosystems”. Neither the wildlife sanctuaries nor the national parks focus on conservation of plant species, Invertebrates and biotic community as a whole. This is the major shortcoming of the present system. Further _

  • The focus of WS/NP is on conservation of mammals. No focus to the other species which may be ecologically more vital.
  • The focus of the MAB and Biosphere Reserves is to protect the “threatened Habitats” and not “a particular threatened species”.
  • Through an Internationally recognized mechanism, the Research and Monitoring of the existing protected areas can be carried out on regular basis.

How a Biosphere Reserve is declared?

Biosphere reserves are declared by state or central governments by notification. Once established, the National Governments can nominate them under the UNESCOs Man & Biosphere (MAB) Programme. This programme was launched in 1971. If UNESCO accepts the proposal, the biosphere reserve is entered World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) under the MAB Programme. Within this network, exchanges of information, experience and personnel are facilitated. Department of Environment is nodal agency for Biosphere Reserve programmes. It carries out detailed scientific investigation, maps the biogeographical regions and vegetation types, identified the critical areas. Botanical Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India assist in this work. The central Government assumes the responsibility of meeting the costs of set up while the state government would set up desired machinery.