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India is blessed with rich biological diversity due to the presence of large number of species of plants and animals. The range of soil, climatic conditions, topography and ecology present in the nation has contributed to this diversity. Sadly many of these are on the verge of extinction. Certain human activities like destruction and fragmentation of the plant habitat, commercial exploitation, the introduction of invasive species that disturb their typical ecosystem and pollution etc. and natural factors like diseases, natural calamities, genetic vulnerability etc. contribute to the extinction of several species. This in turn will affect human life as it will threaten the supply of food, fuel, medicines, etc. There are over 49,000 species of plants in India out of which 16,000 species are of flowering plants.
A plant is said be endangered if there is a significant decrease in it’s population in recent years, and if there is a continuous decline without check. Even though about 12% of the world’s endangered plant species are in India, there are no laws to protect plants the same way as animals. Protection of endangered plant species comes under wildlife laws and not the Forest Conservation Act. It was done by incorporating a new schedule in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Under this law, a person found with endangered plant species can be booked for illegally cutting a tree and sentenced to a maximum jail term of only six months and a fine of Rs 500 whereas killing an endangered animal can put a person in jail for seven years with a Rs 25,000 minimum fine. Environment ministry officials has sought a new schedule in the Wildlife Protection Act which gives more severe punishments for offenders of plants. This means that the more the chances of a plant becoming extinct, the more the jail term for a person who is caught with it.
Causes of Endangerment of Plants
- The biggest cause is the loss of habitat. Human activities like agriculture, deforestation, mining, hydel projects etc. destroy plant habitats.
- Pollution of soil, air and water is another cause. Some plants are susceptible to pollution, which triggers their extinction.
- The unrestrained use of chemical fertilizers and use of plastics hinder the growth of several plant varieties.
- The influx of human population has resulted in a demand for more space. In order to create this space through industrialization and infrastructure development, the natural habitat of plants are being destroyed, thus leading to their extinction.
- Due to global warming, wildfires, drought, floods, landslides and other natural disasters are on a rise. This also endanger plants.
- Certain species are threatened by fungal diseases or predation thus pushing them towards extinction.
Endangered Plant Species in India
- Malabar Mahagony: It is known for its durable wood and is cultivated to add on to the growing consumption of lumber. It’s found in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
- Red Sandalwood: Known as Pterocarpus Santalinus, it has high medicinal properties and healing effects.
- Musli: It is a medicinal blooming plant. Found in Tamil Nadu, its botanical name is Chlorophytum tuberosum.
- Malabar Lily: Found in Tamil Nadu, its botanical name is Chlorophytum malabaricum.
- Ebony tree: It is known for producing high quality primo wood. Found in Karnataka, its botanical name is Diospyros celibica.
- Assam Catkin Yew: This is in danger because of the notable low reproduction rate. due to loss of it’s original habitat. They are coniferous trees found only in the Delei Valley and Turoo Hills of Arunachal Pradesh. It’s botanical name is Amentotaxus assamica.
- Actinodaphne lawsoni: It is a canopy or sub canopy tree with great medicinal properties that grow in high altitude forests of Kerala. It is endangered due to habitat loss.
- Jeemikanda: Found in Gujarat and Rajasthan, its botanical name is Ceropegia odorata.
- Bird`s foot: It belongs to the pea family. Found in Gujarat, its botanical name is Lotus corniculatus.
- Ilex Khasiana: Only about three to four plants of this shrubs is remaining. It is found only in Shillong Peak in Meghalaya.
- Polygala irregularis: These plants have been destroyed to make space for human habitats and agriculture. It is commonly known as milkwort.
Laws to Protect Endangered Species
The Indian Parliament passed the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 to protect the wild flora and fauna. It has six schedules, and the sixth schedule is dedicated to protecting endangered plants. This Act made India one of the signatories of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in 1973. CITES aims to impart moral and legal responsibilities to it’s 180 member countries to protect endangered species in their respective jurisdictions and prevent transborder trades. Besides these there are several other laws in India for protection of wild flora – Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992; Export Import Policy; Plant Fruit and seeds (regulation of import into India) order 1989 and convention on Biological diversity (CBD) are some of the main laws.
Wild life (Protection) Act 1972 – This Act prohibits the picking and uprooting of specified plants. It also prohibits the cultivation and dealing of specified plants without license.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (C.I.T.E.S.) – According to this Act, plant species obtained from the wild is prohibited for export from India. Export of endangered and vulnerable plant species requires ‘certificate of cultivation’ or Legal Procurement Certificate’ from the designated authorities of the Forest Department.
Export Import Policy – According to this policy, the export of plants, plant portions, the derivatives and extracts of 29 plants that come under this policy is prohibited. It will be allowed for export only on producing a certificate of utilization from Regional Deputy director (Wild life), or Chief conservator of forest (CCF) of Divisional Forest
Officers (DFO) of the State Government concerned from where these plants and plant portions have been procured.
Each plant species has a definite role to play. They are a part of the food chain that balances the functioning of the ecosystem. Losing even a single species can have disastrous impacts on the rest of the ecosystem, as it affects the food chain. It also deprive us of essential requirements. A healthy ecosystems is vital to purify our environment.
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