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Protected Area in India – Classification and Types

Protected Area in India


Protected Area in India

India is one of the 17 mega diverse countries of the world.

With only 2.4% of the world’s land area, 16.7% of the world’s human population and 18% livestock, it adds about 8% of the known global biodiversity.

This sets great responsibility on the state to conserve this depleting bio-diversity. Consequently, the Governments have formed institutional framework & bodies to co-ordinate & conserve the natural heritage.

What is a Protected Area?

Protected areas are those in which human occupation or at least the exploitation of resources is limited. The definition provided by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been widely accepted protected areas.

A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. – (IUCN Definition 2008)

The term “protected area” also includes Marine Protected Areas, the boundaries of which will include some area of ocean, and Transboundary Protected Areas that overlap multiple countries which remove the borders inside the area for conservation and economic purposes.


What are the IUCN Categories of Protected Areas?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put forward six Protected Area Management Categories. The categories are as follows –

1.      Category I a – Strict Nature Reserve – Protected areas managed mainly for science and receives least human intervention. Eg. – Urwald Rothwald in Austria

2.      Category I b – Wilderness Area – Wilderness protection. Eg. – wilderness areas in the Sami native region in Finland

3.      Category II – National Park – ecosystem protection and recreation

4.      Category III – Natural Monument or Feature – Conservation of specific natural features such as cliffs, caves, forest groves. Eg. – Cono de Arita in Argentina.

5.      Category IV – Habitat/Species Management Area – Conservation of specific species which require protection.

6.  Category V – Protected Landscape/Seascape – Conservation of entire area. It permits surrounding community to interact. Eg. – Great Barrier Reef in Australia

7.      Category VI – Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources – Conservation of ecosystem and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems.


Protected Area Network in India

As of 2019, there are 870 notified Protected Areas in India covering 5.02% of total Geographical Area of the country (Source).

These protected areas form part of the forest cover, which is 21.54% of the geographical area (FSI Report 2017).

Type of Protected Area


Total Area (km2)

Area % of Country

National Parks (NPs)




Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLSs)




Conservation Reserves (CRs)




Community Reserves




Total Protected Areas (PAs)





Types of Protected Area in India

Forests and wildlife are included in the Concurrent list of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the Union government makes the policies and plans for Wildlife Conservation. On the other hand, the State Forest Departments are the ones establishing those national policies and plans at the state-level.

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), chaired by the Prime Minister, puts forward policy framework for wildlife conservation in India. The Board was constituted under Wildlife (Protection) act, 1972.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (with Amendment Acts of 2003 and 2006) provides for the protection of Flora and Fauna in India. The aim of the Act is to ensure the ecological and environmental security of biodiversity of India.

It is the principal act which contains provisions for setting up and managing national parks, sanctuaries and other Protected Areas in India.

There are following categories of Protected Areas in India constituted under the provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. These are –

o   National Parks

o   Wildlife Sanctuaries

o   Marine Protected Areas

o   Conservation Reserves

o   Community Reserves

Apart from these India also has other Important Conservation Sites –

o   Biosphere Reserves

o   Tiger Reserves

o   Elephant Reserves

o   Important Bird Areas or Bird Sanctuaries

o   Ramsar Sites

o   Zoos etc.


National Parks

It is an area within a Sanctuary or outside having adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural or zoological significance.

The National Park is declared for the purpose of protecting, propagating or developing wildlife or its environment, like that of a Sanctuary.

National parks in India are IUCN category II protected areas.

The difference between a Sanctuary and a National Park mainly lies in the vesting of rights of people living inside.

Activities like grazing, hunting, forestry or cultivation etc. are strictly prohibited. No human activity is permitted inside the national park except for the ones permitted by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state.

India’s first national park was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park, now known as Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand.

There are 104 existing national parks in India.


(Updated List of National Parks of India)


Wildlife Sanctuary

Any area other than area comprised with any reserve forest or the territorial waters can be notified by the State Government to constitute as a sanctuary if such area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural or zoological significance, for the purpose of protecting, propagating or developing wildlife or its environment.

The difference between a Sanctuary and a National Park mainly lies in the vesting of rights of people living inside. Unlike a Sanctuary, where certain rights can be allowed, in a National Park, no rights are allowed.

No grazing of any livestock is permitted inside a National Park while in a Sanctuary, the Chief Wildlife Warden may regulate, control or prohibit it.

There are a total of 551 wildlife sanctuaries in India.


(Updated List of Wildlife Sanctuary of India)


Marine Protected Area

These are Protected Areas in India within or adjacent to seas, oceans, estuaries, lagoons. In these areas human activities are more strictly regulated than the surrounding waters.

A Marine Protected Area is a zone in the ocean or littoral area where anthropogenic activities are regulated more strictly than the surrounding waters. These places are given special protections for marine wildlife by the national, regional, state and local authorities.

MPAs restrict human activity for a conservation purpose, typically to protect natural or cultural resources. This restriction includes different limitations on development, fishing practices, fishing seasons and catch limits, moorings and bans on removing or disrupting marine life.


(Updated List of Marine Protected Areas of India)


Conservation Reserves

Conservation Reserves can be declared by the State Governments in any area owned by the Government, particularly the areas adjacent to National Parks and Sanctuaries and those areas which link one Protected Area with another.

Such declaration should be made after having consultations with the local communities. Conservation Reserves are declared for the purpose of protecting landscapes, flora and fauna and their habitat.

The rights of people living inside a Conservation Reserve are not affected.


(Updated List of Conservation Reserves of India)


Community Reserves

Community Reserves can be declared by the State Government in any private or community land, not comprised within a National Park, Sanctuary or a Conservation Reserve, where an individual or a community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat.

Community Reserves are declared for the purpose of protecting fauna, flora and traditional or cultural conservation values and practices.

As in the case of a Conservation Reserve, the rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.


(Updated List of Community Reserves of India)


Other Important Conservation Sites


Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere reserves is unique area and representative ecosystem of terrestrial and coastal areas of natural habitat, often including one or more National Parks or sanctuary, along with buffer zones to provide protection to the flora and fauna that are open to some economic uses.

Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.

The Indian government has established 18 biosphere reserves in India. 11 of the 18 biosphere reserves are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, based on the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development. This program was initiated by UNESCO in 1971.


(Updated List of Biosphere Reserves of India)


Tiger Reserves

These are Protected Areas in India, basically national parks and wildlife sanctuaries that aim at conserving the habitat to ensure a viable population of the tigers along with their prey base in their habitat.

Tiger Reserves were established working on a core/buffer strategy. The core areas have the legal status of a national park or a sanctuary, whereas the buffer or peripheral areas are a mix of forest and non-forest land, managed as a multiple use area.

There are 50 tiger reserves in India which are governed by Project Tiger which is administrated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

They are established under the Project Tiger which was initiated in 1973. The aim is to curb factors that leads to reduction of tiger habitats and to mitigate them by suitable management.

Jim Corbett in Uttarakhand is the first Tiger Reserve to be established under Project Tiger.


(Updated List of Tiger Reserves of India)


Elephant Reserves (ER)

Elephant reserves are Protected Areas in India declared under the Project Elephant. An elephant reserve include protected areas and forests as well as zones of human use and habitation.

The Project Elephant was launched in 1992. It aims at better conservation of elephant through protection and management of their habitat, to address issues of man-animal conflict and ensure welfare of captive elephants.

There are two important associated concepts –

o  Elephant Landscape – Adjoining stretches of land with regular movements of elephants is known as elephant landscape. Eg. – East-Central Landscape (West Bengal – Jharkhand – Orissa) which includes a number of elephant reserves such as Mayurjharna ER in West Bengal, Lemru ER in Chttisagarh.

o  Elephant Corridor – These are narrow strips of land that allow elephants to move from one habitat patch to another.


(Updated List of Elephant Reserves of India)


Ramsar Wetland Sites

The convention on wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) called ‘Ramsar Convention’ is an intergovernmental treaty that represents the commitment of its member countries to maintain ecological character of their wetlands of international importance and to plan for their sustainable use.

In India, the scheme on conservation and management of wetlands in India was initiated in 1982. India has 42 Ramsar Sites as Protected Areas in India.


(Updated List of Ramsar Wetland Sites of India)


Bird sanctuaries or Important Bird Areas

Bird sanctuaries in India are built to protect the birds in their natural environment or Habitat. They are natural facilities that serve the conservation of various species and also their natural habitat. Further, it also promotes the survival and rehabilitation of these birds.

There are more than 60 bird sanctuaries in India. Bird sanctuaries in India act as nature facilities that helps the conservation of various species of birds and their natural habitats while promoting rehabilitation and survival.


(Updated List of Bird sanctuaries or Important Bird Areas of India)


Sacred Groves

They are patches of forests or natural vegetation generally dedicated to local folk deities or tree spirits.

These groves are considered “sacred” and are protected by local community. Community reserves may include such sacred groves and thus enjoy protection.

Eg. – Kovil Kadu at Puthupet (Tamil Nadu), Gumpa Forests (Sacred Groves attached to Buddhist monasteries) in Arunachal Pradesh.




So this was all about the Protected Area in India, National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary, Marine Protected Area, Conservation & Community Reserve, Biosphere Reserves etc. To read more such notes on Environment & Ecology – Click Here.

Similar Notes – Wildlife of India – Specialised Projects for Wildlife

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