Some of the important Natural Resources available in India are:- 1. Water Resources 2. Forest Resources 3. Mineral Resources 4. Food Resources 5. Land Resources.
Natural Resource # 1. Water Resources:
Water, a vital natural resource and precious commodity, is essential for multiplicity of purposes, viz., drinking, agriculture, power generation, transportation and waste disposal.
In chemical processes industrial water is used as a reaction medium, a solvent, a scrubbing medium and a heat transfer agent.
As a source of life for man, plants and animals, it is indispensable and cannot be replaced by any other solvent.
Availability of Water:
The chief sources of water are rain water, sea water, ground and surface water. The World’s total quantum of water is 140 x 1016 m3.
About 97% of earth’s water supply is in the oceans which is unfit for human consumption or other uses due to high salt contents. Of the remaining 3%, 2.3% is locked in the polar ice caps and hence inaccessible. The remaining 0.7% is available as fresh water. If all the sea beds could be raised up and brought at the level of the earth surface, then the entire water in oceans would cover the whole earth’s surface and make it 2.5 km deep water mass.
Ground water, a gift of nature, is about 210×109 m3 (0.66%) including recharge through infiltration, seepage and evapotranspiration. Out of this nearly one-third is extracted for irrigation, industrial and domestic use, while most of the water is recycled into rivers. Of the fresh water below the surface about 90% satisfies the description of ground water that is, water which rests below the water table. About 2% water occurs as soil moisture in the unsaturated zone above the water table and is essential for plant growth.
The major portion of water (about 165 x1010 m3) which goes to earth crust is retained as soil moisture. Only 500 x109 m3 percolates down to the ground water deposits. About 120 x109 m3 of water applied to agricultural fields moves down to ground water table and 50 x 109 m3 of surface flow also end up as ground water. Thus a total of 670 x109 m3 fresh water enters the ground annually.
We have a very limited stock of usable water that is, 0 03% of the mass balance. The 115×1010 m3 of surface water is increased by the addition of about 450 x109 m3 of fresh water from ground water flow, 200 x109 m3 from surface flow and 50 x 109 m3 as run-off from irrigated areas. The surface loses almost 50×109 m3 m of its water which percolates down to ground water deposits. The total surface flow per year is 185×109 m3 which is distributed among river basins.
In India, the annual rainfall is about 400 x1010 m2. Out of this, 70 x1010m2 of water evaporates immediately, 115 x1010 m2 runs off into surface water bodies and the remaining percolates into the soil. The hydrological cycle in nature is, more or less, balanced in terms of charge (cloud formation) and discharge (rainfall). By 2010, the total water requirement was expected to thrice as much as we had in 1974. The waste water from these is extremely polluted and on mixing with rivers it is polluting the rivers also.
It is essential to enforce water quality standards to specify suitability of water for drinking, irrigation, industry, public health and environmental safety purposes. All developed countries strictly conform to water quality standards. The United States Public Health (USPH) has laid down following standards for drinking water.
The quality parameters for surface water (rivers, lakes, ponds) are 4 to 5 times higher than the above values for drinking water. The delicate balance existing between the ratio of available and exploitable water resources and sustaining their quality should be maintained to support the life systems on earth.
Water for domestic purposes should be free from:
1. Materials which impart colour, taste or turbidity, e.g., oils, grease, phenols etc.
2. Substances which may settle to form objectionable deposits or float on the surface as debris, oils and scum.
3. Toxic substances including radionuclides, physiologically harmful to man or other aquatic life.
Over Exploitation of Water Resources:
Water, a vital natural resource and precious commodity, is essential for multiple purposes. Human beings depend on water for almost every developmental activity. Out of 30% stream flow, water consumed by man is 8% for irrigation, 2% for domestic use, 4% for industrial consumption, 12% for electrical utilities, 4% for transportation and waste disposal. Water shapes the earth’s surface and regulates our climate.
Water use by man is of two types:
(i) Water withdrawal, that is, using ground water or surface water. With the rapid growth of population, many countries are now using desalinated sea water as a potential source of supply of potable water in scarcity hit regions. Desalination may be accomplished by processes such as distillation, freezing, electro-dialysis and reverse osmosis.
(ii) Water consumption that is, water which is taken up but not returned for reuse. Globally, only 60% of the water withdrawn is consumed due to loss through evaporation.
Water consumption in major sectors:
Agriculture sector is the major consumer (93%) of water in India (Table 2). While in a country like Kuwait, which is water poor, only 4% is used for watering the crops. On a global average, 70% of water withdrawn is used for irrigation.
About 25% of water on global average is used in industry which again varies from 70% in European countries to 5% in less developed countries.
In India, power generation sector requires about 15 times more water by 2012 than it was in 1974.
Domestic water needs:
Per capita consumption of water shows wide variations. In USA, an average family of 4 consumes more than 1000 m3 of water per year which is many times more than that in most developing countries. With growing population, the demand for good quality fresh water is steadily increasing but its availability is dwindling because of misuse, wastage and pollution.
World Health Organisation:
Current estimates show that water consumption will have to be cut by 50% by 2025 if nations fail to address imbalances in global water supply and demand.
Problems of Excessive use of Ground Water:
1. Lowering of water table:
Excessive use of ground water for drinking, irrigation and domestic purposes has resulted in rapid depletion of ground water table leading to drying of wells and sharp decline in future agricultural production.
2. Ground subsidence:
When ground water withdrawal is more than its recharge rate, the sediments in the aquifers become compact causing ground subsidence. It results in sinking of overlying land surface which may damage buildings, cause fractures in pipes, reverse the flow of sewers and canals and tidal flooding.
3. Water logging:
Excessive irrigation with brackish water raises the water table leading to water logging and salinity problems.
Natural Resource # 2. Forest Resources:
A plant community predominantly of trees and other vegetation usually with a closed canopy is called forest derived from Latin word Foris meaning out of door. Today forest may be regarded as any land managed for the diverse purpose of forestry, whether covered with trees, shrubs, climbers, lianes or not.
About 33% of the world’s land area is under forest cover. CIS accounts for about 20% of the world’s forests, Brazil for 15%, Canada and USA for 6%. Covering the earth like a green blanket, these forests not only produce innumerable material goods but also provide several environmental services which are essential for life.
Uses of Forests:
1. Commercial uses:
The forests of a country make a natural asset of immense value. They produce a large number of products of commercial as well as industrial importance. Some of such valued products are structural timber, charcoal, raw materials for the manufacture of paper, newsprint, panel products, bidi leaves, resins, gums, essential oils and a number of useful medicinal shrubs.
2. Ecological uses:
Most of the ecologically useful plants are in the form of herbs, shrubs, climbers and grasses. Tropical forests are considered as the lungs of the earth and have aptly been called as the life support system. They are the treasure house of food, medicines and commerce.
These forests harbour some very primitive species of plants and animals and provide the most stable environment for life and land. Between 1999 and 2009, about 350 million hectares of tropical forests (equivalent to 4 times the size of France) have been converted to other uses.
3. Regulation of climate:
Rain forests, the most primitive ecosystem, are universally recognised for regulating the global climate, rainfall and the consequent productivity of land and water.
4. Reducing global warming:
The forest canopy absorbs CO2 during photosynthesis and acts as a sink for green-house gases.
5. Soil conservation:
A properly stocked forest guards against soil erosion, damage of water sheds, floods and sedimentation.
6. Regulation of hydrological cycle:
Forested watersheds act like giant sponges, absorb rain water, increase humidity by transpiration and regulate hydrological cycle.
7. Medicinal value:
Most of the medicinal plants are found in the under-brush strata of the forest. They contain chemicals such as alkaloids, glycosides, terpenoids, lignans, fatty acids, resins, tannins, gums and many other substances which have specific effects on the human body For example, Tinospora cordifolia, Vitex trifolia, Serpentina, Eucalyptus, rusa grass, khus, camphor and sandal wood are used in medicines. Quinine, a malaria drug, is obtained from the bark of Cinchona.
Essential oils, obtained from a variety of forest plants, are used in the manufacture of soaps, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, confectionery and tobacco flavouring etc.
9. Food products:
Vegetative shrubs, herbs, climbers, ferns, mosses are derived from trees and consist of flowers, fruits, leaves, bark, stem or root. Several forest fruits, flowers and even leaves and roots are eaten. Examples are bel, ber, phalsa, jamun, khirni and tendu.
The parts of some plants are used as vegetables and for making pickles. Examples are amla, anar, imli, karaunda, kokam, kachnar etc. Kalazira is the seed of carum carvi and is used as a spice. Shahtoot fruit is eaten or made into a sharbat. Tendu leaves are used as wrappers of tabacco to make bidis.
10. Desert vegetation:
India is gifted with cold desert vegetation of Tibet Plateau. It has been estimated that more than 15000 known floral species are found in India. The North-East region, comprising of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya etc. is the richest zone. There are more than 6700 endemic species largely found in Himalayas and Western Ghats of Peninsular India.
11. Shelter for tribal people:
The forests play an important role in the life of tribal people living in close proximity of forests because they provide them food, shelter, timber, wood fuel, fruits, meat, medicines, hides, skins and other products of their daily and commercial use. Forests also give shelter to diverse species of plants, wildlife and micro-organisms.
12. Pollution moderators:
Forests absorb many toxic gases and can help in keeping the air pure. They also absorb noise and thus help in preventing air and noise pollution.
13. Aesthetic value:
Forests also have a great aesthetic value. All people appreciate the natural beauty and tranquility of forests.
Over Exploitation of Forest Resources:
Exploitation of vast potential of forests may be due to the following causes:
1. Commercial Demand:
Forests contribute substantially to the national economy. The international timber trade alone is worth over US $ 40 billion per year. But the commercial demand for pines, teak, sal and conifers has turned the productive forest wealth into near desert.
2. Raw Materials for Industrial Use:
Wood, timber, wooden crates for manufacture of furniture, railway sleepers and pulp for paper industry have exerted tremendous pressure on forests. Plywood is in great demand for packing tea in tea industry while fir tree wood (ten times more) is exploited for packing apples alone.
3. Development Projects:
Mega Projects of the World Bank, construction of dams, hydroelectric projects, power stations, roads, highways, railways, open cast coal and lime stone mines have been instrumental for the massive destruction of forest cover. The tidal mangrove forests called Sunderbans have been stripped and the Southern Peninsula has turned to acacia scrub semidesert. The tropical deciduous forests of Vindhyan range of Mirzapur were replaced with a savannah ecobiome and near barren wasteland due to excessive exploitation.
4. Growing Food Demands:
Forest wealth has been recklessly exploited for agricultural land and settlements.
5. Fuel Requirement:
Increasing demand for fuel wood by over growing population in India had shot up to 600 million tonnes in 2010. If the trend continues, time will come soon when the cost of fuel would be much higher than the cost of food.
Problems Associated with Forests:
1. Overexploitation of forests is responsible for soil erosion, loss of wildlife and biodiversity, change in landscape, wind direction, floods, droughts and global warming.
2. Deforestation upsets the delicate balance of nutrients, gases and symbiotic relationship between man and plants.
3. Tropical forests, considered as the lungs of the earth, are under a virtual death sentence owing to burgeoning population density. Merciless clearing of plant species (genetic erosion) at the rate of 8 million hectares per year has resulted in tremendous loss of vast reservoir of genetic diversity.
4. Hydrological cycle gets affected thereby influencing rainfall.
5. Horticulture has contributed to social destabilisation, eco-destruction and massive deforestation. The snow line of Himalayas is continuously receding, an extremely serious phenomenon with far reaching consequences.
Hot Beds of Extincting Forests:
Some extincting tropical forests are: Madagascar, Western Eucador, Colombian, Choco, Western Amazonia, Northern Borneo, Eastern Himalayas, Peninsular Malaysia, Philippines and New Caledonia.
Probleme of Deforestation:
Destruction of biotic potential of land leads to deforestation, i.e., forest destruction. The total forest area of the world was estimated to be 7000 million hectare in 1900 which fell down to 2100 million hectare by 2010. This process of deforestation is a serious threat to economy, quality of life and future of the environment in our country.
a. Note that we are still far behind the target of achieving 33% forest area as per National Forest Policy. Despite increasing awareness, deforestation rate continues to increase.
b. Each day about 32300 hectare of forests disappear and another 32300 hectare of forest suffers degradation.
c. During the period 2005-2010, the tropical deforestation rate had increased by 9.5% as compared to 1995’s deforestation rates.
d. Primary forests have suffered a loss of 25%.
e. Further, forests are being replaced by plantations with much less biodiversity.
Major Causes of Deforestation:
1. Rapid explosion of human and livestock population.
2. Overgrazing by cattle, indiscriminate felling of trees and over exploitation of land resources.
3. Construction of dams destroy thousands of square kilometres of tropical forests. The process of filling the reservoirs may drown large tracks of forests, displace people and kill wild life.
4. Although dams are intended to provide inexpensive electricity, many of them are economic failures because of lack of environmental planning. Erosion of water shed fills reservoirs with silt and reduces the ultimate output and usefulness of dams.
5. Proliferation of industries, quarrying, irrigation and expansion of agricultural land for farming to meet the growing food demand.
The National Forest Policy of India (1988) recommended that one-third (33%) of our land should be under forest cover. But today, the forest cover has reduced to merely 12%. Per capita forest area available in India is 0.06 hectare as against 0.64 hectare of the world’s per capita forest area. We have almost reached a critical state which must be remedied before it is too late for our own survival.
Some conservation strategies have been listed as follows.
1. Conservation of Reserve Forests:
Reserve forests include National Parks, Sanctuaries, Biosphere Reserves and the areas where major water resources are located, viz., the Himalayas, Western and Eastern Ghats. These must be protected and no commercial exploitation should be allowed in these areas.
2. Production Forestry:
These are forests on the plains and their productivity can be enhanced by proper management. Generally, fast growing trees (Eucalyptus, Acacia) are grown using modern techniques.
Production of commercial forestry is intended entirely for commercial purposes to meet the needs of the forest based industries. Grazing lands and fallow lands not used for agriculture can be used for raising such plantations.
3. Social Forestry:
Social forestry is based on public and common land to produce firewood, fodder, fruits and small timber for rural community. The aim is to reduce pressure on natural forests for these requirements.
4. Agro Forestry:
Same land is used for farming and forestry by taungya (growing crops between rows of trees) and jhum (shifting crop and forest cultivation) techniques.
5. Urban Forestry:
It aims at growing ornamental and fruit trees along roads, parks or vacant lands.
Natural Resource # 3. Mineral Resources:
The term mineral resources refers to a wide variety of materials obtained from earth. Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic, crystalline solids having a definite chemical composition and characteristic physical properties. Most of the rocks are composed of a few common minerals like quartz, feldspar, biotite, dolomite, calcite etc. These minerals, in turn, are composed of some elements like silicon, oxygen, iron, magnesium, calcium and aluminium etc.
Categories of Minerals:
(i) Non-metallic minerals, e.g., graphite, diamond, quartz, feldspar.
(ii) Metallic minerals, e.g., bauxite, laterite, haematite etc.
(iii) Energy generating minerals. Coal, oil and natural gas.
Minerals are sometimes classified as critical and strategic. Critical minerals are essential for the economy of a nation, e.g., Fe, Al, Cu, Au etc. Strategic minerals are required for the defence of a country, e.g., Cr, Co, Pt, Mn.
Uses and Exploitation of Mineral Resources:
Minerals find extensive use in domestic, agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors and thus form a very important part of a nation’s economy.
The main uses of minerals are:
1. Development of industrial plants and machinery.
2. Generation of energy, e.g., coal, lignite, uranium.
3. Construction, housing, settlements.
4. Defence equipment’s—weapons, armaments.
5. Transportation means.
6. Communication—telephone wires, cables, electronic devices.
7. Medicinal system—particularly in Ayurvedic therapy.
8. Formation of alloys for various purposes (e.g., phosphorite).
9. Agriculture—as fertilizers, seed dressings and fungicides (e.g., Zineb containing zinc, Maneb-containing manganese etc.).
10. Jewellery, e.g., gold, silver, platinum, diamond.
The reserves of metals and the technical know-how to extract them have been the key elements in determining the nation’s overall prosperity. Out of various metals, the one used in maximum quantity is iron and steel (740 million metric tonnes annually) followed by manganese, copper, chromium, aluminium and nickel. The major world reserves of most of the minerals are in USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and CIS countries.
Availability of Major Minerals in India:
1. Energy Generating Minerals.
Coal and lignite. Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh.
Uranium (Pitchblende and uranite ore). Rajasthan (Ajmer), Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh (Nellore, Nalgonda), Meghalaya.
2. Other Commercially Used Minerals:
Iron (Haematite and magnetic ore). Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa.
Aluminium (Bauxite ore). West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand.
Copper (Copper pyrites). Rajasthan (Khetri), Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand.
The most important ingredient of today’s economy like silver, tin, titanium, cadmium, chromium, zirconium, zinc, lead etc. are available in India.
Environmental Problems of Mineral Extraction:
The effects of excessive mineral extraction and consumption are drastically serious which may damage the entire biosphere, rapidly deplete high grade mineral deposits, cause wastage and dissemination of mineral wealth. Environmental concern arises from the impact of extraction and processing of these minerals during mining and smelting etc.
India is the producer of 84 minerals, the annual value of which is Rs. 50,000 crores. Mining is responsible for about 10% of the world’s energy consumption. Mining has created some of the largest environmental disaster zones in the world.
Six major mines in India causing severe problems are listed below:
(i) Jaduguda uranium mine, Jharkhand:
Exposed local people to radioactive hazards.
(ii) Jharia coal mines, Jharkhand:
Underground fire leading to land subsidence and forced displacement of people.
(iii) Sukinda chromite mines, Orissa:
Seepage of Cr (VI) into river. Chromium is highly toxic and carcinogenic.
(iv) Kudremukh iron ore mine, Karnataka:
Causes river pollution and is a threat to biodiversity.
(v) East coast bauxite mine, Orissa:
Land encroachment and issue of rehabilitation unsettled people.
(vi) North-eastern coal fields, Assam:
Very high sulphur contamination of ground water.
Problems of Mining:
Mining is done to extract minerals from deep deposits in soil by sub-surface mining or from shallow deposits by surface mining. The former method is more destructive, dangerous and expensive involving risks of occupational hazards and accidents.
1. Devegetation of landscape:
Soil damage during surface mining is inevitable as it leads to loss of grazing pastures and fertile land, soil erosion, sedimentation, damage to flora and fauna. Open cast coal mining alone eroded 2,00,000 hectare of fertile land.
2. Subsidence of land:
Underground mining causes subsidence of land which results in tilting of buildings, cracks in houses, buckling of roads and bending of railway tracks.
3. Ground water contamination:
Mining disturbs the natural hydrological cycle. Acid mine drainage from sulphur bearing minerals leaches toxic metals to ground water.
4. Surface water pollution:
Cyanide solution from gold mining severely pollutes surface water.
5. Air pollution:
Smelting results in emission of particulates, NOX, SO2, CO2 thereby causing global warming, acid rain and climatic changes.
6. Dust and noise pollution, is caused during loading, crushing and drilling operations.
7. Occupational health hazards:
Most of the miners suffer from respiratory and skin diseases due to constant exposure to the suspended particulates and toxicants. Such diseases include bronchitis, asthma, black lung disease, silicosis and asbestosis.
8. Ecological damage:
Mining leads to erosion of natural biodiversity.
9. Mining displaces people from their resource base.
Remedial strategies include storage of top soil and fertile land, water retentivity, improvement of hydrological regime, selection of ecologically suitable species, natural regeneration, enlisting people’s participation and social fencing etc. Modified mining techniques from dig dump mining to continuous system has been adopted along with sequential techniques. Recycling of all metallic waste is cost effective and eco-friendly.
The adverse impact of mining can be minimised by adopting eco-friendly technology (like microbial leaching technique for extraction of gold with the help of bacterium Thiobacillus ferrioxidans). National Wasteland Development Programme should consider climate, soil texture, rainfall pattern, population and other biomass needs.
Conservation of Mineral Resources:
Following steps may be adopted to conserve mineral resources:
1. Economy in the use of mineral resources.
2. Making finished products to last longer.
3. Use of less precious substitutes.
4. Renovation, recycling and reuse of metals.
5. Applying effective techniques to recover materials from minerals.
6. Search of new earth’s treasures.
7. Protection of existing mineral deposits.
Natural Resource # 4. Food Resources:
Availability of Food:
The main food resources are wheat, rice, maize, barley, pulses, cereals, potato, sugarcane, sorghum, millet, oats, cassava, fruits, vegetables, milk and sea food etc. About 4 billion people in the developing countries have wheat and rice as their staple food. Fish and seafood contribute about 70 million metric tonne of high quality protein to the world’s diet. But we have already surpassed sustainable harvests of fish from most of the oceans.
World Food Problems:
World grain production has increased about three more times during the last 50 years. But at the same time population growth in developing countries has increased at such a rate that it has outstripped food production. Every year about 50 million people die of malnutrition and starvation. India is the third largest producer of staple crops that is, wheat, maize, gram, rice yet about 300 million people are still undernourished (Table 4). They are receiving less than 90% of the minimum required calorie intake of 2500 cals per day (as estimated by FAO of United Nations).
Food crisis is directly linked to population explosion. India has only 50% land as compared to USA, but it has nearly three times population to feed. In some Third World countries, the food shortage is killing every year as many people as were killed by the dropping of atom bomb in Hiroshima during World War II in 1946.
These startling statistical figures emphasize the need to increase our food production, its equitable distribution and control of population. The World Food Summit, 1996 had set the target to reduce the number of undernourished to just 50% by 2015.
Natural Resource # 5. Land Resources:
Land as a Resource:
India has total area of about 329 million hectares. The utilisation statistics available are for nearly 92.5% of the total area. About 162 million hectare of land is under agriculture cover. Nearly 5% of the land falls under fallow land. About 46 million hectare is under real forest as shown by satellites. A part of land is not in use.
This waste land includes arid, rocky and sandy deserts. Cities and towns which use much land must grow vertically rather than horizontally. The land is also needed for industry, commerce, transport and recreation. Since total land is a fixed asset, we must make efforts for integrated land use planning.
Land is an important component of the life support system. Unfortunately land has been overused and even abused over the centuries. Due to exploding population, land is used increasingly which poses threats to its productivity.
Reckless use damages soil that results into (i) reduction in quality of wood land, grassland, cropland, (ii) soil erosion, (iii) deforestation, (iv) degradation of water sheds and catchments, (v) Due to demographic pressures land is under stress. Also due to sprawl in agriculture, industry and urbanisation, cropland is degraded and losing fast fertile top soil.