India’s Protected Area (PA) Network

Praveen Bhargav
Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, a PA in Karnataka
Conservation India
“Protected Area” means a National Park, Sanctuary, Conservation / Community Reserve.
Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, a PA in Karnataka
Conservation India
“Protected Area” means a National Park, Sanctuary, Conservation / Community Reserve.

Here is an explainer piece on Protected Areas in India.

What is a Protected Area (PA)?

PAs in India comprise National Parks, Sanctuaries, Conservation / Community Reserves and Tiger Reserves. It does not include Reserved Forests.

Protected Area (PA) has been defined in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Section 2(24A) says: “Protected Area” means a National Park, Sanctuary, Conservation / Community Reserve. These are notified under Chapter IV titled “Protected Areas”. 

A Tiger Reserve on the other hand is notified under Chapter IV B titled “National Tiger Conservation Authority”. Since, all notified Core or Critical Tiger Habitats of Tiger Reserves are either Sanctuaries or National Parks with tiger populations they get considered as PAs. This is as mandated by Section 38V(4)(i). However, it must be clarified that Buffer or Peripheral Areas notified under Section 38V(4)(ii) cannot include Sanctuaries or National Parks and hence they will not have the status of a PA. These include Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESZs) that surround PAs.

What percentage of India do PAs cover?

There are 870 notified PAs covering an area of 1,65,158.54 sq km or 5.02% of India’s land area.

The geographical area of India is 32,87,263 sq km. Within it are:

870 notified PAs (as on Sept 2019) covering an area of 1,65,158.54 sq km or 5.02% of India’s land area. The break-ups are as follows:

  • 104 National Parks: Area – 40,501.13 sq km or 1.23%
  • 551 Sanctuaries: Area – 1,19,775.80 sq km or 3.64%

So, 655 National Parks and Sanctuaries comprising an area of 1,60,276.93 sq km or 4.87% of India’s geographical area. In addition there are:

  • 88 Conservation Reserves: Area – 4356.49 sq km or 0.13%
  • 127 Community Reserves: Area – 525.22 sq km or 0.02%

How do Reserved Forests (RFs) feature in the PA network?

Reserved Forests (RFs) are areas notified under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. There is another category called as State Forests (SFs) which are areas notified under State Forest Acts. Both these categories have the same legal status. The total area of RFs is 4,34,853 sq km or 13.25% of India’s land area. Typically, two or more contiguous Reserved or State Forests are amalgamated and notified as either a Sanctuary or National Park. Even a single RF can be notified. Only such notified RFs/SFs will be part of a PA.

The various rights admitted in the RF/SF will be included in the notification. In a Sanctuary, such rights may be allowed to continue. For example, the right to graze cattle in a certain portion of the RF/SF may be permitted in a Sanctuary. However, in a National Park, all rights recorded in the RF/SF notification must be settled and extinguished.

Conservation Reserves comprise areas that are Government Lands (not RFs) which could link one PA with another or be standalone. Community Reserves can only include private lands owned by an individual or community lands. In both cases, Community Reserves can be notified only when the community or land owner volunteers to conserve wildlife.

What is the difference between Forest Cover, Recorded Forest Area and Green Wash Area?

These are terms defined in the Indian State of the Forest Report (ISFR).

  • The term ‘Forest Cover’ includes “all lands more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy of more than 10%, irrespective of land use, ownership and legal status”.
  • ‘Recorded Forest Area’ is defined as those areas which are legally notified forests.
  • ‘Green Wash Area’ is defined as those areas shown by green color on Survey of India toposheets or maps. They represent forested areas at the time of survey. However, this data may not reveal the actual status of forests on-the-ground.

None of these are PAs.

List of PAs state wise

For a complete state wise list of Protected Areas in India visit ENVIS Centre on Wildlife & Protected Areas.

About the author

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Praveen Bhargav is managing trustee of Wildlife First and was a member of the National Board for Wildlife (2007-10).


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