In this chapter, we learn about the natural resources we have in our country such as land, power, forest, sea, fresh water and mineral resources. After reading this chapter, you will be able to relate the available natural and other resources and their exploitation and also understand why India remains a rich country inhabited by poor people.
A country's production is the result of exploitation and use of the available resources. To increase production, we must have better and more resources. Natural resources provide the basic foundations for economic development. But these, by themselves alone, are not enough. These are to be discovered, demanded by producers and others, and the country should have the necessary technology to exploit and use these resources. For the sake of convenience, we can group these resources under three heads—natural resources, human resources and man-made resources. Natural resources include all the free gifts of nature such as climate, fresh water and fertile soil. Human resources refer to labour; man-made resources refer to such creations of man as capital, machinery, skill, and so on.
India has a total geographical area of 329 million hectares. It is almost a subcontinent. It measures 3,219 km from North to South and 2,977 km from East to West. India is the seventh largest country in the world. India is about 13 times as large as the United Kingdom. It has a land frontier of 15,700 km and a coastline of 5,690 km.
Of the total geographical area of 329 million hectares, about 42 million hectares of land is barren and uncultivable. Cultivable wastes constitute 17.4 million hectares. Of the total land area, the actually cultivated area is only 190 million hectares, approximately 62 per cent of the total land area. Of the total area under cultivation, only 19 per cent is irrigated.
The main land can be studied as three well-defined regions: (i) the mountain zone of the Himalayas, (ii) the Indo-Gangetic Plain and (iii) the Southern Peninsula. The Himalayan zone, though very fertile, is full of valleys and plateaus. The Indo-Gangetic plain is a vast stretch of one of the richest soils in the world. It is formed by the basins of the three famous rivers: the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The Peninsula plateau is marked by the Indo-Gangetic plain.
There are four broad climatic regions in India. The whole of Assam and the west coast of India extending from the north of Bombay to Trivandrum are areas of heavy rainfall. In contrast the Rajasthan desert extending to the Kutch on one side and Gilgit on the other side are areas of low rainfall. The peninsula marching northward with the north Indian plains and southward with the coastal plains receives moderately high rainfall. The area from the Punjab plains upto the Vindhya mountains, including western part of the Deccan, receives low rainfall.
Irrigation is a resource which combines natural resources and human ingenuity to benefit the human race.
There is a great need for irrigation in India mainly because of the shortage and uncertainty of rainfall. Indian agriculture is at the mercy of monsoon. There is an age-old saying that Indian agriculture was a gamble on the monsoon, and in the early days of economic planning, the Indian budget itself was a gamble on Indian agriculture. Irrigation is absolutely necessary for the practically rainless tracts like Rajasthan. It is also required in the Deccan which is exposed to regular drought. Moreover, irrigation provides other advantages. It makes possible extensive utilization of land and other resources; adoption of a better cropping pattern and a shift to more valuable crops; increase in agricultural productivity; stabilization in increasing income from agriculture; increased employment opportunities to millions of labourers; processing and other agro-based industries are encouraged apart from trade and transport; and provision of strong incentives for people to employ their surplus incomes in agriculture.
The sources of irrigation in India are (i) canals, (ii) tanks, (iii) wells (including tube wells) and (iv) others. These are broadly divided into (1) major and medium irrigation works (such as dams, canals, and most river water irrigation works); and (2) minor irrigation works (such as wells, tanks and small river irrigation works). Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Major and medium irrigation works involve heavy investments; take long period for completion and present many technical and other difficulties. But, at the same time, their cost of supplying water is very low; they irrigate vast and extensive areas and neutralize the impact of droughts. Minor irrigation works, on the other hand, involve small investments, can be completed in short periods, and do not present any serious administrative or other problems. These can be undertaken by local bodies and even individual farmers. But, the cost of maintaining these is rather high. They irrigate small areas and their usefulness is very limited as they go dry during the time of drought when farmers need those most.
Balanced development of major and medium irrigation schemes and minor irrigation schemes is thus essential. Each area has to be served by the kind of schemes for which it is best suited and which will give the best results at minimum cost. According to the latest data available (2003–05), 61 per cent of the total land available can be treated as agricultural land. However, only 32.7 per cent of the cropland is irrigated land as opposed to 100 per cent in Egypt and 54.3 per cent in Bangladesh.1 The government proposes to irrigate at least 50 per cent of the total cultivable land.
Hydroelectric power is an important resource available to a country. Hydroelectric power is cheap and clean. Investments in these projects will promote economic development and will sustain it for a long time. Electricity is so important to a nation's economic growth that Lenin once observed:
Table 4.1 The Total Energy Generated in India (in billion kWh)
Source: Ministry of Power and http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2008-09/chapt2009/tab124.pdf
Note: a Calendar Year; pProvisional; NCES: Non-Conventional Energy Sources other than wind.
However, according to the World Development Report 2005 and World Development Indicators, the per capita consumption of energy including electricity in India is very low at 520 units whereas it is 7,843 units in USA indicating the backwardness of the country in energy consumption, one of the most important parameters of economic development.
Table 4.1 gives a break-up of power generation in the country provided by different utilities in the period from 1950–51 to 2008–09. It clearly shows the strides the country has made in power generation by various utilities since the time we started our planned economic development; though it falls short of meeting the increased demand for power caused by increased industrialization, population growth and diversified uses.
Many multipurpose projects also generate hydroelectric power. Despite this, power shortage is one of the chronic ills of the Indian economy which hampers faster industrialization. It is claimed by economists that if we could solve the power deficiency problem, especially in the summer months, our national income can be raised by more than 2 per cent. Besides, the supply of power perennially to thirsty lands provides a long-range solution to the food problem in India. There are great possibilities of developing hydroelectric power. It is estimated that the Indian river basins have the potential to generate power to the order of 90,000 MW. The installed hydroelectricity capacity in the country has increased to 18,000 MW, which means that only 20 per cent of the hydro-potential has been harnessed so far; leaving 80 per cent unutilized, even though this form of electricity is both clean, cheap and, thus, superior to thermal and nuclear power. During 2002–07, the target of additional hydroelectricity production was 41,110 MW, but the estimated production at the end of March 2007 was only 23,250 MW—almost 40 per cent short of the target.
The energy shortage in the country in the period from 2000–01 to 2007–08 has increased 7.8 per cent to 9.0 per cent.
There are many reasons for such shortages of electricity including transmission losses which work out to be 20–22 per cent in India against the global average of 9 per cent. Apart from transmission losses and power thefts, other factors that cause power shortage include inadequate funding, procedural delays in land acquisition, contractual failures, delays in obtaining environmental clearances, corruption and suspension of World Bank support.
During the period from 1951 to 1991, several multipurpose projects across our perennial rivers were constructed such as Damodar Valley Corporation. The multipurpose projects are so called because of the manifold benefits they yield. They have brought about a more comprehensive use of the physical potentialities of river basins. By providing a number of benefits (such as irrigation, electric energy, control of floods, navigation, fishery, soil conservation and afforestation, provision of clean drinking water, employment opportunities, recreation for the sick and tired and attractions for tourists) from the same investment, they have resulted in considerable savings in the total cost.
Several attempts have been made by Government-owned public sector units to generate power, maintain ecological balance and ensure sustainable development.
Eco-efficiency Strategy of Power Grid
The largest public sector unit engaged in power transmission, Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (Powergrid), constructs, owns and operates extra high-voltage transmission network in India and carries out real-time supervision and monitoring of power flow on round-the-clock basis over the entire extra-high-voltage (EHV) network of the country.
With an asset base of 48,000 circuit-km of transmission lines, 82 substations having 46,500 MVA of transmission capacity, Powergrid is committed to the concept of eco-efficiency through conservation of natural resources, reduced impact on nature and increasing the service value by use of efficient and safe technology practices. It is an ISO: 9001 company and as a part of its sustainability strategy it is adopting a comprehensive integrated management system comprising ISO: 9001 for quality management system, ISO: 14001 for environmental management system and OHSAS: 18000 for occupational health and safety management system. Some of the initiatives taken up by it to minimize the environmental and social impact are: installation of tall towers to minimize impact on flora and fauna in ecologically sensitive areas; compensatory afforestation and massive plantation in all of its installations; rain water collection and harvesting; and preference to use barren or wasteland for its installations. After demonstrating its commitment, Powergrid is aspiring and striving to attain global leadership in the transmission sector through continually improving its environmental standards as per international best practices.2
Hydropower and Sustainable Development
Another public sector unit, the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) is also committed to the goals of sustainable development and is promoting hydropower development in India. As most of its projects are situated in the remote corners of India, which have not seen the face of development earlier, meeting environmental challenges has become a crucial issue.
It aims for minimum destruction and exploitation and goes for various conservation measures to restore the resilience of nature. Its objective is that nature must not fall apart due to developmental pressure of our dams. NHPC's compensatory afforestation and biodiversity conservation measures have helped in restoring the ecological balance of nature; catchment area and reservoir rim treatments are aimed at increasing the life of reservoir; green belts around the company facilities act as carbon sinks, purifying the ambient air for people to breathe; restoration of quarry sites and landscaping have added aesthetics to surroundings.
NHPC has also undertaken massive afforestation, which is an effective tool in arresting soil erosion and enrichment of environment. At the Chamera project site, it has planted 100 times the number of trees that were felled. At the Dulhasti project site, it was 1000 times and at Rangit it was 60 times. NHPC gives special attention to the choice of species with greater emphasis on indigenous species while monoculture plantation is avoided.3
“The forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that shield the earth and support innumerable life forms. A forest is an area, which has a very high density of trees. Trees are an important component of the environment. They clean the air, cool it on hot days, conserve heat at night, and act as excellent sound absorbers.”4 Forests are homes to a wide variety of flora and fauna and help in the creation of biodiversity.
India's forests cover 69 millions hectares, that is, about 23.03 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. But compared to other countries, our forest area is less. Besides, it is unevenly distributed. Forests are most scarce in areas where most needed, such as the Gangetic basin and other places. Further, about half of our forest area is not useful.
India's forests are a source of many kinds of timber, fire woods, medicinal herbs, and the like. The timber we get from forests is very essential for our building industry. There are several other industries based on timber such as wood carving, paper, matches, plywood and sports' goods. Forests are also a source of firewood, timber, bamboo, lac, honey, wax, resins, gum, and so on. Forests are a source of fodder for cattle. Industries based on forest materials provide employment opportunities to a large number of people. Further, they prevent soil erosion during heavy monsoons. They help preserve moisture and have an important influence on climatic conditions of the area and in the formation of clouds. They help to moderate floods and to maintain stream flow. They serve to increase agricultural yields to a marked extent. Forests also house our magnificent wildlife including lions and tigers. Thus, forests are an important resource.
Forest products are of two kinds: (i) Major products consisting of timber and firewood. There are a variety of such products as teak, sal, jarul, arjun, mango, kuseem, ebony, siris, oak, palas, babul, bangan, pine, rosewood, and so on. Asafoetida or kayam is available in Kashmir; (ii) Minor products include medicinal plants, essential oils, resins, fatty oils, wax, starch, gums, tans, dyes, bamboos, canes, fibres, flosses, grass and animal products such as honey, lac, ivory and materials for packing and wrapping.
Though we have a variety of resources in our forests, our forest area is smaller and the income they yield is lesser as compared to other countries. Therefore, measures for improving the productivity of forests gained momentum during 1967–68 with greater emphasis on schemes regarding the raising of forest plantations, development of forest communications, social forestry, farm forestry and survey of forest resources. Plans for raising plantations of teak, eucalyptus and conifers are being carried out.
Table 4.2 provides a comprehensive picture of forest categories in India, the land area they cover and the percentage of total geographical area.
Forest and Wildlife Conservation
Forest and wildlife conservation has been the forte of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The Ministry has released in August 2004 a draft National Environmental Policy (NEP). The NEP breaks new ground in pleading for “legal recognition of the traditional rights of forest dwelling tribe” to “remedy a serious historical injustice”.
This, however, calls for a major overhaul of the Indian foresters' prevailing mindset that looks upon forests as garrisons to be protected against marauders and of the legal dispensation that extinguishes all traditional rights in protected areas.
MoEF makes out a case for finding out the ways and means to achieve the target of increasing the forest cover to 25 per cent by the end of the tenth Five Year Plan and 33 per cent by 2012. This task has been set by the Planning Commission under the tenth plan and approved by the National Development Council. But given the recent performance of tree plantation, which stood at 1.1 million hectares in 2002–03, achieving an annual plantation rate of 4.2 million hectares appears to be a “gigantic” task for the ministry. But what is perturbing is the fact that of a total of 33.60 hectares required for the purpose, the government could make available only 4.2 million hectares. For the remaining, it will have to depend on private individuals and institutions for forestation projects.
The present forest and tree cover in the country is 23.03 per cent. Thus, an additional 33.60 million hectares of forest and tree cover is required for achieving the 33 per cent cover by 2012. In annual terms, the increase has to be at least 4.2 million hectares in the next eight years. Much of this has to take place on private, non-government and non-forest wastelands over which the government has no direct management control. The involvement of people—particularly at the grassroots level—and agencies outside the government will be crucial in this.
Table 4.2 Forest Categories in India
|Categories||Area in km2||Percentage of total geographical area|
|Dense forest (crown density 40% or above)||378,470.00||
|Open forest (crown density 10 % to less than 40%)||257,409.00||
|Scrub area (Scattered trees with less than 10% crown density)||66,121.00||
|Uninterpreted area (under clouds and shadow)||3,890.00||
|Non-forest area (including tea gardens)||2,577,649.00||
Source: Santra, 2001, Cited by Kurian Joseph and R. Nagendran, Essentials of Environmental Studies, (2004) New Delhi: Pearson Education.
FRESH WATER RESOURCES
Social scientists have predicted that water may be a cause for wars in the future. An ever-growing demand for water for domestic requirements, agricultural and industrial needs all over the world is bound to place an additional pressure on this scarce commodity. In fact, fresh water has become one of the most pressing global resource issues of the 21st century. It was estimated that there had been a six-fold increase in consumption of fresh water in the period from 1900 to 1995; and the rise in water demand is more than double the rate of population growth.
There are three kinds of fresh water resources—standing water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs and streams; flowing water bodies such as streams and rivers; and ground water.
Vandana Shiva, in her book Water Wars, attributes our depleting water levels to many reasons. “Our rivers face the dual threat of pollution and diversion. As India industrializes and its cities grow uncontrollably, living rivers become the industrial drains. Further the insatiable thirst of industrial agriculture, polluting industry and large cities is killing our rivers, as every free flowing river is dammed and its water diverted. Stretches of the Ganga are now totally dead, with its water being diverted through tunnels for generating electricity or being imprisoned in large dams like Tehri dam.”5
“India receives about 3 trillion cubic metres of water from rainfall. Fourteen major, 44 medium and 55 minor rivers (rivers systems) share 83 per cent of the drainage basin, account for 85 per cent of the surface flow and cater to the needs of 80 per cent of the population of the country.”6
With regard to ground water resources it is estimated to be about 210 billion cubic metres, with an annual exploitable potential of 42.3 mham, of which the present utilization is only about 25 per cent. The annual per capita availability of drinking water is about 2.43 thousand cubic metres. The primary concern regarding the perpetual need for water concerns four major sectors: (i) Agriculture and livestock that constitute 79.6 per cent demand; (ii) Power generation that requires 13.6 per cent stream water; (iii) Industrial consumption that requires 3.2 per cent; and (iv) Domestic consumption, which requires about 3.5 per cent of the water resources.7
To bridge the ever-widening gap between demand and supply, it is important to take immediate remedial measures. There are three ways to augment the supply of water: (i) Rainwater harvesting; (ii) Groundwater drilling; and (iii) Building large projects for storage or for long distance water transfers. Each of these measures of water supply augmentation has its own well-known impacts and consequences. Controlling the demand side is easier said than done. Ramaswamy Iyer, a member of the Centre for Policy Research, argues that we cannot regulate the demand for water unless we checkmate the demand for many other things in which water is used. “Our lifestyles and our ideas of what constitutes development will have to change. Besides, we cannot continue our heavy draft on nature and our infliction of population and contamination on it and expect to continue to receive fresh water as before.”8
Minerals are important natural resources. They supply raw materials and power for the development of industries. If we have better and extensive deposits of minerals, that will add to the wealth of the country. Minerals can be classified into five categories: (i) Power minerals; (ii) Metallic minerals; (iii) Non-metallic minerals; (iv) Building materials; and (v) Others. Metallic minerals are further subdivided into two, ferrous and non-ferrous. Important ferrous minerals found in India are iron ore, manganese ore and chromite. Among the non-ferrous minerals, we have bauxite, copper ore, lead, zinc, gold, silver, ilmenite and rutile. India has two power minerals—coal and petroleum. India possesses a long list of non-metallic minerals: Apatita, asbestos, barytes, calcite, chalk, china clay, corundum, diamonds, emeralds, feldspars, fire clay, gypsum, kyamite, magnesite, mica ore, quartz, silica, salt, millimianete, steatile and vermiculate. The important building materials found in India are domomite, laterite and limestone. We also have reserves of titanium, mica, chromium, thorium, magnesium.
Table 4.3 gives the estimated reserves of various mineral deposits in India.
Table 4. 3 Mineral Deposits of India
|S. No.||Mineral||Estimated reserve (MT)|
Source: Santra, 2001, Cited by Kurian Joseph and R. Nagendran, Essentials of Environmental Studies, (2004) New Delhi: Pearson Education.
Coal mining is one of the oldest industries in India, started in 1814 at Raniganj, Bengal. The total coal deposits of India have been estimated at 1,48,791 million tonnes, but two-thirds of these lie too deep for profitable working. They are unevenly distributed and to move them to areas where they are required, costs a lot of money.
Coal deposits are chiefly found in Bihar and West Bengal, and to some extent, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Assam and Maharashtra. In 2006–07, coal production in our country stood at 430 million tonnes. This industry also employs more than one million workers. Our production and use of coal on an average basis is too low as compared to the USA and the UK.
Iron ore forms the basic raw material for the iron and steel industry. At an estimated 17,570 million tonnes, India is said to have one-fourth of the world's reserves of this mineral—the largest as compared to any other country in the world. The richest deposits of iron ore are found in Singhbhum in Bihar. Good quality iron ore occurs in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Mysore. In 2006–07, 172 million tonnes of iron ore was extracted out of which approximately 60 per cent was exported. As a result of our exports of iron ore and concentrates, we earned $17.3 billion in foreign exchange in the year 2004.
Manganese is a very important mineral for the steel industry. India ranks third in the world in manganese deposits. Our total deposits are about 128 million tonnes out of which about one-fourth is high-quality manganese ore. We have manganese ore deposits in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mysore and Tamil Nadu. Our production of manganese ore in 2006–07 was 1,882,000 tonnes of which 82.1 per cent was exported.
It is used in the manufacture of aluminium, cement, refractories and in refining kerosene. Bauxite is found in Bihar, Maharashtra, Jammu, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. We have approximately 2,650 million tonnes of bauxite of which about one-third is in Bihar. With the development of our aluminium industry, the demand for bauxite will increase. In 2006–07, the extraction of bauxite stood at more than 13,075,000 tonnes.
Copper, Lead and Zinc
These are basic materials required for the development of many metal and non-metal industries.
India does not have much of these minerals, though we have not yet made any scientific survey in this direction. The deposits are roughly placed at 580 million tonnes of copper ore and 360 million tonnes of lead and zinc ores. Singhbhum in Bihar has a significant quantity of deposit of copper ore. Zawar in Rajasthan has a considerable deposit of lead and zinc ores. The government plans to increase the production of these minerals.
India has a coastline of 5,690 km with a sea-fishing area of some 110,000 sq km. India produced 1.15 million tonnes of fish as against an estimated demand of 4.5 million tonnes. About 1.5 million people are either directly or indirectly dependent on fishery. Industries connected with sea foods employ more than a million people. But an Indian fisherman's average catch is less than one-fourteenth of a fisherman in Europe.
Sea fishing is mainly carried on in small crafts in coastal waters, 8–10 km from the shore. It is confined to the coastal waters along the eastern and western coasts of India. We have a variety of sea fish in India. These include cat fishes, silver bar fish, herrings, sardines, mackerels, pomfrets, fiat fishes, salmon, jero fish and so on. We have a variety of shell fish such as oysters, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns also. Deep-sea fishing has just come to India. Quilon, Bombay, Karwar, Mangalore, Cochin, Tuticorin, Mandapam and Visakhapatnam have deep-sea fishing centres, which supply boats and equipment and also train fishermen in the trade. With these developments, deep-sea fishing industry promises to become a big enterprise in the East and West coasts in the near future. Fish export is a recently developed industry. We export prawns, lobsters, shrimps, pomfrets, sardines, mackerels and the like to Europe and the USA. The value of exports of fish and fish products jumped from $0.2 billion in 1990 to more than $65.5 billion in 2004.
We have also a developing pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar and the east coast. Pearl fishing is controlled by government. Windowpane oysters, whose shells are used for decoration, are found in the open sea, off Coromandel, Madras and Cochin coasts. A beginning has already been made at Tuticorin, a coastal town in Tamil Nadu, to cultivate cultured pearls using unproductive oysters.
Besides being a food item, fish yields several by-products such as fish oil, fish meal and fish manure. The most important is fish oil extracted from sardines and shark livers. Sardine oil is used in the manufacture of soft soaps, for softening hides and tempering steel. Shark liver oil is an excellent source of vitamins A and B. It is being manufactured by the Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments. Fish scraps are converted into fish meal, which provides excellent food for poultry. Fish wastes are converted into fish manure. Fish curing is a supplementary trade and the dried fish is exported to Sri Lanka, Burma and other countries.
- Natural resources are essential for economic development. For natural resources to be effective in growth of a country there must be discovery, demand and technology.
- Natural resources refer to all the free gifts of nature.
- India is the seventh largest country in the world. But all land is not cultivated nor is it entirely fertile.
- Power projects are essential for an all round development of the country. Hydroelectric power is cheap and clean. The installed hydroelectric generating capacity in the country increased sevenfold in the period from 1951 to 1971.
- After independence, several irrigation-cum-power projects—called multipurpose projects—have been launched. These projects also control floods, conserve soil and generate employment opportunities.
- Fresh water, important resource required by people, agriculture and industry, is available from three sources: (i) standing water bodies; (ii) flowing water bodies and (iii) groundwater. Due to overuse, water is becoming increasingly scarce and water wars are becoming common.
- To augment water supply, these strategies may be adopted: (i) Rainwater harvesting (ii) Groundwater drilling and (iii) Building large projects for water storage.
- We have plenty of mineral resources also. Important among these are: iron ore, manganese, chromium, bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, gold, asbestos, diamonds and emeralds.
- India has a coastline of 5,690 km with a sea fishing area of 10,000 square km. The fishery industry employs about 1.5 million people. India's need for sea foods is about 4.5 million tonnes.
|economic development||emeralds||fishery industry|
|flowing water||fresh water||geographical area|
|gold||ground water||hydroelectric power|
|iron ore||manganese||mineral resources|
|natural resources||power projects|
- What are the advantages of forests? Why are they important?
- Explain the importance of mineral resources. State the important minerals available in India.
- How do the water and marine resources help the economy of a country?
- Write an essay on the importance of natural resources in the economic development of a country.
- Discuss the importance of fresh water for a country. How can it be augmented?
Centre for Science and Environment: The First and Second Citizens' Reports, Centre for Science and Environment, 1982.
Economic Survey, 2007–08 and Economic Survey, 2008–09.
Kirtis Parikh and R. Radhakrishna (Ed.), India Development Report, 2002.
Planning Commission, Government of India: An Approach to Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007–12).
Planning commission, Government of India: Eleventh Five Year Plan, 2007.