“INDIA is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”—Mark Twain
India has a unique culture and is one of the oldest and greatest civilizations of the world. It stretches from the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to sun drenched coastal villages of the south and the humid tropical forests on the south-west coast, from the fertile Brahmaputra valley on its east to the Thar desert in the west. It covers an area of 32,87,263 sq. km. It has achieved all-round socioeconomic progress during the last 70 years of its Independence. India is the seventh largest country in the world and ranks second in population. The country stands apart from the rest of Asia, marked off as it is by mountains and the sea, which give her a distinct geographical entity. Bounded by the Great Himalayas in the north, it stretches southwards and at the Tropic of Cancer tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west.
Lying entirely in the northern hemisphere, the mainland extends between latitudes 8°4’ and 37°6’ north, longitudes 68°7’ and 97°25’ east and measures about 3,214 km from north to south between the extreme latitudes and about 2,933 km from east to west between the extreme longitudes. It has a land frontier of about 15,200 km. The total length of the coastline of the mainland, Lakshadweep Islands and Andaman and Nicobar Islands is 7,516.6 km.
Countries having a common border with India are Afghanistan and Pakistan to the north-west, China, Bhutan and Nepal to the north, Myanmar to the far east and Bangladesh to the east. Sri Lanka is separated from India by a narrow channel of sea formed by the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar. The country can be divided into six zones mainly north, south, east, west, central and north-east zone. It has 29 states and seven union territories.
The mainland comprises four regions, namely, the great mountain zone, plains of the Ganga and the Indus, the desert region and the southern peninsula.
The Himalayas comprise three almost parallel ranges interspersed with large plateaus and valleys, some of which, like the Kashmir and Kullu valleys, are fertile, extensive and of great scenic beauty. Some of the highest peaks in the world are found in these ranges. The high altitudes allow travel only through a few passes, notably the Jelep La and Nathu La on the main Indo-Tibet trade route through the Chumbi valley, north-east of Darjeeling and Shipki La in the Satluj valley, north-east of Kalpa (Kinnaur). The mountain wall extends over a distance of about 2,400 km with a varying depth of 240 to 320 km. In the east, between India and Myanmar and India and Bangladesh, hill ranges are much lower. Garo, Khasi, Jaintia and Naga Hills, running almost east-west, join the chain to Mizo and Rakhine Hills running north-south.
The plains of the Ganga and the Indus, about 2,400 km long and 240 to 320 km broad, are formed by basins of three distinct river systems—the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. They are one of the world’s greatest stretches of flat alluvium and also one of the most densely populated areas on the earth. Between the Yamuna at Delhi and the Bay of Bengal, nearly 1,600 km away, there is a drop of only 200 metres in elevation.
The desert region can be divided into two parts—the ‘great desert’ and the ‘little desert’.
- The great desert extends from the edge of the Rann of Kutch beyond the Luni river northward. The whole of the Rajasthan-Sind frontier runs through this.
- The little desert extends from the Luni between Jaisalmer and Jodhpur up to the northern west.
- Between the great and the little deserts lies a zone of absolutely sterile country, consisting of rocky land, cut up by limestone ridges.
The Peninsular Plateau is marked off from the plains of the Ganga and the Indus by a mass of mountain and hill ranges varying from 460 to 1,220 metres in height. Prominent among these are the Aravali, Vindhya, Satpura, Maikala and Ajanta. The Peninsula is flanked on the one side by the Eastern Ghats where average elevation is about 610 metres and on the other by the Western Ghats where it is generally from 915 to 1,220 metres, rising in places to over 2,440 metres. Between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea lies a narrow coastal strip, while between Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal, there is a broader coastal area. The southern point of the plateau is formed by the Nilgiri Hills where the Eastern and the Western Ghats meet. The Cardamom Hills lying beyond may be regarded as a continuation of the Western Ghats.
The geological regions broadly follow the physical features and may be grouped into three regions: the Himalayas and their associated group of mountains, the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Peninsular Shield.
The Himalayan mountain belt to the north and the Naga-Lushai mountain in the east, are the regions of mountain-building movement. Most of this area, now presenting some of the most magnificent mountain scenery in the world, was under marine conditions about 60 crore years ago. In a series of mountain-building movements commencing about seven crore years ago, the sediments and the basement rocks rose to great heights. The weathering and erosive elements worked on these to produce the relief seen today. The Indo-Ganga plains are a great alluvial tract that separate the Himalayas in the north from the Peninsula in the south.
The Peninsula is a region of relative stability and occasional seismic disturbances. Highly metamorphosed rocks of the earliest periods, dating back as far as 380 crore years, occur in this area; the rest being covered by the Gondwana formations, lava flows belonging to the Deccan Trap formation and younger sediments.
The river systems of India can be classified into four groups viz.,
- Himalayan rivers,
- Deccan rivers,
- Coastal rivers and
- Rivers of the inland drainage basin.
The Himalayan rivers are formed by melting snow and glaciers and therefore, continuously flow throughout the year. During the monsoon months, Himalayas receive very heavy rainfall and rivers swell, causing frequent floods. The Deccan rivers on the other hand are rain-fed and therefore fluctuate in volume. Many of these are non-perennial. The Coastal streams, especially on the west coast are short in length and have limited catchment areas. Most of them are non-perennial. The streams of inland drainage basin of western Rajasthan are few and far apart. Most of them are of an ephemeral character.
The main Himalayan river systems are those of the Indus and the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna system. The Indus, which is one of the great rivers of the world, rises near Mansarovar in Tibet and flows through India and thereafter through Pakistan and finally falls into the Arabian sea near Karachi. Its important tributaries flowing in Indian territory are the Sutlej (originating in Tibet), the Beas, the Ravi, the Chenab and the Jhelum. The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna is another important system of which the principal sub-basins are those of Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, which join at Dev Prayag to form the Ganga. It traverses through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Below Rajmahal Hills, the Bhagirathi, which used to be the main course in the past, takes off, while the Padma continues eastward and enters Bangladesh. The Yamuna, the Ramganga, the Ghaghra, the Gandak, the Kosi, the Mahananda and the Sone are the important tributaries of the Ganga. Rivers Chambal and Betwa are the important sub-tributaries, which join the Yamuna before it meets the Ganga. The Padma and the Brahmaputra join at Bangladesh and continue to flow as the Padma or Ganga. The Brahmaputra rises in Tibet, where it is known as Tsangpo and runs a long distance till it crosses over into India in Arunachal Pradesh under the name of Dihang. Near Passighat, the Debang and Lohit join the river Brahmaputra and the combined river runs all along the Assam valley. It crosses into Bangladesh downstream of Dhubri.
The principal tributaries of Brahmaputra in India are the Subansiri, Jia Bhareli, Dhansiri, Puthimari, Pagladiya and the Manas. The Brahmaputra in Bangladesh fed by Teesta, etc. finally falls into the Ganga. The Barak river, the head stream of Meghna, rises in the hills in Manipur. The important tributaries of the river are Makku, Trang, Tuivai, Jiri, Sonai, Rukni, Katakhal, Dhaleswari, Langachini, Maduva and Jatinga. Barak continues in Bangladesh till the combined Ganga-Brahmaputra join it near Bhairab Bazar.
In the Deccan region, most of the major river systems flowing generally in the east fall into Bay of Bengal. The major east flowing rivers are Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery and Mahanadi. Narmada and Tapti are major west flowing rivers.
The Godavari in the southern Peninsula has the second largest river basin covering 10 per cent of the area of India. Next to it is the Krishna basin in the region and the Mahanadi is another large basin of the region. The basin of the Narmada in the uplands of the Deccan, flowing to the Arabian Sea and of the Cauvery in the south, falling into the Bay of Bengal are about the same size, though with different character and shape.
There are numerous coastal rivers, which are comparatively small. While only handful of such rivers drain into the sea near the delta of east coast, there are as many as 600 such rivers on the west coast.
A few rivers in Rajasthan do not drain into the sea. They drain into salt lakes and get lost in sand with no outlet to sea. Besides these, there are the desert rivers which flow for some distance and are lost in the desert. These are Luni, Machhu, Rupen, Saraswati, Banas, Ghaggar and others.
The entire country has been divided into 20 river basins/group of river basins comprising 12 major basins and eight composite river basins.
The 12 major river basins are :
- Narmada and
Each of these twelve basins has a drainage area exceeding 20,000 sq. km.
The eight composite river basins combining suitably together all the other remaining medium (drainage area of 2,000 to 20,000 sq.km) and small river systems (drainage area less than 2000 sq.km) for the purpose of planning and management are :
- Subarnarekha—combining Subarnarekha and other small rivers between Subarnarekha and Baitarani;
- east flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar;
- east flowing rivers between Pennar and Kanyakumari;
- area of Inland drainage in Rajasthan desert;
- west flowing rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni;
- west flowing rivers from Tapi to Tadri;
- west flowing rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari and
- minor rivers draining into Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh.
Climate – Seasons
The climate of India may be broadly described as tropical monsoon type. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) designates four official seasons:
- Winter, from December to early April. The year’s coldest months are December and January, when temperatures average around 10-15 °C (50-59°F) in the north-west; temperatures rise as one proceeds towards the equator, peaking around 20-25 °C (68-77 °F) in mainland India’s south-east,
- Summer or pre-monsoon season, lasting from April to June (April to July in north-western India). In western and southern regions, the hottest month is April; for northern regions, May is the hottest month. Temperatures average around 32- 40 °C (90-104 °F) in most of the interior,
- Monsoon or rainy season, lasting from June to September. The season is dominated by the humid south-west summer monsoon, which slowly sweeps across the country beginning in late May or early June. Monsoon rains begin to recede from North India at the beginning of October. South India typically receives more rainfall, and
- Post-monsoon season, lasting from October to December. In north-western India, October and November are usually cloudless.
The Himalayan states, being more temperate, experience two additional seasons: autumn and spring.
Traditionally, Indians note six seasons, each about two months long. These are :
- spring (vasanta),
- summer (grishma),
- monsoon (varsha),
- early autumn (sharada),
- late autumn (hemanta) and
- winter (shishira).
These are based on the astronomical division of the 12 months into six parts. The ancient Hindu calendar also reflects these seasons in its arrangement of months.
India’s climate is affected by two seasonal winds—the north-east monsoon and the south-west monsoon. The northeast monsoon commonly known as winter monsoon blows from land to sea whereas south-west monsoon known as summer monsoon blows from sea to land after crossing the Indian ocean, the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal. The south-west monsoon brings most of the rainfall during the year in the country.
India is rich in flora. Available data place India in the tenth position in the world and fourth in Asia in plant diversity. From about 70 per cent geographical area surveyed so far, over 46,000 species of plants have been described by the Botanical Survey of India (BSI), Kolkata. The vascular flora, which forms the conspicuous vegetation cover, comprises 15,000 species.
With a wide range of climatic conditions from the torrid to the arctic, India has a rich and varied vegetation, which only a few countries of comparable size possess. India can be divided into eight distinct floristic regions, namely, the western Himalayas, the eastern Himalayas, Assam, the Indus plain, the Ganga plain, the Deccan, the Malabar and the Andamans.
The western Himalayan region extends from Kashmir to Kumaon. Its temperate zone is rich in forests of chir, pine, other conifers and broad-leaved temperate trees. Higher up, forests of deodar, blue pine, spruce and silver fir occur. The alpine zone extends from the upper limit of the temperate zone of about 4,750 metres or even higher. The characteristic trees of this zone are high-level silver fir, silver birch and junipers. The eastern Himalayan region extends from Sikkim eastwards and embraces Darjeeling, Kurseong and the adjacent tracts. The temperate zone has forests of oaks, laurels, maples, rhododendrons, alder and birch. Many conifers, junipers and dwarf willows also grow here. The Assam region comprises the Brahmaputra and the Surma valleys with evergreen forests, occasional thick clumps of bamboos and tall grasses. The Indus plain region comprises the plains of Punjab, western Rajasthan and northern Gujarat. It is dry, hot and supports natural vegetation. The Ganga plain region covers the area which is alluvial plain and is under cultivation for wheat, sugarcane and rice. Only small areas support forests of widely differing types. The Deccan region comprises the entire table-land of the Indian Peninsula and supports vegetation of various kinds from shrub jungles to mixed deciduous forests. The Malabar region covers the excessively humid belt of mountain country parallel to the west coast of the Peninsula. Besides being rich in forest vegetation, this region produces important commercial crops, such as coconut, betel-nut, pepper, coffee, tea, rubber and cashew-nut. The Andaman region abounds in evergreen, mangrove, beach and diluvial forests. The Himalayan region extending from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh through Sikkim, Meghalaya and Nagaland and the Deccan Peninsula is rich in endemic flora, with a large number of plants which are not found elsewhere.
The flora of the country is being studied by BSI and its nine circle/field offices located all over the country along with certain universities and research institutions.
Ethno-botanical study deals with the utilization of plants and plant products by ethnic races. A scientific study of such plants has been done by BSI. A number of detailed ethno-botanical explorations have been conducted in different tribal areas of the country. More than 800 plant species of ethno-botanical interest have been collected and identified at different centres.
Owing to destruction of forests for agricultural, industrial and urban development, several Indian plants are facing threat of extinction. About 1,336 plant species are considered vulnerable and endangered. About 20 species of higher plants are categorized as possibly extinct, as these have not been sighted during the last six to ten decades. BSI brings out an inventory of endangered plants in the form of a publication titled ‘Red Data Book.’
India is very rich in terms of biological diversity due to its unique bio-geographical location, diversified climate conditions and enormous eco-diversity and geo-diversity. India’s immense biological diversity encompasses ecosystems, populations, species and their genetic make-up. This diversity can be attributed to the vast variety in physiography and climatic situations resulting in a diversity of ecological habitats ranging from tropical, sub-tropical, temperate, alpine to desert. According to world biogeographic classification, India represents two of the major realms (the Palearctic and Indo-Malayan) and three biomes (Tropical Humid Forests, Tropical Dry/Deciduous Forests and Warm Deserts/Semi-Deserts). The Wildlife Institute of India has proposed a modified classification which divides the country into ten biogeographic regions: Trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, Indian Desert, Semi-Arid, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plain, North-East India, Islands and Coasts. In the light of Biodiversity Convention, India holds a unique position with the priority of conservation of natural resources and sustainable development. In fact, within only about 2 per cent of world’s total land surface, India is known to have over 7.50 per cent of the species of animals that the world holds and this percentage accounts nearly for 92,037 species so far known, of which insects alone include 61,375 species. It is estimated that about two times that number of species still remain to be discovered in India alone.
The Census of India 2001, was historic and epoch making, being the first census of the twenty-first century and the third millennium. It reveals benchmark data on the state of abundant human resources available in the country, their demography, culture and economic structure at a juncture, which marks a centennial and millennial transition.
Census 2011 was the 15th census of its kind since 1872. It was held in two phases:
- House listing and Housing Census (April to September, 2010) and
- Population Enumeration (February 9th to 28th 2011 with Revisional round during 1st to 5th March, 2011). Reference Date was 0.00 hour of March 1st, 2011. In snow bound areas, the Population Enumeration was conducted from September 11th to 30th, 2010. The Final Population data was released on April 30th, 2013. The general trends of census 2011 are being mentioned as under:
- Population: Persons=1,210.9 million; Males=623.3 million; and Females=587.6 million.
- Density of Population 2001-2011: density in 2001=325 and density in 2011-382, difference being 17.5 per cent (density is defined as the number of persons/sq. km.)
- Gender composition of Population 2011: Overall sex ratio at the national level has increased by 7 points since census 2001 to reach 943 at census 2011. This is the highest sex ratio recorded since census 1991.
- As per the census 2011, literates constituted 73.0 per cent of the total population aged seven and above and illiterates formed 27.0 per cent. Literacy rate has gone up from 64.8 per cent in 2001 to 73.0 per cent showing an increase of 8.2 percentage points. It is encouraging to note that out of a total of 202,951,015 literates added during the decade, females 104,721,109 outnumber males 98,229,906. Population
The population of India as on March 1, 2011 stood at 1,210.9 million (623.2 million males and 587.5 million females). India accounts for a meagre 2.4 per cent of the world surface area of 135.79 million sq.km. Yet, it supports and sustains a whopping per cent of the world population.
The population of India, which at the turn of the twentieth century was around 238.4 million, increased to reach 1,210.9 million by 2011. The population of India as recorded at each decennial census from 1901 has grown steadily except for a decrease during 1911-21.
One of the important indices of population concentration is the density of population. It is defined as the number of persons per sq.km. The population density of India in 2011 was 382 per sq. km; decadal growth 17.72 per cent.
The density of population increased in all states and union territories between 1991 and 2011. Among major states, Bihar is the most thickly populated state with (a population density of) 1,106 persons per sq.km followed by West Bengal 1,028 and Kerala 860.
Sex ratio, defined as the number of females per thousand males is an important social indicator to measure the extent of prevailing equality between males and females in a society at a given point of time. The sex ratio in the country has always remained unfavourable to females. It was 972 at the beginning of the twentieth century and thereafter showed continuous decline until 1941. The sex ratio from 1901-2011 has registered a 10 point increase at census 2011 over 2001; however, child sex ratio has declined to 919 per thousand male.
For the purpose of census 2011, a person aged seven and above, who can both read and write with understanding in any language, is treated as literate. A person, who can only read but cannot write, is not literate. In the censuses prior to 1991, children below five years of age were necessarily treated as illiterates.
The results of 2011 census reveal that there has been an increase in literacy in the country. The literacy rate in the country is 73.0 per cent, 80.9 for males and 64.6 for females.
Kerala retained its position by being on top with a 94 per cent literacy rate, closely followed by Lakshadweep (91.9 per cent). Bihar with a literacy rate of 61.8 per cent ranks last in the country. Kerala also occupies the top spot in the country both in male literacy with 96.1 per cent and female literacy with 92.1 per cent. On the contrary, Bihar has recorded the lowest literacy rates both in case of males (71.2 per cent) and females (51.5 per cent).