March 21 is declared as the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF FORESTS

Preface of first edition

Management Strategies For Endemic And Threatened Medicinal Plants In India – A Geoinformatic Approach

Manoj Kumar Sarkar, I.F.S.


Writing this book was not purely my wish, but something that happened in a sequence of events. In 1986, I joined the Indian Forest Service after leaving the job of Civil Hydrographic Officer from Indian Navy. Forests and forestry were not familiar to me. It appeared to be a boon to me from an invisible source that destined me to join this service, do unselfish work and enjoy the journey. But in the first instance, I could not pass the Botany examination during the foundation course of this Service at Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehra Dun in 1987. This failure proved to be a blessing in disguise. I developed an unlikely hobby of ‘Seed collection’ of known and unknown flora and learnt them intimately to pass this formal examination based on my newly acquired knowledge in the field of botany. This hobby later emboldened me to write articles on lesser known plants in dailies to create awareness among people about the invaluable services of the plant kingdom.

Finally, it gave me the experience of getting a vibrant connection with the plant kingdom after a gap of 18 years in the green campus of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore during 2002. I was intuitively attached with plants and used to make solutions of classroom exercises of management school through plant related issues while undergoing PGPPM course on Public policy at IIM, Bangalore (Post Graduate Programme in Public Policy and Management course for selected civil servants based on merit from all over the country). There was one occasion when all the course participants were asked to submit combined papers (by a group of two but not more than three) on ‘Ethics in public life’. Most of my colleagues proposed papers on corruption and ethics in public life while I proposed for ethics if any, related to indiscriminate destruction of plant life by human beings. The entire class thundered with laughter and made jokes. I smiled as I knew the subject through subtle communication from plants. Later on, our group (Dr. Janaki Ananthakrishnan and I) scored the highest marks with the same concept. This inspired me into writing a dissertation on dying and decaying plants (threatened plant species) of the country for the same course. But at the behest of a few learned professors of the Institute, namely Prof. Rajeev Gowda, Prof. Shyamol Roy and Prof. P.D. Jose, who suggested to do something for the plants that provide life saving drugs to the people but themselves are perishing. I changed the theme and started my work for the cause of endemic and threatened medicinal plants of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in Agasthiyamalai Biosphere Reserve (one of the richest biodiversity regions of the world) so that true to type presentation could be placed before the country as a model study by which economic, genetic and cultural loss could be averted. It fascinated me. During the process, I had the opportunity to interact with large sections of people encompassing the tribals, villagers, local plant collectors, practitioners of Indian Systems of Medicine, businessmen, traders and industrialists, NGOs, academicians, administrators, natural resource managers and policy makers to get first hand idea of what is happening in this field. I could learn many things but at the same time, many questions remain unanswered. The first set of questions were

i) India is the second largest country in the world in export of medicinal plants and herbal products of which only 15% is from cultivated origin by private enterprises. Where from the remaining 85% of medicinal plants come, when government organizations do not conduct sale of medicinal plants other than NTFP/MFP?

ii) In such cases, who collect and export medicinal plant products from where and how? Where does the revenue go? What revenue share comes to government?

iii) What are the after effects of the entire process on medicinal plant species specially those that are endemic in nature?

To resolve these questions, I made an exercise on stake holder analysis of medicinal plants and prepared a flow chart followed by the questionnaire and interview method for further data collection.

The second set of questions were:

i) Whether the plants have a voice of their own?

ii) Whether they can communicate with other living beings as we do?

Of course, I have gone through the book-‘The nervous mechanism of plants’ by Sir J.C. Bose and a book on ‘Secret Life of Plants’ by Peter Tompkins. Unlike the empirical proof given by J.C. Bose that the plant has life, I have nothing of that sort, but I experienced that the plants have a voice of their own (very subtle) which can also be listened to by the aspirants who develop finer perception to receive their message intuitively. My feeling further deepens down to state that “the Plant kingdom is the only living entity that sacrifices everything for the benefit of others including mankind. Forests – the home of the Plant kingdom works as a store house to supply all the Basic Life Supporting System (BLiSS). Besides tangible and intangible benefit flow, the Plant kingdom also extends subtle blessings and wisdom to the aspirants through their spirit of unending services in silence as monks. Thus forests as a composition of innumerable plants operate as the ‘Sea of monks’ being panacea to human beings and other living organisms”. These very facts urge for a committed, logical and scientific approach in conserving, managing and expanding our forest resources for the present as well as for the generations to come. The indiscriminate clearing, illegal and destructive methods of harvesting, over-exploitation of forests and imbalance in management practices during the pre and post Independence period of India has caused habitat fragmentation, loss of habitat and loss of biodiversity. This, in turn, has resulted in threats to the basic foundation of plant life in forests at floral species and ecosystem levels. Many of them are important medicinal plants of endemic and ethnic value that provide life saving drugs but are now red listed. The 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants alerts that over 12.5% of the world’s vascular flora is threatened at the global scale and that includes India too.

I could experience a glimpse of this threat to the plant life while working in forests for the last 26 years and the present study is an attempt to document the truth experienced while managing plants that are dying and decaying (managing them at the edge) in the field with a holistic perspective. The present study assumes greater significance as it aims to propose appropriate management strategies for such imperiled plants (endemic and threatened plants) of medicinal value of the KMTR area as well as for the country as a whole. It was Dr. D.I. Arockiasamy of St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Tiruchirapalli, my revered Research Guide and supervisor, who made me complete this work in the form of Ph.D. Thesis to Bharathidasan University that honoured this work as a “highly commended thesis” and conferred on me the Doctorate of Philosophy through His Excellency, the Governor of Tamilnadu. In a similar sequence of events, the Director of Environment, Shri. T.S. Srinivasamurthy, I.F.S., who happened to see the hard copy of this work proposed to bring the theme, methodology and the entire gamut of this original study into a book form that resulted in the creation of this Book. I am, indeed, indebted to all who helped transform thoughts into action a reality through this book.

63rd Republic Day, (26th January, 2012)

‘KURINJI’, Forest campus, Coimbatore – 641 043, INDIA


[Manoj Kumar Sarkar]