India is recognised as one of the mega-diverse countries, rich in biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge. With just 2.4% of the land area, India accounts for nearly 7% of the recorded species even while supporting almost 18% of human population. India has a long history of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and is a party to many international environmental conventions including UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The current decade (2011-2020) has been declared as United Nations Decade on Biodiversity and United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification. With India hosting the 11th meeting of Conference of the Parties (CoP-11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), during 8-19 October 2012 in Hyderabad, it is an opportune time to showcase the wide array of biodiversity in the country, the threats to this rich biodiversity and the conservation measures adopted thereof.
This CoP-11 assumes immense importance considering that it is being held in the 40th anniversary year of Stockholm Conference, 20th anniversary year of Rio Earth Summit and 10th anniversary year of World Sustainable Summit held in 2002. This would also be the first CoP in the UN Decade on Biodiversity.
Science Express – Biodiversity Special (SEBS)
In an effort to create widespread awareness on the unique biodiversity of the country, Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), in a unique partnership with Department of Science & Technology (DST) has launched a special exhibition train- ‘Science Express Biodiversity Special (SEBS)’ that will cover over 100 stations in two years of running across the country in two phases.
‘Science Express’, a train rake with 16 air-conditioned coaches was originally custom-made for DST by Indian Railways. Since 30 October 2007, when it was flagged off by the Prime Minister of India and German Chancellor, DST organised four tours across India, the last one culminating on 16 June 2011.
Of the 16 coaches of the Science Express- Biodiversity Special, eight are solely dedicated to showcasing the myriad biodiversity spread across the bio-geographical zones. These include the Trans-Himalaya & the Himalayas, the Gangetic Plains, North East India, the Desert & Semi-Arid Zone, the Western Ghats, the Deccan Peninsula, the Coasts & Islands. These eight coaches also focus on range of Biological diversity, critically endangered species (IUCN Red list), biodiversity hotspots, domesticated biodiversity (agriculture, animal husbandry), biodiversity & livelihoods, bio-culture; threats/challenges (climate change, other anthropogenic), conservation measures, success stories & unique experiences. The exhibition also covers various other facets like marine, coastal, forest, microbial, agro biodiversity and their linkage with livelihoods besides challenges of conservation.
In the rest of the rake, three coaches have exhibits on Climate Change, Energy and Water conservation. The legacy of ‘Science Express’ showcasing the most popular exhibits from the previous four phases has been exhibited in another coach. A conference room-cum-training facility is also provided in that coach, primarily for the purpose of capacity building of teachers.
Science Express- Biodiversity Special (SEBS) was flagged off on 5 June 2012 from Delhi Safdarjung by Smt. Sheila Dixit, Chief Minister of Delhi and Smt. Jayanti Natarajan, Minister of State (I/C), (MoEF). The ongoing phase will culminate in Gandhinagar on 22 December 2012. During this tour, the train will be stationed at Secunderabad during 9-19 October 2012 so that the COP delegates and dignitaries from about 190 countries are able to experience the rich biodiversity of our country.
Since its launch on 5 June 2012 and till 31 July 2012, this only-of-its-kind train has made halts of 3-4 days duration each at 16 locations in the Eastern and North Eastern India and over 6 lakh visitors, mostly students and teachers have been able to enjoy the interesting and informative exhibits. The SEBS has got overwhelming response, and the purpose of creating wide spread awaress on Biodiversity issue is being served quite well. The train is now on its onward journey to Southern, Western and Northern India and will eventually travel almost 18,000 km in the first phase to cover 52 locations. The exhibition is expected to be visited by more than 15 lakh visitors but indirectly it is likely to engage over 50 lakh people.
Wherever the train travels, activities have been planned before hand to engage visitors across different age groups to reinforce the message of SEBS and specific Outreach Programme are conducted at local schools and institutions associated with the National Environment Awareness Programme (NEAC) and National Green Corps (NGC) of MoEF and associate & partners of DST. In addition, a variety of informative take-away material is made available for wider distribution among visitors.
The train reflects the dedication, diligence and dynamism of the knowledge partners who have contributed immensely to bring forth the essence of ‘biodiversity’ and conservation practices as well as issues of ‘climate change’ in our country. Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC) and Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad along with the lead knowledge partners. Bombay Natural History Society, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, National Museum of Natural History, Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India, and several others have contributed to give final touches to this unique exhibition on wheel. HSBC, the Swiss Embassy, Nestle, PCRA and Indus Towers have supported some of the exhibits and complementary activities.