Kamalesh Sharma of India became Commonwealth Secretary-General in 2008; and Professor Asha Kanwar was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth of Learning in 2012.
Twelve Indians have been regional winners in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and three have gone on to take the overall Best Book or Best First Book awards.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative established its HQ in New Delhi in 1993; and the country is also host to the Commonwealth Youth Programme Asia Centre in Chandigarh and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum’s Project Office, Asia, in Mumbai.
Scholarships for postgraduate study are awarded by India to citizens of other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.
The Republic of India, which lies across the Tropic of Cancer, comprises most of the Indian subcontinent. It also includes the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea. Its neighbours are Pakistan, Afghanistan and China to the north, then Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar (formerly Burma). In the south, the Palk Strait separates it from Sri Lanka.
India comprises 29 states (including the Delhi National Capital Territory) and six union territories.
New Delhi/Delhi (capital, pop. 11.03m in 2011), Mumbai (formerly Bombay, in Maharashtra State, 18.39m), Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore, in Karnataka, 8.52m), Ahmadabad (Gujarat, 5.57m), Chennai (formerly Madras, in Tamil Nadu, 4.64m), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta, in West Bengal, 4.49m), Surat (Gujarat, 4.46m), Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh, 3.94m), Jaipur (Rajasthan, 3.42m), Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh, 3.25m), Pune (Maharashtra, 3.12m), Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh, 2.81m), Nagpur (Maharashtra, 2.49m), Patna (Bihar, 2.04m), Indore (Madhya Pradesh, 1.96m), Ludhiana (Punjab, 1.81m), Faridabad (Haryana, 1.8m), Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh, 1.79m) and Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir, 1.26m).
There are 4,689,842 km of roads, 47 per cent paved. The number of vehicles and the demand for roads is growing very rapidly.
India has Asia’s biggest, and the world’s fourth biggest, railway system, with 64,460 km of track. The cities are connected by express trains, and there are local trains between most parts of the country.
The chief western port is Mumbai, and the chief eastern ports are Kolkata–Haldia and Chennai. The country has 7,520 km of coastline and coastal shipping of freight within India plays an important role. There are about 19,000 km of navigable inland waterways, though only 4,600 km is navigable by large vessels.
There are international airports at Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Ahmadabad, and a total of about 250 airports with paved runways.
India is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Non- Aligned Movement, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
India has great topographical variety, with four distinct regions. The northern region rises into the Himalayas, forming a mountainous wall 160 km to 320 km deep, the mountains losing height to the east. The second region is the plain of the River Ganges and its tributaries, a huge stretch of flat alluvium flowing into the Bay of Bengal in a broad delta. This is one of the most fertile and densely populated regions of India. The third region is the Thar Desert, which stretches into Pakistan. The fourth region is the Deccan tableland bordered by ranges of hills, the Western and Eastern Ghats and Nilgiri Hills in the south, and their coastal belts.
The country has many large rivers, the most important of which are the Ganges, Jamuna, Brahmaputra, a stretch of the Indus, Godavari, Krishna, Mahanadi, Narmada and Cauvery. All these rivers are navigable in parts.
The climate is hot with regional variations. Rajasthan and large parts of the north-west are dry (under 750 mm annual rainfall) and the Thar Desert (in fact a semi-desert) receives around 300 mm. Some 80 per cent of rain falls between June and September, the season of the monsoon. April to June is generally hot, dry and dusty.
The most significant environmental issues are that finite natural resources support a very large and growing population; deforestation, soil erosion and desertification; air pollution with industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; and water pollution with raw sewage and run-off of agricultural pesticides.
Forests in the western Himalayan region range from conifers and broad-leaved trees in the temperate zone to silver fir, silver birch and junipers at the highest level of the alpine zone. The temperate zone of the eastern Himalayan region has forests of oaks, laurels, maples and rhododendrons, among other species. Vegetation of the Assam region in the east is luxuriant with evergreen forests, occasional thick clumps of bamboo and tall grasses. The Gangetic plain is largely under cultivation. The Deccan tableland supports vegetation from scrub to mixed deciduous forests. The Malabar region is rich in forest vegetation. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have evergreen, mangrove, beach and diluvial forests. Much of the country’s flora originated three million years ago and are unique to the subcontinent. Forest covers 23 per cent of the land area, having increased at 0.3 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 53 per cent of the total land area and permanent cropland four per cent.
Among the indigenous mammals are elephants, bisons, pandas, Himalayan wild sheep, deer, antelopes and tapirs. Large cats include lions, tigers, panthers, cheetahs and leopards. The tiger is the Indian national animal, protected since 1973. The tiger population, down to 1,827 in 1972, was in the mid-1990s back to 3,750. Crocodiles and gharials (a crocodile unique to India) are bred in a project begun in 1974 to save them from extinction. Birdlife is abundant and includes pheasants, mynahs, parakeets and hornbills. The spectacular Indian peacock is the national bird. Reptiles include cobras, saltwater snakes and pythons. Endangered wildlife is protected under legislation and there are 83 national parks and 447 wildlife sanctuaries, covering nearly 5.2 per cent of the country. Some 94 mammal species and 73 bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).
Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC expresses great sadness on learning of the tragic fire during local new year celebrations in the Indian state of Kerala.