MEERUT (ET): India’s traditional system of medicine derives nearly all its curative methods from plants. Vedic texts like Atharveda and Charak Samhita are replete with references to plants used as drugs and that is the reason why India is known as the birthplace ofayurveda, the oldest and one of the most popular forms of medication. Despite the breakthroughs achieved by allopathy, a sizeable portion of Indians still find solace in herbal medicines due to their availability at cheaper price and absence of side-effects.
In recent times, Meerut and Ghaziabad have joined areas like the Western Ghats states, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand as areas lush with plants having curative values. A 2008 paper in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge by Amit Tomar, department of botany, Meerut College, found 39 medicinal plant species belonging to 39 general and 28 rare families in the district that were useful in curing various diseases and ailments of different kinds.
“In India, the worth of such plants is to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore and the volume of export of herbal drugs is worth Rs 550 crore. Meerut and Ghaziabad are rich in diverse botanical resources like aloe vera and relocation of industry from many parts of India has helped the district very much in turning small-scale farming into large-scale. Now many big shots are taking interest in mass cultivation,” said Anita Rana, a member of Janhit Foundation, an NGO.
“In India, the availability of therapeutic herbs from the wild is shrinking due to the fast degradation of forests. Due to shortage in production from areas like Western Ghats, Meerut, which was earlier marginal to the herbal medicine industry, is witnessing a cultivation upswing. The growth will also be driven by the upcoming medical cities that promise to provide consumers the option of herbal and ayurvedic treatments,” she added.
Meerut can boast of possessing small units like Ambic Ayurved India, Vitalize Herbs Pvt Ltd and Shatrang which produce herbal products with and through local ways. Shivprasad Singh, owner of Padam Herbs Pvt Ltd, a local manufacturing unit of herbal products, said many valuable medical plants have become extinct or are on the verge of extinction. “The World Wildlife Fund has put several herbal plants of Indian origin on the critically endangered list. But Meerut is still blessed with the growth of some of the vanishing plants family like cissampelos pareira (menispermaceae), octinum santum (lamiaceae), solanum virginiatum (solanaceae) and tianthema portulacastrum (aizoaceae),” he explained.
He further elaborated that naturalists have identified over 750 herbal species which are close to extinction due to reckless exploitation of forests and natural resources. “Deforestation, urbanisation and climate change are coming in the way of herbal farming. All this has led to an exodus of manufacturing units relocating to places like Meerut and Ghaziabad from Western Ghats region, one of the traditional hubs of herbal medicine industry. In fact, medicine manufacturers from other parts of the country, which have been sourcing a wide range of herbs from this region, are now turning to the Himalayan region and districts like Meerut in search of herbs,” he informed.
According to NK Sahariya, district horticulture officer, Meerut, many new units have been set up in the district in the past three-four years because of the discovery of new medicinal plants. “Several large, medium and small enterprises producing Ayurvedic and Unani medicines have shifted their manufacturing activity to Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh in recent times, thanks to sops offered by the state governments,” he said.
Mr Sahariya said the district horticulture administration has ensured sustainable tapping of herbal resources in forest areas so that the production base is not eroded. “Besides, it has been found necessary to promote commercial cultivation of herbs by farmers to replenish supplies. This may require putting in place a mechanism to facilitate the cultivation of herbs by providing seeds, technical knowhow and other materials. Our department is working hard to fulfill all these objectives,” he added.
Talking about the number of small-scale and domestic herbal manufacturers in India, he said that there are about 20 well-recognised manufactures of herbal drugs and 140 medium or small-scale manufactures in India. In addition to this, thousands of local treatment centers or vaidyas have their own miniature manufacturing facilities. Add to these figures about 1,200 licensed small producers of herbal medicines in the country.
Mr Singh, a member of Padam Herbs, said starting herbal medicine business requires acquisition of lots of knowledge on the topic. “One has to become a master or expert on herbal medicine so as not to endanger life. While one does not necessarily need to become a doctor, a decent level of knowledge about the nature of herbal cures is absolutely essential,” he said.
Comparing markets for herbal medicines in India and the west, he said that though herbal medicines have been an integral part of Indian society, they have not been a part of drug market in a big way as 70 percent of the Rs 75 crore herbal medicine markets constitutes over-the-counter products, whereas in the west the scene has been contrary. According to him, Indian drug market has now started to respond to herbal medicine in a big way.
While India is one of the largest producers of medicinal herbs, the market suffers from lack of clinical research, standardisation and regulation. Only those prescription medicines are doing well that are being promoted and supported by standardisation and clinical research. With the entry of big players like Dabur and Imami that scout for herbal medicines to the local market, it’s hoped that Meerut can take the lead in this.