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WESTERN GHATS- A GIFT OF MOTHER NATURE

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

By M. Palani Selvi, B.Sc.,

The Western Ghats is an adorable continuous range which extends from the Satpura range, stretching from Gujarat in the north to Marunthuvazh malai at Swamithope in Kanyakumari district in the south. It spreads across six states-Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It covers an area of about 1,60.000 sq. Km. UNESCO declared the western Ghats as a world heritage site in 2012. The Western Ghats influences the Indian monsoon weather pattern due to the high montane forest ecosystem. It contains areas of high cultural, geographical and aesthetic values. According to the IUCN Red data list, at least 325 globally threatened species occur in the Western Ghats.


They are,

· Flora and Fauna species -229

· Mammal species - 31

· Birds species - 15

· Reptile species - 5

· Fish species - 1


And these 325 species are classified into Vulnerable (129), Endangered (145) and critically endangered (51). It is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world. It is a home for about 30% of the world's Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and 17% of the world's existing tigers (Panthera tigris).


Threads to the Western Ghats

Livestock grazing in protected areas leads to a decline in the habitation of Western Ghats. Mining activities have grown quickly especially in Goa due to the rise in demand for low-grade ores and an increase in iron ore prices. Sand mining leads to environmental damages, vulnerability to landslides and it also affects the water table.

People living in the adjacent areas of Western Ghats rely on the extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFP) to fulfill their commercial needs. This extraction, which helps in expanding the human population, is seen as a critical issue.

Deforestation has led to the variation in rainfall. Due to climate changes, many areas in the Western Ghats become prey to flooding.

These are the few threats to the Western Ghats in recent times. Government has taken several steps to safeguard biological diversity. It established a protected area network, tiger reserves and biosphere reserves to protect from threats.


Committees and recommendations

1) Gadgil Committee

The Ministry of Environment and Forests of India set up an expert panel in March 2010 named The Gadgil commission. It was set up to find some regulations for conserving the Western Ghats. The commission is formally known as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).


Recommendations

1) It defined the boundary of the Western Ghats and the entire area is designated as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) and assigned ecological sensitivity as follows:

· Ecologically Sensitive Zone1 (ESZ1) -High

· Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 (ESZ2) - Intermediate

· Ecologically Sensitive Zone 3 (ESZ3) –Moderate

2) In high priority areas all the development activities such as mining, thermal power plants etc... were restricted and it also restricted the construction of new dams in large scale storage in ESZ1 areas.

3) It recommended dividing the Western Ghats ESA into 2200 grids and each grid assigned ESZ based on the database generated by WGEEP

4) It allowed the continuation of existing mining in ESZ2 imposing strict regulations.

5) Under Environment (protection) Act, 1986, Ministry of Environment and Forest should establish A Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), a statutory authority to focus on the development and sustainability of these areas.

These are the few recommendations submitted by the Gadgil Committee to the government in 2011.


Criticism

1) It was too environment friendly and hard to implement.

2) No solution was provided for revenue loss due to the implementation of its recommendations.

3) It was against the construction of dams which plays a significant role in the power sector.


2) Kasturirangan committee:

The Kasturirangan committee came with its report in August 2011 since none of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil committee. It was set up to overcome the criticism of the Gadgil committee.


Recommendation

1) Instead of covering the whole area only 37% of the total area is brought under ESA i.e, 60,000 sq.km.

2) It banned mining, quarrying and sand mining completely in ESA.

3) Thermal power projects were fully prohibited, but hydropower projects were allowed with restrictions.

4) It allowed building and construction projects up to 20,000 sq m and banned township.

5) Red industries i.e. highly polluting industries are strictly banned in the ESA.

6) It encouraged ecotourism for local benefits.

Gadgil report focused mainly on the environment while Kasturirangan report focused on the development and it was labelled as being anti-environment. A perfect balance between conservation of environment and development has to be brought and the concerned state government should implement ESA in the Western Ghats. Overexploitation of natural resources will always become a threat to human life. So, people should not only play the 'consumer role' rather, they should take part in the conservation of the ecosystem as well.

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