About Western Ghats:
The Western Ghats are internationally recognized as a region of immense global importance for the conservation of biological diversity, besides containing areas of high geological, cultural and aesthetic values.
A chain of mountains running parallel to India’s western coast, approximately 30-50 km inland, the Ghats traverse the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. These mountains cover an area of around 140,000 km² in a 1,600-km long stretch.
Importance of Western Ghats:
- Older than the Himalaya western ghats mountains, the mountain chain of the highest peak of Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes.
- The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern. Moderating the tropical climate of the region, the site presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet.
- It also has an exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism and is recognized as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity.
The Western Ghats map contain exceptional levels of plant and animal diversity and endemicity for a continental area.
In particular, the level of endemicity for some of the 4-5,000 plant species recorded in the Indian Ghats is very high: of the nearly 650 tree species found in the Western Ghats, 352 (54%) are endemic.
Animal diversity is also exceptional, with amphibians (up to 179 species, 65% endemic), reptiles (157 species, 62% endemic), and fishes (219 species, 53% endemic). Invertebrate biodiversity in western ghats, once better known, is likely also to be very high (with some 80% of tiger beetles’ endemic).
- A number of flagship mammals occur in the property, including parts of the single largest population of globally threatened ‘landscape’ species such as the Asian Elephant, Gaur and Tiger.
- The property is also key to the conservation of a number of threatened habitats, such as unique seasonally mass-flowering wildflower meadows, Shola forests and Myristica swamps.
- The forests of the site include some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests anywhere and are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. Endangered species such as the lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Tahr and Nilgiri Langur are unique to the area.
Major recommendations by Kasturirangan Committee:
The Kasturirangan committee was constituted to examine the WGEEP (Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel) report. Its recommendations include:
- Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the total area be brought under ESA under the Kasturirangan report.
- A complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
- Distinguished between cultural (58% occupied in the Western Ghats by it like human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations) and natural landscape (90% of it should come under ESA according to the committee).
- Current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.
- No thermal power be allowed
- Hydropower projects be allowed only after detailed study.
- Red industries i.e. which are highly polluting be strictly banned in these areas.
- Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats has made several pro-farmer recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
- However, the report is criticized on using remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal demarcation of land in Western Ghats in India.
- It’s the usage of such techniques, without examining the ground reality, has caused many errors in the report.
- Power is vested with the bureaucrats and forest officials and not with gram sabhas. Many fear that the farmers would get evicted if the Kasturirangan Committee report is implemented.
Steps taken by Government:
- The government has notified nearly 57,000 square km area (35%) in the Western Ghats region as ecologically sensitive area (ESA) where all kinds of mining activities, large constructions, thermal power plants and highly polluting industries would no longer be allowed.
- The 56,825-square km of land is spread over six western ghats states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
- All new and expansion projects of building and construction with a built-up area of 20,000 square meters and above and all new and expansion of townships… with an area of 50 hectares and above… shall be prohibited.
- Other kinds of projects and activities, like the operation of hydropower plants, and the ‘orange’ category of industries, will be strictly regulated in the ESA.
Demarcation of an ESA is an effort to protect the fragile ecosystem from indiscriminate industrialization, mining, and unregulated development.
Protection and conservation of Western Ghat is need of hour to protect endemic biodiversity, sustainable use of natural resources and to fulfill our constitutional duty under Article 51 (A).
Western India Floods (KERALA):
Environmentalists point at poor policy decisions
Most of the regions impacted by this monsoon were once classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as the Gadgil Committee.
The committee had suggested that 140,000 kilometers of the Western Ghats be classified in three zones as per the requirement of environmental protection in the areas.
In some areas, the committee recommended strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes, construction of high rises etc. The report was first submitted to the government in 2011.
But the Kerala government rejected the committee report and did not adopt any of its recommendations.to blame for the recent floods and landslides in Kerala. He also called it a “manmade calamity”.
He said that the committee report had recommended protecting the resources with the cooperation of local self-governments and people, but those recommendations were rejected. He also pointed out that quarrying is a major reason for the mudslides and landslides.