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Conserving the Western Ghats

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    30th May, 2020

Six states, which form the Western Ghats, asked the government to expedite the process to notify the ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) in the global biodiversity hotspot for clarity.

Context

Six states, which form the Western Ghats, asked the government to expedite the process to notify the ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) in the global biodiversity hotspot for clarity.

Background

  • The Madhav Gadgil Commission, formed in 2010, recommended in its report submitted to the government in August 2011 that 64 per cent of the Western Ghats be declared ecologically sensitive.
  • However, to conserve and protect the bio diversity of Western Ghats while allowing for sustainable and inclusive development of the region, the government in 2012 had constituted a High Level Working Group under the Chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan to examine the Gadgil Commission report and recommended 37 per cent of the Ghats be declared ESAs.
  • The Committee had identified geographical areas falling in the six States of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu as Ecologically Sensitive Areas.
  • A draft notification was issued in October 2018 mentioning the areas to be notified in the ESA.

Analysis

About the Western Ghats:

  • The Western Ghats is one of the eight hotspots of biological diversity in the world and is spread across six states—Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  • The hill ranges of the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot, extend along the west coast of India from the river Tapti in the north to the southern tip of India.
  • Their positioning makes the Western Ghats biologically rich and biogeographically unique - a veritable treasure house of biodiversity.
  • Though covering an area of 180,000km2, or just under 6 per cent of the land area of India, the Western Ghats contain more than 30 per cent of all plant, fish, herpeto-fauna, bird, and mammal species found in India.
  • Many species are endemic, such as the Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius)and the lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus). In fact, 50 per cent of India’s amphibians and 67 per cent of fish species are endemic to this region.

    • Eastern Ghats
  • On the eastern side also there is another region called the Eastern Ghats. They run from the northern Odisha through Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu in the south passing some parts of Karnataka.
  • The main differences between the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats are-



What States are demanding?

  • The six states – Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are pushing for the quick declaration of the region as an Ecologically Sensitive Area.
  • The states were of unanimous view that there is a need to ensure protection of the western Ghats.
  • However, the states expressed their views as regards activities and extent of area mentioned in the 2018 notification.
  • It was decided that state specific issues shall be further deliberated so as to arrive at a consensus on the issue.
  • The states expressed their desire to expedite early notification while protecting interest of ecology and environment. 

What are Eco Sensitive Areas?

  • ESAs are defined as those areas ‘that are ecologically and economically important, but vulnerable even to mild disturbances, and hence demand careful management’.
  • Therefore ‘ecologically and economically important’ areas are those areas that are biologically and ecologically ‘rich’, ‘valuable’ and or ‘unique’, and are largely irreplaceable if destroyed.
  • Further, by virtue of their biological richness, they could be potentially of high value to human societies, help in maintaining the ecological stability of the area, and be significant in conserving biological diversity.
  • Similarly, their ‘uniqueness’ may be recognized either by the rarity of the living systems they harbour, that are difficult to replace if lost, or by the uniqueness of the services they offer to human society.
  • Their ‘vulnerability’ could be determined by physiographic features that are prone to erosion or degradation under human and other influences such as erratic climate, and on the basis of historical experience.
  • They are located within 10 kms around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Significance of Western Ghats:

  • Diversity of ecosystem: The Western Ghats include a diversity of ecosystems ranging from tropical wet evergreen forests to montane grasslands containing numerous medicinal plants and important genetic resources such as the wild relatives of grains, fruit and spices. They also include the unique shola ecosystem which consists of montane grasslands interspersed with evergreen forest patches.
  • A significant water source: The Western Ghats perform important hydrological and watershed functions. Approximately 245 million people live in the peninsular Indian states that receive most of their water supply from rivers originating in the Western Ghats.
  • Sustaining the livelihood: The soil and water of this region sustain the livelihoods of millions of people.
  • Influencer of weather pattern: The mountains of the Western Ghats and their characteristic montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather patterns that mediate the warm tropical climate of the region, presenting one of the best examples of the tropical monsoon system on the planet.
  • Natural barrier: The Ghats act as a key barrier, intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer.
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