- Recently, the Supreme Court directed the Environment Ministry to file its counter-affidavit to a petition seeking judicial intervention to protect the Western Ghats from destruction.
- The Western Ghats are a 1600 km long mountain chain along the west coast of India running from the river Tapi in the north to Kanyakumari in the south.
- They pass through States of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu (6 in number). They are known by various regional names like Sahyadri, Nilgiris etc.
- Western Ghats have a tropical humid climate .The western side of the Ghat receives more rainfall than the eastern side due to windward effect.
- Western Ghats was declared as a world heritage site in 2012 by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
- Western ghats feed a large number of perennial rivers of peninsular India including the three major eastward-flowing rivers Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri. The peninsular India receives most of their water supply from rivers originating in the Western Ghats.
- The Western Ghats influence the Indian monsoon weather patterns .They are the reason for heavy rainfall along the western coast.
- Western Ghats with their forest eco systems sequester large amount of carbon.It is estimated that they neutralise around 4 million tonnes of carbon every year- around 10% of emissions neutralised by all Indian forests
- Western Ghats are one of the eight biodiversity hot spots of the world.
- The Western Ghats have high levels of plant and animal endemism . It is estimated that 52% of tree species and 65% of amphibians found in western Ghats are endemic.
- Mining: The mining activities have grown rapidly and often in violation of all laws, resulting in serious environmental damage and social disruption.
- Unsustainable mining has increased vulnerability to landslides, damaged water sources and agriculture, thus negatively affected the livelihoods of the people living in those areas
- Extraction of Forest Produce: Human communities living within and adjacent to protected areas in the Western Ghats are often dependent on it for extraction of forest produce to meet a diversity of subsistence and commercial needs.
- Livestock Grazing: Livestock grazing within and bordering protected areas is a serious problem causing habitat degradation across the Western Ghats.
- Plantations: Agroforestry systems in the Western Ghats are replacing native endemic species with tea, coffee, rubber and monocultures of various species, including the recently introduced oil palm.
- Encroachment by Human Settlements: Human settlements occur both within and outside protected areas all across the Western Ghats and represent a significant threat.
- Hydropower Projects: Large dam projects in Western Ghats have resulted in huge environmental costs.
Committees and Recommendations
- Gadgil Committee Report, 2011:
- The Ministry of Environment & Forests had constituted the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) under the Chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil in 2010 to primarily demarcate ecologically sensitive areas in Western Ghats and recommend measures for management of these ecologically sensitive areas.
- The committee defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management.
- It proposed that this entire area be designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA)and smaller regions within the region were to be identified as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III based on their existing condition and nature of threat.
- It proposed to divide the area into about 2,200 grids, of which 75 per cent would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks.
- The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
- None of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee.
- Kasturirangan Committee 2012:
- The Environment Ministry then constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from states, central ministries and others.
- The Kasturirangan report sought to bring just 37% of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) zones .
- It 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).
- A ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining.
- No new thermal power projects, but hydro power projects allowed with restrictions.
- A ban on new polluting industries.
- Building and construction projects up to 20,000 sq m were to be allowed but townships were to be banned.
- Forest diversion could be allowed with extra safeguards.
- The Environment Ministry decided to implement the Kasturirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats and declared ESA over 37% of the Western Ghats under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- There is a need to find balance between conservation efforts and development by ensuring human actions that contribute to livelihoods but hamper biodiversity conservation are kept in check.