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Western Ghats- Threats, Conservation and Controversy

(This is a continuing series of articles on Western Ghats. This is the first part of the series)

The entire range of hills from Tapi to Kanyakumari with a length of around 1500km and approx. area of 1.6 lakh sq.kms is known as the Western Ghats. The actual area under forests is around 30%.

On the eastern side also there is another region called the Eastern Ghats. The differences between the two are-

Western Eastern
Almost Continuous hills Discontinuous hills (because of River deltas)
Height : 1500 to 2000 m lower: 500-700 m
Highest peak: Anai Mudi (Kerala) Jindhagada peak (Andhra Pradesh)
No delta formation by rivers Delta formation
The forest is Tropical and Semi Evergreen Moist Deciduous or Monsoon forest
Rainfall- 200 cm Rainfall- 70-200 cm

The three main rivers of South India viz. Krishna, Godavari and Kaveri originate from the Western Ghats. These rivers were used to irrigate the valleys for paddy and areca nut cultivation. The steep slopes of Western Ghats are ideal for constructing dams.  From Western Ghats, rivers originate and flow in both the opposite directions, i.e. west and east.

Western Ghats -from GobichettipalayamWestern Ghats is also known by other names such as Sahyadri in Maharashtra, Nilgiri in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Annamalai and Cardamom hills in Kerala.

The region is highly rich in biodiversity and is one of the biodiversity hot spots of India. A new frog species was discovered in Western Ghats, Nasikabactrachus sahyadrensis.

The Western Ghats contain more than 30% of all plant, fish, herpeto-fauna, bird, and mammal species found in India. Many species are endemic.”1

The Western Ghats exploitation began with the British Raj which brought railways and large scale felling was started. Mining remains a threat. Western Ghats region provides Iron, manganese and bauxite. Illegal mining of iron ore is a booming business whenever there is an increase in price of iron in international markets. Illegal mining results in pollution deteriorating water and air quality. Mining also affects the water table. Sand mafia presence is another problem.

The fish industry also has its own set of problems. Traditional methods such as use of poison and electricity etc are used. Some exotic species have also penetrated.

Besides, monoculture plantation practise has also aggravated problems. We all know how the large scale monocultures of Eucalyptus trees were started in 1980’s and did not help matters. Both the government and farmers have contributed towards monoculture practise.

The government to address these issues and to promote conservation setup the Gadgil panel in 2010. The full name is Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel but is popularly known as the Gadgil panel after Professor Madhav Gadgil. The report was submitted in 2011.

The Gadgil panel recommended that entire Western Ghat should be divided into 4 zones. For this, it was suggested that Western Ghats Ecology Authority (Western Ghats Ecology Authority for the Union, State Western Ghats Ecology Authorities in 6 states and District Ecology Committee in districts under Western Ghats) will demarcate the final Zones after taking inputs from local communities.

Zone 1- Highest protection

Zone 2- Intermediate

Zone 3- Moderate control and protection.

PA- Protected Areas comprising of existing Wild Life Sanctuaries and National Parks.

Reference and further Reading-

1. http://www.wwfindia.org/about_wwf/critical_regions/western_ghats/

2. http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/wg-23052012.pdf

Image credit: Magentic Manifestations on Wikipedia

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