All You Wanted To Know About Western Ghats?


Western Ghats are an important geological landform of peninsular India. It is the origin of Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri and a myriad of rivers which are life line for the people of southern India. On its ecological health depends livelihoods of millions of people belonging to the six Western Ghats states of Gujarat, Maharastra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Western Ghats is one of the identified hotspots of biological diversity globally and is a treasure trove of biological diversity. Western Ghats harbour many endemic species of flowering plants, endemic fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates.

It is also notable center of evolution of economically important domesticated plant species such as pepper, cardamom, cinnamom, mango and jackfruit. The forests harboured by the Western Ghats play a significant and important ecological function in sequestration of atmospheric CO2 and hence have an important role in climate change.

The ecosystems of the Western Ghats include the tropical wet evergreen forests, the montane evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests, etc. There are over 4,000 species of angiosperms or, about 27% of the country’s total species (1500 endemic), 332 species of butterflies (37 endemic), 288 species of fishes (116 endemic), 156 species of amphibians (94 endemic), 225 species of Reptiles (97 endemic), 508 species of birds (19 endemic) and 137 species of mammals (14 endemic) reported from Western Ghats.

World Heritage Status For Western Ghats

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee inscribed the Western Ghats of India as a world heritage site on July 1. The tag came at the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in St Petersburg in Russia. Altogether 39 sites that dot the Western Ghats landscape will be part of the region that has been designated as WHS.

Kerala leads with 20 sites being inscribed in the heritage list followed by Karnataka with ten, Tamil Nadu five and Maharashtra four.

To see the list of Western Ghats World Heritage clusters visit: Western Ghats : Challenges of sustainable development 

The world heritage tag for the Western Ghats has come after many glitches. The proposal for including 39 sites in the Western Ghats as world heritage was rejected by the World Heritage Committee in its 35th meeting last year. When the proposal for it was re-submitted for consideration this year, it was once again on the verge of getting rejected. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), suggested that India should review and refine the proposal to redefine the boundaries of the proposed sites to maintain the contiguity of the forests. The Indian delegation in St Petersburg, however, managed to convince the world heritage committee on the merits of India’s proposal and also discussed the issue with 21 members of the committee. The intense lobbying paid off, as the Russian delegation moved a proposal which was backed by several Asian and African nations.

Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP)

Ministry of Environment & Forests had constituted the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) under the Chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil on 4th March 2010. The panel’s mandates were to:

  • Demarcate ecologically sensitive areas in Western Ghats
  • Recommend measures for management of these ecologically sensitive areas
  • Recommend measures for preservation, conservation and rejuvenation of this environmentally sensitive and ecologically significant region
  • Recommend modalities for the establishment Western Ghats Ecology Authority under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The tenure of the Panel expired on 31st August 2011 and the Panel has since submitted its report to the Ministry.

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) has designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) and, assigned three levels of Ecological Sensitivity to different regions of it. These are termed as Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1), Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 (ESZ2) and Ecologically Sensitive Zone 3 (ESZ3). A number of specific proposals received by the Panel from individual Gram Panchayats as well as NGOs from different parts of the Western Ghats are referred to as Ecologically Sensitive Localities (ESL).

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