Finally, the eco-sensitive Western Ghats along the west coast of India have been included on the coveted UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites. This was declared at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee held in Russia on Sunday evening.
“It is indeed a matter of pride for the country and the concerned states. Now that the central government has taken a strong international posture on this issue, it must, along with the concerned state governments, take tangible ground-level measures to implement it,” noted environmentalist Prof. Madhav Gadgil said from Pune.
At present, India has five other natural sites and 23 cultural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Spread over nearly 8,000 sq km, spanning Gujarat, Maharashtra (known as the Sahyadris in the state), Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Western Ghats are between 60-160 km at the narrowest end points, harbouring a wealth of flora, fauna and more being discovered regularly.
Older than the Himalayas, the mountain chain of the 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, it presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system in the planet,” the Unesco said in a statement on late Sunday. It added that the site also has an exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism. It is recognised as one of the world’s eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity. “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.”
However, Prof. Gadgil said that many of these are under threat and has suggested setting up of a statutory authority to protect the entire Western Ghats.
In 2010, Gagdil headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) which submitted a comprehensive report suggesting, among other things, measures to save and protect the Western Ghats.