Kalpana Palkhiwala writes: The Western Ghats region runs to a length of 1600 kilometres starting from the river Tapti near the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India in Tamil Nadu covering six states namely – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat (portions of Dang Forests). The region covers an area of about 1.60 lakh square kilometers.
The Western Ghats are rain rich region. Most of the rivers in peninsular India have their origin in Western Ghats, of which Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Kali Nadi and Periyar are of inter-state importance. These rivers are harnessed for irrigation and power.
Biodiversity profile of Western Ghats
Western Ghats are one of the four globally recognised biodiversity hotspots in the country. A biodiversity hotspot is a bio geographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is threatened with destruction. The varied topographic, climatic and geological factors make significant contribution to their rich biodiversity. About 30% of the area of this region is under forests, which includes tropical wet evergreen forests and moist deciduous forests. The Shola grassland ecosystems found in the higher reaches of Western Ghats are unique to this region.
The percentage of endemic species is very high in this region. About 78% of all amphibians, 62% of reptiles, 38% of angiosperms, 53% of fishes and 12% of mammals found in the country are endemic to the Western Ghats.
The Western Ghat region has one of the world’s highest concentrations of cultivated plants. The traditional crops grown in the region are areca nut, pepper and cardamom in the hills, and coconut in the coast along with mango and jackfruit. The important plantation crops grown in the region include tea, coffee, rubber, cashew and tapioca.
The Government has drawn up action plan for the conservation of biodiversity of the Western Ghats. The National Biodiversity Action Plan was prepared in 2008. This Action Plan describes the major threats and constraints facing biodiversity conservation and identifies action points for conserving biodiversity of the country.
Given the ecological significance and sensitivity of the Western Ghats region, the Government has recently constituted a Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel to assess the current status of ecology of the region, to demarcate and recommend areas within the region which need to be notified as ecologically sensitive and to suggest measures for conservation of the Western Ghats region.
Major Ecological Problems
The main ecological problems of the area include increasing pressure of population and industry including tourism on land and vegetation; submergence of forest areas under river valley projects, encroachment on forest lands; mining operations, felling of natural forests for tea, coffee, rubber, eucalyptus, wattle and other monoculture plantations; infrastructural projects such as railway lines and roads; soil erosion, land slides etc,.
Financial Assistance Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve covering an area of 5520 sq.km in the Western Ghats region spread over the States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, was the first Biosphere Reserve in the country. The Central Government provides financial assistance to these States for conservation of the ecosystem, to conduct research, monitoring, and promoting sustainable development.
In addition, over 10% area of the Western Ghats (approx. 13,000 km) are under legally designated Protected Areas. Some important and well-know National Parks in this region include: Nagarhole, Bandipur, Periyar, and Annamalai.
The Government also implements the Eastern and Western Ghats Research Programme here. Under this programme, grants are provided for undertaking research projects for studies relating to biodiversity, land use, impact of developmental activities etc., to address location-specific problems of resources management in the Eastern and Western Ghats region.
National Action Plan on Biodiversity
The Government has prepared a National Biodiversity Action Plan (NABP) which was approved by the Cabinet in November, 2008. The NBAP draws upon the main principle of the National Environment Policy that considers human beings as the centre of concern of sustainable development, entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. The NBAP document is broadly based on the evaluation of existing legislations, sectoral policies, regulatory systems, implementation mechanisms, existing strategies, plans and programmes. It proposes to design actions based on the assessment of current and future needs of conservation and sustainable utilization, and of physical and fiscal instruments.
The year 2010 is being observed as the Year of Biodiversity.