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Disasters in Western Ghats

Context:

Flash floods and landslides in the aftermath of heavy rains in the hilly regions of the Western Ghats in central Kerala districts of Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta has resulted in the loss of lives and property.

Relevance:

GS-III: Disaster and Management (Natural and Anthropogenic Disasters, Disaster Management in India), GS-I: Geography (Important Geophysical phenomena)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Western Ghats
  2. Significance of Western Ghats
  3. Threats to Western Ghats ecology
  4. Madhav Gadgil committee
  5. Kasturirangan Committee
  6. Way Forward
  7. Prelims Fact Bits on Western Ghats

About the Western Ghats

  • The Western Ghats (also known as Sahyadri) is a mountain chain that runs almost parallel to India’s western coast. It runs to a length of 1,600 km, starting from the mouth of the river Tapti near the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India in Tamil Nadu.
  • It traverses the 6 states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the eight “hottest hot-spots” of biological diversity in the world.
  • According to UNESCO, the Western Ghats are older than the Himalayas.

Significance of Western Ghats

  1. A total of thirty-nine areas in the Western Ghats, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests, were designated as world heritage sites in 2012 – twenty in Kerala, ten in Karnataka, five in Tamil Nadu and four in Maharashtra.
  2. The Western Ghats is home to a vast biological diversity of flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species including hundreds of globally threatened species. Many of these species are also endemic to the region. Though covering an area of 180,000 sq.km, or just under 6 per cent of the land area of India, the Western Ghats contain more than 30 per cent of all the plant, fish, herpeto-fauna, bird, and mammal species found in India.
  3. They influence Indian monsoon weather patterns by intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer.
  4. The dense forests also contribute to the precipitation of the area by acting as a substrate for condensation of moist rising orographic winds from the sea. The Western Ghats form one of the four watersheds of India, feeding the perennial rivers of India. Approximately 245 million people live in the peninsular Indian states that receive most of their water supply from rivers originating in the Western Ghats. It feeds a large number of perennial rivers of peninsular India including the three major eastward-flowing rivers Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri.
  5. The forests of Western Ghats play a significant and important ecological function in the sequestration of atmospheric CO2 and hence have an important role in climate change. They account for a substantial proportion of carbon sequestration from the Indian forests.
  6. The Western Ghats include a diversity of medicinal plants and important genetic resources such as the wild relatives of grains, fruit and spices.
  7. The Western Ghats are rich in mineral resources like iron, manganese and bauxite ores in parts of their ranges.
  8. The Western Ghats host important plantation crops like pepper and cardamom, which are native to the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. It also hosts large scale plantations of tea, coffee, oil palm and rubber. Also, the forests of Western Ghats are an important source of timber and support a large number of forest-based industries such as paper, plywood, poly-fibres and matchwood.
  9. The Western Ghats host a number of tourist destinations drawing tourists not only from India but also from foreign nations and thus they contribute to the economy of the host states.

Threats to Western Ghats ecology

  • Developmental activities: Large dam projects in the Western Ghats have resulted in significant environmental damage. This has led to large scale deforestation and submergence of pristine forests. Also, the conversion of forest land into agricultural land or for commercial purposes like tourism has resulted in shrinkage of the habitat for the endemic species of the region. This has had significant negative effects on biodiversity.
  • Resource extraction: Illegal logging for timber and livestock grazing within and bordering protected areas by high densities of livestock is leading to habitat degradation across the Western Ghats.
  • Mining activity: Environmentally unsustainable mining activities have increased the vulnerability of the fragile ecosystem to landslides and environmental pollution. Sand mining is of particular concern.
  • Climate change: Global warming and climate change have led to big variations in the duration and intensity of rainfalls in the region. This is giving rise to increased instances and intensity of extreme weather events in the region.

Madhav Gadgil committee

  • The Ministry of Environment & Forests had constituted the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) under the Chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil in 2010 to recommend measures for the management of the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats region.
  • The panel took a strong stance in favour of ecological conservation efforts of the Western Ghats region.
  • It designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  • It recommended the establishment of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority, as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • It sought to have strict regulation of developmental activities like dam construction, mining.
  • It specified a bottom-up approach for governance of the environment with the establishment of fully empowered Biodiversity Management Committees in all local bodies.

Kasturirangan Committee

  • The Gadgil committee report was criticised for being too environment friendly and impractical to implement. The states opposed the report based on the stand that it would hamper the development process of the states. In this context, the Kasturirangan committee was constituted to examine the WGEEP report.
  • Its mandate was to give special attention to “the preservation of the precious biodiversity” and “the rights, needs and development aspirations of the local and indigenous people”.
  • The Kasturirangan committee took a more moderate stance on the conservation issue. Unlike Gadgil Committee, it designated only 37% of the Western Ghats as ESA. It sought to regulate developmental activities mainly in the ESA only.

Way Forward

  • A balance between conservation efforts and development should be sought. The focus should be on sustainable economic growth.
  • There is the need for exempting areas of very high susceptibility in the Western Ghats from any types of constructions while urging the government and the local communities to increase the vegetative cover as a first defence against the landslide vulnerability with a high emphasis on nature-based solutions.

Prelims Fact Bits on Western Ghats

  1. Western Ghats are continuous range of mountains (Gaps exist, but not like the Eastern Ghats)
  2. Major gaps in the range are the Goa Gap, between the Maharashtra and Karnataka sections, and the Palghat Gap on the Tamil Nadu and Kerala border between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills.
  3. The Western Ghats meet the Eastern Ghats at the Nilgiri mountains in north-western Tamil Nadu.
  4. Evergreen Forests are found here.
  5. Anaimudi is the highest peak.
  6. Western Ghats are older than Himalayas.
  7. Nilgiri Biosphere is the most famous Biosphere reserve in WG.
  8. Local Names for western ghats are: Sahyadri in Maharashtra, Nilgiri hills in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Anaimalai hills and Cardamom hills in Kerala.
  9. The northern portion of the narrow coastal plain between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea is known as the Konkan, the central portion is called Kanara and the southern portion is called Malabar.

-Source: The Hindu

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August 2022
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