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Western Ghats offer major additions to new flora


The Botanical Survey of India, in its new publication Plant Discoveries 2020 has added 267 new taxa/ species to the country’s flora. Of these newly discovered plants – 22% of the discoveries were made from the Western Ghats.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Ecology, Important Protected regions, Species in news), Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Western Ghats
  2. Importance of Western Ghats
  3. Facts About Western Ghats for Prelims
  4. Background on Declaration of Western Ghats (WG) region as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA)
  5. What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?
  6. What does Declaration of Western Ghats as ESA mean?
  7. Highlights of New species listed by the Botanical Survey of India
  8. About the Botanical Survey of India (BSI)

About Western Ghats

  • The Western Ghats, also known as Sahyadri are a mountain range that covers an area of 140,000 square kilometres parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula.
  • It traverses the 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.

Importance of Western Ghats

  • 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.
  • They influence Indian monsoon weather patterns by intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer.
  • 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 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.
  • The Western Ghats form one of the four watersheds of India, feeding the perennial rivers of India.
  • The major river systems originating in the Western Ghats are the Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Tungabhadra rivers.

Facts About Western Ghats for Prelims

  • Western Ghats are continuous range of mountains (Gaps exist, but not like the Eastern Ghats)
  • 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.
  • The Western Ghats meet the Eastern Ghats at the Nilgiri mountains in north-western Tamil Nadu.
  • Evergreen Forests are found here.
  • Anaimudi is the highest peak.
  • Western Ghats are older than Himalayas.
  • Nilgiri Biosphere is the most famous Biosphere reserve in WG.
  • Local Names for western ghats are: Sahyadri in Maharashtra, Nilgiri hills in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Anaimalai hills and Cardamom hills in Kerala.

Background on Declaration of Western Ghats (WG) region as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA)

  1. In 2010, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as the Gadgil Commission, recommended that all of the Western Ghats should be declared as the ESA with only limited development allowed in graded zones. It classified the Western Ghats into ESA 1, 2 and 3 of which ESA-1 is a high priority zone where almost all of the developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants, etc) should be restricted. It was criticised for being more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities.
  2. In 2012, the Kasturirangan Committee sought to balance the development and environment protection in contrast to the system proposed by the Gadgil report – hence, the committee recommended that instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% of the total area to be brought under ESA. Another recommendation of the committee was that NO thermal power projects are to be allowed, hydropower projects are to be allowed only after detailed study and a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
  3. A draft notification was issued in 2018 mentioning the areas to be notified in the ESA – which is spread over six states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  4. However, the 6 states asked centre to expedite the process to notify the ESAs in the global biodiversity hotspot for clarity – i.e., the states expressed their views as regards activities and extent of area mentioned in the said notification.
  5. It was decided that state specific issues shall be further deliberated so as to arrive at a consensus on the issue.

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?

  • Eco Sensitive Zones are fragile areas around protected areas declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • They are areas notified by the MoEFCC around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
  • Among activities prohibited in the eco-sensitive zone are hydroelectric projects, brick kilns, commercial use of firewood and discharge of untreated effluents in natural water bodies or land areas.
  • No new commercial hotels and resorts shall be permitted within 1 km of the boundary of the protected area or up to the extent of the eco-sensitive zone, whichever is nearer, except for small temporary structures for eco-tourism activities.

What does Declaration of Western Ghats as ESA mean?

  • In the ESA, all kinds of mining activities, thermal power plants and highly polluting industries would no longer be allowed.
  • The existing mines shall be phased out within five years from the issue of final notification or on the expiry of the existing mining lease, whichever is earlier.
  • All new ‘Red’ category industries and the expansion of such existing industries shall be banned.
  • Other kinds of projects and activities, like operation of hydropower plants, and ‘orange’ category of industries, will be strictly regulated in the ESA.
  • New expansion projects of building and construction with built-up area of 20,000 square meters and above shall be prohibited too.

Highlights of New species listed by the Botanical Survey of India

  • The Botanical Survey of India (BSI) has added 267 new taxa/species to the country’s flora, of which:
    1. Highest contribution of discoveries is from the Western Ghats 22%
    2. Western Himalayas 15%
    3. Eastern Himalayas 14%
    4. Northeast Ranges 12%
    5. West coast contributed 10%
    6. East Coast contributed 9%
    7. Eastern Ghats 4%
    8. South Deccan 4%
    9. Central Highland 3%
    10. North Deccan 3%.
  • One new monogeneric family Hanguanaceae has been recorded for the first time from India.
  • Nine new species of balsam (Impatiens) and one species of wild banana (Musa pradhanii) were discovered from Darjeeling.
  • One species of wild jamun (Syzygium anamalaianum) was recorded from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
  • A species of fern (Selaginella odishana) was recorded from Kandhamal in Odisha.
  • There are 14 new macro and 31 new micro fungi species recorded from various parts of India.

About the Botanical Survey of India (BSI)

  • The Botanical Survey of India (BSI) was founded in 1890 (formally instituted by East India Company (EIC)) – located in Kolkata, West Bengal.
  • BSI is the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s organization for survey, research and conservation of plant wealth of India, flora and endangered species of India, including by czollecting and maintaining germplasm and gene bank of endangered, patent and vulnerable plant species.

BSI’s Important Publications:

  1. Flora of India series books,
  2. States floras,
    Flora of Protected regions
  3. Red Data Book of Indian Plants
  4. Plant Discoveries (annual publication with most authentic information on India’s plant wealth)

-Source: The Hindu

November 2023