The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, constituted by the ministry of environment and forests will hold a consultation with the state government, civil society and industry in a bid to gather data on the biodiversity of the western ghats.
The consultation will be held at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Dona Paula from 9am to 4pm on September 27.
It gains significance as the ministry has prepared a nomination dossier for inclusion of 39 serial sites in the Western Ghats to the world heritage list.
The Western Ghats range, which is considered one of the top-ten global biodiversity hotspots in the world, spans across six states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is estimated that the ghats account for 10% of the total green house gas emissions neutralized annually by the country’s forests.
The consultation will commence with an introduction by NIO director Satish Shetye, an explanation of the purpose of the meet by the panel’s chairman and presentations of research done on Western Ghats by resource persons from Goa region coordinated by the NGO Goa Foundation. This will be followed by a two-hour long open house in the afternoon. Madhav Gadgil is the chairman of the 14-member panel, while G V Subrahmanyam, adviser to the ministry, is the member secretary.
Formed in March this year, the panel has already held five meetings. In its first meeting on March 31, the chairman explained the terms of reference to the members, which included a work plan, organizing an information system and a process of comprehensive consultation. The panel’s first meeting also discussed the issue of verifying the status and ongoing changes in health of soil, water, air, biodiversity, rural and urban settlements, forestry, farming, fishing, industry, tourism, and mining. It was felt that a Western Ghats Ecological Authority could be constituted under Sub-Section 3 of Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 on the lines of the Dahanu Taluka Authority and such other authorities. But a separate law to carve out the entity in a bid to carry on the agenda was voiced by members.
The panel also discussed institutional issues related to ecologically-sensitive areas, community-conservation areas, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, biosphere reserves, project-tiger reserves, environmental impact assessment and other matters. The members felt that the panel could pursue its agenda through a two-pronged approach of carrying out research and holding consultations with stakeholders at the regional and state levels and by constituting an authority. With regard to organizing an information system, the chairman felt that it was essential to demarcate areas within the region for notification as ecologically-sensitive areas under the Act. While plants, animals, insects and birds are protected under the Act, the panel felt that microbial diversity comprising hundreds of novel microbial species identified by researchers needs protection.
“Historical, archaeological aspects such as prehistoric human occupation sites and routes of migration, rock art sites, etc also need to be considered,” the minutes of the meeting state. The members felt that tribals of the Western Ghats possess traditional knowledge about forest resources and as they are the main stakeholders, this needs to be documented for posterity. The panel which is expected to submit a report to the ministry within six months is gathering information and preparing maps of levels of ecological sensitivity on the Western Ghats’ tract. It is expected to prepare a document with recommendations for preservation, conservation and rejuvenation of the hotspot under threat from various quarters.