Western Ghats: Heritage status will not change state’s mind
State government will not allow new industries and projects only in core wildlife corridors and buffer zones.Updated: Jul 03, 2012 01:15 IST
The state has welcomed Unesco’s World Heritage Site status to Western Ghats, but that is unlikely to spur it to take bold decisions on axing big-ticket projects to conserve one of the global biodiversity hot spots.
“The state’s stance has been consistent that we won’t allow new industries, mining projects in wildlife corridors and buffer zones of 10 km, which is a move towards a sustainable model,” said Praveen Singh Pardeshi, principal secretary of forests.
Outside these core wildlife areas, the state government is unwilling to impose a complete ban on mining, power, industrial or hill station projects, unless the Centre mandates it.
On Sunday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a United Nations body, declared 39 sites on the 1,600-km stretch as World Heritage Sites at a meeting in Russia. India has been lobbying for this status since 2006.
Of the six states that the Ghats run through, the 39 sites are in four — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There are no sites in Gujarat and Goa.
“After two decades, a natural site from India has made it into the world heritage list. It means more attention towards the maintenance and care of this heritage,” said BR Mani, additional director general, Archaeological Survey of India.
Welcoming the Western Ghats sites to the World Heritage list, an IUCN statement read: “But note the conservation challenges they face will need additional monitoring by the World Heritage Committee to ensure that these sites meet the requirements that accompany listing as flagships for global conservation. The IUCN is ready to assist the states in that task.”
In its communication to the Centre, the state has objected to the methodology used and classification of 43 of its talukas as environmentally sensitive zones (ESZ) by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel chaired by ecologist Madhav Gadgil.
The environment ministry, which constituted the panel, is yet to accept the suggestions. Terming the report as impractical, Maharashtra had called for redefining of ESZ and refused to phase out mining leases and power projects in ESZ areas.
Parts of 12 districts of the state fall in the Western Ghats, many of which are upcoming power, industries and mining hubs.
What the Unesco tag will help in is conservation and mitigation programmes in state sanctuaries such as Koyna, Bhimashankar, Radhanagari and villages around it. For instance, the state is working on encouraging green fuel in these villages and has introduced 75% subsidy to villagers who move to bio-gas. It offers 50% incentive to villagers who shift to low-yielding cattle, which rely on domestic fodder instead of open grazing.
Activists said stricter measures like those recommended in Gadgil’s report lie at the crux of preserving the Western Ghats. But these seem unlikely, given that the state recently declared 5,000 acres in Mulshi taluka, in the Ghats within the 10 km radius of three forest reserves and three dams, a new hill station.