Its recommendations had a bearing on heritage status for the ghats

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel's (WGEEP) report had a bearing on the World Heritage Committee's decision on heritage status for the Western Ghats, though the government is yet to accept the findings.

The Committee recently deferred the decision following a report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). India has been asked to consider the WGEEP recommendations “on land use and controls on development” in the region. The Union Ministry of Environment recently released the report in the public domain with a caveat that it had not formally accepted the report.

The IUCN suggested that the authorities “review and refine the scope and composition of the current serial nomination to take into account the recommendations of the WGEEP, noting the panel was tasked with compiling scientific data and defining ecologically sensitive areas through consultation.”

Less mention of ESZs

The agency noted that “the report tabled last year made a few recommendations on Ecologically Sensitive Zones as areas of high conservation value within the Ghats system.” The “IUCN believes it is appropriate to consider the findings of the WGEEP report, noting it was specifically commissioned by the government of India and tasked with comprehensive data compilation and identifying ecologically sensitive areas through GIS and an extensive consultation processes,” it said.

It proposed “refining” the boundaries of the serial sites further “to ensure the exclusion of disturbed areas such as artificial reservoirs, plantations, settlements, industry and agricultural lands; and to enhance the contiguity and buffer zones of the nomination, taking into account the recommendations” of the panel.

The nominated sites included 19 from Kerala, 10 from Karnataka, six from Tamil Nadu and four from Maharashtra.

A suggestion was made to “establish improved coordination and integration between component sites, particularly through the preparation and implementation of an overarching management plan or framework for the serial property as a whole and through the establishment of the proposed Western Ghats Natural Heritage Conservation Authority.”

The report pointed out that human impact was evident across the landscape despite the “careful delineation of boundaries to exclude these wherever possible from the nominated property itself.”

The agency noticed some instances of “encroachment, livestock grazing, fodder and fuel wood collection, illegal hunting and increasing interest in tourism-related activity” in some areas.

At the same time, V.B. Mathur, Dean of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, pointed out that the WGEEP primarily dealt with the ecology of the Ghats areas outside the national parks and protected areas. The serial sites are either national parks or wildlife sanctuaries, which have an effective management mechanism in place. The Ministry had effectively implemented all the suggestions made by the IUCN earlier, he said.

Indigenous people

Stressing the need for respecting the existing “indigenous institutions,” IUCN also noted that there were some 40 different Adivasi/indigenous peoples in several States of the Ghats region. The agency also stated that it was “made aware of continued significant concerns about the nomination and rights issues from sections of the indigenous local community.”

The report stated that “it was important that governance mechanisms were not externally imposed but respect existing indigenous institutions for decision-making consistent with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”