India's campaign to get the Western Ghats declared as a Unesco World Heritage site has received a setback, with the United Nations committee postponing the decision to 2012, and asking the government to furnish more information.

This came even as Karnataka — one of the four States where the Ghats are located — ran its own last-minute campaign against the World Heritage tag, arguing that it could “protect its own forests” and claiming that the tag would prevent “development work” to help forest dwellers.

Last week, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh warned that India risks “international embarrassment” due to Karnataka's stance.Over the last week, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) has been meeting in Paris to debate the merits of 42 nominations to its list of 900 cultural and natural treasures from across the world.

India had nominated 39 sites in the Western Ghats, a unique hotspot of biodiversity. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommended that the WHC “defer” India's proposal. That would mean starting the whole process anew, with more information, another visit from the IUCN team and the submission of a revised nomination dossier.

However, the Indian delegation's arguments convinced 11 other nations to vote against such a drastic “deferral” and instead opt for a “referral.” This means India will have to provide extra information, but will not have to submit a new dossier or handle an IUCN visit. Most of the additional information required is about governance and coordination mechanisms to synergise the management of the 39 sites as well as a buffer zone and connectivity issues.

The WHC will now consider the nomination of the Western Ghats at its next meeting in Thailand in June 2012.