Government decision to limit protection for species-rich mountains angers conservationists.

India’s Western Ghats are a tainted paradise. Running almost the length of the country’s western coast, the mountain range covers just 6% of India’s landmass but is home to more than 30% of its plant, fish, bird and mammal species, making it one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. But the mountains also contain large mineral reserves.

The question of how to strike a balance between protecting and developing the region, home to 39 UNESCO World Heritage sites, has been troubling India. Last month, matters came to a head when ministers announced that they would accept the recommendations of a working group to cordon off more than one-third of the region and ban many industrial activities within it.

This may sound like good news, but the recommendations ran roughshod over a 2011 government-commissioned report by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel. Headed by one of India’s leading ecologists, Madhav Gadgil, a visiting professor at Goa University in Taleigao Plateau, the report advised classifying the entire region as ecologically sensitive.

The two groups are now at loggerheads, and the government’s November decision has led to protests by conservationists, farmers and the mining and construction industries. “There was no need for yet another report after the Gadgil committee report,” says Sreedhar Ramamurthy, managing trustee of the Environics Trust, a non-governmental organization based in New Delhi. “The aim seems to be to open up more areas for development projects.” Read more

Courtesy: nature

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