The Western Ghats form one of the major watersheds of India, feeding the perennial rivers of India. It provides the drinking water source to the millions of people in the four southern states of India namely Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and to the people of the States of Maharashtra, Goa and certain areas of Gujarat. It is also the depository of gene pool and reservoir of natural resources and biological diversity. The Western Ghats has a delicate, sensitive and fragile eco system consisting of evergreen tropical rain forests, moist deciduous forest, dry deciduous forests, sholas, montane rain forests, montane grasslands and grass land eco system, mystica swamps, wetlands etc.
The Western Ghats contains several National Parks, Wild life sanctuaries, biosphere reserves and reserved forests. Most of the fauna including mammals and avian fauna as well as the flora in the Western Ghats are both endangered and endemic. For instance, the Nilagiri Tahr, Great Hornbill, Indian Grey Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill are endemic to this area as well as they are endangered. So also is the case of tiger, elephant and several other wild animals. Several species have become extinct and several others are classified as threatened/ endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and listed in the IUCN red list of threatened species.
Though the Western Ghats has already obtained more prominence and significance at the International level by its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, yet there are several problems and issues which threaten and endanger the safety and conservation, biological and ecological values of the Western Ghats. Some of them are as follows:
1. Issues like mining for metals and minerals and other exploitation of natural resources, encroachments, constructions, Hydro Electric Power Projects, Wind Power Projects and other Power Projects, Irrigation Dams, religious activities, Social Forestry, Deforestation for wood, Tourist resorts and residential Constructions and resorts pose serious threat and danger to the ecological balance and biological diversity of the Western Ghats and also lead to large scale destruction of the forests, wildlife and eco system.
2. The above activities result in blockage of corridors of passage for the wild animals from one side of the forest to another and the wild life is seriously threatened. Thus wild life corridors are blocked and for instance, elephants are choked in certain areas.
3. Several Tea, Coffee and Teak plantations in the Western Ghats lie enclosed inside reserve forests and are surrounded by thick forests on all sides. Most of these plantation estates have been created during colonial period by the British after clearing vast tracts of forest land. Erection of fences, electric fences, boundary walls, trenches etc in the estates and around them cause obstacles and hurdles for the smooth passage of mammals from one side of the forest to other side of the forest thereby affecting the movement of wild animals and blocking the forest corridors. Moreover further construction and development activities within the estates, increased human activities in human settlements inside the estates and on the fringes of forests, conversion of land use pattern and construction of resorts etc. cause substantial damage to the surrounding biodiversity and ecological balance and disturb and annoy the surrounding wild life and create an adverse ambience and atmosphere for wild life.
4. Deforestation, Tourist activities, religious activities, construction and development activities also create serious disturbances to the flora.Expansions and Extensions of human settlements in the Western Ghats and its foot hills, human construction, encroachments and land grabbing in and around forest areas in the Western Ghats and its foot hills and the deliberate and ill motivated acts of fragmentation of large estate holdings have resulted in breaking the corridors and passages of wild animals and loss of natural habitat for the wild life. This has resulted in creating man-animal conflict. Several instances of man eating leopards as well as elephant attacks are reported regularly from the Malakkapara–Valpara–Sholayar areas of the Western Ghats. Likewise destruction of crops and forays into human settlements by wild elephants in several areas of the Western Ghats as a result of the shrinking and loss of natural habitats of the elephants, are quite common.
5. Another important threat is the rapid change in the landscape and land use patterns in the Western Ghats affecting the watershed function, biodiversity and the ecological balance of the Western Ghats which would cause substantial depletion to the drinking water sources, loss of natural habitat of wild animals and loss of wild life corridors and connectivity.
6. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India under the chairmanship of Mr. Madhav Gadgil has submitted a 85 page report dated 31-08-2011 along with Appendix and Annexures ( in short “Gadgil Committee report”), to the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests, which published it only on 23-05-2012 and the said Gadgil Committee report finds the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive area and contains several recommendations for its protection and conservation. (For the Gadgil Committee report see; For the minutes of the final meeting of the Gadgil Committee see ). However the very same Government which has constituted the Gadgil Committee has not accepted the Gadgil Committee report and some of the states where the Western Ghats is situated have raised serious objection to the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee report causing apprehension in the minds of those interested in the protection of ecology and such objections raise serious issues in relation to conservation of Western Ghats. The Government of India has now during August 2012 set up a committee under the chairmanship of Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan to review the Gadgil Committee report and the Kasturirangan Committee is expected to submit its report in two months (see)
7. It may well be noted though that their exist numerous legislations in India aiming at the Protection of Forest and Wildlife. Some of them are as follows:
The Forest (Conservation) Act,1980.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927
The Environment (Protection Act), 1986
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
The Kerala Forest Act, 1961
Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971
Kerala Grants and Leases (modification of Rights) Act, 1980
The Madras Preservation of Private Forest Act, 1949
The Kerala Preservation of Trees Act, 1986
The Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands)
The Kannan Devan Hills (Resumption of lands) Act, 1971
But in spite of these legislations, encroachments into forest lands, destruction of the biodiversity and ecological balance of the Western Ghats and destruction of the flora and fauna are a regular and continuous feature/ phenomenon in the Western Ghats. The above said legislations are practically found inadequate to deal with the threat or unable to prevent such encroachments and destruction in many situations.