Western Ghats

Flash floods and back-to-back landslips in Kerala bring into focus, once again, the fragile ecosystem of the mountain chain that runs almost parallel to India’s western coast.

Western Ghats

  • Western Ghats are a mountain range running nearly parallel to India’s western coast. It stretches 1,600 kilometres from the mouth of Tapti River near Gujarat-Maharashtra border to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost tip.
  • It stretches over six States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
  • Ghats are second only to Eastern Himalaya as a treasure trove of biological diversity in the country.
Western Ghats

Significance of Western Ghats


  • Forests of Western Ghats include best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests in world.
  • At least 325 globally threatened (IUCN Red Data List) species occur in the Western Ghats.
  • Western Ghats contain more than 30% of plant, fish, herpeto-fauna, bird & mammal species found in India.
  • Include unique shola ecosystem which consists of montane grasslands interspersed with evergreen forest patches.

Ecological significance

  • The chain’s forests, which are older than the Himalayas, influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern.
  • It is recognised as one of the world’s eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity.
  • It was added to the world heritage list by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Hydrological significance

  • The Western Ghats perform important hydrological and watershed functions. Approximately 245 million people live in the peninsular Indian states that receive most of their water supply from rivers originating in the Western Ghats.

Economic Significance

  • The Western Ghats are rich in iron, manganese and bauxite ores in parts of their ranges.
  • It hosts several plantation crops and important source of timber. It also harbors several wild relatives of cultivated plants, including pepper, cardamom, mango, jackfruit and plantain.


  • Illegal hunting: Illegal local hunting driven by tradition or demand for wild meat is pervasive across the Western Ghats.
  • Human-wildlife conflicts: Very high human population densities in several parts of the hotspot further exacerbate the intensity of conflict.
  • Extraction of fuelwood and fodder:
  • The extraction of fuelwood and fodder constitutes a significant and pervasive consumptive use within the Western Ghats. 
  • Human communities living within and adjacent to protected areas in the Western Ghats hotspot are frequently dependent on the extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFP) to meet a diversity of subsistence and commercial needs. 
  • Plantations: Over the years, plantations of cash crops have displaced extensive patches of natural forests throughout the Western Ghats and are frequently associated with encroachment of surrounding forest areas. 

Important committees related to Western Ghats

Madhav Gadgil committee

  • The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report, popular as Gadgil report, had designated the entire hill range as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  • It had classified the 142 taluks in the Western Ghats boundary into three Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
  • It recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in the Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1”.
  • It suggested that development activity needs to be decided through a participatory process involving the gram sabhas in these zones.
  • It recommended the establishment of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority, as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Kasturirangan report

  • 37% of the total area of the Western Ghats is ecologically sensitive.
  • It distinguished between cultural and natural landscapes in the region. Cultural landscapes, which include human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations, covered 58.44% of the Western Ghats. Of the remaining area marked as natural landscape, about 90% was identified as ESA, where the panel called for a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining.


There is a need for exempting areas of very high susceptibility in the Western Ghats from any types of constructions while urging the government and the local communities to increase the vegetative cover as a first defence against the landslide vulnerability.

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