'Foreign body can't dictate on heritage tag'

MoEF experts say India should have its own laws to protect 39 sites in W Ghats

With the decision by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to “defer” the recognition of 39 sites in the Western Ghats as world heritage area, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has suffered another setback.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which has actively pursued world heritage site status for the Western Ghats, is deeply disappointed with the decision and seems particularly offended by IUCN remarks that the sites were still unprepared for official consideration this time.
According to officials, IUCN also recommended that India invite an IUCN advisory mission to implement steps to better support local State conservation organisations in a “collaborative and constructive manner.”

In addition, the IUCN also recommended that India establish an “overarching management authority” to manage the 39 sites.

This is the second year in which the Ghats have failed to be accepted as heritage sites. Despite being denied recognition in 2011, the Indian government re-nominated the Ghats in February for consideration during the 36th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meet, due to be held on June 24 at St Petersburg, Russia.

Faced with two consecutive rejections, the MoEF is not amused. Sources in the ministry said that officials felt that it was “unreasonable” for the IUCN to believe that India would allow a “foreign agency to dictate terms,” over management of the Ghats.

In this manner, the official response from the MoEF mirrors the established views of esteemed ecologist, Prof Madhav Gadgil, who is opposed to international oversight of Indian nature reserves.
Gadgil has made no secret of his opinions as reported in an official publication published by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Gadgil said instead of hankering after the status, India should implement its own laws, ensuring suitable protection of the Ghats and its indigenous people.

“Dependence on foreign consultation is completely uncalled for. Nothing can be gained by the status. The ministry should focus on implementing the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which provides adequate structure at panchayat, taluk and state level. I have also expressed my opinions to the IUCN,” he said.

The IUCN’s contention is that the MoEF has not incorporated recommendations made by the WGEEP and which were previously agreed upon.

Hold consultations

IUCN officials said MoEF should hold consultations with WGEEP while preparing its dossier. In this regard, Gadgil agrees with the IUCN.

“They (MoEF) never wanted proper consultations. Our panel set aside a time to meet them, but their representatives said that time was not feasible,” Gadgil said.

Director, Wildlife Institute of India, Dr V B Mathur, who is on the Western Ghats Natural Heritage Management Committee (WGNHMC), an organisation established by MoEF. says that Gadgil’s report has not made specific recommendations for national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. “WGEEP recommends that regulating development activities around protected areas would further strengthen the protective envelope around the 39 serial sites,” he said.

Apprehensions misplaced

While India’s efforts to have the Ghats recognised internationally have been officially stalled, the MoEF is determined to counter the IUCN’s recommendations. “We will place the relevant facts in the meeting at St Petersburg next month,” Mathur said.

“Several apprehensions outlined by IUCN, including the threats of mining activities in protected areas, are misplaced.”

He said IUCN’s recommendation for setting up an overarching management authority would not work in the Indian system of governance. “Instead, the four-tier governance mechanism recommended by MoEF for engaging decision-makers at Central, state, site levels and the representatives at local/village level will be very effective in maintaining the outstanding values of the 39 serial sites,” he said.

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