Tourism poses threat to Kaas

Tourism poses threat to Kaas

Doctor on mission to protect plateau of flowers

Tourism poses threat to Kaas
For a couple of months, Kaas looks like a carpet of flowers

Dr Sandeep Shrotri of Satara is a man with a mission – to protect and save Kaas, the Plateau of Flowers. A laparoscopic surgeon by profession,  he is among the few who had campaigned to protect Kaas, which is now a Biodiversity World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).  It’s western India’s own Switzerland and the rich flora is something that needs to be appreciated.

The Kaas plateau, also known as the Kaas-che-Pathaar, is situated in the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats, some 25 km from Satara city in the western Maharashtra. The plateau is located at a height of 1,200 msl and spreads over 1,000 hectare. Many of the endemic and endangered plants are found in the plateau.

Kaas and the nearby Koyna are home to about 1,500 types of plants – 156 botanical families, 680 genera, 1,452 species, 400 medicinal plants, and about 33 endangered varieties. More than 450 species of wild flowers bloom in and after monsoon and most of them are endemic herbs. More than 850 species of flowering plants are reported from Kaas plateau and out of them 624 have entered in the Red Data Book and most importantly 39 are found  only in the plateau.

It’s some 35 km from the hill station of Mahabaleshwar and around 140 km from Pune, the culture capital of Maharashtra. The place is increasingly getting popular among tourists and this is adding to some problems and it is here Dr Shrotri steps in.

“It’s a great piece of biodiversity and this needs to be protected,” says Dr Shrotri, the founder of Ranwata Society, an NGO devoted to the cause of biodiversity, and also the author of Valley of Flowers. As many as 17,000 copies of the book in Marathi and English have been sold or distributed and soon it will be translated into some other languages.

Explaining how things have changed, he said: “It happened 1992 onwards when Internet heralded and camera technology became easy. Also, tourism picked up after channels and magazines covered it.”

According to him, around two decades ago there was “selective plucking” of flowers by ayurveda doctors and so-called sample collectors from various colleges.

In 2000, he came out with a booklet on Kass and then its English translation in 2007. Then, Dr Rajendra Shende, former Director in United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), got in touch with him. “I provided all details to their satisfaction and three or four times officials from Unesco visited Kaas. It was the first among the 39 sets of sites in Western Ghats that comprises the World Heritage Site,” he said.

“The 39 component parts of this serial property fall under a number of protection regimes, ranging from tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests. All components are owned by the state and are subject to stringent protection under laws, including the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, the Indian Forest Act of 1927, and the Forest Conservation Act (1980). This was actually a plateau that was included,” Dr Shrotri said.

Eye-catching

Kaas plateau is wonderful, eye-catching creation of nature nestled in Sahyadri Hill range of the Western Ghats. It has significant ecological as well as tourism value. In August and September, the whole plateau looks like a carpet of flowers in various shades of green, yellow, pink, purple etc. Due to this, it attracts lakhs of tourists, scientists and nature lovers. The value of Kaas is noticed not only at the state level but also globally, according to Envis, a data bank of the Maharashtra government.

There are a few stories behind why the plateau is named as “Kaas”? Like, as the Kaasa tree (Elaeocarpus glandulosus) is found in thick forests around the Kaas, the plateau is known as Kaas. In the local community, Kaasa means a lake, there is a lake here and this could be the one reason for the place being named “Kaas”. Kaas lake – built more than a century ago --  is a perennial source of water supply for western part of Satara city and is origin of the river Urmodi. Plateau of Kaas is classified under Volcanic Plateaus which is produced by volcanic activities.

These plateaus are mainly formed of two rocks-- basalt rock, which is predominant rock, and porous lateritic rock (Jambha) which is red-coloured stone rich in iron and aluminium allowing most of the water to seep through or drain off. There is only a thin layer of soil which supports no vegetation except for the rainy season and that makes Kaas a unique ecosystem. Kaas is one of the hotspots of biodiversity.

Awareness

Talking about the issues, he said: “We are trying to bring in awareness. We are talking to locals, tourists, environmentalists, trekkers and hikers. Today, a lot of people are visiting. It is essential that they do not pluck flowers or trample the area.”

 Shrotri says that whenever groups are here, locals and tour organisers have made it a point to ensure that he speaks to them on Kaas. “There is a danger to Kaas because of irresponsible tourism and it's our aim, purpose and goal to make tourism responsible,” he said. People are in touch with the Centre and the Maharashtra government to ensure that "Kaas remains Kaas".

According to the doctor, NGOs, autonomous bodies and government institutions, including  Bombay Natural History Society, Wildlife Institute of India, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun,  Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, Indian Botanical Society,  have joined the efforts.

“The area is under the threat not only from the thousands of insensitive tourists but also due to indiscriminate development that do not undertake environmental impact assessment. The poachers and biotic invasion due to extensive traffic, especially during the flowering season, has endangered the natural habitat over the plateau. Unfortunately, the villagers surrounding this plateau are very poor and illiterate.

They are aware of their natural heritage of their neighbourhood, but almost unaware of the future threats to their environmental wealth that contributes directly and indirectly to their own livelihood,” according to a paper prepared by Ranwata and Technology, Education, Research and Rehabilitation for the Environment (TERRE) Policy Centre, Pune.

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