A cluster of 39 sites spread over 7,953.15 sq km in the Western Ghats will now be inscribed in the World Heritage list. These include tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Kerala leads with 20 sites being inscribed in the heritage list followed by Karnataka with ten,Tamil Nadu five and Maharashtra four. In Maharashtra, the Kas plateau, the Koyna wildlife sanctuary, the Chandoli national park and the Radhanagari Wildlife sanctuary in the Sahyadri range have been given the world heritage site tag.
The decision to include the 39 sites was taken by a 21-nation panel of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) at its meeting currently on at St Petersburg, Russia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the official World Heritage advisory body on nature, in its recommendation did not include the Western Ghats as four of the sub-clusters were not contiguous as contended by India and many did not have buffer zones. Among the concerns expressed were mining in Sindhdurga district (Radhanagari Sanctuary) and that there was no overarching management plan for the nominated sites.
India had submitted the nomination dossier to the Unesco World Heritage Centre, Paris, in February 2010. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had pushed hard for their inclusion and had also set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel to study and provide recommendations to protect the ghats.
In its media release, the WHC said a series of protected areas across the Western Ghats in India were added to Unesco's list of iconic places after a persistent campaign for world heritage statusby the Indian government. "Mountains, rainforests, rivers and waterfalls are all part of the 160,000 sq km area, recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot. The Western Ghats are home to a number of flagship mammals including the endangered endemic lion-tailed Macaque, the endangered Asian elephant and the tiger.''
Lena Pillars Nature Park in Russia was also added to the prestigious list by the WHC.