Lakeside lies at the foothills of the Western Ghats, the chain of mountains which runs down the western side of peninsular India.
During the last week the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, meeting in St Petersburg, placed 39 sites in the Ghats on the World Heritage List to protect the bio-diversity of this unique area which is one of the most fragile and ecologically sensitive areas of the world. The area placed under protection for future generations covers nearly 8,000 square kilometres although this is much smaller than the 129,000 square kilometres which Indian experts say is in need of protection.
India’s past record for protecting such areas has been limited, but I hope that this new international recognition will help the current government to conserve this beautiful area. The central government has a tough job ahead of them however as the Ghats stretch through a number of States whose own governments are sometimes more concerned with money than the future of the Ghats. Karnataka wanted 10 of the new sites removed from the list, presumably because it will influence the amount of mining that can take place, and Kerala wants to continue to develop hydro-electric power in certain sensitive areas and so was rather negative in its reaction to the conservation initiative.
The Ghats are home to a number of unique or threatened species and it is wonderful to see them receiving the international recognition and protection which they richly deserve, but we must hope that short-term economic gain does not marginalise the protection of one of India’s most beautiful natural resources. Now that the area is listed as a World Heritage Site India will be able to seek international assistance to compensate for any financial loss to companies due to protection of the forests – let’s hope that that will be the guiding principal and that the beauty of the Western Ghats will still be here when my newborn grandson has grandchildren of his own!