The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India (GOI) had been asked to identify ESAs along the Western Ghats, and to suggest how to manage them. The concept of ESAs has been extensively discussed in the literature. Several ESAs have been set up in India over the last 22 years under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and a GOI committee under the chairmanship of Pranob Sen has proposed certain criteria for identification of ESAs.
However, WGEEP noted that we still lack a global consensus either on the criteria to define ESAs or on a workable methodology to identify them. Furthermore, there are no clear guidelines on the management regime that should prevail in ESAs, and the Pranob Sen Committee has not addressed this issue at all. Hence, WGEEP decided to undertake an exercise of defining ESAs and developing a workable methodology to assign levels of ecological significance/sensitivity as a first step towards putting ESAs on the map of the Western Ghats.
This article provides a report on the outcome of a series of discussions and consultations held by WGEEP to build a consensus on defining and mapping ESAs. It hopes to provoke discussion and feedback from a wider section of experts, with the aim of finalizing a generic methodology for mapping ESAs in other ecologically significant, biodiversity-rich areas within and outside the country.
The concept of an ecologically sensitive area (ESA) is appealing but difficult. Consequently, ESA is among the most widely used terms with no unequivocally accepted definition. The article has attempted to propose an objective and workable protocol and methodology for arriving at a set of ESAs. This is meant to be a starting point for a wider discussion.