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Tribal Rights and Heritage Conservation in the Western Ghats of Karnataka

In the context of Karnataka, the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the heritage sites of the Western Ghats makes for an important case study of how the concerns of tribals and indigenous people are often marginalised in the debates around conservation. Analysing the process of assigning heritage status to the sites located in the state, reports of government committees on the conservation and global studies show that conservation models that vouched for exclusion of human habitants in ecologically sensitive areas failed to conserve biodiversity. Hence, the adoption of an inclusive and participatory approach is the need of the hour.

The Western Ghats, also referred to as Sahyadri (the ­benevolent mountains), were declared a world heritage site at the 36th Session of the World Heritage Committee (24 June–6 July 2012) held in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation. The Western Ghats, running parallel to the western coast of India, are internationally recognised as a region of immense global importance due to their biodiversity, including areas of high geological, cultural and aesthetic value. The ghats traverse through Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, stretching to a length of 1,609 kilometres, spread on 1,40,000 square kilometres (sq km).

In all, 39 areas consisting of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests form part of the world heritage site (UNESCO 2012). Of these, four are in Maharashtra, 10 in Karnataka, 20 in Kerala and five in Tamil Nadu. Many big and small rivers like Krishna and Cauvery have their sources in this ­region (MoEFCC 2017). Besides being home for the tribal or indigenous people since ages, the ghats support the subsistence of scores of people living in the western and southern parts of India, directly or indirectly. Certain areas are recognised as world heritage sites because they are so important and special in terms of cultural and natural heritage that it becomes the responsibility of the local government, as also the international community, to protect them collectively for their “outstanding universal value.” The recognition makes the local authority/state—where the site is located—responsible for taking measures to protect the site in accordance with the guidelines of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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Updated On : 13th Oct, 2020

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