Satara: Once a bed of colourful flora, the famous Kaas plateau in Maharashtra is now witnessing less blooms, worrying officials, tourists and nature lovers alike. The plateau, recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as a heritage site in 2012, is home to around 350 flowering plants, including some rare and endemic species.
With the flowering already going down, a couple of fire incidents last month in the area, causing a damage to the flora at the site in Satara district, has now set off alarm bells for the administration. The state government has thus decided to take up a slew of measures, like better guarding of the place and inviting researchers to study why this picturesque site in the Western Ghats is losing its blooms, which were a big tourist attraction. According to forest officials, human negligence, possibly lit cigarettes, could have caused the twin fires that gutted a portion of the world-famous plateau recently.
“The forest department, along with a joint management committee of forest officials and local villagers-turned-volunteers, has now decided to take certain safety measures to avoid incidents which could endanger the flora of the Kaas plateau,” the range forest officer, Sachin Dombale, said. He said those guarding the plateau have now been provided hand-held pressure water sprayers. “The plateau does not have big trees or plants. It is actually a grassland, so even if the grass catches fire, it can be doused with the help of these sprayers,” he said.
Earlier, six people used to guard the entire plateau of around 1,800 hectares. After the fire incidents, now 12 people are manning it in the day and six at night, he said. Now, the visitors are frisked at the entry gate of the tourist site and are not allowed to carry inside combustible items like cigarettes, matchbox or lighters, he said. Somnath Jadhav, the president of the joint committee, said they have also started putting up “firebreaks” along the roadsides.
“For the firebreaks, we burn the vegetation and grass in five metres of area along the roadside, so even if someone throws a combustible object, there won’t be a fire,” he said. However, due to unavailability of power supply in the forest area of the plateau, they have not been able to put up CCTVs for keeping a watch.
“But, we are now thinking of using solar panels to address the power issue, Jadhav said. He said the gram sabhas of five villages (the locals of which are part of the committee), have also decided to put forth their proposals to safeguard the plateau and conserve its biodiversity and flora. One of the committee members said the state government should provide funds for proper maintenance of the site.
“We have to depend on the fees collected from visitors during the season, which is only for two months (September and October), to pay for the maintenance and salaries of the people working to guard the place,” he said.
“We seek government’s attention, cooperation and funds so that this plateau of flowers can be conserved,” he said. Jadhav said for last three to four years, the growth of some species of flowering plants on the plateau is on a decline, thereby calling for a study to find out its reason and restore the beauty of the place.
“We are now planning to write to various universities in Maharashtra to send some researchers and students of botany to study the reason behind this,” he said. “We are making all-out efforts to conserve the plateau, which is home to some rare, endemic and threatened species of flowering plants, as it would then also lead to an increase in the number tourists at the site,” he added.