The Western Ghat hills at Matheran in Maharashtra, India
The Western Ghat hills at Matheran in Maharashtra, IndiaWikimedia Commons

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO) has added the mountain chain of India's Western Ghats to the list of world heritage sites.

Apart from the 39 serial sites of the Western Ghats, four natural and four cultural properties were added to the list during Sunday's World Heritage Committee meeting at Saint Petersburg in Russia.

The new sites added are the Western Ghats, major mining sites of Wallonia in Belgium, decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland in Sweden, Chengjiang Fossil Site in China, Sangha Trinational in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, Carioca landscapes between the mountain and the sea in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro and the lakes of Ounianga in Chad.

The World Heritage Committee, which is the 21-member body that inscribes sites to the heritage lists, selects the sites based on some operational guidelines. The Western Ghats is added to the list based on criteria nine and ten under which the natural site qualifies.

"The Western Ghats was inscribed under criteria 9 and 10 of the Operational Guidelines of the World Heritage Convention," Vinod B. Mathur, Dean of the Wildlife Institute of India, told The Hindu.

According to the UNESCO's guidelines, criteria nine points to sites that are examples of "significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals."

Criteria ten mentions sites that are "important natural habitats for conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation."

As many as 17 nations including Russia, Algeria, Mexico, Cambodia, Serbia, Columbia, Japan, Estonia, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Mali, Qatar, Senegal, South Africa, the UAE and Thailand recommended the 1600-kilometre long mountain chain of Western Ghats to be added to the world Heritage List.

The Western Ghats, which is older than the Himalayan mountain region, is one of the world's "hottest hotspots" of the biological diversity. The 39 serial sites are spread over various states starting from Gujarat and running through Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.