Aravallis are sacrosanct for Gurugram’s liveability

JamesCameroon, the director of the globally acclaimed film “Avatar” has said that his film was a lesson for humankind to stop damaging the environment. Referring to us (humankind) he had said, that we think we are big, we have the brains, we have the technology and are entitled to every damn thing on this planet. He further said that if we do not wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural cycles of life on earth we are going to find out the hard way. How true, isn’t it?

But blockbuster movies such as Avatar, the stark climate change evidences around us of melting glaciers and flashfloods, and all the green awareness campaigning has still not brought home one point that we can no longer mess with our environment and that if human race is so hell-bent and selfish, we must build strong policies and enforcements to protect our environment. We continue to pollute our skies, our oceans and rivers, denude our forests and exhaust our natural resources in the name of development. If life sustaining systems of our planet get choked, who will be left to enjoy the fruits of this so-called development? It will be a hopeless future for us and our children.  

For land-locked areas, forests are most vital life-sustaining systems. They do much more than providing a green canopy. They purify the air, bind the soil, prevent floods, help in water recharge, are home to rare species of flora and fauna. Perhaps that is why they are called healing forest. For a city like Gurugram where air pollution is high, porous ground surface is negligible and green belts are few and far between, the presence of Aravallis is a lifeline for the city’s residents and the last vestige of hope for the city’s fast-declining environment.

Gurugram sadly is also a city where hungry real-estate developers are vying to grab every any inch of land for construction and profiteering. This mountain range of India that majestically lines the skyline of the city has been under constant threat. A few activists have been trying to save this precious cover through petitions and court orders. But they find themselves up against a powerful lobby.  Recently, a bill was proposed to be passed in Haryana Vidhan Sabha to amend a 118-year old Punjab Land Preservation Act that legally protects and preserves the Aravallis. The news has raised an alarm in the city.  Environmentalist are calling the amendment nothing short of a “ecological disaster”. Citizens of both Gurugram and Faridabad have made various representations and protests to show their anger against the misdirected move. But so far nothing encouraging has come from the Government that shows a clear U-turn on the decision.   

 If passed, the amendment will open room for construction in the Aravallis. At risk are 16,000 plus acre of forest in Gurugram and 10,000 plus acre of forest in Faridabad. More than 50 per cent of entire Aravalli range in South Haryana will be affected estimated to be about 1,25,000 acres in the districts of Gurugram, Faridabad, Nuh, Mehendargarh and Rewari.Besides, the PLPA not only covers Aravallis in South Haryana but also portions of Shivalik ranges in North Haryana. At 3.59 per cent, Haryana already has the lowest forest cover in the country. The amendment will plummet the figure even further.  

Natural forests (such as Aravallis and Shivaliks) should be permanently protected for all times to come.  After all, forest land cannot simply be treated as surplus land available to be utilised for expanding cities, mining or being cut up to build roads. They are a national asset, an environment asset, a bio-diversity asset and much more.

To be sure, Aravallis help restore environment by being our green lungs that fight pollution. The cracks and fissures in its hills act as the only-large scale ground water recharge zone. This is a region that has limited rainfall and ground water extraction rate in Gurugram is 300 per cent over the recharge rate. Besides, the ranges act as a watershed for nullahs and lakes such as Badhkal, Dhauj and Damdama lake.  It confines in itself 400 plus species of native trees, herbs and shrubs and eight types of eco-systems that exists in dry conditions. It has 200 plus bird species including native and migratory birds and a rich wildlife comprising leopards, jackals, hyenas, neelgais and reptiles. People go to the forest for walks, relaxing, rejuvenation and to heal in the solitude of nature. It is also an archaeological site with ancient remnants. Aren’t these multitude of priceless advantages that should encourage us to fortify our forests?

The Aravallis land is protected by 20-30 year old notifications under the PLPA and Aravalli area notified under PLPA have been treated as forest by the Supreme Court that has time and again through various judgements reiterated the need to protect this area. What needs to be done is to renotify these areas since some notificications have expired. We need to check encroachments and illegal constructions in these notified areas. After all, we have a Haryana Forest Policy 2006 that talks about afforestation, conserving bio-diversity, development and protection of habitats and containing genetic resource base of rare species. 

The constitution of Bhutan imposes the country to have a minimum forest cover of 60 per cent for all times to come. Bhutan very proudly maintains its forest cover at 72 per cent.  India’s policies are well-meaning, where we lack is in enforcement. Our National Forest Policy 1988 has set a goal to bring one third of country’s area under forest and tree cover. Such a goal can’t be achieved in Haryana that has 81 per cent of its land under agricultural. But we can atleast increase its forest cover to 6-8 per cent in the next few years.

We cannot afford to lose more time. In January this year, a 10-month old female leopard was found dead on the Gurugram-Faridabad highway and its autopsy confirmed that it was hit by a vehicle. This is not the first time an animal has been found dead on this highway. All of us including the forest animals, birds and plants have a fundamental right to live in a clean and healthy environment.  Politicians, beware. Citizens have begun demanding right to clean air and water security as key election issues. These demands can soon take shape of large movements or jan andolan. Are you listening?

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