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Save The Aravallis

Save The Aravallis

The biodiverse Aravalli range is being degraded by rampant ‘developmental’ projects. Ask your government to protect India’s oldest mountain range.

The pristine hills have been assailed by a gamut of problems over the last few years, including deforestation, mining and now encroachment. Photo: Nataraja/Public Domain.

The Aravallis, the oldest fold mountains on Earth, has been in existence for about three billion years. Resilient, and majestic, the mountains stretch along the north-western frontiers of the country, shaping the climate and biodiversity of the region. The range, abundant in its unique mix of flora and fauna, and mineral-rich soil, is today being whittled away, in order to give way to the rapidly expanding urban jungle that is the National Capital Region (NCR).

Encroachment, mining, real estate development, privatisation of the common lands, and a lackadaisical approach to resource management has led to extensive degradation of our oldest mountain range. While time and again, judicial interventions by the courts have attempted to protect the Aravallis, placing restraining orders on developmental activities, implementation by state governments has been lukewarm.

In June 2017, Bharti Land, a sister concern of Airtel allegedly felled 7,000 trees for a real estate project in the Aravallis in Haryana’s Faridabad district, as reported by several leading dailies such as The Hindu and Hindustan Times. According to NCR’s planning board, the entire Aravallis falls under a Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ). Yet, the loss of thousands of trees did not result in penalty or repercussions.

In December, an illegal two kilometre road and a wall were constructed in the Aravalli forests of Faridabad and Gurgaon Division, areas which fall under the jurisdiction of Section 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Protection Act (PLPA) 1990. The illegal construction is in direct violation of the PLPA and the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (FCA).

The ambiguity regarding the legal status of the Aravallis has been created deliberately to benefit real estate developers and builders. Haryana has backtracked on its assurance to include areas under the legal definition of ‘forest’ in the Aravallis. Following a 1996 Supreme Court order, all state governments were required to identify forests according to the dictionary meaning of the word. Therefore, though 25,000 hectares of land have been notified as forests under PLPA in Haryana, the government’s comatose response to the SC order had left 12,000 hectares of forest areas unrecognised. In May 2017 the government changed its stand, declaring that there was no forest status to be decided in the state at all.

The Regional Plan 2021 of the National Capital Regional Planning Board, formulated in 2005, declared 60,000 acres of the Aravallis as a Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) – an area yet to be officially notified.

“The problem is that the authorities listen readily to the developers, and the ecological aspect gets lost in decision making, as it often goes under-represented. The protective provisions of the FCA become irrelevant and cannot be applied, if an Aravalli area is denied the ‘forest’ tag. Further according to NCZ regulations, all construction activity is illegal, so the state is bending over backwards to wrongly prove that Aravallis don’t exist in Faridabad and other districts of Haryana” says environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal.

Chetan Agarwal points out the steady encroachment of these forests by the very administration that is supposed to protect it. The Aravallis, previously treated as common lands, was squandered away to private entities, through clever misuse of the Land Consolidation Act. Soon after the inception of the state of Haryana, privatisation of the Aravallis opened gates to construction and real estate.

“These privatised forests need to be reinstated to their earlier status of common lands, licences concerning the leased land of the Aravallis must either be transferred to another area or cancelled,” states Agarwal.

According to a study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in southern Haryana, the Aravallis today is “the most degraded” forest range in India. Despite judicial interventions, such as the 2002 order of blanket ban on mining in the Aravallis from Haryana to Rajasthan, the slide is only worsening.

The Aravallis, despite its ecological value, serves more as a backdrop than an important feature to be integrated into the cities it flanks. The range, extending from Gujarat and Rajasthan into Delhi and Haryana, is instrumental in shaping the climate of the region, particularly rainfall, consequently recharging groundwater. It also acts as a green barrier against desertification of eastern-Rajasthan, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, checking the spread of the Thar desert. The Aravalli forests are also the green lungs of the NCR region, without which the problem of air pollution would only intensify. While corporations continue to plunder the Aravallis for short-term economic gains, citizens who value their health and the future of the generations to come, must raise their voices in support of their senescing mountain range, and come together to protect both its biodiversity and its inhabitants.

To save the Aravallis, Sanctuary appeals to its readers to write to the Chief Minister of Haryana, imploring him to:

* Recognise entire area of Aravallis as forest areas of his state, as per the dictionary meaning, granting official status and protection to these green covers.

* Accept Aravallis as a Natural Conservation Zone according to the Haryana sub-regional plan in 2014 and the NCR regional plan in 2005.

* Revoke or transfer licences granted to private builders.

* Demolish illegal structures (roads, farmhouses, walls).

* Restore status of common lands.

* Declare at least half the Aravallis as a protected sanctuary.

Write a polite letter or email to:

Manohar Lal Khattar
Hon. Chief Minister,
4th Floor, Civil Secretariat, Sector 1,
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Dr. Harsh Vardhan
Hon. Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
Indira Paryavaran Bhavan, Jorbagh Road
New Delhi – 110003.
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Do mark a copy to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it so we can follow up on your appeal.

Source: First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 2, February 2018.


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