Delhi is fast losing precious parts of its ridge -- a major buffer against ecological hazards.
The ridge is part of the Aravali mountains and absorbs much of Delhi’s vehicular pollution, helps in groundwater recharge and keeps hot winds from Rajasthan at bay.
Government agencies have been destroying this natural heritage spread over parts of northern, central, south central and southern Delhi. Extensive mining of quartzite rocks caused the early damage. Then, several government building and installations were built through this arid forest region.
But even though the government declared the ridge a reserve forest two decades ago, its agencies continue to construct illegal roads and dump hundreds of truckloads of debris. Political opportunism has allowed 150 illegal colonies on forest land to come up, damaging the precious ecosystem.
Senior lawyer Raj Panjwani, who has been assisting courts in environmental issues, said, “People have the right to roads and other facilities, but they must step out (of the ridge). If we do not wake up now, we may lose it (the ridge) forever. The consequences will be disastrous.”
Constant reduction in ridge cover — currently estimated to be limited to just around 8,000 hectares across Delhi — means desertification of Delhi.
The water table will go down further and the reduced green buffer will cause the quantum of noxious fumes to go up by several notches.
Documents accessed by the Hindustan Times show that the Public Works Department dumped hundreds of trucks of debris in the 784-acre Sanjay Van, a notified reserve forest in the south-central ridge. The dumping caused a boundary wall of the forest to collapse.
A recent inspection report, a copy of which is with HT, says an idgah, one burial and two cremation grounds, besides two schools and a liquor shop have come up in the forests. In the Rajokari forest, a full-fledged road has come up.
“A management board was constituted years ago to preserve the ridge. But the objective has been lost,” said Panjwani. “In the last two decades, the forest department has not been able to finalise forest boundaries and settle claims of those living inside. This has led to massive encroachments,” he said.
The National Green Tribunal has termed the government’s efforts an eyewash a ordered that the two tasks are completed in three months. The tribunal has also ordered that anyone found dumping debris in the ridge be fined Rs. 25,000 per truck.
“We’re working on a comprehensive report, to be submitted to the tribunal by August 29. We will also inform the tribunal about shortage of manpower,” said a senior forest department official.