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Can’t afford another Paradise Lost

The Ridge — Delhi's green lungs — is the northernmost extension of the Aravali mountain range, considered one of the oldest geographical features in the country. But it has hardly received the attention it deserves.

delhi Updated: Nov 20, 2012 01:40 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

The Ridge — Delhi's green lungs — is the northernmost extension of the Aravali mountain range, considered one of the oldest geographical features in the country. But it has hardly received the attention it deserves.

It is 2.5 billion years old, much older than the Ganges and the Himalayas, which are kids in comparison -- merely 600 million years old. Simply put, if the Himalayas are nine years old, then the Aravalis are 90 years old.

Traditionally for Delhi, the ridge —spread over northern, central, south central and southern area — was the western extreme. However, over the last 100 years, as the population increased exponentially, the ridge fell to development. Cost of development

It started with chunks of what today is the central ridge being drawn for the new capital city by the British after 1912.

As city planners merrily continue with further destruction (see graphic), environmentalists cry hoarse about tearing of the green lungs. A case in point is the long legal battle that activists fought to save the southern ridge, which the planners had earmarked for 13 international star hotels.

This portion of the ridge, spread over Vasant Kunj and Mahipalpur, totalled 640 hectares — 315ha belong to the DDA and 325ha to the Army — much of which has been concretised. This despite the fact that the Central Ground Water Board has advocated the ridge as a potential ground water recharge medium.

Pradip Krishen, an active votary of trees, pointed out an instance of the army's activities at the ridge.

"There is this President Bodyguards' Polo ground right in the middle of the central ridge. They also have a club house there. The area for the polo ground plus the clubhouse has been given to them on lease long ago. But they treat the entire central ridge as their own," he said.

Ravi Agrawal of Toxics Link, an environmental organisation, said, "The norms are quite well laid out. The DDA, army or whatever agency, they have to put their increasing land requirement aside. The various authorities can't see the ridge as a land for development."

There is a Ridge Management Board — Agrawal is a member — whose job is to take care of issues related to the betterment and management of the ridge. "This board is toothless; it needs to have power, otherwise what's the point?" said Krishen.

Diwan Singh of the Ridge Bachao Andolan said, "The authorities need to immediately carry out a survey for what comprises ridge (and) what is happening on the ground."

Wherever there is no demarcation, or areas left out, these should be properly demarcated along with notifications, Singh said. He suggested involving local communities in conservation of ridge ecology.

"There should also be legal and environmental awareness but environment should be an equally important stakeholder in planning," he added.

One more road, trees be damned
It has been two years since a road to join the Mahipalpur-Vasant Kunj road with National Highway 8 has been under construction. The existing Mahipalpur road is too narrow to accommodate the increase in vehicular traffic coming from Mehrauli and Gurgaon and headed towards Dwarka and the Delhi airport.

The solution? Build another road, a bypass for the village. In this case, the existing road has been widened. But the fact that the road passes through the ridge is completely ignored.

"It was a gram sabha land, taken over by the government for the road. The road is flanked by the village on one side and an army area on the south," said Colonel Devender Sehrawat, a Mahipalpur resident.

The hitch is that land for the road does not fall into the 'notified' area of the ridge, though Mahipalpur village sits very much on the ridge.

Dinesh Sehravat, a youth from the village, said, "Just half a kilometre of the almost 4-km road remains due to land acquisition issue."

The question is: Is the road really necessary? "Already, there is lot of construction in the area in total violation of the Master Plan provisions. While the DDA has gone ahead and engaged in senseless construction, the army has carried out a lot of work,” said Diwan Singh of Ridge Bachao Andolan.