Being a city-State, Delhi’s development is complex and unique.
Surrounded by Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, development on Delhi’s periphery have a profound effect on the city’s population and civic amenities.
Water, of course, continues to remain the most contentious issue. But the most profound effect of developments in the city and on its periphery is on its environment.
However, concerns of the region as a regional entity have rarely come to the fore. While public attention has focused on non-availability of water and power in Delhi and its periphery, it has rarely focused on the environmental sustainability and carrying capacity of the region.
Delhi is 97% urbanised and the National Capital Region (NCR) has also become a predominantly urban region with more than 63% urbanisation, spread over 108 urban centres.
This makes the NCR the most urbanised region in India even ahead of Tamil Nadu, which according to the 2011 census data is the most urbanised state.
It might be unusual to look at forests in the first place to judge a region’s sustainability and carrying capacity, but it is increasingly becoming clear that quality and quantity of forest cover is a good indicator of a region’s environment.
The first sign of the severe biotic pressure facing the NCR is the fact that the forest cover is a mere 6.2% of the region’s total area — this, while the national average is 21%.
None of the sub-regions of the NCR (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan) has a forest cover comparable even with the all-India average.
Four districts of Haryana in the periphery of the Delhi NCR (Panipat, Sonipat, Rewari and Jhajjar) have less than 2% geographical area under forest cover.
Moreover, over the last decade, dense forests in all the sub-regions of region have declined. The decline in forest cover and the quality of forest cover has serious implications on the ecology of this region.
A 6% forest cover cannot be an environmental safeguard in a region urbanised to the extent of 62%.
The NCR also includes an ecologically fragile area rich in minerals: The Aravalli range, which is spread over Alwar, Gurgaon, Faridabad and Mewat.
The Delhi ridge is the last leg of the Aravalli range and the only green lung in Delhi. The Aravalli range is the oldest fold mountains in India and was once famous for its greenery and is the last natural barrier preventing the western desert from advancement and gradually eating up the Indo-Gangetic plains.
While there are several court orders restricting development activities in the Aravalli range, mining continues leaving the area ecologically stressed.
Today, you can find several abandoned mine pits where digging has taken place right up to the water level. The Aravallis give rise to several rivers including the Banas, Luni, Sakhi. Over-exploitation of mineral wealth and deforestation of the Aravallis have resulted in these rivers drying up.
We must understand the connection that exists between heavy flooding during monsoon in Delhi and Gurgaon with the deforestation and drying up of the rivers originating in the Aravallis.
Of course, a fact little realised is that the severe water crisis in the region is also the result of depletion of the forest cover and disturbance of the water cycle.
Naini Jayaseelan is financial commissioner, Delhi.
(The views expressed are personal)