Saving Aravallis: Delhi’s green lung facing desertification, Ridge cover down 40%
In the first of a six-part series, Hindustan Times explores why modern cities such as Delhi and Gurgaon should care for the Aravallis. Here’s why the survival of this green mountain range is crucial for these cities to prosper
Standing tall like a guardian since times immemorial, the Aravallis have always been revered by people for the role they play in shaping the terrain of northwest India. It is because of this oldest mountain range that modern cities such as Delhi and Gurgaon have been able to survive and hope to prosper.
This ancient landform has witnessed the rise and fall of many civilizations, cultures and cities over ages, including the Ahar-Banas culture, which was contemporary to the Indus Valley civilization. It has stood the test of times showing the highest degree of resilience to any kind of onslaught — be it anthropogenic or natural. But today the Aravallis are threatened and losing their characteristics.
Hindustan Times makes an attempt to take a fresh look at the role the Aravallis and the Ridge have played in shaping the lives of people living in Delhi-NCR. In a series of articles over the next few days, we intend to build appreciation for the fragile ecology of the region, and explore why the Aravallis and the Ridge are important for all of us and can’t be ignored any longer.
While the ridge, the northern most spur of the Aravallis, is touted to be the green lungs of Delhi – sequestering tonnes of carbon dioxide and releasing life-supporting oxygen — its role in making Delhi a more hospitable terrain doesn’t end here.
“The ridge, with its thick mesh of greenery, is a primary feature of Delhi. It not just acts like a lung but even helps to control the temperature, buffering it from extremes, traps huge amounts of dust and pollution, helps in recharging the ground water and provides a refuge to a few hundred species of plants and animals among others,” said CR Babu, who heads the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems in Delhi.
Extending for about 692km from Palanpur in Gujarat to Delhi through Rajasthan and Haryana, the Aravallis too have played a vital role in shaping the terrain in northwest India.
“It has successfully arrested the eastward march of the Indian desert, acts as a water divide between the Indus and the Ganga basins, is a rich source of minerals, a wildlife habitat and even regulates the monsoon currents to some extent among others,” said NS Rathore, former head of geography department at ML Sukhadia University in Udaipur, Rajasthan.
But it seems that the threshold of onslaught is being gradually breached so much so that these systems are not being able to perform their ecological functions to the fullest.
Apart from unauthorized construction, deforestation and other anthropogenic activities, changes in the climatic pattern have started taking a heavy toll on these ranges that came into being even before the Himalayas.
“Today, more than 40 per cent of the ridge has been destroyed and there are no signs of the damage abating. The government is yet to demarcate the boundaries of the Ridge and stop the encroachment,” said Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link and a former member of the Ridge Management Board.
In the absence of the adequate forest stock on the Aravalli hills, the gaps that exist in-between the ranges have turned active and are helping the drifting of desert sand towards fertile plains. The worst impact is observed in its conversion into rocky structures and consequently into ‘Rocky Desert’.
While courts have often intervened to protect these heritage landforms, the various legal notices and actions have often failed to evoke sustained actions. The list of the things to-do to protect the ridge and the Aravallis is long. But Delhi at least has the chance to turn things around. It has already made a start.
Experts hope that if the Ridge is properly managed, Delhiites will have one of the most unique and amazing urban forests rich with floral and faunal species right in the heart of the city.