New theme for Delhi parks: biodiversity
Till mid-2000, the landscape where the Aravalli Biodiversity Park stands now was a mining area infested with an invasive exotic plant called Prosopis juliflora or vilayati kikar.Updated: Aug 27, 2019 19:11 IST
Dogged by problems of air pollution, sinking aquifers and rising heat waves, Delhi desperately needs a course correction. The city’s biodiversity parks – two fully functional and five in the works – are reclaiming natural spaces in the environmental ruins of Delhi.
The Neela Hauz, for example, was the source of water for large parts of south Delhi before it was reduced to a dumping ground. Reviewing the restored Neela Hauz that now hosts a range of flora and fauna, Delhi’s lieutenant governor Anil Baijal on August 24 asked the Delhi Development Authority to replicate the restoration model in the city’s other wetlands.
The L-G also told the DDA, which runs the biodiversity parks project with Delhi University’s Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystem, to document the restoration process so it could be used as a template.
Watch:Metro Matters | A walk through the forests of Delhi
Not just Neela Hauz, a string of success stories has made the journey to bring back Delhi’s lost ecosystems inspirational. In 2002, when work began to create the Yamuna Biodiversity Park on 457 acres of degraded land, the area earlier earmarked for developing a dairy recorded only 141 species of plants, birds, butterflies and reptiles. Today, this number has swelled to 1,328 species.
Till mid-2000, the landscape where the Aravalli Biodiversity Park stands now was a mining area infested with an invasive exotic plant called Prosopis juliflora or vilayati kikar. Today is hosts 1,304 species of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and moths. It also boasts of the highest density of snakes in Delhi.
The development of these parks has been a welcome break from the earlier efforts to turn any open space into a manicured garden. In a paper published in Seminar in 2013, Ravi Aggarwal, who has been involved in the campaign to save the Ridge, pointed out the “fundamental differences on how the idea of green was understood”.
Citing the examples of Buddha Jayanti and Mahavir Jayanti parks carved out of the central Ridge forests, Aggarwal wrote how the DDA then saw it as “a regional park that needed jogging tracks, benches, grass clear of snakes”, noting the authority’s argument that “protecting the ridge like a wild forest would harbour anti-social elements”.
The over-lit manicured gardens are hostile to birds. They do not allow the undergrowth habitat needed for insects, frogs, ground-nesting birds and other small species. Most of Delhi’s water bodies have become real estate and even the polluted Yamuna wetlands struggle to support life. In fact, Delhi’s mosquito explosion and frequent outbreaks of dengue and malaria could be in some measure linked to the disappearance of dragonflies, damselflies and frogs due to the loss of functional wetland ecosystem, said Fayaz Khudsar, the scientist-in-charge of Yamuna Biodiversity Park.
In contrast, he said, biodiversity parks are natural habitats where all life forms can thrive and interact and, in turn, benefit humans too.
Delhi University’s professor emeritus C R Babu, who is overseeing the biodiversity park projects, said these parks work as a green belt to offset air pollution and rising temperatures. They also reduce water logging and replenish aquifers by acting as sponge to absorb stormwater runoffs.
A walk in the wilderness also reduces blood pressure, lowers stress, boosts energy and the immunity system, concluded Dr Qing Li in his study on Shinrin-Yoku, a Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing’.
Delhi is already sold on the idea of biodiversity parks. Residents of Dwarka in Southwest Delhi want one instead of a theme park proposed by the DDA. The 200 acres here can be utilised to create a natural area that can help mitigate pollution and facilitate water recharge, said Diwan Singh, an environment activist leading the campaign.
Similarly, the Yamuna riverfront can be restored as a biodiversity habitat, which experts say will benefit the river’s ecological flow and the local communities. The 7,777 hectares of the reserve forest in the Ridge needs to be freed of vilayati kikar, a water guzzler of little ecological value, to accommodate more native plants.
Delhi is moving in the right direction by replicating the successful template of biodiversity parks across the city. This will also be our resilient, natural defence against the vagaries of climate change.
First Published: Aug 26, 2019 01:31 IST