Fight hard to save legacy green areas
The Draft Regional Plan 2041, approved by the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), has not mentioned the Aravalli range and tributaries of the Yamuna and Ganga in “natural zones”, this newspaper reported on Tuesday. Instead, the plan states that a “natural zone” is an area with features such as mountains, hills, rivers and water bodies, and that state governments will have to identify the areas they want to conserve. This failure to name the green assets, experts have warned, will allow states to be selective about the sites they want to preserve. Under the NCR Regional Plan 2021, which has been in force since 2005, nearly the entire Aravalli range in Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan is protected, with no construction allowed in the area.
Green experts and concerned citizens have every reason to worry because state governments, especially Haryana and Rajasthan, have not shown much alacrity in the past in protecting their green areas. For example, Haryana has claimed since 2016 that no Aravallis exist in the state, but this contention was not accepted by NCRPB earlier. A 2018 report by Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee found that 25% of the Aravalli range has been lost due to illegal mining in Rajasthan since 1967-68, and over 10,300 hectares has been affected outside the lease boundary in the 15 districts where 80% of the Aravallis are located. The importance of the Aravallis to Delhi is immense because it acts as a cover against the dust-laden hot winds from Rajasthan and Baluchistan. In simple words, had it not been for the Aravallis, Delhi would have been transformed into a desert over time.
The destruction of such legacy green areas due to developmental pressures and urbanisation, is a recurring story all across India. Be it the destruction of the green cover of the Himalayas, the mangroves of the Sundarbans and Mumbai, the wetlands of Chennai and Bengaluru, the assault on our green resources has been relentless. India needs to find the right balance between its development and environmental needs. Otherwise, the nation will pay a heavy price in a climate-hit era.