Activists seek demolition of amphitheatre inside Gurugram’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park
City-based environmentalists on Tuesday wrote to the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) commissioner Yashpal Yadav seeking the demolition of an amphitheatre inside the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, as well as a stop to any cultural activities hosted there. The structure, they said, was a “gross violation” of environmental laws, particularly the Forest Act (1980) and the Aravalli Notification, 1992, which prevents any non-forestry activities in the Aravallis without approval from the ministry of environment.
Just three weeks ago, more than 600 people had gathered in the amphitheatre to protest against the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) proposed six-lane expressway – part of the Gurugram-Manesar Connectivity Project – which threatens to subsume a third of the park’s land. “Ironically, it turns out that the very site of that protest is illegal,” said Vaishali Randa Chandra, one of three authors of the letter.
The amphitheatre was built in 2010, at an estimated cost of Rs 94 lakh, by the MCG in consultation with local NGO IAmGurgaon, which played an instrumental role in restoring the biodiversity park from an erstwhile stone quarry to its current status. The amphitheatre occasionally hosts musical or cultural events, such as the annual Gurgaon Utsav, once or twice a year. “The strong floodlights, loud noises, generator sets, and so much of human activity organised in the nights is jeopardizing the sensitive ecosystem of the Biodiversity Park and its wild & avian life [sic],” the letter stated.
Latika Thukral, founder of IAmGurgaon, said that the amphitheatre had been imagined as a cultural and social space when the idea for the park was originally conceived, but clarified that “in hindsight the structure should probably not have been built.” A lack of environmental law on the part of the district administration and NGO had allowed the venue to come up, Thukral added. “However, we have subsequently protected the park from attempts at turning it into a tourist hotspot and have its best interest in mind. If demolishing the structure is the environmentally responsible thing to do, then it should be done,” she said.
An environmental analyst from Gurugram, who was present at the protest against the NHAI three weeks ago, said, “If the NHAI’s upcoming highway is illegal, then so is the amphitheatre. The biodiversity park fulfils all the criteria of a deemed forest and should be protected as such.” The individual, not wishing to be quoted, also added that any environmental clearance for the amphitheatre should have been sought at the outset. However, they also clarified that the venue is used only once or twice a year, and its influence on the surrounding environment would be negligible when compared to the NHAI’s proposed highway, which will entirely uproot the ecosystem.
Activist Vivek Kamboj, who also authored Tuesday’s letter, said that his intent wasn’t to divert attention away from campaign to boycott the NHAI project, but to strengthen it. “We are only asking that the land be protected in an inclusive manner according to the rule of law,” he explained.
Yashpal Yadav did not respond to requests for comment.