2 years on, fund crunch hits Aravalli protection task force
Activists have criticised the forest department for cutting back on this important security measure, and failing to form the Aravalli protection task force, which it had proposed more than two years ago.Updated: Apr 12, 2019 09:02 IST
The state forest department currently has only six sanctioned security outposts (check nakas) in the Aravalli region of Gurugram, as opposed to 11 that were reportedly active in January last year. It was revealed by the district forest officer (DFO) on March 18, in response to an RTI application filed by a city-based environmentalist.
A Hindustan Times team visited two of these six check nakas, in Gairatpur Bas and Raisina, on Thursday. A security post was present at the former location but was unmanned, while no such post could be found at Raisina (exact co-ordinates are 28°18’28.89”N, 77°00’29.54”E).
Activists have criticised the forest department for cutting back on this important security measure, and failing to form the Aravalli protection task force, which it had proposed more than two years ago.
According to the proposal, dated September 8, 2016, the department planned to establish a total of 52 security outposts for the protection of nearly 1 lakh hectares of Aravalli land in South Haryana, at a budget of ₹238 lakh. The proposal included reviving eight outposts in Faridabad, 15 in Nuh, 10 in Mahendragarh and eight in Rewari districts.
“These areas are the last vestiges of natural biodiversity extant in the region and a valuable gene-pool resource for the future that needs to be protected at all costs,” said the proposal.
It also said, “The entire area is characterised by intense biotic pressures and increasing urbanisation. There is illegal mining, cutting of trees, construction of boundary walls and farmhouses which, if unchecked, will cause destruction of this rich bio-diversity and have a highly negative impact on the hydrology of the area.”
The proposal also takes into account the presence of wildlife, particularly leopards and hyenas, in these districts, and recommended that an “Aravalli protection force” be formed for their protection. It recommended that a typical naka should have at least four persons assigned to it for round-the-clock vigilance. Informal discussions had also taken place to seek the help of home guards for this purpose.
In January last year, state forest minister Rao Narbir Singh had said that the task force would come into action “within 10 days”. In Gurugram and Faridabad, however, the number of security posts has reduced drastically since then, according to conservationist Sunil Harsana, who lives in Faridabad’s Mangar village and is well acquainted with the area.
“At least seven check posts which were active in Mangar, Bandhwari, Damdama and surrounding areas till June 2017 were suddenly shut down after an administrative reshuffling, and we immediately saw an increase in the cases of tree cutting as a result. I spoke to the DFOs in both districts at the time, who said they were cutting back due to budget constraints,” Harsana said.
The chief conservator of forests, D Hembram, and district forest officer (Gurugram) Deepak Nanda did not respond to multiple calls and messages seeking clarity on the issue. It is unclear how many such outposts exist in the neighbouring districts of Faridabad, Mahendragarh and Nuh.
Suresh Punia, DFO Faridabad, declined to provide any data over the phone. Sunder Lal, DFO Rewari, said, “At the moment we do not have any security outposts, but there are 14 beats to which we have assigned forest guards, in addition to a patrolling team consisting of a special duty officer.” The DFOs of Mahendragarh and Nuh could not be reached for comment.
An official from the forest department, requesting anonymity, said, “Due to shortage of funds and staff, we had to shut down five check posts in Gurugram in April last year. We have requested the headquarters in Panchkula to sanction funds and permission to revive them but have not yet received a response.”
Vaishali Rana Chandra, a city-based activist who filed the RTI petition, said, “By all indications, the Aravalli task force does not seem to have been formed in the slightest. There has been some lapse, either monetary or in the department’s intent to protect the Aravallis.”
Chandra also pointed out that all six check nakas in Gurugram currently have only one assigned forest guard each (as opposed to the proposed four), which would make it impossible to maintain round-the-clock vigilance.
Calls for a dedicated Aravalli protection unit reached a crescendo in early 2018, after a peacock was found ensnared in a metal trap near Raisina village on December 7, 2017.
Claiming a sharp upward spiral in poaching in the Aravalli region, a team of activists met Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan on December 29 and urged him to take action.
On January 4, 2018, the ministry of environment sought a status report on the formation of the task force via a letter to the additional principal chief conservator of forest (central) and the principal chief conservator of forest, Haryana.