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Endangering Aravallis can spell doom for us all

The Haryana government’s proposed bill to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act will potentially destroy almost half of the total area of the Aravallis, the only fragile barrier that stands between us and desertification.

gurgaon Updated: Feb 26, 2019 12:27 IST
Prerna Singh Bindra
Prerna Singh Bindra
aravalis,aravallis,haryana govt
The Aravalli range, one of the oldest fold mountains on Earth, has been in existence for about three billion years. (HT File )

As mentioned in my last piece, I had planned to focus on leopards in this and the next few columns. But in this column, I simply must draw your attention on the existential crisis to the Aravallis posed by the Haryana government’s recent decision to move a bill in the assembly to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA). The bill, as per news reports, has been approved by the cabinet and is likely to be tabled in the ongoing budget session of the assembly. The proposed bill essentially allows construction and other activities in areas where it was previously disallowed due to the enforcement of the PLPA, and can potentially destroy over 60,000 acres of forest — almost 50% of the entire Aravalli range in South Haryana. At complete risk of destruction are over 16,000 and 10,000 acres of forests in Gurgaon and Faridabad district respectively.

I am going to tell you why this should matter to you.

The Aravalli range, one of the oldest fold mountains on Earth, has been in existence for about three billion years. The mountains stretch along the northwestern frontiers of India, shaping the climate, hydrology and biodiversity of the region. It curbs wind velocity, checks evaporation, recharges ground aquifers, which are depleting rapidly. Extraction of ground water in this region is 300% more than its recharge.

Aravallis’ dry, deciduous forests, rich green valleys, rivers, streams are abundant with a unique mix of flora and fauna and mineral-rich soil. As per a 2017 survey by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the Aravallis in Haryana support leopards, hyena, fox, jackals, blackbucks, sambar, chinkara, porcupines. It has over 400 species of native trees and shrubs and over 200 species of birds.

In many ways, the Aravalli range is our savior, quietly and steadily making our lives bearable and livable. For billions of years, it has stood strong, as an impenetrable green barrier against the advance of the Thar desert towards the fertile soils of Haryana and Delhi.

Today, these venerable mountains are abused and degraded. The same WII survey showed that vegetative gaps have appeared in the ranges of the Aravalli. Encroachment, mining, real estate development, privatisation of common lands, and a lackadaisical approach to resource management have destroyed the Aravallis, shrinking it by 40% in the last four decades.

We have degraded, denuded, destroyed the Aravallis to such an extent that it is no longer a shield to the Thar desert that is sweeping into the northern plains. The desert is advancing toward us. We saw it in the increased frequency of dust storms in the last few years. Remember June 2018, when Gurugram was choking under a thick blanket of dust for days, spiking pollution to catastrophic levels?

That is what the destruction of the Aravallis will mean to us. In a city where pollution levels are so high that a third of its children’s lungs are impaired and one person dies every two minutes because of respiratory illnesses, the importance of this mountain range cannot be stressed enough. Further, the destruction of Aravallis will potentially lead to more intense and frequent dust storms, hotter summers, peak levels of pollution, and even greater water shortages.

The Aravallis is the last—even though battered — barrier between us, and an uninhabitable, unlivable city and a dystopian future. They are the city’s lungs, stricken, and ailing now due to the ravages we have wrought.

All our efforts should be concentrated on rewilding the Aravalis, restoring its forests, nurturing it back to health. Instead, the government is poised to amend the PLPA Act that will strip the Aravallis of the only protective cover it has. It merits repeating that Haryana has among the lowest forest covers in the country at about 3%. It also merits repeating that the apathy of the citizens is allowing the government to hand over common lands, our collective natural heritage into a few private hands. It is doing so at the cost of our health. With the Aravallis endangered, it is us who face an existential crisis.

@prernabindra

(Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife. She is the author of The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis.)

First Published: Feb 26, 2019 12:27 IST