Amidst the backdrop of the beautiful Aravalli forests on both sides of the Gurgaon- Faridabad road, last Sunday morning, 24 February 2019, the energy of the 300 plus young and old citizens who had congregated from different parts of the National Capital Region was highly infectious. People shouted slogans, marched for about 2 kms and formed a human chain. Slogans such as ‘Clean air and water is our fundamental right’, ‘Builder – Neta nexus – hai hai’, ‘Stop the PLPA amendment’, ‘No Aravalli, No Vote’, reverberated in the air.
The protest was against the proposal of the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s Cabinet to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) during the ongoing state assembly session in Chandigarh which will open up 33% of the forest land in the state for urbanisation and real estate development. At complete risk of destruction are 16,000 plus acres of Aravalli forests in Gurgaon district and 10,000 plus acres in Faridabad. The citizens could not understand why the government was hell bent on destroying the few remaining forests when Haryana already has a dubious distinction of being the state with the lowest forest cover in India, a mere 3.59%. Allowing rampant construction activity in the Aravallis which are critical for recharging our ground water will negatively impact water security in this region where the extraction is 300% more than the recharge.
Vijay Dhasmana, an ecologist working to create native forests in urban areas addressed the protestors and said, “The forests of the Aravallis are our shield against desertification and a biodiversity hotspot with 400 plus species of native trees, shrubs and herbs uniquely adapted to the dry conditions, 200 plus bird species and wildlife such as leopards, hyenas, jackals, neelgais, mongoose, civet cats as well as reptiles and insects. This government move signals a clear intent to deny the tag of ‘forest’ to the Aravallis to allow entry of real estate.”
Many children and adult residents of the NCR face severe respiratory problems and other health issues due to the extremely poor air quality. Opening up the Aravalli forests, which act as the green lungs of this region for real estate development will further worsen the air pollution problem and put citizen’s health and quality of life at stake. Navya, a 16-year-old girl spoke about how she got severely affected by air pollution when she moved to Gurgaon. “The allergy level in my lungs shot up to 2000 when the maximum limit is 170. I had to take heavy medications. Is this how the government wants us to live – wearing masks, eating medicines and restricting our outdoor activities due to high levels of air pollution.”
Sunil Harsana from Mangar village, challenged the government’s definition of ‘development’ which leaves Gurgaon, Faridabad and the NCR region starving for water and fresh air. “Why do we have to exploit our natural resources to create wealth – why can’t we ensure forests and development go hand in hand?”
Pranit, a student from the Heritage Xperiential Learning School, Gurgaon, spoke about the student delegation which went along with 50 adult citizens from Delhi and Gurgaon to appeal to the Haryana Government Forest Minister, Rao Narbir Singh to stop this amendment to PLPA on Sunday, 17 February 2019. “During our meeting with the Minister, we talked about how we as citizens have the right to life as per the Indian Constitution, and without the Aravallis we would be denied both air and water which are fundamental for life. The Minister agreed to discuss the concerns of the citizens with the Chief Minister.”
Mansha, Kriti and Aakriti – the other members of the student delegation who had gone to meet the Forest Minister talked about how they have taken to social media – posting on Twitter and Instagram that the PLPA should not be amended and have been circulating the petition for the same on change.org encouraging family and friends to participate in the Aravali Bachao campaign. The young students were even ready to take leave from school and travel to Chandigarh to meet the Chief Minister if they could get an appointment with him. They strongly feel that their future is at stake and as ‘young voters to be’, they want to request the CM to save the Aravallis.
Chetan Agarwal, a forest analyst painted a chilling picture of the provisions of the proposed amendments to the PLPA and the implications thereof. He said, “The amendments proposed are so far reaching that they will effectively repeal the act making it totally redundant in Haryana.” “The act is 118 years ago and has served us well. What is the hurry to amend it in such a rush, without examination and review”, said Lt Col (Rtd) Sarvadaman Singh Oberoi, a Gurgaon resident working on Aravalli protection for the past many years.
Vinita Singh, a constitutional expert stressed that protection of forests and wildlife are firmly entrenched in the constitution of India as a commitment of the state to its citizens and that everyone present at the protest are rightly protesting the government’s attempt to subvert the same. The government should not be tabling a crucial bill that has not been shared with the public or the forest department for their views. She requested people to use twitter and other social media to spread awareness on this critical issue threatening the survival of Haryana’s few remaining forests.
Please refer to our website page https://healingourcities.org/aravalibachao/ for more information on the Aravali Bachao citizen’s campaign – Online Petition, Implications of Amending the PLPA, Citizen’s Asks from the Haryana Government, Films in English and Hindi, Campaign Activities etc.
Use the following hashtags to be a part of the Aravalli Bachao twitter campaign.
You can also join our Aravalli Bachao facebook group
Post by Neelam Ahluwalia
On behalf of the citizen’s group ‘Friends of Aravallis’