Despite repeated tragedies that clearly illustrate the hazards of haphazard urban development at the cost of the environment the Chennai floods being the most recent example the authorities never seem to learn. The Gurgaon administration has asked the state government to leave the Aravalli foothills and grasslands in the district out of the natural conservation zones, drawing a sharp reaction from the forest department and environmentalists who fear irreparable damage to the ecology.
In a letter to the Haryana chief secretary, the administration has said classifying foothills and grasslands as NCZs is like “indulging in ecological intellectual fantasy” that is not in tune with urbanisation. It has also said that including them in the Aravali ecosystem would lead to confusion in the interpretation of NCZs.
An official said the administration wants to define foothills as an area of 1 km from the base of the hills, though a final decision is likely to be taken at a meeting in Chandigarh on December 17.
Haryana is in the process of redrawing the contours of NCZs whose area was defined in 2005.
Earlier this year, the state undertook a survey called ‘ground truthing’ to mark these ecologically sensitive areas afresh. There are severe restrictions on building activity in NCZs. Current rules allow construction in only 0.5% area of NCZs.
The fresh flashpoint between the government and environmentalists comes days after media reported that Haryana had decided to recognise all construction permissions granted in NCZs before August 12, 2014, when terms of reference for the ground-truthing were notified. Furious that the decision will further endanger the Aravali’s fra0gile ecosystem, green activists have said they will move the NGT against the decision.
But the administration’s stance on grasslands and foothills has met with resistance from within the government.
Conservator of forest (south circle) M D Sinha has written to the principal secretary, highlighting their importance as the last vestige of the once rich bio-diversity of the region and the need to save them for healthy survival of future generations.
In his letter, written in response to the administration’s letter dated November 18, Sinha said the word ‘foothills’ itself explains an area is part of the hills. “So there is no confusion in this regard,” he said. Sinha explained that Aravali grasslands are home to 24 species of perennial grasses, 89 species of annual grasses and 129 species of dicots, including 56 legumes, which are important for the survival of bird species, including Haryana’s state bird, the Black Francolin. The grasslands are also the natural habitat of the state animal, the blackbuck.
Green activists have also condemned the move, saying the ground truthing exercise will be rendered ineffective if large tracts of Aravalis are wilfully kept outside its boundaries.
Jitendra Bhadana of NGO Save Aravali said the entire range, including foothills and grasslands, has been responsible for recharging groundwater in NCR for ages and any damage to it could wreak havoc on the entire region.
“Destroying this will mean cutting the water supply of the NCR. The hills are low capacity, slow release aquifers and it is the grassland areas that are porous and form the main groundwater recharge zone,” he said.
Another environmentalist, Vivek Kamboj of NGO Haryali, questioned the need to urbanise every last inch.
He said the Aravali hills and foothills occupy less than 10% of the geographical area of south Haryana, though their importance cannot be measured. “Clean air and water, provided by the Aravalis, is much more important for survival than concrete structures. Do we really need to urbanise even this small patch of greenery, which acts as lungs for NCR?” he asked.
Haryana’s public works department and forest minister, Rao Narbir Singh, said he did not have any knowledge of the proposal. “If this issue has been raised, then it is a serious matter and we will look into it,” said Singh.