Earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on India's commitment to combat land desertification by protecting forest cover and combating water scarcity. Speaking at the UN Climate action meet held at Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi pledged that 26 million hectares of land will be brought under forest cover by 2030.
But in Gurgaon, about 50 kms away from the venue of the UN Climate Action Meet, PM Modi's party, the BJP, which is in power in Haryana has sanctioned 60,000 acres of forest land for development work. The move has witnessed wide-scale protests from all over Gurgaon, where students, parents, civil society and environmentalists have formed protest groups to oppose the move.
"We staged protests, engaged in awareness even met with the Environment Minister. He heard us but did nothing and the amendment was passed", said Kriti Kakkar, a student based in Gurgaon.
In February this year, the BJP government in Haryana amended the Punjab Land Preservation Act or PLPA and opened up 33% of the forest area in the Aravallis for real estate development.
"Haryana has come up with a legislature that will be applied retrospectively to 1996 as a result the SC judgements that retain these areas as a forest becomes ineffective... then Haryana can say this is prime land on the Delhi border, let's do real estate. In fact 350 acres where we are standing has already been auctioned off and tendered to a very well known real estate developer in Gurgaon," said Chetan Agarwal, who works as an environmental analyst.
At 3,39 per cent, Haryana has the lowest forest cover in the country, which is way below the national average of 21.54 per cent. Only Chandigarh, and Gurgaon and Faridabad have the prominent green cover left in the state.
"These really are our only lungs. They are the only area where water seeps down to our water table. This range is what protects us from the deserts of Rajasthan. If we open this up for construction then we are in deep trouble," said Puneeta Chadha Khanna, a Gurgaon resident.
Aravalli is a biodiversity hotspot with over 400 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs uniquely adapted to the dry conditions. Over 200 species of birds and wildlife have made it their home.
"First we fought the mining mafias, then saw the forest recover. Now if you get that building right here then all these rare, unique species which cannot be germinated artificially will go extinct. We will only be left with concrete," said Sunil Harsana, a field ecologist.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court slammed the Haryana government for changing the law to allow construction activity in Aravalli hills in the face of court orders asking it to protect the last of Delhi's green cover, and ordered the state to hold off on implementing the law for now. But despite the court order the citizens are determined to carry on the agitation till a complete roll back is enforced.
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