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Citizen’s Symbolic Funeral Procession for Saving the Aravallis

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Citizen’s Symbolic Funeral Procession for Saving the Aravallis

Dressed in white attire, citizens from Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad took out a symbolic funeral procession march to highlight the grave danger looming over the Aravalli forests – National Capital Region’s lifeline for clean air and water security. Sounds of “Withdraw PLPA Amendment Bill”, “Aravalli Bachao”, “Stop illegal constructions in our forests” reverberated through the air as more than 100 people consisting of school and college students and citizens from different walks of life marched from Sikanderpur metro station to MG road metro station and back. “The Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) Amendment Bill 2019 which has been signed by the Haryana Governor is the death knell for our forests. If notified, 60000 acres of PLPA protected Aravalli forests and 10000 acres of Shivalik forests near Chandigarh will be opened for real estate development. This amounts to a loss of 33% of our forests when Haryana already has the lowest forest cover in India – barely 3.62% as compared to the national average of 20%. Additionally, at great risk of destruction are another 50,000 acres of Aravalli forests that do not have protection of any forest law. This means that effectively the entire Aravalli range in South Haryana amounting to more than 1,10,000 acres will get impacted by this government move to implement the amended PLPA,” stated Dr. Sarika Verma, an ENT surgeon.

This amended bill seeks to make the Punjab Land Preservation Act totally redundant in Haryana. The retrospective provision since 1966 nullifies all notifications made under the act since the formation of the state of Haryana. The amendment bill also has blanket provisions that will make PLPA redundant in current and future urban areas including master plan areas and municipal areas. Any land notified under the amended act in the past, present and also in the future in the state can be exempted by a simple government order. “This PLPA amendment bill seeks to only benefit the real estate sector at the cost of forests, wildlife, water security, air quality and the health and well-being of millions of men, women and children living in NCR cities including our future generations and thus needs to be withdrawn by the newly elected Haryana government,” said Roma Vinayak.

Aravalli forests in South Haryana are Gurgaon, Faridabad and NCR’s green lungs, barrier against desertification and critical water recharge zone.

“People have invested their hard earned money to make the National Capital Region their home but they never imagined that they would have such a low quality of life where the average air quality index remains over 300 (very unhealthy category) throughout the year. The PLPA amendment bill is equivalent to mass genocide as it will further destroy our negligible green lungs,” said Rahul Khera.

”Having come from Gujarat, I grew up in the lap of the Aravallis. Delhi and NCR’s air pollution will become worse if the Aravallis are constructed upon as these are the only natural barriers protecting us from the sand storms coming from the Thar desert,” said Anurag, a student from Delhi University.

Aravallis are being eaten up by illegal felling of trees, encroachments and constructions. In the last 2 years, forest check posts have been reduced by half and simultaneously the cases of illegal tree felling and encroachments have increased. “We urge the forest department to start using the drones bought in 2018 and increase forest surveillance. The government also needs to implement the shelved proposal to form an Aravalli Task Force to increase the number of check posts and forest guards patrolling the area,” said Vaishali Chandra Rana, a citizen activist.

“Allowing rampant construction activity in the Aravallis which are critical for recharging our ground water will negatively impact water security in this region where ground water is depleting at the rate of 5 feet per year. Aravallis with their cracks and fissures are a critical water recharge zone having the potential to put 2 million litres of water per hectare in the ground every year,” said Shalini Venugopal.

The natural ecosystem of the Aravallis are also a critical wildlife habitat and a biodiversity hotspot with 400 species of native trees; 200 native & migratory bird species, 100 butterfly species, mammals such as leopards, hyenas, jackals, neelgais, porcupines, mongoose, civet cats as well as many reptiles. “Instead of protecting the Aravallis and declaring it a bio reserve and wildlife sanctuary, the Haryana government is hell bent on destroying this precious wild life corridor through this disastrous PLPA amendment bill”, stated Veer, a 10th grade student.

To show solidarity with the Aravallis, the citizens held hands and took a sacred oath to be the voice of the forests and the birds, butterflies, mammals, reptiles and insects that live there. “Awareness about saving the Aravallis is on the rise and the citizens movement is growing strong not just in NCR but all over India with people in different cities joining the cause on Twitter (#AravalliBachao) and other social media. It remains to be seen if the Haryana government will pay heed and withdraw the regressive Punjab Land Preservation Act Amendment Bill to protect our Aravalli forests,” said Neelam Ahluwalia.

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