Aravalli Bachao – A War Cry of 300 Citizens to Save the Forest
Citizens marched against the proposed amendments to the PLPA and the implications thereof.
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Amidst the backdrop of the beautiful Aravalli forests on both sides of the Gurugram- Faridabad road, around 300 citizens from all age groups came together on Sunday, 24 February to protect our Aravallis. People shouted slogans, marched for about 2 kms and formed a human chain for the cause.
Aravalli Bachao was a protest 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. This move would open up 33% of the forest land in Haryana for urbanisation and real estate development. At complete risk of destruction are 16,000 plus acres of Aravalli forests in Gurugram 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 ground water will negatively impact the water security in this region where the extraction is 300% more than the recharge.
“The forests of the Aravallis are our shield against desertification and a biodiversity hotspot with over 400 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs uniquely adapted to the dry conditions, and over 200 bird species and wildlife. This move signals a clear intent to deny the tag of ‘forest’ to the Aravallis to allow entry of real estate.”Vijay Dhasmana, Ecologist
The Health Costs of PLPA Amendment
Many people 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, spoke about how she got severely affected by the bad air quality 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?”Navya, Student
Sunil Harsana from Mangar village, challenged the government’s definition of ‘development’ which leaves Gurugram, 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?”Sunil Harsana, Resident of Mangar village
Students Take Lead
Pranit, a student, spoke about the student delegation which went along with 50 citizens from Delhi and Gurugram to appeal to the Haryana Government Forest Minister, Rao Narbir Singh to stop this amendment to the Punjab Land Preservation Act (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,” he said.
The students were also 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 stated, “The amendments proposed are so far reaching that they will effectively repeal the act making it totally redundant in Haryana.”
“The act is from 118 years ago and has served us well. What is the hurry to amend it in such a rush, without examination and review.”Lt Col (Retd) Sarvadaman Singh Oberoi, Gurugram resident
Vinita Singh, a constitutional expert, stressed that protection of forests and wildlife are firmly entrenched in the Constitution as a commitment of the state to its citizens. 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 social media to spread awareness on this critical issue threatening the survival of Haryana’s few remaining forests.
(Please refer to the website https://healingourcities.org/aravalibachao/ for more information on the Aravalli Bachao citizen campaign.)
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