Protesters up in arms against NHAI decision to build six-lane highway cutting through eastern part of park.
Gurugram: Over 1,200 residents of Gurugram and Delhi made their way to the Aravali Biodiversity Park early Sunday morning to protest against the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority’s (GMDA) decision to construct a six-lane, 2-km expressway cutting through the eastern half of the forest cover.
The proposed two-part highway, plans for which were first floated by the NHAI in 2016, is set to link the Mehrauli-Gurugram Road to NH-8 and the Nelson Mandela Marg in Vasant Kunj to the Gurugram-Faridabad road, effectively using the biodiversity park as a short-cut to decongest traffic.
A team of NHAI officials visited the park in July to map the site for size, alignment and other technical details. Most recently, ecologist Vijay Dhasmana, responsible for selecting the indigenous shrub and plant species in the park, also discovered detailed tenders of the project on the NHAI website.
The subsequent outcry by residents of Gurugram has been significant, and a large group of activists, concerned citizens and NGOs have mobilised to draft a petition and a citizen’s charter and take it directly to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Highway may move to the periphery of the park
According to a report by the Times of India, officials responded to the initial public outrage by proposing that the expressway be built along the periphery of the park instead of through it.
The concession, if made, however, still doesn’t maintain the integrity of a natural environment such as this forest, Dhasmana told ThePrint. “This 400 acres of forest that people have come to create have become the lungs of this city — our very own heritage site that brought the Aravali forest into Gurugram,” Dhasmana said. “Today’s protest is very clear – no citizen wants this road in the park, even skirting it.”
“The park provides us with clean air to breath, which falls under Article 21 of the Constitution – the right to life. So something like this would fall under Article 14, which is arbitrary and discriminatory action by the State,” Indira Unninayar, a Supreme Court lawyer and resident of Gurugram, told ThePrint.
“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, she said, adding, “It doesn’t make any sense because it was MCG officials who helped us rehabilitate this area, encouraging us to plant trees. And now the government is making plans to destroy it.”
More than just a park
Before the Supreme Court banned mining in the Aravali hills region in 2009, the park area was originally a desolate stone quarry. The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, in collaboration with the NGO Iamgurgaon, facilitated the planting of 1 lakh plants with the help of at least 15,000 students, 20,000 private individuals and over 70 corporates.
Eight years of hard work resulted in the Biodiversity Park Gurugram knows today – home to 180 bird species, 400 native Aravali plant species, and an ecosystem that recharges over 320 million (32 crores) litres of water annually.
A rare sighting of a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin was also reported from it two months ago – “From the very eastern area that NHAI wants to build the road through,” Sourajit Ghosal, a wildlife expert and professional bird watcher said at Sunday’s protest.
For co-founder of ‘Iamgurgaon’ Latika Thukral, the park is more than just effort at planting trees, it has resulted in the creation of a self-sustaining and vital habitat for birds, plants, animals, butterflies and even human beings.
“22 acres of land being allotted for a road will disturb the entire ecosystem,” she told ThePrint, adding that “Nobody from NHAI or GMDA even spoke to us or brought it to our notice. There wasn’t even one conversation, it’s like they just said ‘Hey we’re going tomorrow morning and cutting the road through here.”
“There was no sensitivity towards what the significance of this place is. How can we allow this to happen?” she said.
Not all hope is lost, however, as Dhasmana and Thukral believe that CM Khattar will intervene in their favour.
“We are very hopeful that the chief minister will step in, as he did with the Mangar Bani case when he announced that it was a protected forest area,” Dhasmana said. “When we met him, he was very committed that wherever there this greenery, he will try and protect it completely.”