In defence of the Aravallis

Source: The post is based on an article “In defence of the Aravalli’s” published in the Live Mint on 15th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS3 – Ecology and Environment

Relevance: Draft National Capital Region Plan 2041

News: In recent days, the government has released the draft NCR Regional Plan 2041. It contains a recent proposal from the NCR Planning Board which includes an attempt to open up the Aravallis for construction.

About the Aravalli ranges

They start from Delhi and traverse through Haryana and Rajasthan before ending in Gujarat, spanning 690 km in length.

They are among the oldest fold mountain systems in the world.

How are the Aravalli ranges crucial for the survival of the National Capital Region (NCR)?

First, they serve as a groundwater recharge zone for a perpetually water-starved NCR region.

Second, they are the last remaining green lungs of Delhi NCR.

Third, they also serve as a barrier against the desertification of the Indo-Gangetic plains.

Legal Regime for preservation of any forest in the NCR

The NCR Regional Plan 2021 has placed the “Aravallis” and “forest areas” in the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ). This includes all Aravalli’s Forest areas, water bodies and groundwater recharge areas, and rivers as well as flood plains.

It limits construction to only 0.5% of the total area. In short, the Regional Plan 2021 banned construction for commercial, residential, tourism and real estate purposes in the NCZ.

What are worrisome attempts that aim to eliminate barriers that prevent the destruction of the Aravallis?

There are attempts to circumvent existing environmental protections through the removal of the entire concept of a Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) in the draft plan.

The draft Plan 2041 proposes to replace NCZ with a very loosely defined new term, “Natural Zone”. It has removed the terms ‘Aravalli’ and ‘forest areas’ from the NCZ.

It means the new category will provide protection only to those areas which are “notified for preservation” and also “recognized in the revenue records” of states over time.

However, most of the Aravalli hill area in Haryana is not notified and neither is the term ‘Aravalli’ mentioned in revenue records. Instead, it is recorded as “gair mumkin pahaar” (uncultivable wasteland), and “bhood” (sandy foothills). The forest cover of the Aravallis is neither notified nor mentioned as “forest” in revenue records.

Further, the 0.5% limit on construction in the NCZ has been dropped in the proposed classification.

The plan can drastically reduce the forest cover and open the floodgates to indiscriminate real estate development in the Aravallis.

Way Forward

India is going through rapid urbanization. Almost half the people of India would be living in its cities by 2025.

– Therefore, there is a need to ensure that India’s urbanization occurs within the carrying capacity and ecological limits of the region. The cities should be able to ensure enough water and green spaces to the growing populations.

The Aravallis are a common groundwater recharge zone for Delhi and Haryana, and all stakeholders must do their bit to protect them.

In this era of climate change, water security and clean air need priority over real estate projects.

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