I was having my school examinations recently and one subject that usually keeps me fascinated is – history.
In school syllabuses across India, a large chunk of chapters on Indian history is often dedicated to the Delhi region. Another subject that is equally interesting is Geography and here is where history and geography join hands.
In these subjects, we have often read about the advancing deserts of the Thar on one side and the constant invasions of Delhi by multiple raiders from the west. So how did a place that was in a constant conquest mode from nature and invaders survive environmentally?
It was something that struck me and made me research the Aravallis.
For beginners, the name ARAVALLI is derived from two Sanskrit words – “ARA” and “VALI” which mean a “line of peaks”.
This range of mountains, perhaps one of the oldest range of fold mountains in India dating back to prehistoric times when millions of years ago the pre-Indian subcontinent collided with the Eurasian Plate and has witnessed early stone-age mid-stone age, and post stone age civilizations.
The Delhi NCR area has had human habitation thanks to this range which has been the green cover that is often touted as the “green lungs” of Delhi releasing life-supporting oxygen for its habitants.
The ridge area enveloping the Aravalli foothills covered by its thick layer of greenery not only helps in releasing oxygen but has also been insulation to maintain the temperature and weather, recharging groundwater, a habitation for a varied species of plants, animals, and birds thereby making this entire region habitable over time.
The Aravalli range has been a natural guardian of this region and its green habitat has stood guard and protected this region for centuries preventing the expanding Thar Desert to the Delhi-NCR region.
However, it is sad that such an important geographic feature that is vital to the existence of this region has almost lost 40% of its total area over the last four decades.
This serious erosion of vital ecology has put the entire habitat and civilization at risk in this region. The Supreme Court of India had to intervene when news came that there was a loss of about 31 hills in this region and had to order the Rajasthan state government to stop illegal mining.
In the case of M C Mehta Vs Union of India (2018), the Supreme Court took serious note of the damage and ordered the demolition of constructions along the forested tracts.
In 2004, the Supreme Court order banned mining in many parts of this range but illegal mining continued and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report highlighted that 98.87 lakh metric tonnes of minerals were excavated illegally between 2011 and 2017.
As per a study of southern Haryana by the Wildlife Institute of India, in 2016 the northern extension of Aravalli Range in areas such as Gurugram and surrounding areas represent the most ‘degraded’ forest range in India leading to the disappearance of much indigenous flora, fauna, and aquifers.
With a fast increasing population in this region, these forests and ranges have served as an important recharge for groundwater.
Adding to this problem is severe damage to groundwater in the Gurgaon-Faridabad road stretch where poisoning of water is occurring due to the Bandhwari sewage treatment plant leaks.
The Aravallis provide the only major forest cover in Haryana which has a total forest cover of just 3.6%, the second-lowest among Indian states. Finally, many volunteer groups have been created to save this last natural hope for this region.
There are many volunteer groups working to save and replenish the Aravallis and get back its lost glory, greenery, and home to natural habitats. This is being attempted in multiple ways through the watch and contribute model.
This is critical and important is to ensure the violators of nature do not come back and illegally violate this region through mining, construction, and Illegal crushers. There are many efforts being taken by groups to restore water bodies, groundwater recharge systems, creating awareness about the environment, reducing waste, and extensive tree plantation exercises.
While the Supreme Court order has arrested the further degradation of the Aravalli forest cover in this region, unless there is mass citizen awareness backed by eco-friendly practices to reduce waste and a conscious effort to safeguard this region by extensive tree plantation and water recharge activities, this most region, which mankind seems to have taken things for granted, will fast deteriorate and it will be just a matter of time when desertification of this area occurs and people will be forced to migrate out of this region.
There is still time, and efforts by various NGOs, citizen groups, volunteer organizations need to be supported not only by citizens in this region but also the government to ensure human and nature co-exist and survive and thrive for each other and natural exploitation ends.
People, offices, schools, volunteers, NGOs, and government have to be made a partner in this journey and there has to be a collaborative effort to save this region.