Challenges in Conserving Delhi Ridge and NCR Aravalli

The Delhi Ridge, also known as the green lungs of Delhi, is a major lifeline of the capital city. It is best understood as the Northern extension of the Aravalli hills and is a dry deciduous forestland. The Aravalli hills stretch to over 600 km in the north-eastern direction across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. The average elevation of the Aravalli hills ranges between 600 – 900 meteres and it is one of the oldest hill ranges in the world.

The Delhi section of the Aravalli hills — the Delhi Ridge — was first afforested by the British before shifting their capital from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Delhi. Parts of the ridge were declared reserved forest in 1913, 1915 and again in 1927. Post independence, the Delhi administration took over the responsibility of managing the Ridge forest, it was also the period when parts of the southern and northern ridge were cleared to resettle partition refugees.

The Delhi Ridge today is an integral part of Delhi and is currently divided into four distinct parts, viz.

  1. Northern ridge (87 ha., hilly area which lies between civil lines and north campus of University of Delhi),
  2. Central Ridge (864 ha., lies in the heart of the city),
  3. South-central Ridge (626 ha., includes Kishangarh forest or Sanjay Van including JNU)
  4. Southern Ridge (6,200 ha., beyond Tuglaqabad and includes Asola Wildlife Sanctuary).

The Delhi Ridge is rich in a variety of minerals including large amount of quartzite. Vegetation of the Ridge plays an important role in amelioration of environment. Delhi Ridge is home to many species of plants and harbours large number of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The Delhi Ridge serves crucial ecological functions. Delhi is a highly polluted city and the Ridge acts as pollution sink, which means it helps clean up the air. It also plays a role in rainfall regulation, ground water recharge and preventing long-term desertification. To a great extent, the Delhi Ridge protects Delhi from the extreme climates of Thar desert located on one side and the Himalayas on the other.

Despite the importance of Delhi Ridge in maintaining the urban ecosystem of Delhi, human interference adversely impacting it continues unabated. Land is often cleared intentionally from parts around the Ridge for establishing industries, construction of buildings, farming and, in some cases, logging. The Delhi ridge was once a continuous stretch. With increasing population of Delhi, there is increase in demand for houses and industrial projects. This has further added pressure to the land resources of Delhi and has resulted in further deterioration of the Delhi Ridge ecosystem.

To add to the woes, a now almost 40 feet high Bandhwari landfill and waste management plant has found its way in the highly sensitive Aravalli near the border of Delhi and Haryana. It has now begun threatening the biodiversity and health of people in nearby areas. Groundwater contaminated around the landfill due to the leachate flowing from the landfill is concerning. The landfill has been asked to stop receiving municipal waste and remove all dumped waste on it as soon as possible. But there is also the question of alternative for waste dumping, which does not seem to be available with the various state governments.

The Haryana side of the Aravalli is also witnessing a government initiative to develop a part of it into a safari park. This project was proposed by the Haryana Tourism Department in May 2022, with its first phase to be completed by 2025. Once ready, the 10,000 acre safari park will span across Gurugram and Nuh districts of Haryana. There will certainly help in revenue generation and jobs made available along with boosting tourism due to this initiative. However, if not implemented correctly, it may also lead to increase in human-wildlife conflicts and habitat fragmentation.

The increasing footfall from the construction and implementation of the safari project may adversely impact the fragile ecosystem of the Aravalli. Construction in the area is bound to disturb the interconnected waterways and aquifers in the Aravalli hills. In Nuh district, the ground water is already below 1,000 feet with wells and ponds running dry; Gurugram district also has many areas in the red zone.

Haryana today has the lowest forest cover in India among all states, only about 3.59% of Haryana is under forest. The Aravalli range is the only saving grace for Haryana, contributing majorly to its already less forest cover. Reports from several forest and wildlife management organisations warn that Aravalli is at major risk of destruction. Illegal mining has taken a toll on the Aravallis and the loss of a considerable number of flora and fauna in recent times has been documented. With the degradation of the Aravallis, Asola Bhatti Sanctuary and Sariska National Park forest corridors will be affected. It will also lead to extreme weather conditions in the region and loss of ecosystem services obtained from the ridge.

The Supreme Court and High Court have made observations and given directions in favour of maintenance of the Aravalli, still adverse alleged activities continue to take place. The Ridge Management Board’s regular nod to projects in the Delhi Ridge has also been questioned by the Delhi High Court. Under the guise of development and infrastructure, we are demolishing vital resources essential for sustaining the entire Delhi NCR.

The Aravalli deserves recognition as a protected forest – in the true sense of the phrase. Legislative measures should prioritize restoration and protection of the Aravalli ecosystem. Implementing afforestation initiatives through organized plantation drives is crucial, considering Aravalli’s role as a major wildlife corridor. Furthermore, any tourism development around Aravallis must be done strictly based on the principles and practices of sustainable ecotourism development.

Kavita

Kavita holds a master's degree in Environmental Science and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from GGSIPU, Delhi. She has worked as Green Youth Fellow with Delhi Greens and takes keen interest in promoting awareness about environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.

10 thoughts on “Challenges in Conserving Delhi Ridge and NCR Aravalli

  1. Forests in Delhi are very much needed for reducing our carbon emissions. Let us all work together to save them and kill climate change.

  2. The article excellently elucidates the critical challenges facing the conservation of the Delhi Ridge and NCR Aravalli, emphasizing their pivotal role in maintaining ecological balance and safeguarding the urban environment. The relentless human encroachment, driven by industrialization, urbanization, and waste management issues, poses a grave threat to these vital ecosystems. Keep up the good Work Kavita… 🙂

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