Gurugram: Hundreds of people from Gurugram and Delhi gathered in Aravalli on Sunday to mark their protest against the contentious Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) (Haryana Amendment) 2019. The Act was passed by the state government last year.
People from different walks of life, including school and college students and environment groups, formed a human chain, hugged trees, sang songs, recited poetry and embraced the last remnants of the Aravalli forests in the protest aptly styled as ‘Aravalli Calling’.
“The aim of the protest was to create awareness about the importance of the Aravallis and the impending threats to their existence and also to remind the government of its responsibility towards preserving state’s flora and fauna, said Rahul Khera, one of the organisers from the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement.
The citizens formed a human chain on a recently encroached and flattened land that used to be part of the Aravalli forest till a few months back. They were holding hands at the periphery of this encroachment in an expression of their commitment to not let this encroachment go any further into the forest and to reclaim the encroached land and revive it through native Aravalli plantation.
Slogans such as “We will save our Aravallis”, “Our healing forests”, “We love Aravallis”, “Our lifeline for clean air and water security” rent the air during the protest.
Speaking on the occasion, Gaurav Sarup, one of the Aravalli Bachao campaigners, said, “We have gathered here against the backdrop of the Aravallis and Gurgaon's skyscrapers – a stark reminder of what is at stake. The idea is to bring into focus plight of the Aravallis.”
He went on to explain how illegal tree felling and constructions are posing threat to the forests and how the regressive amendments made to the 118-year-old Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) will open up nearly 60,000 acres of the Aravalli hills to real estate development.
“In a state that already has the lowest forest cover in India (3.6%), the PLPA Amendment Bill will prove the final death knell for it,” he warned.
Echoing similar sentiments, Zenith Chaudhary, another Aravalli Bachao campaigner, asserted, “Citizens of NCR are not going to give up on these forests. We have brought this government into power, we demand that the government takes back this disastrous Amendment to protect 60,000 acres of forest.
She asked the government to notify the remaining 50,000 acres of Aravallis in South Haryana which have no legal protection, increase Haryana’s abysmal forest cover of 3.6% to 5% in the next 5 years and increase forest check posts and surveillance by drone cameras to put an end to illegal encroachments in the Aravallis.
The protesters also took a walk into the forest, where Professor Robin from Delhi University informed the group about the ecology of the landscape, including how to differentiate native and invasive tree species.
Inspired by Sunderlal Bahuguna and the women of Uttarakhand, the group which enacted the Chipko Andolan of the 1970s, in a symbolic commitment of their love for these urban forests.
By this time, the forest had begun to weave its magic across the group. People sang odes to the trees celebrating the life-giving entities. Students of Delhi school of social work including Ayush Poddar, Piyush Poddar, Anurag Singh, Iqbal Ahmad, Nawaj Sharif and Suhail Mujeeb along with Zenith, Megha, Sarika, Gaurav, Rahul, Vikas and many others articulated their sentiments through poetry.
Vaishali Rana, an environmentalist, said the movement is driven by the people who are very concerned about the depleting forest cover in the city. The move of Haryana government will have grievous impact on the people not only in Gururgam but entire NCR.
“Instead of protecting forest, the government is finding an easy way out and opened it to construction and mining. The Supreme Court has put a stay on the PLPA Amendment Act, we need legal protection of Aravalli for which we are creating awareness and urging people to come together to protect Aravalli,” she added.