The wanton destruction of, and encroachments upon, the Arravalis continue unabated in Delhi despite court rulings to the contrary

Of the seven historical cities of Delhi the first and the third — that is LalKot and Tughlaqabad — were located on the undulating prominences of the Arravalis. Two more — that is the second and the fourth — Siri and Jahanpanah were sited in the plains between the Arravalis and the Jamna, while the last three — Ferozeshah Kotla, the Purana Quila and the Lal Quila — were placed along the western bank of the Yamuna.

Last week this column looked at the devastation that has been visited upon the Yamuna by the policy of continuously withdrawing water from it and allowing, in fact, guiding the flow of untreated sewage into the river basin. A policy that has killed the river in a short span of about 130 years, beginning with the setting up of the Chandrawal water works in the 1880s. This piece takes a look at the furious pace at which the Arravalis are being systematically decimated and destroyed across a continuous stretch of more than two kilometres along the Aruna Asif Ali Marg.

The Arravalis are believed to be among the oldest mountain ranges in the entire world, second probably only to the Pennines of the United Kingdom and certainly the oldest in India, formed in a major pre- Cambrian movement, that occurred prior to the Gondwanaland breaking up and a part known as the Deccan Plateau joining the Eurasian plate to form the Indian Sub-Continent. This is just to underline the antiquity of what we are riding rough shod over.

The wanton destruction of, and encroachments upon the Arravalis had led many environmentalists to approach the courts and both the Delhi high court and the Supreme court, having taken cognizance of this pillage, declared the Arravalis as a precious natural heritage that was home to rare fauna and flora. The courts had desired that all encroachments be vacated, all mining stopped and the entire stretch of the Arravalis preserved. It is a sad commentary on those who are charged with the responsibility of defending the law of the land that the destruction of this heritage goes on in total disregard of the letter and spirit of the wishes expressed in no uncertain terms by our courts.

Even if what is being done has been authorized by someone who has the powers to sanction such activity it is an act that will not stand any serious scrutiny. Take a closer look at what is going on at Aruna Asif Ali Marg and you will see the absurdity of it all.

If you were to approach the Sanjay Van from Ber Sarai village down Aruna Asif Ali Marg, you will notice that an entire flank of the forest that appears to your left is being enclosed in a very high wall. This wall is being built after breaking down huge chunks of the Arravali, in fact across a few hundred yards a wall that had been completed barely a month before has been pulled down and another is coming up behind it, on land that was part of the protected forest not too long ago.

Before this road came up in the early 1970s both the Sanjay Van and the present Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus located on the other side of the road was an uninterrupted forest. The forest was used as village commons by those who inhabited Ber Sarai, Katwaria Sarai, Masoodpur, Lado Sarai and Mehrauli. The forest had its own resident population of hares, blue bulls, jackals, mongoose, kraits peacocks, partridges, quails and other birds and animals, the coming up of JNU and Vasant Kunj cut up the forest in many bits. A very large part was replaced by Vasant Kunj. One part was renamed Sanjay Van, the other became JNU.

The resident population of blue bulls became the biggest victim of this partition. During each mating season some animals try to cross this road in search of mates calling from across the road. In the last five years I have seen three of them that had been hit and killed by fast moving vehicles, and there would have been others that I missed. Those that remain are forced to in-breed and you may see sickly specimens of the species if you step into the forest or into the un-built bits of JNU at day break.

All over the world when a road needs to be built across a forest, the road builders have to create passages beneath the road, under passes for animals as it were. In the heart of this city there is a reserved forest and what do we do? Instead of making it possible for the animals to move freely across this artificial, man-made division, we are converting the entire forest into a jail. Who are we trying to keep in and who are we trying to keep out and why are we destroying this mountain range, a range that was created at least 350 million years ago or even earlier? Who will gain from this except for the builders and who has sanctioned this hare-brained scheme are questions that need to be asked.

Keywords: Arravalismountains