Even as the remains of the picturesque old jungle road are being dug up and a huge boundary wall fashioned out of broken pieces of the Arravali, there is little activity connected to restoring the Neela Hauz.
After many months one returns to the Neela Hauz again, the Hauz is located east of Aruna Asif Ali Road in New Delhi. Before the road came up and Jawaharlal Nehru University campus and Vasant Kunj sprang up to the west of the road in the early 1970s, all this was a forest and village commons for the inhabitants of Kishangarh, Masudpur, Malikpur Kohi, Sultan Garhi, Rangpuri, Mahipalpur and other villages and hamlets that lay scattered in this area. One returns to Neela Hauz, this much abused natural water body, not with good tidings but to report that despite tall promises and high sounding declarations what is going on in and around this once beautiful lake is large-scale destruction, encroachment or modification of three elements of our natural heritage.
First, the destruction of the surviving bits of the oldest natural heritage in India and among the oldest mountain ranges in the world - the Arravalis. Large and small outcroppings of the Arravali ranges can be seen poking through the Sanjay Van. Some of these rock formations, rapidly being broken up by those horribly destructive machines called earth movers, have tentatively been dated to the Pre-Cambrian era.
Secondly the Sanjay Van, in itself a reserved forest has been stripped of many trees, mostly the invasive Prosopis Juliflora or the Mexican Mesquite, but also of several, increasingly rare Ronjh and Desi Babul and Keekar trees. This denudation has occurred across a long stretch skirting the lake and extending beyond it towards Kishangarh. If one were to believe those in-charge of this wanton destruction, permission has been taken from the Delhi Forest Department.
And thirdly the Neela Hauz, the Hauz had began to suffer encroachments and dumping in the wake of a rather expansionist scheme to build a bridge across the lake in the run-up to the much-touted October 2010 Commonwealth Games. As per promises made at the time and subsequently, the lake was to be restored to its ‘pristine glory’ once the job at hand was completed. The job at hand was not completed in time and in fact there was a time overrun of more than 10 months. The bridge scheduled to be completed by September 19, 2010 was eventually finished only in July 2010. One does not know if the builders of this ‘priority project’ were penalised for the time overrun or not, what is however clear that even almost two-and-a-half years after the delayed completion, the lake seems to be nowhere near its “original pristine state”. An exercise was launched to rid the Neela Hauz of its horrible cover of water Hyacinth, the operation was never completed and the Hyacinth is once again expanding and choking whatever little life is left in the Hauz.
Even as the remains of the picturesque old jungle road, skirting the lake before this bridge came up, are being dug up and a huge boundary wall fashioned out of broken pieces of the Arravali, one sees little activity connected to restoring the Hauz. The long promised biodiversity park continues to be a distant chimera.
Meanwhile, the entrance to the Sanjay Van has been given a huge bill board inviting visitors to the forest. In order to facilitate the newcomers the forest is being spruced-up. All natural under-growth in the forest near the gate abutting the lake has been removed and concrete benches provided. And what about the wild life, the original residents of the forest: the quails and partridges, the krait and the hedgehog, the jungle babbler and the mongoose and the myriad insects and beetles and other beings that lived and prospered in the undergrowth in the reserved forest? What about them, are they part of any scheme?
Enquiries have revealed that all this digging is being carried out to create a parking lot for those who come for a walk to the Sanjay Van and for those visitors who might come visiting the Hauz and the proposed biodiversity park. The car park will come up even if the lake and the forest do not survive. Large parts of the old jungle road are piled high with iron frames that are going to be used for throwing up a fence around Sanjay Van and everything else besides. Here is another case of the fence eating up the field and the forest perhaps.
The earth moving machines need to get up close and personal before they begin to pull down anything, and in order to give the embrace of death to the surviving bit of the Arravalis they had to clamber over the expensive designer pavement that was built with rather expensive coloured and glazed tiles at either end of the bridge in July 2010. The pavement is now almost totally gone, once the earth movers are through moving mountains, the contract for relaying the pavement will perhaps be awarded to someone once again and the cycle of construction and concretisation and fencing will go on endlessly. The Arravalis, the Neela Hauz, and the forest can wait till kingdom come.