ARAVALLI BACHAO CITIZENS CAMPAIGN – 2 YEAR REFLECTIONS

As the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement completes 2 years today, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people across India and the globe who have supported us in our efforts to raise awareness to protect the Aravallis. We started with just a few citizens from Gurgaon in February 2019 who got together when we came to know that the government is planning to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act which would open 33% of Haryana state’s measly 3% forest cover for real estate.

Over the last 2 years, we have connected with citizens across India who are fighting to protect natural ecosystems in danger in their respective areas like Western Ghats in South India, Mollem in Goa, Aarey in Mumbai, Hasdeo in Chhattisgarh, Talabira in Orissa, Dibang valley in Arunachal Pradesh, Dehing Patkai in Assam, Thano in Dehradun, our mangroves & wetlands across India. The idea of doing nationwide tweet storms for saving Indian biodiversity came from this networking. We have used global days like the International Day of Forests, Earth Day, Wildlife Day, Environment Day etc to do nationwide tweetstorms to highlight Aravalli and other ecosystem issues. This has helped create a lot of national and global awareness for saving the Aravallis and protecting India’s threatened biodiversity in other states.

Aravalli Bachao has grown leaps and bounds over the last 2 years and become a nationwide movement with citizens, foresters, conservationists, journalists, environmentalists and climate change activists from all over India and other countries supporting our campaign on social media.

Our overarching demand from the government is for the entire Aravalli range across 4 states in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat to be declared a biosphere reserve where no real estate, mining, any other industries, toxic landfills and waste to energy plants are allowed so we can save North India’s critical wildlife corridor, climate regulator, green lungs, shield against desertification and water recharge zone from further destruction and leave a secure future for our generations yet to come.

ARAVALLI BACHAO CITIZENS GROUP IS BORN

In February 2019, a small group of citizens came together to discuss the implications of the amendment to the Punjab Land Preservation Act that the Haryana government was planning to pass in the assembly session. The amendment would leave no legal forests in Haryana state which has the lowest forest cover in India. As citizens living in one of the most polluted and water stressed regions in India, this was completely unacceptable to us. On 24th February 2019, more than 300 citizens from the National Capital Region descended at Khushboo chowk flanked by the Aravallis near DLF phase 1 in Gurgaon to hold our first on-ground protest. This article in the Quint covers this protest.

https://www.thequint.com/my-report/save-aravali-citizen-protest-haryana-gurugram-plpa

The honourable Supreme Court was aghast at the Punjab Land Preservation Act Amendment Bill passed by the Haryana State Assembly on 27th February 2019 and directed a stay order on its implementation on 1st March 2019.

School students as young as 6th graders accompanied the adults to go to the Haryana Bhavan in the 1st week of March 2019 to give a petition letter addressed to the Chief Minister of Haryana, Mr Manohar Lal Khattar to withdraw this regressive amendment bill that aimed to open 74000+ acres of our forests in Haryana i.e 60,000+ acres in the Aravalli hills around Gurgaon, Faridabad & the rest of South Haryana and 10,000+ acres in the Shiwalik hills near Chandigarh in North Haryana.

Aravalli Bachao Citizens Group spent the rest of 2019 doing many awareness events like forest walks & plogging sessions in the Aravallis and talks in schools & colleges to connect more students and young people with the campaign. We also spoke at many air pollution events in different cities of the National Capital Region to make people understand how important Aravallis are for life in North India to sustain.

INNOVATIVE ON GROUND PROTESTS, NATIONWIDE TWEETSTORMS AND NATIVE PLANTING DONE IN 2020

Silent Protests outside Town Hall in Gurgaon

The year started with many urban and rural citizens including school and college students from NCR cities forming a human chain outside Town Hall in Civil Lines in Gurgaon holding posters and banners saying ‘Withdraw Punjab Land Preservation Act Amendment Bill 2019’, ‘Aravalli Bachao’ as Mr Manohar Lal Khattar’s (Chief Minister of Haryana) motorcade passed by on way to address his monthly grievance redressal meetings in January and February 2020. This article captures one such protest.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/citizens-call-on-cm-to-save-the-aravallis/story-nmgHW0TKFtnvmb8DHaUhWK.html

Citizen’s Symbolic Funeral Procession for Saving the Aravallis

Dressed in white attire, citizens from Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad took out a symbolic funeral procession walk on 19th January 2020 to highlight the grave danger looming over the Aravalli forests, a few days before the Haryana state assembly session. Sounds of “Withdraw PLPA Amendment Bill”, “Aravalli Bachao”, “Remove Illegal Constructions from our Forests” reverberated through the air as around 80 people consisting of school & college students and citizens from different walks of life marched from Sikanderpur metro station to MG road metro station and back in Gurgaon. To show solidarity with the Aravallis, the citizens held hands and took a sacred oath to be the voice of the forests and the birds, butterflies, mammals, reptiles & insects that live in the forests. This is one of the articles covered by the media on this protest.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/gurgaon-residents-take-out-aravalli-ka-janaaza-to-protest-deforestation-in-the-aravallis/articleshow/73521753.cms

Silent Valentine for Aravallis

In a unique form of silent protest held on 14th February 2020, college students from Delhi accompanied by a few adults from Gurgaon went to the Haryana Bhawan in New Delhi with a Valentine’s Day card and petition letter addressed to Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister of Haryana. The card made out of recycled newspaper in the shape of a green heart with a few leaves and twigs pasted inside to represent the Aravalli forest was presented to the officiating Resident Commissioner by the students. The card said, “Respected Chief Minister, A very Happy Last Green Valentine’s Day! Please don’t destroy our Aravallis. The future of your family as well as ours is in grave danger. We don’t need development at the cost of our trees. Please save our Aravalli forests!”

The formal petition letter signed by all the students and adults was given at the CM’s desk. This article captures this unique protest by students.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/a-valentines-day-appeal-to-save-aravalis/article30825223.ece

Aravalli Calling

To mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of the disastrous Punjab Land Preservation Act Amendment by the Haryana government in February 2019, more than 100 citizens from the National Capital Region came together to sing songs, recite poetry and embrace the last remnants of the Aravallis on 1st March 2020. The event started with citizens forming a human chain on an encroached and flattened land, which used to be part of the Aravalli forest. Holding hands at the periphery of this encroachment, people showed 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.

Inspired by Sunderlal Bahuguna and the women of Uttarakhand, people hugged the Aravalli trees re-enacting the famous Chipko Andolan of the 1970s, in a symbolic commitment of their love for the forest. People also recited poetry celebrating the life-giving Aravallis.

“If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, then you are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.”

“Where the breath is without the taste of smoke and PM 2.5 is low, where lungs don’t shrivel up and arms don’t reach out for the nebulizer. Where the mind is thinking straight and free into clear skies and lush green trees…into that heaven of freedom, Mr. Khattar, let my Gurgaon awake….” Read more in this article.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurugram/a-year-on-gurugram-residents-protests-demand-reversal-of-proposed-changes-to-law-protecting-aravallis/story-r9ESM6Zj1OfntuaVhqwSqK.html

Students Protest at Bandhwari Landfill in the Aravallis

As part of the Global Climate Strike on 25th of September 2020, a group of young urban and rural children of Gurgaon participated in a protest against the Bandhwari landfill in the Aravallis. Aged from 7 years to 22 years, the youngsters voiced their concerns on ground water pollution being caused by the landfill and how it is threatening the life of wildlife and people living in the vicinity. Below article highlights this protest by students to protect their green lungs and critical water recharge zone.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bandhwari-landfill-haryanas-mega-dump-and-its-threat-to-the-aravallis-2301069

Vriksharopan and Native Planting

On Raksha Bandhan day in August 2020, women and children tied symbolic Rakhees to the trees using leaf veins taking a sacred oath to protect the Aravalli forests. The citizens also participated in a plantation drive organised by the Gurgaon forest department to reclaim encroached Aravalli forest land near Kholi Baba Mandir behind Suncity in Sector 54. Around 40 saplings of native Aravalli trees were planted.

Aravalli Bachao On Twitter

The year 2020 saw Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement do many nationwide tweetstorms for the Aravallis and other forest ecosystems in danger across the country and dilution of environment laws like the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment 2020. Citizens expressed their angst against the government for not withdrawing the regressive PLPA amendment bill, for not notifying 60000+ acres of Aravallis in Haryana which have no legal protection, for not taking steps to save the wildlife from road kills. In the tweetstorms, the citizens also highlighted the illegal constructions in the Aravallis and demanded that the administrators of Gurgaon and Faridabad take strict action against land grabbers who have illegally cut and encroached on large portions of the Aravalli forest in defiance of forest laws and orders of the Supreme Court, Ministry of Environment and Forest and the National Green Tribunal. Citizens asked for these illegal constructions to be demolished and native Aravalli plantation to be done to restore the forest. The Bandhwari landfill issue and how it is polluting the groundwater and threatening the life of villagers and wildlife and the dangers of the plan to build a polluting waste to energy plant in the Aravallis was also taken up during the tweetstorms. Hashtags like #AravalliBachao #WithdrawPLPAamendment #ProtectAravallis #RemoveBandhwariLandfill #EnforceSWMRules #NoWTEinAravallis have been used as part of the Twitter campaign. This article covers one such tweetstorm done in December 2020.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurugram/citizens-wage-virtual-battle-to-seek-resolution-of-issues-at-bandwari-landfill/story-n4PfERIu2JNUUPJcf2irdJ.html

YEAR 2021 SO FAR

Citizens Protest against Haryana Government’s Plan to Build Waste To Energy Plant in the Aravallis

The big mountain of trash on the Gurgaon – Faridabad road, now higher than the surrounding Aravalli hills witnessed the loud cries of ‘Remove this Polluting Landfill from our Aravalli Forest’, ‘If Waste Is Burnt Here, We Will Not Be Able To Breathe’, ‘Enforce Solid Waste Management Rules’, ‘Burning Mixed Waste Is Not A Solution’, ‘We do not want a Toxic Waste to Energy Plant in our Aravallis’ by more than 60 adults and 30 children who had gathered at the Bandhwari landfill from the cities of Gurgaon, Faridabad and Delhi as well as the surrounding villages of Manger and Bandhwari on 24th January 2021. The theme of our campaign against the upcoming waste to energy plant is Green vs Black. The adults went to the protest dressed in green attire to show that our generation has been blessed to enjoy the beauty of nature whereas the children were all wearing black to signify the dark future that they will be inheriting as a result of the upcoming waste to energy plant which will be the final death knell for the toxic air NCR residents breathe all year long. The Aravalli Bachao team members sang a catchy Hindi song asking Mr. Khattar, the Haryana Chief Minister to stop his government’s ecocidal plan to pollute NCR’s last remaining green lungs & critical water recharge zone with poisonous emissions and ash that the waste to energy plant will generate. This article gives more details on this protest.

https://www.ndtv.com/gurgaon-news/no-trees-left-gurgaon-residents-protest-against-waste-to-energy-plant-2357493

Going Forward

Awareness about saving the Aravallis is on the rise and the citizens movement is growing strong not just in NCR cities but all over India with people in different cities joining the cause on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@AravalliBachao). It remains to be seen if the government will pay heed and withdraw the regressive Punjab Land Preservation Act Amendment Bill and cancel their plan to build a polluting waste to energy plant in our Aravallis, remove illegal encroachments from our forests and take other actions to protect the oldest mountain range in the world. We will continue to remind them.

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