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As India’s National Capital Region reels under the impacts of severe air pollution, more than 30 children left the Children’s Day celebrations in their schools to meet in the sacred Aravalli forest of Manger Bani on the Gurugram – Faridabad road and discuss what they should collectively do to demand their right for clean air.

“We found no sense in having a Children’s Day party in school when many of our friends and family members are suffering badly from breathing ailments and the threat of the ill-conceived NCR Draft Regional Plan 2041 still looms strong on our heads. This plan if implemented will wipe out more than 70 percent of our precious Aravallis and other natural ecosystems like man-made water bodies, tributaries and flood plains of rivers and take away the measly 10% forest target for the 4 highly polluted NCR states. Air pollution of India’s National Capital Region will become worse if the Aravallis are destroyed as these are the green lungs, pollution sink and only barrier protecting Delhi – NCR to be swollowed by the Thar desert. Additionally, Aravallis with their natural cracks and fissures have the potential to put 2 million litres of water per hectare in the ground every year and thus act as a critical water recharge zone for the water starved Delhi, Gurugram, Faridabad, other NCR cities, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh where extraction is 300% more than the recharge and ground water levels are dangerously low. Without the Aravallis, life in Delhi-NCR cannot exist and our future is doomed,” said Mitwah Nakra, a grade 12 student from Heritage Xperiential Learning School.

In the meeting held in the sacred Aravalli forest of Manger protected by villagers over eons, the students discussed that in September and October 2022, letters and signatures from more than 12000 school students and 900 teachers and 2.2 lakh plus citizens represented through 43 RWAs were submitted to India’s Prime Minister, Environment Minister, Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs and Chief Ministers of the 4 NCR states requesting the authorities to strengthen the new Draft NCR Regional Plan 2041.

Vansh Rohilla, Grade 10 student from Shiksha Bharti Public School said, “After a detailed discussion on the way forward, all the students collectively decided to launch the Students 4 Aravallis chapters in our respective schools to work as part of the youth brigade of the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement and also reach out to other NCR schools for doing the same. We also decided to use Children’s Day as an opportunity to send emails to Mr. Hardeep Puri, the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs to remind him that when 100 students from different NCR schools went knocking on the doors of the government authorities in Delhi two months ago to discuss their concerns regarding the environmental dilutions in the NCR Draft Regional Plan 2041, Mr Puri promised the student representatives who met him on 13th September 2022 that he would organise a stakeholder conference to discuss this plan and invite the students to be a part of the same. Two months have passed since this promise was made to the students and it is high time that we see this stakeholder meeting taking place.”

Some of the collective asks from the government that the students decided to incorporate in the emails being sent on Children’s Day and over the next few days from the Students 4 Aravallis chapters of various schools in India’s National Capital Region are as follows:

1) To put a hold on finalising the NCR Draft Plan 2041 in its current form until all the environmental dilutions in this regional plan are removed and this plan is strengthened from an ecological and environmental perspective in a manner that the air quality and water security of India’s National Capital Region improves over the next 2 decades instead of it getting worse. All the Aravalli hills & forests, wetlands, rivers along with their tributaries & floodplains, lakes, natural and man-made water bodies etc irrespective of whether they are notified or not or mentioned in the revenue records or identified in ground truthing exercises, must get protection under the new Draft Regional Plan 2041 and the target for total area under forests must be increased to the national average of 20 percent in the new draft plan to enhance the air quality and water security of all the districts falling in the 25 districts of NCR.

2) To give a date when the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs will organise the stakeholder conference promised to the Students 4 Aravallis representatives by Mr. Hardeep Puri on the 13th of September 2022.

3) To invite the following experts for the stakeholder consultation to give their inputs on how to strengthen the NCR Draft Plan 2041 ecologically & environmentally:

a) Policy experts from respected organizations such as WWF India, Centre for Science & Environment, TERI, Development Alternatives, INTACH, IIT Delhi and others.

b) Aravalli forest analysts such as Chetan Agarwal.

c) Conservationists like Neha Sinha, Pradeep Kishen, Vijay Dhasmana, Sunil Harsana and others.

d) Environmentalists like Dr Rajendra Singh popularly known as the Waterman of India who works for water conservation in the Aravalli foothills in Mewat and Rajasthan, Mr Manoj Mishra who is heading the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan and others.

e) Neelam Ahluwalia, Founder Member, Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement working to protect the Aravallis.

f) Lawyers such as Ritwick Dutta from Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, Supreme Court lawyer Mr Sanjay Parikh, other environmental lawyers.

g) Respected city & regional planners.

h) Student representatives from various Students 4 Aravallis chapters in various NCR schools.

i) Leading doctors from Delhi and Gurgaon medical associations.

j) Environment journalists.

k) Members of other civil society organizations.

Gayatri Bhalla, Grade 9 student from Shikshanter school said, “If our generation has to survive the climate crisis threatening the planet and to combat the severe air pollution and water crisis threatening India’s National Capital Region and other parts of the country, ecological and environmental conservation has to become a central part of our urban planning. This is our ask on Children’s Day from our elected leaders and bureaucrats. In a few years, we will be voting and want to believe that our nation is actually a democracy where plans are not made arbitrarily but with proper consultation from the stakeholders affected by these plans.”




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