The last few days of January 2023 has seen thousands of citizens from across India support and observe the climate fast called by the educationist and environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk to bring attention on how unchecked mass tourism and development is aggravating the impacts of climate change and threatening the survival of Ladakh. India is one of the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of the climate crisis and the mountain ranges of the Himalayas and Aravallis act as climate regulators and are integral to the water security of Northern India. The melting glaciers in Ladakh and the rest of the Himalayas and vanishing water bodies and entire hills across the Aravallis is a huge cause of concern for millions of people living in the mountains and plains of northern India.
“Many members of our group ranging from 19 to 80 year olds observed the 24 hour water fast on the first and the last day of the 5 days climate fast to lend solidarity to the people of Ladakh and this sensitive ecosystem. We have recently seen the disaster of Joshimath in the mountain state of Uttarakhand unfold in front of us. Human interventions in the eco sensitive Himalayas with no respect for ecology and nature are the main culprit. We are seeing the same disastrous planning in India’s National Capital Region with ill-conceived plans such as the NCR Draft Regional Plan 2022 removing protection to the oldest mountain range in India and projects such as zoo safaris being proposed to commercialise the Aravallis,” said Anu PD from the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement who observed the climate fast on 2 days.
According to the official data, the tourist influx in Leh in the summer of 2022 surpassed its previous records. The number of tourists increased to 4.5 lakh in 2022 in eight months from January to August. This number is three times that of the local population.
“The massive inflow of tourists to the Ladakh region is leading to increase in vehicular and plastic pollution along with shortage of water in the Himalayan region which is already facing a climate crisis due to melting of glaciers as a result of global warming. To cater to the needs of international and domestic visitors, guesthouses and hotels have installed modern sanitation facilities such as flush toilets and cascading showers, even though normally Ladakhi families use dry toilets and have bucket baths. This, in turn, has been decreasing the water availability in the region. Our fragile ecosystem cannot afford this type of pressure which is much more than the carrying capacity of this region,” said environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk while highlighting the problems of Ladakh.
The representation of the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement regarding the proposed zoo safari in 10,000 acres of the NCR Aravallis recently sent to Haryana’s Chief Minister and the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change states: Groundwater level in the Gurugram and Nuh region have been categorised as “overexploited” by the Central Ground Water Board. In Nuh district, the ground water table is already below 1000 feet at many places. The tube wells, borewells and ponds are running dry. Gurugram district has many areas in the “red zone”. With their natural cracks and fissures, the Aravalli hills have the potential to put 2 million litres of water per hectare in the ground every year. For the water starved areas of Gurugram, Nuh, South Haryana and Delhi where the extraction is 300% more than the recharge, good health of the Aravallis is critical for the water security of the region. The groundwater aquifers under the Aravalli hills hold immense quantities of water and act to release it slowly. These aquifers are interconnected and any disturbance or alterations in the pattern can significantly alter the groundwater table. The Aravalli ecosystem needs to be conserved, not constructed upon and left alone to serve the critical ecological functions it performs for India’s highly water stressed National Capital Region including Gurugram and Nuh districts. A project designed with the main objective of maximising revenue generation in an eco-sensitive region like the Aravallis is flawed to start with.
“The zoo safari project will result in a lot of unnecessary construction and real estate development in 10,000 acres of the Aravallis which along with an influx of visitors and tourists will cause more damage to the already at risk, extremely fragile ecosystem that is already ravaged by illegal mining and exacerbate problems of waste management and threaten water security of India’s National Capital Region. We urge the government to learn from the example of Ladakh and Joshimath’s story of unchecked tourism. Our demand is for this zoo safari project to be scrapped in its current avatar. The primary purpose of any intervention in the eco sensitive Aravallis must be ‘conservation and restoration of the Aravallis’ with any revenue generation activities being limited by guidelines of national parks and protected forest reserves,” said Neelam Ahluwalia, Co-Founder, Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement.