Aravalli once loftiest folded mountain formed by tectonic action occurred during Proterozoic eon between 2 billion to 541 million years ago from today, is now struggling with its status of having a distinct watershed feature and social narratives built by civilizational evolution in vicinity of its root. In present bout, it is stretched over distance of around 700 km between Ahmadabad to Delhi. Wide passes and relatively smaller peaks provided easy passage to conduct day to day activity across the range.
The whole region is one of the most contested terrains in the world for mineral and biological resources which transits into political maneuvering since Harappa civilization to medieval, colonial and post-independence era. Despite of all challenges Aravalli’s role as climate modifier for the Indian subcontinent is unprecedented; as it keeps apart fertile land of North India with sandy desert of Thar in west, nurturing perennial rivers harboring numerous native species of flora and fauna placing it under unique natural feature on earth.
Aravallis also provides food security in Indian subcontinent as its central position in Peninsular country acts as barrier for heat waves advancing from west towards east and north-east; and its slope nurtures cluster of small to long perennial streams helping to retain moisture, making the land of north India as one of the most fertile land in world. Aravalli’s role in fight against desertification and against expansion of desert is unprecedented.
Delhi Ridge the last stretch of Aravalli in eastern reach, once focus point of capitalist creed gave rise to mining activities predominantly leased and illegal at unprecedented level. In such scenario the health of the National capital became largely pretentious; conditioned over activities materializing around Delhi ridge. South central Ridge (part of Delhi Ridge) in 1970s and 80s was most exploited part of Aravalli where mica, sand stone and water was major franchise, substantially contributing in degradation of environment and civilians’ health. Gradually, environmental concerns picked its normative space among elites of Delhi along with government’s commencements after judiciary interpreted ‘Right to have pollution-free environment’ as ‘Right to have dignified life’ under article 21 of constitution of India in series of interpretations of 1990s. From here story of Aravalli Biodiversity Park, New Delhi begins.
Aravalli Biodiversity Park: Underpinning Ethics and principles of conservation
Aravalli Biodiversity Park is product of similar normative debates over man and environment across the globe. No wrong, if it can be said as lung of Delhi; located in South Central Ridge; an aggregate effort of communities and government in ameliorating the state of climatic order. Dr. Shah Hussain; Ecologist & Scientist Incharge of Aravalli Biodiversity Park talked to us, contemplated it with product of collective conservation efforts; establishes natural instinct for environment. The park promises to keeps up with the philosophy and ethics of conservation at par with tradition of evolutionary behavior of organisms.
Dr. Hussain adding to the korero ascertains social narratives and philosophy of conservation that constructs our behavior and shapes our future trends of growth. He adds, conservation is balanced interaction of organisms which helps in symbiotic growth that not only supports life but also improves quality of products (quality of air, water, consumable goods etc.). This interaction is important for evolution of species, organism or variety by Nature and any uncertainty and disbalance tends to create other form of biomass, can potentially change the composition and eliminate the detrimental or undesirable organisms.
Present trend of human activity (consumption methods) have parallel trend which makes the evolution largely human centric, more precisely not by ‘temperament of nature’. Pandemic has substantiated, one single virus intrusion into human centric environment can evince all processes irrelevant, and humans’ lacking anxiety about other species and its impact on them makes the case worse. Conservation is key to hold up the natural process of evolution which is sustaining since millions of years. If not; then Earth will survive like other planet, but Human will end its prospects by itself.
Endemism in Delhi Aravalli
There is no endemism in Aravalli per se, however some specific species are confined to Aravalli. Lack of endemism is due to its position, high variation in temperature and of course historical human intervention; for the reason it has not been designated into list of Biodiversity hotspots despite of its uniqueness.
Dr. Hussain says, Aravallis affects climate but it does not represents ‘unique climax of habitat’ like that of north eastern Himalayas or Nilgiris of Western Ghats; hence endemism here is not supported by climatic conditions. Such lack of endemism does not mean that it cannot have unique biological diversity; fortunately it embraces large number of native species plants and animals.
Conservation Strategy of Biodiversity Park
South central Ridge has numerous remnant patches containing green zones like JNU, Sanjay Van and other ecological park where public intervention is prevalent. In such circumstances diversity cannot be carried out and faunal diversity cannot flourish without plant/habitat diversity. Considering such problems the model of Biodiversity Park was brought in place and Aravalli Biodiversity Park in south central ridge got immediate recognition from local community, government and judiciary. This project was launched by DDA, the custodian of the park, in collaboration with CEMDE (Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems), Delhi University.
The process of conversion of south central ridge from mining pit to a Biodiversity Park over area of 692 acres was a challenging task with few prior existing wildlife. This piece of land belong to DDA (Delhi Development Authority) and the dwellers, mining laborers and migrants settled here and transformed the area into a big slum. Along with settlements this pity land was part of huge unorganized crime as it became shelter for gambling, drug abuse and drinking etc. and without curbing on these illegal and criminal activities restoration of the area was not possible.
Under DDA developmental plan, this area was to be transformed into a green zone like other ecological parks, then it was further decided to develop it as a Biodiversity Park. DDA entered into collaboration with Delhi University where wildlife conservationists and professors came up with blue print for the park under leadership of Prof. Emeritus C.R. Babu who is programme incharge of Aravalli Biodiversity Park.
Major challenge was to bring wild plants and wild animals (Wildlife) together so that it can be said to be a Jungle instead of just park. Jungle is a place where all inhabitants live together under symbiotic relationship with wilderness parameters.
First stage of development of this park included the study of adaptability of flora and fauna and then to survey the area for validation of social structure of plant community and their associations. It is said that plants are also social and they live in communities, the assemblages of all community depends upon environmental, edaphic and climatic conditions (Xeric, Mesic or Hydric ).
Before development, 90 percent of the park area was invaded by weeds that possessed hurdle in improving diversity and reestablishing native wild biotic communities. Initially the park has scanty population of wild animals nearby patches of Aravallis encouraged the efforts that further helped in multiplication of animal community, and it was to be sustained only with introduction of plant diversity and continuous conservation activities. The biotic communities establishes food base for predators whether they are herbivore or carnivore without any enforcement and human interventions, supplementing to food chain cycle.
One has to assume wilderness parameters in conservation strategy to maintain and sustain biodiversity, for example one can domesticate dogs and force them to eat according to behavior of human but one cannot force wild animals like hyena to adapt according to humans. Wilderness among flora and fauna has been evolved in millions of years and its stability is prerequisite for maintaining behavioral parameters. Wilderness is not compatible with urban behavior.
. Second stage was taken through plantation of native plants and successive species; they used to exist in Delhi and also exist in other parts of Aravalli. The park area had hundreds of mining pit which created a manmade landscape and different micro climate within, the adaptable plant species of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana plant community were assembled representing Aravallis including Delhi Plant community. After assembly of plant communities, host communities i.e. animals started to multiply.
Finally it has to be maintained and sustained; it can only be possible if citizen takes responsibility to conserve the natural discourse. Regulations must be followed proactively instead of imposed mechanism.
Importance of Aravalli Biodiversity Park within urban pocket
Reversal of vegetation and ecology to previous state or at least sustainable state can be done through scientific and traditional value methods of conservation of biological diversity. Furthermore buffers of national park and wildlife sanctuary across Aravallis should be expanded to increase watershed area which will ultimately improve quality of vegetation and aquifers. This park well establishes sublime ideologue for conservation module and strategy.
Proper regulation of dedicated pasture land and conversion of wasteland into pastureland across pockets will help in improving quality of Aquifers. Budgeting water quantum (quantity of water trapped by vegetation) of an area which should be applied throughout in conservation model. Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Delhi is leading in studying quantum water budget and possibility of its application in other pockets as well.
Aravalli Biodiversity Park is a model and a successful research action format used in conservation strategy; it also served the applied aspects of strategies came out from academics or educational findings. It is a relatively small area; recognition and development of such contiguous small pockets throughout the country can be successful conservation approach; can reverse the damaged done till date.
Responsibility of Citizen and Corporates in conservation
Dr. Shah added conservation should be continuous and proactive; citizen must be aware about the projects of conservation and must raise question about its credential. There should be a well-established procedure for citizen watch which can only flow through civic aspiration. Corporates should come forward in conservation and adhere to corporate forest responsibility which has huge potential in job creation and recreation in this sector. The key to succeed in conservation is to decentralize the models of conservation by recognizing the symbiotic interaction among species along with human and nature.
Man has to think beyond their profit and loss. Research should not benefit only one species but its dimension should be wholesome. Different modules should be applied at insitu conditions and a comparable study should be done to analyze better quality of life of whole range of species in terms of quality of access of water and air; diversity and density of flora and fauna and so on. Prioritizing conservation incentives is the key to persist present state of earth.
Nature Centric Bio-geographic model is need of time
Aravalli directly support lives of at least 120 to 150 million of people throughout its stretch; and almost 30 million people around National Capital region. Economics of Aravalli has been historically very rich and exploitation rose exponentially and depleted resources sharply.
Aravalli provides climatic feature which supports precipitation and precipitation supports vegetation; vegetation supports diversity and all that ecological richness is witnessing demise. Mountain ranges are disappearing; quality of life is drastically deteriorated due to mining and other allied activities. Rainy days has declined from 60 to 70 days per year to 18 to 30 days since last two decade according to study of Department of Geography at Mohanlal Sukharia University of Udaipur; and National Capital India has no distinction. The impact of mining activity resulted in reducing aquifers leading to reduction of moisture and thus rate of desertification increased in foothills of Aravalli which was once very fertile.
Dr. Hussain says vegetation traps moisture at all level, from top of canopy to grasses on ground. Concept of watershed is the horizontal and vertical spread of retention of moisture at all level, will help in sustaining aquifers. Without vegetation, surface runoff will create challenge to sustainability of aquifers. Small Nalas (streams) are vital for maintaining aquifers and their quality. Unfortunately all small streams disappeared or transformed into sewage. He added, Nature centric and evolution by nature is only sustainable means of not just development but survival.
Nature education as tool for conservation
Environmental education has been evolving since the turn of the century. Twenty years ago, we lived in very different world when people didn’t think about the environment, biodiversity and conservation. Thanks to information and communication technology giving leap to environmental education. Primary education to research level; awareness and knowledge about environment has increased dramatically. Theoretical knowledge and experience has advanced but when it comes to practical approach in real time, we see malfunction in the approach of learning.
Dr. Hussain expresses the above problem in terms of spirit of nature. Which he believe lacking in urban value system. Instead of environmental education we should focus over ‘nature education’ which cannot be taught in classroom but in the vicinity of nature. The only way of association that can be developed by people to nature, is to manifest responsibility towards nature by every individual since childhood. Every individual must be aspired through discourse of Nature especially those living in urban pockets. Urban population need to develop public relation with forest dwellers and local communities to understand nature and biodiversity and pass the practicable knowledge to their kids. Curriculum at every level should be programmed in manner that reflects the problem solving approach best suited when it is done through nature instead of artificial way.
Education is best way to spread awareness. ‘Nature education’ should be carefully designed to expose youngsters in urban pocket. A conscious design of education will put individual in a position to analyze the repercussions of their action. One should know the cost of damage done when one leaf is plucked out from plant. There is no way out other than understanding and conserving nature.