Gurugram: The Aravali Biodiversity Park situated in Gurugram (erstwhile) Gurgaon was once an abandoned mining site. It is now a growing forest patch and home to more than 1,000 species native to the Aravalis, all thanks to Vijay Dhasmana. Mr Dhasmana works in the space of rewilding where they try to restore ecologically degraded lands such as mining sites. They have been working in this field for the past 15 years and all his projects are about creating forests or forest corridors within the city.
Team Banega Swasth India spoke to Vijay Dhasmana about rewilding, ecological restoration and the significance of such projects in the middle of a city. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
NDTV: What is rewilding and how is it different from plantation?
Vijay Dhasmana: See the word, itself explains it. It is re-wilding. When you’re doing plantation work its only planting trees and in rewilding its more about restoring a landscape – how it was or how it could have been. If it is grassland, then you’re rewilding it into a grassland, if it’s shrubland you’re rewilding it into shrubland. The differences are very subtle, so the plant communities in the process create a habitat of a certain kind which is something you have to be very mindful of while rewilding.
NDTV: What was the process of bringing the forest alive in the Aravali Biodiversity Park?
Vijay Dhasmana: For us it was important that when we gave a vision to this place, we were inviting the forests of Aravali back to the city and that was our vision. In order to fulfill that vision, we selected a few reference sites for the project. We have wonderful forests of Mangar Bani, Sariska, Jheel, Jhalana, and many other forests between Delhi and Jaipur which are a part of the northern Aravali. We selected the forest communities that exist in the region and we collected seeds that were germinated and planted in these reference sites. So, today, we have communities from the Dhak, Sallai, Dhok, and Kumud forests in the park. The project was supported by I Am Gurgaon, a citizen’s initiative focused on restoring Gurgaon’s green habitat that has been lost to rampant urbanisation.
NDTV: What are the challenges of rewilding an area within a city?
Vijay Dhasmana: Any restoration effort has similar challenges around protection. One was legal protection, we wanted legal sanctity for the place and fortunately, today it is declared as an ‘Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures’ (OECM) site. It is the first OECM site in the country, in terms of biodiversity. It may be a deemed forest but it is not notified as a forest. It is not even notified as a biodiversity park so, it was important to give it legal protection. When there was a road coming through the park, people got together and fought against the road. Today, you know the construction of the road has been shelved. So legal protection, protection against human encroachment, cattle grazing, and fires is extremely essential.
NDTV: What is the significance of the Aravali Biodiversity Park?
Vijay Dhasmana: The plant species that we planted here are Aravali plant species and unfortunately, Aravalis in the northern part is under threat because of encroachment, real estate development, and mining. It’s leading to a loss of biodiversity and this plays a very significant role in educating everyone, especially the common person of the city to understand Aravalis and its importance for us. Aravalis are a huge reservoir for water security and are therefore significant in conservation.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.