As recently as five years ago, the 600-acre Aravalli Bio-Diversity Park in south Delhi bordering Gurgaon used to be a stretch of barren land, scarred by thoughtless mining. Today, it is a lush green patch, attracting morning walkers, joggers, cyclists and bird watchers. This stunning turnaround is the result of more than 46,000 plants that had been planted by citizens groups, NGOs, and government bodies in the past four years. While many have contributed to the reforestation drive, it was 47-year-old Gurgaon resident Latika Thukral who led the charge.
Once a critic of Gurgaon’s administration for not doing enough for the city, the banker who settled there in 1996, came to realise over time that she could contribute to it being a better place to live in. Thukral quit her job in 2009 to start ‘I am Gurgaon’ with three friends.
“Our vision was to give Gurgaon something it could cherish. Greenery was the answer since Gurgaon is located in the Aravalli ranges and used to be lush and green, before the hills were despoiled by extensive mining,” she said.
Admitting that quitting her job was a tough call to make, she said that she had devoted herself completely to the cause of making the city green. “Gurgaon is full of people who’ve come from outside, but they need to realise that this is not just a place to earn money and leave. They need to give it something in return,” she said.
“We took over the park in 2009 from the Haryana forest department and since then, the survival rate of saplings has increased from 10% to 40%, which has encouraged us a lot,” she said.
Among the many roadblocks she faced along the way were administrative apathy and the greed of local villagers, who had encroached on land worth crores.
“They encroach upon land and remove the fences so that their cattle can graze,” she said. Water was another challenge; however, more than 40 companies in Gurgaon provided I am Gurgaon with adequate funds to nurture saplings. “At present, we have two nurseries inside the park to grow saplings. We have one borewell inside the park and the rest we manage with treated water from DLF,” she said.
Plants must be selected carefully and random plantation can do more harm than good. To remedy this, Thukral plants trees that are indigenous to Gurgaon.
“The biggest impediment was the removal of vilayati keekar (prosopis juliflora), an invasive plant largely responsible for not letting other plants grow. We have removed this plant and are growing 150 species of plants such as dhok, palash, kasai and jangli anjeer, which are indigenous to the Aravallis, in our nurseries,” she said.
Acknowledging the help of the Gurgaon administration, Thukral said that the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon had helped by fencing the entire park and solving many encroachment-related issues with locals in surrounding villages.
“At this rate, the Aravali Bio-Diversity Park will be the next bird sanctuary after Sultanpur in Gurgaon,” she said.