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Lease of Life: A 380-acre plot in Gurgaon is now home to hundreds of native trees and bird species

Over the course of a decade and with the help of thousands of volunteers, more than 70 companies and the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation, the ravaged patch of land has been rewilded into what ecologists cite as a fine example of urban conservation that gives preeminence to native species.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 23, 2020, 09.25 AM IST
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Over 115,000 native trees have been planted in the Aravalli Biodiversity Park
Walking down a path between rows of adusa shrubs in the mild February sun, we hear a cacophony of chirping, loud enough to make us stop in our tracks. The source of the racket is a gathering of Indian silverbills and house sparrows, the familiar birds fast vanishing from our urban landscape. A little ahead, beneath some young Indian frankincense trees, we spot a group of peahens. The majestic tail of a peacock swishes by before swiftly vanishing into the thicket.

Standing on that walkway amid tall waving grass and innumerable trees with the prospect of spotting more birds, butterflies and animals as we go ahead, it is easy to forget we are in the middle of Gurgaon’s steel-and-concrete jungle. The 380-acre oasis described above is the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, a labour of love nurtured by a citizens’ group in what was once the site of indiscriminate stone quarrying in the ancient Aravalli hills.

Over the course of a decade and with the help of thousands of volunteers, more than 70 companies and the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation, the ravaged patch of land has been rewilded into what ecologists cite as a fine example of urban conservation that gives preeminence to native species. Since the rewilding, more than 195 species of birds have been spotted here. Various butterflies, moths, reptiles and mammals also thrive here now.

Architect Swanzal Kak Kapoor remembers a time when the park was barren land. “When the park was inaugurated by the municipal corporation on June 5, 2010, we could hardly stand there because of the dust swirling around,” says Kapoor, one of the founding members of the non-profit iamgurgaon, which is responsible for the restoration.

Even now, we can see in the gouged-out and rust-coloured slopes the deep scars of quarrying, which was banned by the Supreme Court in 2002 but continued illegally in the hills for a few more years.
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Kapoor and three others approached the municipality with the idea of converting the area into a park for which they initially organised a tree plantation drive. But Vijay Dhasmana, a naturalist who came on board to steer the project, saw that the 6,000 saplings that arrived from the forest department were all exotic species, none of which were suited for the hardy and arid Aravalli landscape. The group, he realised, would have to go back to the drawing board if they were to create something sustainable.

What followed was months of hunting down saplings and seeds of native tree species, some of which were not seen around anymore, and deciding which areas of the park would be most suited to each.


“You can see that we have planted them even on slopes like that,” says Dhasmana, pointing at a particularly precarious incline. He can identify every tree and bird in the park. In the initial years, it was a challenge for the conservationists to remain motivated about a project whose results one could not immediately see. “Our regular question to Vijay (Dhasmana) those days was whether we would see this forest in our lifetime,” says Latika Thukral, cofounder of iamGurgaon and a former senior vice-president at Citibank. But after the first four years, when green shoots began to show, it became easier to get a buy-in from different stakeholders, including corporate sponsors.
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An amphitheatre built inside the park


The park is now a young forest full of the trees and plants that once thrived in the Aravallis. But the conservationists cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

The biggest threat to the mini forest now is a plan by the Gurgaon Metropolitan Development Authority to construct a six-lane highway through it, which has sparked protests by thousands of residents and environmentalists. Then there is the fact that the park does not enjoy protected status, rendering it vulnerable. But those who nurtured the forest are determined to fight for it. “Given the air quality issues we face, you can’t lose a forest for a road. We cannot afford it,” says Kapoor.

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