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Reclaiming Our Environmental Heritage: Gurugram’s Drive Towards Sustainability

Reclaiming Our Environmental Heritage: Gurugram’s Drive Towards Sustainability

IAmGurgaon, a Gurugram-based NGO has been working tirelessly for over a decade to ensure millennium city’s sustainable development through greening of urban landscape

The Badshahpur Forest Corridor transformed from a polluted wasteland to a natural ecosystem habitat
The Badshahpur Forest Corridor transformed from a polluted wasteland to a natural ecosystem habitat

A decade ago, the ‘lungs of Gurugram’ - Aravali Biodiversity Park - was a mining pit, filled with mud and ‘malba’ as it chugged towards becoming a millennium city replete with towering glass buildings and construction hubs. Today, it is a 392-acre lush green forest, home to hundreds of native plant species and birds. Made possible by an NGO, IAmGurgaon, their efforts also include restoring wastelands and degraded forests in the city, setting examples of how using green infrastructure helps mitigate climate change in urban areas.

Aravali Park before and after IAmGurgaon's efforts
Aravali Park before and after IAmGurgaon's efforts

Co-founded in 2009 by Latika Thukral, Swanzal Kak Kapoor and Ambika Agarwal, IAmGurgaon is an organisation run by eco-sensitive Gurugram residents, who were perturbed by the city’s daily descent into chaos on its journey towards development at the cost of ecological degradation. Today, the NGO uses a multi-faceted approach to deal with environmental concerns that plague Gurugram, including waste management, wasteland reclamation, and development of urban forests. Their overarching aim is to conserve biodiversity within the city.

The Origin Story

In 2012, IAmGurgaon was tasked with restoration of what now is the Aravali Biodiversity Park (ABDP). After great research, they figured out that sourcing the right kind of species was of key value. The site then was overrun by Prosopis juliflora, a destructive non-native species that was removed. “We planted only trees and shrubs that are native to the Aravalli range, and made a list of 200 species. Areas were fenced off to protect the saplings from being eaten by small animals and a dedicated water regime is followed to ensure survival and longevity of the plants. Regular mulching helps insulate the soil from extreme temperatures and loss of moisture. It also suppresses the growth of weeds,” explains Namrita Chaudhri, a member of an all-women core team that works tirelessly, on a voluntary basis, throughout the year.

Vijay Dhasmana, an environmentalist who has worked extensively on ecological restoration projects, with special emphasis on flora from the Aravalli range, has been a key support in the restoration project at ABP. 

Aravali Biodiversity Park was declared India’s first “other effective area-based conservation measur
Aravali Biodiversity Park was declared India’s first “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECM) site

This year, the Aravali Biodiversity Park was declared India’s first “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECM) site on the occasion of World Wetlands Day. After the success of Aravali Park, the NGO has taken up various projects to ensure clean and green public spaces and infrastructure for sustainable mobility. One of them is Chakkarpur Wazirabad Bundh.

Chakkarpur Wazirabad Bundh

In India, bundhs served as means to harness rainwater and provide an efficient water management system. In recent years, faced with growing construction needs, many of the bundhs got encroached upon. Gurugram’s bundhs faced the same fate. Eventually, debris filled the area and made it redundant. 

IAmGurgaon undertook restoration of the 5.2 km Wazirabad-Chakkarpur bundh, which has now been transf
IAmGurgaon undertook restoration of the 5.2 km Wazirabad-Chakkarpur bundh, which has now been transformed into a green corridor

In collaboration with Haryana Forest Department, IAmGurgaon undertook restoration of the 5.2 km Wazirabad-Chakkarpur bundh, which has now been transformed into a green corridor that is used for movement by local communities that travel for work. “The storm water drain was cleaned; 200 trucks of silt and plastic waste were removed from the drain and the same construction material and debris was reused in the construction of the bundh,” Namrita elaborates. 

Use of solar light in the green corridor, along with 30,000 native plants and shrubs have ensured the bundh is environmentally sustainable and friendly. “We also kept in mind universal accessibility for all, and included ramps for strollers, wheelchairs and for people with visual challenges. This has ensured an equal eco-mobility corridor and green breathing space in the middle of Gurugram’s urban landscape,” she adds. 

Microhabitats in the Middle of the City

According to the State of Forest Report 2021 released by the Forest Survey of India, in Haryana, the loss of forest cover has been the highest in Gurugram district since 2019, primarily due to the various development projects undertaken in the city. In the past two years, Gurugram has lost 2.47 square kilometers of forest cover and has 113.71 sq km of green cover at present, which is 9.04% of the total geographical area of the district, the report said. 

An aerial view of Badshahpur Corridor
An aerial view of Badshahpur Corridor

To counter the city’s dwindling green cover, IAmGurgaon is also focussing on creating microhabitats in the city, such as the Badshahpur Forest Corridor project. Formerly a waste dumping ground and an open defecation area, the corridor has now been replanted with native species, reclaiming a 2-km stretch using 250 trucks of construction debris and waste. 

The Birthplace of Future City Forests

But sourcing the plants seemed to be the biggest hurdle. Only a handful of plants are easily available. This was the start of Aranya Aravali Plant Nursery in 2013, which was moved to Sikanderpur Pahadi site in 2021. From Aranya, native species are supplied for the rewilding process across different places in Gurugram.

Gardeners at work in Aranya nursery
Gardeners at work in Aranya nursery

“Aravali forests are of various kinds such as Salai (Boswellia serrata) forest, Dhok (Anogeissus pendula), Dhak (Butea monosperma) forest, Babool (Acacia nilotica) forests, Phoenix Saccharum savannas and many others.  A good forest has a healthy community of trees, under-storey trees, shrubs, climbers, herbs, grasses and even epiphytes. And, our list was of about 200 species. There was no way we could have achieved it without creating our own nursery at the park,” Priti, a member of the core team, adds. Today, IAmGurgaon has planted 1,75,000 plants from the nursery for various projects.

The NGO focuses on converting urban wastelands into city forests through citizen interventions
The NGO focuses on converting urban wastelands into city forests through citizen interventions

The goal of the NGO is to make Gurugram climate-resilient while actively engaging citizens in their environmental initiatives. “Increasing green cover and tackling waste are some of the key objectives for which IAmGurgaon uses educational campaigns around waste, and promotes initiatives led by children and citizens to raise awareness. Our NGO is of, for and by the people; we believe in collaborative efforts with all stakeholders that result in long lasting impact,” says Anjali Khatri, member of the NGO. 
 

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