Urban life in Gurugram has very little to offer its citizens. Young children are routinely on inhalers, water and electricity is at a premium especially in colonies under the Haryana Urban Development Authority administration, outbreak of viral diseases act as a natural check on its growing numbers by claiming lives every season, many internal roads are re-laid after every monsoon and no matter how wide the arterial roads become (there have been visible improvements in this regard), they appear inadequate and unreasonably clogged with traffic.
In fact, every time I head from the airport towards soul-less Gurugram with its ever increasing steel, chrome and glass facades and its dust-ridden, smoggy air that colours everything in hues of grey and brown, I can’t shake off the feeling that the world is truly coming to a conclusive end.
That’s why I was horrified to learn that the Haryana administration took a collective step to make things worse. A bill (amendement to the Punjab Land Preservation Act) appears to have been passed without much ado by the upper house of the state Assembly to allow real estate developers to encroach and destroy whatever little forest cover the state can lay claim to.
The Aravalli hills — already encroached upon and reduced to their knees — are to give way to more haphazard, ugly buildings filled with more disgruntled people. The move is likely to worsen the region’s ground water situation and add to its urban chaos. Politicians and real estate developers will profit and watch in glee.
As I delved deeper, I learnt that Haryana is a state that has one of the lowest forest covers as it is. Only 3.59 per cent of Haryana is under forest cover, which partially explains why it looks so depressing (take a long drive on any of its highways and you’ll know what I mean). All its neighbours — Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and even Rajasthan — score better on green cover. Punjab in fact recently expanded the area that falls under the purview of the Act. The sceptic in me makes me feel it must have its reasons that are less than ethical, but hey, I will let it go. Cannot be cynical about everyone all the time!
This is of course not the first time that our politicians have chosen real estate developers over quality of living or what the poor public wants. As a senior Congress minister once enlightened me : “Politicians do things for whatever reasons they do. If the public gains, that’s a happy by-product”. His short point was : Don’t fool yourself into believing you are the focus at any stage.
Nevertheless, all hell tends to somehow break loose harder and faster in Gurugram, despite a more active citizenry. Citizens protested, marched, pleaded with the minister. School children listed all the negatives of life in the Millennium City and made an impassioned plea to the powers-that be. Short of a candlelight vigil, they did it all. They were however given the cold shoulder and the bill was passed expeditiously and rather surreptitiously.
At the citizen’s meet with the state’s forest minister Rao Narbir Singh predictably claimed to be “helpless” at his colleague’s intransigence over the matter (I have always found it charming how helpless our ministers are as a cohesive group). The gentleman offered no cogent explanations as to why the Act had to be amended in line with the interests of the real estate industry and much against the protests of the residents, barring the fact that it was rather outdated. He actually said that amendment was desirable since the Act dated as far back as 1900!
For some reason, Haryana’s politicians in general appear to dislike greenery and forests. A few months ago, I remember they were hell bent on building a road through Gurugram’s bio-diversity park — one of the few havens offering respite to the citizenry from its grotesque malls and a place where some culture is inserted in a floating and lost population with dance and musical performances at its amphitheater. It’s also one of the few places for the residents to go on a morning walk or run without being run over by SUVs and Mad Max inspired bus drivers. The proposal was eventually dropped but I’d be surprised if we have heard the last of it.
In a lighter vein, let me end here by saying that the Haryana politician is a pretty strange animal who doesn’t fully comprehend the value of forest cover since he already roams free. He’s a gold-guzzling predator and we the hapless prey.