In the Indian city of Gurgaon, one of Delhi’s major satellite cities, citizens have turned fallow land into a green oasis. But there is now a six-lane highway to be built.

In their free time, Latika Thukral and Vasundhra Aggarwal like to walk in their local park, a hilly area covered with lush green bushes and trees.

That does not sound unusual at first glance, but just a few years ago the terrain was a rocky desert without vegetation.

In 2010, more than 35,000 people and more than 70 companies joined forces to turn the 154-acre site into one of Delhi’s largest satellite cities, Gurgaon, into one of the few urban green spaces. They removed garbage, planted trees, and the local administration laid footpaths across the grounds.

At least 180 species of birds and animals such as civet cats, jackals and red deer live here today. The ecosystem absorbs and filters more than 320 liters of water a year.

“Everyone in Gurgaon has a relationship with the park,” says Thukral, who has quit her job as vice president at Citibank India to co-found the environmental initiative “I am Gurgaon”.

But plans for a six-lane highway, which would run two kilometers through the eastern part of the park, threaten the green oasis, say Thukral and other residents.

The joint project of the Indian State Highway Authority (NHAI)  and the Urban Development Authority of Gurgaon (GMDA) would affect about eight hectares of forest, local residents say. They warn that this project would have an impact on surrounding nature, causing noise and air pollution.

And they are angry about it.

“We are all ready to leave the city if they take away this forest,” says Vasundhra, a local resident who helped create the park. “So important to us is this site and this place, it’s like a sacred lung, the only green lung in Gurgaon, so we can not give it up!”

Residents protest in the park (Photo: Murali Krishnan)
The inhabitants of Gurgoan have built the park on their own initiative – that’s why it is not an official protected area

Gurgaon has developed rapidly in recent years and has become a financial and technology center. More than 250 Fortune 500 global companies have either their main office in India or an important office there.

Not surprisingly, Gurgaon has become a sea of ​​glass, steel and concrete; with office towers, residential towers and shopping centers for the growing population of two million people.

A park that is not strictly speaking

This has made the park all the more valuable; The residents protest regularly in the park against the construction project. Haryana Minister of Forests, Narbir Singh, recently promised residents that he would do their best to guide the route around the park.

“I’m going to ask the heads of the highway authority to adjust the road, we do not want a loss of nature.”

But Singh has no real say in the planning and the decision ultimately lies with the motorway authority. NHAI did not want to comment on this article. It merely said that the considerations were not yet completed.

Part of the problem is that the park is not an official city park and thus protected area, but was created on the initiative of the local residents on their own initiative. Legally, the area is undesignated public land. And city and highway authorities want to use that now to fight the traffic infarction in Gurgaon. Miles of traffic jams are the rule here in rush hour traffic.

Nature versus development

Conflicts over the environment are nothing new in India. In the history of the country, there have been environmental movements, especially in communities that traditionally lived in the forests and defended against development projects and restrictive forest laws from the colonial era.

This tradition gained momentum in the 1970s through the Chipko movement. At that time, indigenous women in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India, defended their rights to trees in order to protect them from deforestation.

Cars are stuck in traffic in New Delhi (Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / Getty Images)
The government says it wants to prevent traffic jams like this with the help of the new highway

And thanks to the rapid development and sprawling growth of urban populations across the country, this struggle has now reached the cities. Conflicts between development and environmental protection exist not only in Gurgaon, but also in other parts of Delhi, as well as in other big cities like Mumbai or Bangalore.

Zain Khan, architect at the sustainable architecture firm SKDAS, rejects the construction of the new highway. He believes that it is possible to do urban development without destroying the environment.

“We do not have to be in constant conflict, and I do not think anyone cares about driving a car 15 minutes longer, for a few miles, and avoiding a forest if you do something meaningful in the long term.”

Shyam Kumar, a local lawyer who also opposes the project, is less conciliatory: “It’s ridiculous, it’s at best indifference and, at worst, state arrogance.” There has been a lot of lifeblood in this park and it will be a huge loss if it does Motorway is driven through here. “

But even the protesting residents know that protest marches with posters may not be enough to stop the construction. They prepare for a long fight. If necessary, they also want to go to court to save their forest.

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