I am sure you will not be surprised if I told you that a large number of the usually well informed and knowledgeable residents of Delhi do not know that well over 14 million human beings who live in Delhi have occupied land that actually does not belong to them.
Aside from the old villages, most of which have been around from at least the early Sultanate period if not from earlier times, the other original stake holders, I believe that is the term currently in fashion, are the trees and animals and birds and insects and shrubs, endemic to the semi arid climate of Delhi. All of them can, if they could, justifiably stake a claim that most residents of Delhi are in adverse possession of land that actually belongs to them.
It is a fact that we have driven them out from almost all areas that were originally inhabited by them. It was not too long ago that the entire area surrounding Tughlaqabad and extending well into Haryana towards Surajkund in one direction and towards Mehrauli, Ghitorni, Andheria Bagh and what is now JNU and Vasant Kunj in another, was open scrubland and was home to chinkara, blackbuck, neelgai, jackals, hare, porcupines, hedgehogs, kraits, mongoose, occasional foxes and also to a few larger cats, notably the leopards. The scrub land also spread across what is the cantonment now, Dhaula Kuan, the Central Delhi Ridge and the North Delhi Ridge.
We have now carved out little patches from the large forested tracks and have styled them as reserve forests or wild life sanctuaries. It is only inside the sanctuary that wild life has permission to live. There are places that have been declared village common or pastureland, the wild animals do not understand these distinctions, nor do the stray cattle, and so the strays graze in the reserve forest and the wild animals graze in the pasture-land. The strays carry their infections into the forests and no one knows the toll that these take year after year.
Even in the reserved forest the wild animals are exposed to all our interference, our constant encroachments, our illegal chopping and felling of the few trees that survive, our dumping of plastic and of our untreated sewage in the nalas that pass through these forests. The nalas were once tributaries of the Jamuna and natural aquifers for our sub soil water but are now drains that are constantly being built over and hidden under Dilli Haats, four lane roads or flyovers to put a lid on what we have been doing to this city.
The Asola wild life sanctuary, located about two kilometres from Tughlaqabad fort on the Tughlaqabad-Surajkund Road, next to the Karni Singh shooting range, has come up at a site where illegal stone quarrying was going on till the courts put a stop to it. The area where the sanctuary has been created is one of the last surviving bits of the semi-arid Arravalis in Delhi, the rest having been eaten up by the rapacious builders.
We will talk about the sanctuary on another occasion, this piece would, however, like you to think of the greens that have been left out of the sanctuary and there is a little bit of the green that abuts the Tughlaqabad fort as you approach it from Batra Hospital and Hamdard University. From the broken down wall, pieces of green painted iron frames holding on to bits of iron mesh you can see that an attempt was made some time in the past to fence-in the area.
I walked in to this bit of green a few days ago, I was threatened by several rather large monkeys, and almost gored by a feral cow that did not take too kindly to my pointing the camera in her direction, but the worst of it all was the sight of one, obviously malnourished and probably rather unwell, juvenile neelgai feeding itself on all manner of leftovers within touching distance of a fence, erected many years ago to limit the forest and to broaden the road.
The fence is now just a notion. Monkeys brought from all over the city and released in Asola, the cattle of all of Tughlaqabad, Sangam Vihar, Govindpuri, Dakshin Puri etc, the large number of pie dogs and those humans who gather here every morning to feed the monkeys and the plastic that they leave behind, all combine together in a conspiracy against the neelgai – the largest Asian antelope.
Is there any possibility that we will ever be able to evolve a comprehensive policy to protect our ecological heritage or will we forever continue to lurch from one knee jerk reaction to another, mostly occasioned by piecemeal solutions suggested on the spur of the moment in response to public interest litigations.