Villagers said they saw a bulldozer clearing the area on Sunday morning and informed the forest department. By the time a team arrived at the spot, the trees had been felled.
Environmentalists expressed concern over increasing urbanisation in the area, pointing out that the lake – which has a catchment area of 5,000 acres – was crucial for preventing waterlogging in the city and recharging groundwater too.The said constructions would also affect wildlife movement.
The leopard corridor in Gurgaon and Faridabad, which is an extension of the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi, is anyway fragmented as urban colonies have made inroads into the cat territory, deepening the human-animal conflict. The number of confirmed leopard sightings in the city and adjoining districts has increased from two each in 2020 and 2021 to four in 2022 and five so far this year.
In the last decade, urbanisation has blitzed along. Gurgaon’s total cropland area in 2010 was 71% of its total area, while built-up area was 16%. By 2021, cropland cover fell by half to 36% while built-up area more than doubled to 37%. The city has expanded towards the Aravalis, adding not just new residential sectors but also roads like the Sohna highway and the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway, around which future growth will happen too.
“The area is very sensitive around Damdama, which is the only surviving lake in the Aravalis. Any disturbance in the ecosystem will affect the ecology. Incidents of tree felling and clearing land are becoming common during the weekends as miscreants feel forest department teams will not be that vigilant on Saturdays and Sundays,” said SS Oberoi, an environmentalist.
Decreasing groundwater levels are also a cause for concern – which can be addressed if the lake isn’t disturbed. According to government data, the groundwater table in Sohna plunged from 23.6m in 2018 to 26m in 2019 and 2020.
“Many farmhouses have already been built in the area. So, we need a strong mechanism to monitor the sensitive zones of the Aravalis and ensure these wildlife corridors are not disturbed. We have been witnessing an increase in man-animal conflicts as trees are being cut and forest areas are being transformed into urban spaces,” said Vaishali Rana, an environmental activist.
Forest officials said they carried out regular checks and took action against violators. “We have also stepped up vigil around the area to curb illegal activities,” said Rajeev Tejyan, the divisional forest officer in Gurgaon.
On November 30 last year, a 20-member team of the town and country planning department’s enforcement wing and police had taken a boat ride across the Damdama lake to seal a farmhouse owned by singer Mika Singh.
The DTCP’s action followed an order by the National Green Tribunal to demolish eight illegal farmhouses in the Aravali area. Three of these were on a side of the lake that could not be accessed by road. Though the team reached the farmhouses in a boat, they could only be sealed but not demolished since bulldozers could not be taken there.
These farmhouses had been constructed during the summer, when the lake dries up partially and its bed becomes motorable to an extent. Singh’s farmhouse, which is located in ‘gair mumkin pahar’ (non-cultivable land), was sealed by the district administration earlier in 2013 for allegedly violating environmental norms.