India will split into two counties

India faces the question: nature or highway?

In their free time, Latika Thukral and Vasundhra Aggarwal enjoy walking in their local park, a slightly hilly area covered with lush green bushes and trees.

That doesn't sound unusual at first glance, but just a few years ago the area was a stone desert with no vegetation.

In 2010, more than 35,000 people and more than 70 companies came together to transform the approximately 154 hectare area in Gurgaon, one of Delhi's large satellite cities, into one of the few urban green spaces. They removed rubbish, planted trees, and the local administration created footpaths across the site.

At least 180 species of birds and animals such as civets, jackals and red deer now live here. The ecosystem absorbs and filters more than 320 liters of water annually.

"Everyone in Gurgaon has a relationship with the park," says Thukral, who quit her job as Vice President of Citibank India to help found the I am Gurgaon environmental initiative.

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

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

And they're mad about it.

"We are all ready to leave the city if this forest is taken away from us," says Vasundhra, a local resident who helped create the park. "That is how important this site and this place is to us. It is like a sacred lung, the only green lung in Gurgaon. That is why we cannot give it up!"

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The residents of Gurgoan built the park themselves - that's why it is not an official protected area now

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

So it is hardly surprising that Gurgaon has become a sea of ​​glass, steel and concrete; with high-rise office buildings, apartment towers and shopping centers for the growing population of now two million people.

A park that is not strictly speaking

That made the park all the more valuable; residents now regularly protest in the park against the building project. The responsible minister for forests of the state of Haryana, Narbir Singh, recently promised the local residents that he would do his best to lead the highway around the park.

"I will ask the heads of the motorway authorities to adapt the road layout. We do not want any loss of nature."

But Singh has no real say in the planning and the decision ultimately rests with the motorway authorities. NHAI did not want to comment on this for this article. It simply said that the deliberations were not yet completed.

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Part of the problem is that the park is not an official city park and therefore a protected area, but was created on the initiative of the residents themselves. Legally, the area is undesignated public land. And the city and the motorway authorities now want to use this to combat the traffic blackout in Gurgaon. Long 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 protection movements time and again, especially in communities that traditionally lived in the forests and defended themselves against development projects and restrictive forest laws from the colonial days.

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

The government says it wants to use the new freeway to prevent traffic jams like this one

And thanks to rapid development and skyrocketing urban populations across the country, that struggle has now reached the cities. Conflicts between development and environmental protection do not only exist in Gurgaon, but also in other parts of Delhi, as well as in other large cities such as Mumbai or Bangalore.

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Zain Khan, architect at the sustainable architecture firm SKDAS, rejects the construction of the new motorway. He believes it is possible to develop urban areas without destroying the environment.

"We don't have to be constantly in conflict. And I don't think anyone minds driving 15 minutes longer, for a few kilometers, and driving around a forest if they do something meaningful in the long term."

Shyam Kumar, a local lawyer who is also against the project, is less forgiving: "It's ridiculous. It's at best indifference and at worst state arrogance. A lot of lifeblood has gone into this park and it will be a great loss if it does Autobahn is driven through here. "

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

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