The stone quarry pits near Vasant Vihar used to cloak the area with dust and reverberate with sandstone blasting. Today, orchids dot some of these pits.
Hidden from the public eye, scientists are experimenting to reconnect the ravaged land to the Aravalli ecosystem. Plant species from the Aravalli forests in Rajasthan and Gujarat are being grown in 'biotic communities'. Birds, insects and animals typically found in the Aravallis have started inhabiting the abandoned mines.
The Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) of Delhi University is implementing the project for Delhi Development Authority. Scientists say the project can be a model for mining-ravaged areas of the country.
Aravalli Biodiversity Park-located near the residential colony at Poorvi Marg in Vasant Vihar in Gurgaon outside of New Delhi-is an experimental forest that is home to blue bulls, porcupines, jackals , palm civets, and a variety of rare birds, butterflies, insects and plants. It is not yet open to the public.
"Delhi has been deprived of some of the most important plant and animal species due to rapid urbanization. CEMDE is imparting the expertise needed to bring those species back to the city. Work on the first plantation started in 2005, and gradually 15 to 16 forest or biotic communities were formed," says scientist-in-charge, Aravalli Biodiversity Park, M Shah Hussain.
Biotic communities are a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region. But getting these species here was no easy task. Scientists mapped the entire Aravalli range to decide which species may be grown in the 629 acres of space available to them in the abandoned mines.
"Species from the Aravallis were regrown after surveying the soil type, temperature and gradient. When we first came here there were only 25 butterfly species, so we planted about 400 host plants for them. Now there are 95 butterfly species in the small conservatory we have developed in one of the mining pits," says Hussain.
The Aravalli ecosystem is best replicated in the case of birds. The Indian Black Eagle was recently spotted at the park, after not being seen in the city for 90 years. Other big birds of prey like the Eurasian Eagle Owl, Serpent Eagle and Shikra add to the richness of the ecosystem.
The park also maintains a forest ambience, with the temperatures lower during summer and higher in winter. "The temperature recorded during winter was about four degrees higher than that seen outside the park, and five to six degrees lower during summer," says Hussain. The quarry pits will play a significant role in rainwater harvesting and will recharge the groundwater aquifers in Delhi. "Apart from trapping pollutants, we are hoping that this forest patch will prevent gradual desertification of Delhi," he says. The stone quarry was owned by the Scindias, who had dug deep pits to mine Badarpur sandstone, mica and china clay. Some of the pits seemed to have a temperature and moisture level conducive to the growth of orchids. "We have studied these pits and their exposure to sunlight. We brought orchids from Mount Abu and made a small orchidarium here to see if it works," he adds. While the scorching summer of Delhi is known to sap all life, the conditions in the pit will keep plants from wilting.
The rains-July to November is the time you can see the forest in all its splendour. But even during other seasons, you will find a number of peacocks and birds to feast your eyes on. There is a profusion of native plant species miswak, chironji , tesu, Kadam and tendu.
Head of CEMDE, C R Babu, says so far about 400 acres has been restored. "Though linked to ecotourism, the park is self-sustainable. It will rejuvenate itself like a natural forest," he says. As of now there are around eight scientists, eight supporting staff members, and 90 gardeners at the park research site.