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What are you doing this I-Day weekend? Quick getaways from Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai

Source : Economic Times, New Delhi, 14 August 2014

ET-Travel suggests you enjoy an extended weekend in August. Here’s where you can head to…


Over 22 kms away from Bangalore, the gates to lush greenery can open up nature’s surprises for you at Bannerghatta National Park. This 25,000 acre park is home to panthers, lions, tigers and a large variety of birds.

Check beforehand, if you can book your group on a Lion and Tiger safari or a Grand Safari (covering herbivorous animals and big cats) and then get set to be amazed at the wonders. Later, take a leisurely stroll at the Zoological Garden and sit by the pond. There is also a dedicated children’s corner, where kids can take some rest and then carry on with their exploration.

If you are a trekker at heart, then the natural rock formation of Uddigebande and Hajjamana Kallu and also Mirza Hill. And yes, the lure of the beautiful Suvarnamukhi stream running through the park shouldn’t be missed as it’s a good spot for photography. You can take pictures of elephant, lion, Bengal tiger, white tiger, panther, bear, bison, spotted deer, rare birds and many types of butterflies.

LOOK OUT: Do not feed the animals. Carry your picnic basket so you can enjoy a day under the skies. On Tuesdays, Bannerghatta National Park remains closed.


Asola-Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary lies at the far southern edge of the city of Delhi, at Asola near Tughlaqabad in the Delhi National Capital Territory of India. It is documented that this protected area is home to one of the last surviving remnants of Delhi Ridge hill range and its semi arid forest habitat and its dependent wildlife.

The bio diversity seen here is thanks to the Indo-Gangetic plains merger. If you are in a mood to take it easy in a relaxed manner, go ahead to check out the main attraction of Conservation Education Centre (CEC) in the Forest Department building run in collaboration with the Bombay Natural History Society and Government of NCT, Delhi. There’s never a dull moment when you have books around, you can spend hours here.

An amazing array of information about the flora and fauna is provided here, you can also learn about ways to conserve nature. Find out details about the Nature Trail run by CEC through the scrub jungle.

Your kids will love the informative walk. There are over 193 species of birds reported from Asola along with large number of medicinal plants, more than 80 species of butterflies, hundreds of other insects, animals such as the Nilgai, Blackbuck, Black-naped Hare, Porcupine, Civets, Jackals, Jungle Cat and so on.

LOOK OUT: There can be monkeys perched on the trees, avoid feeding them as they can cause discomfort to the visitors in the protected area.


Nashik is 180 km from Mumbai, reachable by car, bus or train. And that’s such a great bet for the long weekend ahead (Friday Aug 15 is Independence Day and Monday Aug 18 is Janmashtami or Parsi Nav Varsh).

With four days in hand, make the most of your vacay and have an amazing vineyard experience. The rains only bring out the best in a vineyard. Lush grape plantations look so inviting and watching the sunset here adds to the glory. Add to this, take a vineyard tour and understand how wine is made, processed and bottled.

Good news is that there are major vineyards including Sula, Grover Zampa and York Wineries located in Nashik. And each of them offer a comprehensive day tour of their vineyard with a wine tour. Usually a guide takes you around the vineyard to show the plantations. Put on your thinking caps and ask as many curious questions to the guide.

A basic difference between white and red wine is described. You will then be ushered into a high-ceiling room with gigantic containers where grape juice is mixed with yeast and processed. This process looks quite fascinating to everyone, just due to the sheer big size of steel containers.

Wine tasting then follows in the barrel room where professionals ask you to try varieties of wine and you will instantly understand how full-bodied the wine is. You will now yourself swirl the wine before sipping it (haven’t you seen others do it at parties?)

LOOK OUT: Many of these vineyards have a resort where you can stay overnight. Planning to do so? just go ahead and book your vineyard experience. Later, share your pictures with ET-Travel at Facebook.ETTravelIndia.


- August 15: Independence Day (Friday) – August 18: Janmashtami (Monday) – August 29: Ganesh Chaturthi (Friday)

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Delhi Police stand idle as land mafia eats into ridge forests

Source : Daily Mail, New Delhi, 10 August 2014

If you thought a city desperately gasping for breath would stir some manner of sympathy in its people, at the very least those entrusted with its security, think again.

The gravity of the fact that the World Health Organisation has labelled Delhi the most polluted city, a reality aided in no small part by its depleting forest cover, seems to be lost on the Delhi Police.

Locked in a battle against a strengthening land mafia, the Delhi Forest Department has alleged that the police’s indifference to their complaints has tipped the scales in favour of encroachers eating their way through wide swathes of the ecologically sensitive Delhi Ridge forests.

Forest department officials say the land<br />
mafia has free rein in the Delhi Ridge area

Forest department officials say the land mafia has free rein in the Delhi Ridge area

In one case last month, they say, the police kept turning a deaf ear to their complaints before their persistence stirred them into action.

Not that a formal complaint helped, though. Forest department officials allege the land mafia is still carrying out construction on their land.

“We have been trying to secure forests in the city,” a senior official of the department’s south forest division said, explaining the sequence of events.

“Our department recently proposed developing a new city forest. When our officials visited the area, which is government territory and falls under the jurisdiction of the Mehrauli Police Station, we discovered illegal construction thriving under the watch and with the help of the police,” the official added.

When they confronted the police, they reportedly brushed aside the complaint at first.

South forest division deputy range officer Vishawnath confronted the police with specifics.

“A person, Pawan, is forcefully and illegally constructing buildings in Neb Sarai’s village number 52,” he said in his complaint. Again, apathy was all he got.


The forest department is planning to meet Delhi Police chief B.S. Bassi to complain about the apathetic attitude of his force (file picture).

Vishwanath added: “When our team reached the spot and discovered the illegal construction, we made a PCR call but to no avail. The forest department approached the Mehrauli Police on July 9, 18 and 24.”

A complaint was finally registered on the 26th. “But the construction continues unabated to date,” the official said.

In another case, forest officials identified the defaulter as one Brahm Pandit and accused him of grabbing ridge land in Neb Sarai area’s lane number 37.

These cases are just two of several incidents of land encroachment discovered by the forest department in the past few months.

Officials say the 6,200-hectare southern area of the sensitive Delhi Ridge, also known as the Capital’s Green Lungs, attract encroachers for their vast real estate potential amid soaring land rates in Delhi.

Helpless against the growing encroachment on ecologically sensitive land and an apathetic police, the department of forest is now planning to initiate talks with the Delhi Police brass, including Commissioner B.S. Bassi, to rein in the mafia.

“The forest department can’t deploy a force of its own to secure the area. It is the responsibility of the local police, especially places like Delhi, where forests constitute only around 5 per cent,” an official said/.

“We will report the indifference of the local police to their seniors.”

Encroachers see ridge as a gold mine

The 6,200-hectare expanse of the southern ridge area has emerged as the playground of land mafia eager to make a killing by exploiting its virgin territory for commercial gains.

And while the trend has often been brought to the attention of authorities by the Delhi High Court, most recently last week, there has been absolutely no abatement in the illegal construction.

As recently as last week, the Delhi High Court had flagged unauthorised construction at Sainik Farms in the ridge area

Talking about unauthorised construction at Sainik Farms in the ridge area, the Delhi High Court said last week such occurrences were “far from acceptable” and sought the Centre’s response to why it had taken no policy decision on the trend despite assuring the court in 2010 that it would.

“We appreciate the situation in Sainik Farms is far from acceptable. We know unauthorised construction is going on there. It is evident that a policy decision should have been taken in 2010 by the Centre. It is August 2014 now and decision has not yet seen the light of the day,” a bench of Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice S. Mridul said.

Apart from Sainik Farms, the ridge area settlements of Neb Sarai, Chhatarpur, Aya Nagar, Mehrauli and parts of Vasant Kunj are hotspots for land mafia too, owing to their high commercial potential. And illegal construction here is more rampant than ever.

“These areas offer higher appreciation (in land value) than any other place in South Delhi. Between December and May, the property business went slow because of the Delhi polls and then the general election. Since the end of the elections, work has begun at a massive scale,” a forest officer posted in the southern range said.

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NGT seeks govt reply on green zone depletion in NCR

Source :Times of India, New Delhi/Noida, 9 August 2014

The National Green Tribunal has sought a response from the Centre on depletion of natural conservation zones like forests, water bodies and wastelands in the National Capital Region.

It was hearing a petition by senior advocate Raj Panjwani against “illegal diversion” of land that was a part of these natural conservation zones (NCZ) over the years.

Panjwani, who was appearing for the Legal Aid Committee, National Green Tribunal Bar Association, quoted news reports that stated NCZs were depleting at an alarming rate. Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu stated in Lok Sabha that, according to an analysis by the National Capital Region Planning Board along with National Remote Sensing Centre, there is a decline in the area of NCZs.

The appeal sought a stay on more diversion of NCZ land, restoration of degraded and diverted tracts of such land and quantification of damages caused by such diversion.

The NCT also issued notices to the government of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and the NCR Planning Board. The maximum depletion of NCZs was in Gautam Budh Nagar, which lost 55% of its green cover.

Gaurav Kumar Bansal, a member of the NGT Bar association and a part of the application committee of the petition, said, “The major natural features identified as environmentally sensitive areas are the Aravalli range in Rajasthan and Haryana sub-regions and its extension as the ridge in NCT-Delhi. There also forest areas, rivers and tributaries of Yamuna, Ganga, Kali, Hindon and Sahibi, sanctuaries, major lakes and water bodies such as Badkal lake, Suraj Kund and Damdama in Haryana and Siliserh lake in Rajasthan. These areas have been demarcated as NCZs in the regional plans.”

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Asaram’s ashram on ridge has illegal constructions, NGT informed by committee

Source :Times of India, New Delhi, 5 August 2014

The ashram of controversial self-styled godman Asaram Bapu in the ecologically sensitive central ridge of the capital has a “large number” of illegal constructions, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was on Tuesday informed by a committee.

The Tribunal had constituted the committee comprising Additional Chief Conservator of Forest, NCT of Delhi, a representative of MoEF and representative of Ridge Management Board to inspect part of the central ridge area.

According to its report submitted before the tribunal, there were “large number” of unauthorised structures in the ashram. The committee which commissioned detailed survey of the premises found that there were temporary as well as permanent structures which did not exist in the map of 1996.

The total area is indicated as 4,312 sq yard along with the approach path of 350 ft approximately. The NGT had also asked the panel to comment on whether any construction was made recently. The tribunal was hearing a petition filed by Sanjay Kumar.

Petitioner’s advocate Gaurav Bansal had told the bench that the Asaram’s trust has illegally constructed an ‘ashram’ and other structures in the Central Ridge area here despite the notification issued by the Delhi government in May 1994 on ridge area declaring it as “reserved forest” in terms of the provisions of the Indian Forest Act.

The petitioner had said he learnt from a media report that the Asaram Ji Trust has constructed an illegal ‘ashram’ at Karol Bagh in Central Ridge.

He had said the media report stated that “eight years ago, the ministry of Urban Development had itself acknowledged that the trust did illegal encroachment on a large portion of land situated within central ridge….”

72-year-old Asaram Bapu was arrested on rape charges in August last year and is in judicial custody.

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Ridge area receives rain, rest of Delhi dry

Source : Business Standard, New Delhi, 31 July 2014

Delhi today witnessed an “unusual pattern” of rains with the Ridge area receiving 22.4-mm showers while the rainfall recorded at Lodhi Road, Safdarjung, Palam and Ayanagar observatories was ‘nil’.

According to the MeT officials, this year the national capital is witnessing such “unusual rainfall pattern”, with some parts receiving rain while the rest remaining completely dry.

Overcast conditions prevailed throughout the day, pushing the humidity level, which oscillated between 59 and 83 per cent, causing discomfort to Delhiites.

The maximum temperature was same as yesterday, settling at 36.6 degrees Celsius, three notches above normal. The minimum was registered at 28.2 degrees, two notches above normal, the officials said.

“Delhi is yearning for widespread rain since the beginning of the monsoon this year,” said the officials, adding that Safdarjung observatory, considered the official reading of the city, has received 149.1 mm rainfall so far as against the required rainfall of 276.1 mm, a deficit of 46 per cent.

Similarly, the Palam observatory registered 214 mm rainfall as against the required 281.7 mm, recording 24 per cent rain deficit.

The weatherman has predicted generally cloudy sky and possibility of light rain and thundershowers in some areas.

The maximum and minimum temperatures is likely to hover around 35 and 26 degrees Celsius, respectively.

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On Ridge, kanwariyas ruin green peace

Source :Times of India, New Delhi, 24 July 2014

Thousands of kanwariyas, who are in the city for Sawan festival since July 15, are camping at the pristine Central Ridge. They have not just littered the forest with plastic plates and bottles but have also created a sanitation nightmare. The kanwariya resting stalls are located on Ridge Road near the Hanuman temple in Jhandewalan.

The kanwariyas belong mostly to neighbouring Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. They camp here before leaving for their homes with holy water from Haridwar. The stalls have huge kitchens and dormitories set up inside pandals. Organizers claim they have all requisite permissions to camp inside Ridge Area, but the forest department says none of the organizers have sought any.

“They have been camping there for several years. But they have never sought or received any permission from us. The problem is that, even though the area is in the Ridge, a part of it is with Central Public Works Department. But CPWD hasn’t done anything about the mess these kanwariyas are creating in the forest area,” claimed a senior forest official. Out of 864 hectares in Central Ridge, only 423ha belongs to forest department.

Meanwhile, kanwariyas are enjoying every amenity. At one of the camps which is built on a bus stand, there are gol gappas, pav bhaji and several other snacking options for anyone who wants to rest.

At another site, there is a medical camp by Sir Gangaram Hospital as well as fresh fruit juice, kulfi and milk that has been specially sourced from Mathura. But the waste from their activities has been piling up within the Ridge. “It’s a hassle and does impact the ecology. But we are helpless as most of this area is not in our jurisdiction,” said another forest official.

Organizers claimed there are eight such resting places for kanwariyas on the stretch. “We usually spend over Rs 30 lakh for the 10 days of the festival. About 2,000 people rest in each stall every day. Some just take refreshments and medical aid before leaving. Some prefer to camp here,” an organizer said.

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This monsoon, Delhi to get 2.2 lakh plants

Source :Times of India, New Delhi, 24 July 2014

The forest department is planning to make the most of the monsoons — it is gearing up to plant 2,20,000 saplings in different parts of the city. The rain makes the soil moist and more conducive for plants to grow.

What is even more interesting is the economics behind these plantations. For every tree that is cut within the city, the agency or individual who has applied for permission to cut the tree deposits Rs 28,000 with the forest department.

Out of this, Rs 14,000 is refunded and the other Rs 14,000 is used by the forest department for plantations each year. These deposits make enough money for the forest department to maintain these plantations for five years. This time, the plantations are coming up against about 20,000 trees that were cut by various agencies and individuals last year.

But, due to the massive space crunch in the city, the department cannot do any large scale plantations here. “Most of the city has been urbanized. That is why we are looking for gram sabha land or land on the outskirts to compensate for trees we have lost,” said a senior forest official.

Plantations have been coming up in patches. Mini forests have come up in Rewla Khanpur and other villages like Kharkhari and Ujwa in Najafgarh, Jhatikara, Dera mandi to compensate for the lakhs of trees felled in the city to facilitate infrastructure projects like the Metro, highways and flyovers.

The forest department claims that the survival rates of these plantations have gone up since 2008 which has reflected in the marginal increase in forest area in the recent Forest Survey of India (FSI) area. “We have been noticing survival rates of 85% in certain areas. For individuals who want to conduct monsoon plantations within their colonies or parks, forest department gives seedlings of native varieties for free.”

For Ridge area, the species used for plantations are different; they are more robust and suit the scrub forest type like Dhak, Raunj, Keekar and others.

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Asaram’s ashram on ridge violates green laws: Govt

Source :Times of India, New Delhi, 24 July 2014

Government on Wednesday informed Lok Sabha that the ‘ashram’ of controversial godman Asaram Bapu on the ecologically sensitive central ridge of Delhi has made “certain violations”.

Responding to a Parliament question, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said in a written reply that an official committee inspected the site of the Asaram Ashram Trust in the central ridge area and found “certain violations”.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had asked the government to constitute the committee comprising the additional principal chief conservator of forests, representatives of the environment ministry and the Ridge Management Board to inspect part of the central ridge area.

Sharing other details of the ridge area, Javadekar said out of a total 864 hectare land notified as central ridge, 423 hectares was under the administrative control of the Delhi government’s forest department.

He said there was no encroachment reported in the area under the administrative control of Delhi government’s forest department.

A petition before the NGT had alleged that Asaram’s trust had illegally constructed an ‘ashram’ and other structures in the central ridge despite a notification issued by the Delhi government in May 1994 declaring the ridge as “reserved forest” in terms of the provisions of the Indian Forest Act.

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Scientist cautions against riverfront plan

Source :Times of India, New Delhi, 17 July 2014

Even while bureaucrats prepare reports on Yamuna riverfront development amid raging debate on the suitability of the Sabarmati model, a scientist from Jamia Millia Islamia has come out with a plan to use the river’s floodplains for solving the capital’s water crisis. Contrary to proposals of building on them and channelizing or confining the Yamuna, Vikram Soni has espoused conserving the floodplains as water reservoirs for Delhi.

Yamuna’s floodplains are a valuable water resource for the capital, Soni, who decided to submit his research to PMO, has said. Soni is suggesting a ‘preserve and use’ scheme in which about 12% of the total volume of the aquifer can be drawn without disturbing riparian ecology. A 50km length can generate close to 200 million cubic metres a year-enough water for 1.3 million, according to the study.

Indeed, this project was set to be taken up by Delhi Jal Board in 2009 after then prime minister Manmohan Singh expressed interest in the idea. But the project was delayed indefinitely by DJB. Now, Soni is worried that Delhi may lose this vast water reservoir.

“It’s ironic how history repeats itself. In 2009, the Sheila Dikshit administration had the idea of channelizing the Yamuna and putting up a waterfront a la Paris and London. India’s monsoon rivers-which get 80% of their flow in three months and come from such a great height-are different from European rivers which receive rain throughout the year, and do not have such deep and wide floodplain aquifers. Besides, Europe does not have a water shortage,” Soni said. The floodplain water extraction scheme can be perennial and low cost. An annual yield of 100 MCM will cost Rs 100 crore for installation of borewells, pipeline and a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system.

“The non-channelized river rises by four metres during peak monsoon flooding. Can you imagine the peak flood rise in the channelized river? A European solution will not work here. This is why the lower floodplain on the eastern side of the river in Benares has been left fallow,” he added.

Only recently has DJB shown some interest in Soni’s proposal. It’s currently setting up a system through which it will be able to extract 10-15 million gallons per day from the Palla region.

“The report submitted by Soni was largely non-implementable. It suggested that we extract 60MGD from the floodplain while its potential is no more than 30MGD. However, there is some promise and we have asked WAPCOS (Water and Power Consultancy Services) to prepare a report,” said an official. A similar report by Central Ground Water Authority had been junked by DJB.

Soni has the same idea, too, for Delhi Ridge which gets the maximum rainfall and acts as the most important groundwater recharge zone for the city. “Rainfall in a forest soaks into the humus and travels down the earth, enriched in minerals and finds an opening as a spring. The only difference in the water that collects at the bottom of our Ridge is that it does not emerge as a spring. If we used it, we would have a perennial and local source of mineral water,” Soni’s proposal said.

It cautioned that the only water that must be collected is the amount that can be replenished by rain.

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Butterfly park coming up in Delhi

Source :Hindustan Times,New Delhi,12 July 2014

Beautiful, but fragile – butterflies will now have a dedicated home in the city. Spread over two-three acres in south Delhi’s Asola-Bhatti wildlife sanctuary, this butterfly park will host 40-45 varieties of the psychedelic winged creatures. Among them will be rare kinds such as Painted Lady and Great Orange Tip.

Watching butterflies is sheer joy, but conserving them is also critical because, even with an average lifespan of 30-odd days, they help pollinate economically important crops, are good indicators of climate change, and their presence attracts birds who feed on them.

The Capital’s chief wildlife warden, AK Shukla, said, “We will prepare a nursery of nectar plants to host butterflies, apart from reviving some existing water bodies. There would be an elevated walkway for visitors to ensure the habitat is not disturbed. We will complete the project in six-nine months”.

A team of wildlife officials studied a similar facility created by the forest department in Chandigarh and returned to Delhi on Saturday. “The desired varieties will not have to be brought over. We will prepare the ground for their arrival. There already are 15 species in the sanctuary. The start-up budget is Rs. 4-5 lakh,” Shukla said.

Noted environmentalist CR Babu, who is in charge of two government-created biodiversity parks in Delhi, said, “We have as many as 105 species in these two parks. We welcome one more conservatory.”

Butterflies can be seen at the Capital’s biodiversity parks, Lodi Gardens, Sanjay Van, JNU and Okhla bird sanctuary. “But this will be the first park where butterflies would be scientifically reared and protected on a vast scale,” said Shukla.

The chief wildlife warden said he was expecting some technology transfer from the Chandigarh park. “There is another such facility in Karnataka.  We haven’t yet decided whether public entry to the park will be ticket-based or not,” he said.

The department says it will ensure that an area of 10-20 acres around the park sees growth in wildlife population, and this will be an insecticide and herbicide-free zone. “There might be a lotus pond and an herbal garden as well. We’re working on these details,” said another official.

“We don’t have leopards and tigers in the sanctuary. There has to be something to draw the visitors. What better than a butterfly park,” he added.

According to some estimates, there are about 20,000 different butterfly species in the world, of which 1,501 exist in India.

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