SalamatRaho presents to you the story of one such citizen warrior who is on a mission to save the forests. His goal is to influence the course of millions of lives, by influencing the survival of forests, often one tree at a time. He gave up his professional career to immerse in creating environmental awareness, along with administrative and legal action to protect our forests and mother earth. This man who dares to dream, is Vivek Kamboj of Gurugram, India.
What makes this story Inspiring
What makes his story all the more inspiring is that Vivek is a middle-class family man, who put on the line, all he had, for a cause that he felt, needed much more than mere lip service on social media platforms.
Vivek’s parents came from Lahore, the cultural capital of Punjab. They lived through the life shattering experience of the partition, forced to become refugees in their own motherland. This had a strong impact on Vivek’s mind-set. He had the fire in him to make a difference, where it mattered.
Vivek was born in Delhi, studied in a government school, completed B.com and a diploma in mechanical engineering. Joined a job for nearly 3 years, before starting a finance company.
The turning point of his life
One evening, when he was 33, Vivek was parking his car and noticed that a neem sapling was coming up in his parking slot. Without a second thought he removed the neem plant and put it aside. That night he could not sleep. The thought of actually having killed a sapling was too much guilt to carry on his soul.
That became his life’s turning point.
The next day he bought, and planted 20 neem saplings all over his compound and started taking care of them daily, watering them after work and watching them grow. There began his connection with the trees.
Vivek started noticing the trees in his area while on his walks and started talking to people about protecting and planting more. He initiated awareness groups to raise a voice against wanton destruction of green spaces and often unnecessary permissions to chop trees for real estate developments.
This did bring positive results and gave Vivek the confidence to move further and aim higher to protect natural green spaces and wetlands. His fight had grown from one tree at a time, to one forest at a time, and then to force policy decisions that would become a benchmark all over the country.
As his movement grew stronger, other organizations approached him. However, he charted his own course as he wanted to retain his autonomy and integrity to the cause.
Watch the video: https://youtu.be/-ESz7S3LL38
Haryali Welfare Society
He established his own non-profit organisation called Haryali Welfare Society in 2005. He became a name to reckon with, having locked horns with real estate heavy weights and often the bureaucracy.
A finance man now was popular as a crusader for protecting and conserving trees.
“Mother Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not any man’s greed.” became his credo. The principles imbibed in the growing years had come to the fore. That oneness sapling had awakened his innate self. He had found his purpose. Trees and environment became his calling, and he gradually pulled out of his business, with full knowledge that his family would henceforth have to make do on subsistence. There will be no more luxury of holidays or eating out or new clothes for festivals. All his time henceforth would be devoted to ensuring that there is no more disrobing of Mother Earth by the blind and greedy Kaurav durbar of materialistic humanity.
Despite tremendous pressure from his family and advice from friends he shut his business in 2006 and got involved full time with environmental work. He decided and has consistently refused to accept any funds or grants from the government, corporates or wheeler dealers, to make himself bulletproof against any possibility of compromise of his cause.
Voice against mega developers and construction houses
Vivek took stand against mega developers and construction houses who had no scruples about making a quick buck by building on land reserved for green belts. He soon realised that filing complaints to the government authorities was often an effort in futility, as influential investors and law enforcers were almost always hand in glove.
While he continued his rounds of the bureaucratic offices through letters and memos, he also started approaching the courts, although this meant a huge drain on his meagre resources, by way of legal expenses. He found a very strong support in an environmental lawyer, Rahul Chaudhary, who would waive part of the fee and at time, no fees at all. He started winning the cases. However, he realised that matters never ended there. It still needed a full-time effort to ensure that the judgements were implemented.
He took on a mighty and influential developer who had decided to go ahead with chopping over 3000 trees to build the rapid metro even though there was an alternative design and alignment solution that would ensure that the Metro would be built without the massacre of the trees. Yet the decision makers’ chairs are unfortunately often occupied by callous people who would rather take the easy way out for the present, and give no thought to do better for the future.
He relied on legal recourse
Vivek received more than his share of threats and blackmail. It never deterred him. He received offers of huge kickbacks. That made him go after the offenders with doubled ferocity. He waged his lonely, risky but relentless battle and finally won hands down in court. The National Green Tribunal passed a landmark judgement in favour of Haryali. Though this was a relief, Vivek was not satisfied because he knew this would not be the deterrent for future offenders. “Shouldn’t future deterrence be the objective of law enforcement and judiciary”, he asks.
“Because protecting full grown trees is an obligation of every citizen. This cannot be balanced against compensatory plantation.”
Another case that has been very close to his heart, was to protect Mangar Bani, a paleolithic archaeological site and sacred grove on Delhi Haryana border. This is perhaps the last remaining pocket of pristine Aravalli biodiversity surviving anywhere in the Delhi NCR. Several developers had started encroaching with bulldozers destroying in hours, what nature took centuries to create. Barbed wire fencings had started coming up at an alarming rate, restricting wild fauna movement, cutting off water holes and fragmenting the habitat. What was a pristine and priceless forest, would soon be a concrete jungle gasping for oxygen. Vivek won this case and the chief secretaries of all the State Governments and Union Territories had to identify all the forest cover and submit a report to the court. The battle is still a long way to go.
Most important was the Aravali Faridabad-Gurgaon Bandhwari waste dump/recycle case. Tonnes of garbage is being dumped in this area daily, in 100 feet deep rock mining pits without any scientific treatment. The dump being in the high part of the catchment area, rain fed streams and water bodies are being contaminated, putting at risk the entire populations of Gurgaon, Delhi and Faridabad, through groundwater contamination. Vivek gathered all resources, including local people, and put all his efforts into the fight to protect this area, the villagers and the downstream populations from a chemical disaster that would have rivalled the cancer belts of Punjab. In its report to The National Green Tribunal , Central Ground water authority, Central Pollution Control Board, all supported Vivek Kamboj’s case. The water in the area was declared unfit for humans and animals. The Villages were already reporting an alarming increase in cancer cases due to high levels of lead and mercury in the soil, water and farm produce. All cases adjudicated with relation to Mangar Bani were taken up by him, leading to scientific investigation and corrective court orders.
He also raised his voice in the Supreme court against the ‘Waste to Energy’ projects and how wet garbage is being planned to be burnt unscientifically. More energy will be wasted to burn the wet garbage, than produced, while villagers, animals and green cover are bearing the brunt in ecologically sensitive Aravalli’s forest region.
In another landmark judgment, the Court ruled in the favour of Haryali by restraining the entry of private contractors in forests pan India. These contractors were supposed to collect only dead and dry trees from the forest, but, they invariably ended up cutting healthy trees as well with the convenience of some forest officials. The impact of this judgment led to an end to the Timber Mafia in the country, thus saving millions of trees.
Vivek’s fearless but dangerous journey continues, with umpteen cases under his belt. He will not stop till he can save as many trees as possible. Vivek fought alone most of the time, but he found some genuine and fearless supporters on the way. To name a few- environmental activists – Col Sarvadaman Oberoi, Vaishali Chandra Rana and Chitr Kunwar.
As they say, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.
With progress, we need to be responsible towards how we utilise our natural resources. Avoiding cutting trees, planting more trees and preserving and conserving our natural resources is the only way to save this planet and leave a healthy space for the coming generations to grow in.
NomadLawyer salutes Vivek Kamboj for coming forward and fighting on behalf of Humanity. These are the true soldiers of our nation- India. Through this story we hope his voice is heard by the maximum people in India and he is able to receive more and more support.
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