The 40-hectare green wooded area in the heart of Jaipur, Rajasthan, awaits its demise as the Rajasthan government proposes to clear the land to set up a fintech park for chartered accountants and IT professionals. Outraged environmentalists and citizens say they will not allow it.

Avdhesh Pareek

It is expected that the diversity that Dol Ka Badh brings to the area with its many birds will be wiped out if the fintech park comes up. Photo: By arrangement

Jaipur, Rajasthan

Very soon, in the 40 hectares of land, where birds, bees and vegetation flourish, there will be bulldozers, cement, gravel and sand. A large sprawl of green ‘forest land’ in Jaipur, Rajasthan is to be transformed into a glass and concrete jungle to house a Financial Technology (Fintech) Park to accommodate IT professionals and chartered accountants. The Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (RIICO) will undertake the venture.

On February 24, earlier this year, the Congress party’s Ashok Gehlot-led state government declared its intent to construct the Fintech Park in its 2021-22 budget announcement, sending a chill down many spines. 

The chief minister also said that it was his intention to make Jaipur a fintech city. He wanted to create a space for all the chartered accountants and IT professionals of the state who had moved away to other hubs such as NOIDA, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, etc.

At stake is Dol ka Badh, an urban forest in the heart of Jaipur, where, it is estimated, that 1,000 trees will be felled for the fintech project and more than 100 species of birds will lose their homes in the Dol Ka Badh forest. The ‘forest land’ falls near the Dravyavati river and the Sanganer airport in Jaipur.

It is estimated over 100 species of birds will lose their homes in the Dol Ka Badh forest. Photo: Vikram, Jaipur.

What’s the Fintech Park project?

On the same day the CM announced the project, giving details about the fintech park, Ashutosh Pednekar, Industries Secretary and managing director of RIICO, said that it would cover over 480,000 square meters. Of it, 55 per cent would be the built-up area.

The fintech park is to come up on Jaipur-Tonk road, near Chaya Nagar, a few kilometres away from the airport. North of this area are several residential colonies and to the south of it is the huge residential area of Sanganer.

The state government project, intended to attract IT companies to invest there, will cost Rs 1,060 million. It hopes to bring in at least Rs 30,000 million to the state as an investment.

The plan has been met with outrage from environmentalists, ecologists, social activists and local citizens.

Letters of appeal

Dol Ka Badh Bachao (Save Dol Ka Badh Forest) is the slogan for the protest. On June 23, more than 300 people from various walks of life wrote to Kuldeep Ranka, the chairperson of RIICO. On July 4, about 29 celebrities from their respective fields across the country also registered their protest with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Kuldeep Ranka, voicing their dismay at the proposed project.

Environmental activist Medha Patkar, social activist and writer Aruna Roy, historian Ramachandra Guha, environmental activist and water expert Himanshu Thakkar, Gandhian and Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey and poet Javed Akhtar, were some of those who wrote the letters.

The diversity that Dol Ka Badh brings to the area with its many birds will be wiped out if the fintech park comes up, said many local citizens who are also protesting the construction. They appealed to the authorities to move the construction of the fintech park elsewhere.

Voices of anguish

“In a few days thousands of trees and millions of creatures will be sacrificed at the altar of ‘human development’,” Bhanwar Meghwanshi, social activist and environmentalist from Jaipur, told Gaon Connection.

The forest that is a lung space in Jaipur has been providing clean, oxygen-rich air, free of cost, during the pandemic when people were running from pillar to post trying to buy oxygen, Meghwanshi said. Dol Ka Badh will soon meet its end for the sake of industrial development, she lamented.

Dol Ka Badh Bachao (Save Dol Ka Badh Forest) is the slogan for the protest. Photo: Avdhesh Pareek

In October 2018, Vasundhara Raje who was the chief minister then, had inaugurated a beautification project on a 16-km stretch on the Dravyavati river banks. This led to woodlands coming up around the area. In three years, the forest cover in this area grew and a natural eco-system was created that became home to several rare species of birds and other creatures.

Whose land is it anyway?

According to the Land Acquisition Act of 1953, the Dol Ka Badh area was earmarked for industrial development in 1979. The land was measured and recorded as being 591 bighas and 17 biswa in area. The government took over the land, and in 1982, handed it over to RIICO.

Six years later, in 1988, the land was allotted to the Diamond and Gem Development Corporation Ltd. to set up a gem industry. But, in 1996, the lease was cancelled when the project did not take off. The company filed a case with the Rajasthan High Court against the cancelled lease, and its lease was restored.

However, RIICO appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court order. In 2013, the land once again came into the possession of RIICO. It is now to be developed as a Fintech Park.

A RIICO official was quoted in a media report as saying that the land in question was private land that was bought by RIICO for industrial development. He also pointed out that the land did not fall under the forest department. The Supreme Court had also directed that the land was to be used for industrial use, the RIICO official added.

“The deep concern for Dol ka Badh is because this forest has come up on its own,” Sunni Sebastian, environmental activist and writer, told Gaon Connection. Even if after cutting down these trees, others are planted elsewhere, it is not the same as Nature’s way, he added. “Destroying this natural woodland will mean destroying an entire ecosystem of the area,” he added.

Many local citizens are also protesting the construction of the park. Photo: By arrangement

Demands to relocate the fintech park

Mitali Desai, a concerned citizen of Jaipur, likens the “Save Dol Ka Badh Forest” movement to the historic Chipko movement. “We will not allow this forest land to be destroyed, and we will have regular dialogues with the government and have the fintech park relocated,” she said.

On a sombre note, social worker from Jaipur, Kavita Srivastava said on July 3, a few JCBs were seen in the area of the forest, levelling the surrounding land. “It looks like the government is going forward with the idea of implementing the project,” she observed.

“We have presented our demands to the government and we are meeting the MD of RIICO soon. It remains to be seen what happens after we speak to them,” Srivastav added.

Supporters of the Save Dol Ka Badh Forest initiative many of whom are social workers, educationists, environmentalists, artists, poets and writers,  pointed out to the chief minister that on one hand Jaipur Development Authority was making plans to plant trees and on the other RIICO was planning to uproot trees in an already existing forest. They asked why the fintech park could not be created elsewhere.

Meanwhile, as the voices of protest get louder, it remains to be seen if Dol Ka Badh will be allowed to live, or will it meet its end for the cause of ‘development’, and the birds will have to take their business elsewhere.

Fact Sheet on the upcoming FINTECH Park on RIICO owned land in Jaipur at the cost of destroying the Dol Ka Badh forest cover.

The process underway for the development of the FINTECH Park:

In his budget speech of 2021- 2022  on 24th February, 2021, CM Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot stated that “…With the aim of developing Jaipur as a Fintech City in the country, I announce the establishment of a Fintech Park (Financial Technology Park”.)

Ashutosh Pednekar, state industries secretary and MD RIICO told PTI on 1st March, 2021 that the FINTECH Park would be developed over an area of 4.8 lakh sqm, with 55% of the land area under the project dedicated to commercial plots and flatted factories. The rest of the area would be used for common facilities. A sum of Rs 106 crore would be spent. He said Fintech Park would attract investment from IT and financial firms to the tune of Rs 3000 crore.

RIICO floated a tender on 20th April for “Jungle Clearance And Surface Dressing Work” at the proposed Industrial Area Fintech Park, Jaipur. The tender closed on 07 May 2021. The bid opened on 10th May. We do not have the information as to which firm has been given the tender. RIICO’s haste in cutting the forest is seen by the fact that the jungle clearance bid happened in May itself.

Tree Count: In the month of June, local people saw a company called ShivTech, hired by RIICO, doing the count of trees. It is a local surveyor company that surveys for public and private parties. It conducts topographic, traffic, air quality and other surveys, and is located at Lal Kothi.

Critical location of the forest cover for the south side of Jaipur:

The FINTECH Park will be located on 40 hectares of RIICO-owned land in the erstwhile village Dol Ka Badh, near Taru Chhaya Nagar on Tonk Road, close to the airport premises. On the north side of it are several residential colonies, on the south side is Sanganer town with several residential houses and buildings which once housed printing factories, mostly closed now.  The east side is a vast natural ecosystem with orchards and nurseries and on the west side flows the Dravyawati River. This is the only forested area in southern Jaipur.

The oldest presence: A Dargah and a Temple: The oldest built structures in this area are the Mamu Bhanja Dargah and a Bhomiya temple, located side by side. The present Khadim of the Dargah Abdul Hakeem s/o Kallu Shah is in possession of papers which show their own personal property bought by his grandfather was 8 bighas 16 biswas in 1938 and 74 bighas of the land was that of the Dargah. The present forest was also a part of the Dargah property for several hundred years, according to the khadim, who insisted that it would show in the records of the Jaipur State. He also said that he had not participated in any acquisition activity and had no idea whether their own personal property of 16 bighas had been acquired by RIICO.

Legal Facts: According to the Supreme Court Order regarding reinstating RIICO’s ownership on the said piece of land, below is the detailed process of reacquisition of the land by RIICO.

The land constituting Dol ka Badh village, Sanganer Tehsil, in Jaipur was first notified under Section 4(1) of the Rajasthan Land Acquisition Act, 1953 on 18.7.1979, for the purpose of industrial development, to be executed by Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (RIICO), pursuant to Government notification issued under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, dated 04.02.1991.

Declaration under Section 6 of the Act was made on 22.6.1982 for the land measuring 591 Bighas and 17 Biswas. After meeting all requisite statutory requirements contained in the Act, possession of the land was taken over by the Government and was subsequently handed over to RIICO, on 18.10.1982 and 17.11.1983. The Land Acquisition Collector assessed the market value of the land and made an award on 14.5.1984. RIICO made allotment of land measuring 105 acres vide allotment letter dated 10.3.1988 to the Diamond and Gem Development Corporation Limited, to facilitate the establishment of a Gem Industrial Estate for the manufacturing of Gemstones.

The Diamond and Gem Development Corporation fell short of meeting its project commitments that RIICO issued notices from time to time, reminding the corporation to complete the said construction and development within a specified period. Eventually RIICO cancelled the allotment in 1996. The Company moved the Rajasthan High Court against the cancellation in1996 itself. In 1997, the High Court directed the restoration of possession of the aforesaid land to the company, and further, also directed the appellant to provide to the company the approach/access road demanded by it.

RIICO appealed the Rajasthan High Court, Jaipur Bench, judgement in the Supreme Court and in 2013, the High Court Judgement was reversed. And RIICO got possession of the land. (The Rajasthan State Industrial Developmentand Investment Corporation & Anr. versus Diamond  and  Gem  Development  Corporation  Ltd. & Anr. – CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 7252-7253 OF 2003)

There is little information with us on what was planned by RIICO for this land since the restoration of their possession in 2013 by the Supreme Court, till 2020.

Why the people of Jaipur seek relocation of FINTECH Park : The Dol ka Badh land on which the FINTECH Park is coming up has a rich biodiversity in the middle of the city. The forest is rich in flora and fauna. After multiple trips to this area, ornithologist Kishan Meena and birdwatcher Komal Srivastava provided a long list of flora and fauna in the forest.

Flora  : The Dol ka Badh has a forest cover of more than a thousand trees and plants. It has Neem, Acacia, Circus, Khejri, Babool, Peepal, Rohera, Holoptelea Integrifoli (Bandar ki Roti). The medicinal plants include Ashwagandha, Punarnarwah, Khareti, Kheemp, Aak, Gadtumba, Apamarg, Dhatura, Arandi, Van Tulsi, Adoosa, Dudhiya Ghaas, Dhritkumari, Doob, Kantakari, Pathar chur, Satwari, Kulthi, Unt Kateri, Shankh Pushpi, Tulsi and others.

Fauna (Birds and Animals) : The area has more than 100 different types of bird species, including rare varieties of bird like the Parakeet, Grey Hornbill, Golden back woodpecker, peacock, Grey Francolin (partridge), Shikra, Drongo, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Dove, Coppersmith barbet, sparrow, crow, Indian robin grey breasted Parina, Myanna, Sunbird, tailor bird, Green Pigeon, black pigeon and grey pigeon, Green Bee eater, Owlet, Indian Roller, Alexandria Parakeet,  Plain Parina, Ashy Parina, Yellow footed green pigeon, Jungle babbler, Grey Hornbill, Koel, bulbul, Owlet, Treepie, and many others.

Several ornithologists and bird watchers often spot these species which are hard to come by in semi-arid regions like Jaipur. Between December and March, it serves as a migrating and nesting spot for birds from the southern and northern part of the globe. Presently, Cuckoo Hawk, Golden Oriel, Wood Shrike, Oriental Honey Buzzard have migrated from the southern part of the Globe and are nesting.

Apart from birds, the ecosystem has great diversity of insects and animals like butterflies, bees, mongoose, monkeys, rabbits, snakes, squirrels, cats, foxes and nilgai (antelopes), monitor lizards, garden lizards. Four years ago, several hundred trees were cut when the construction work was started alongside Dravyavati River. The water birds have stopped coming because of river blockage caused by the boundary. The area is also interrupted by three buildings of the erstwhile Gemstone Park. It has also caused fireflies to disappear.

Why Protect the Forest : The present population of Jaipur city stands at 38 lakhs. The deadly COVID episodes have reminded us the importance of a healthy lifestyle, inbuilt immunity and need for oxygen. The city is experiencing the shrinkage of open and green spaces. The major natural green spaces are Jhalana Dungari forest, Nahargarh Biological Park, Kulish Smriti Van and the Central Park. Even at the minimum scale as per the WHO norms, 9 square metres open and green space is required per person Jaipur is over 1 square metre space. Thus Jaipur will require to establish 5850 hectares (58.50 sq km) of urban green spaces to accommodate the population growth. It is the time to save every inch of green space.

Relocation of FINTECH Park to other industrial areas with vacant spaces:

Jaipur has more than 40 industrial areas in 4 zones- 

1.      North Jaipur- 9,

2.      South Jaipur- 7,

3.      Jaipur Rural-18 and

4.      Jaipur EPIP- 5.

An impressionistic citizens’ audit shows that 50% or more of these areas are currently lying vacant. In Jaipur, the CAG reports on RIICO show that most industrial plans fall short of execution. The environment is sacrificed to no avail. According to CMI, 2021 data 97% of the Indians have had a loss of income in the last 18 months.  Our GDP has shrunk dramatically (last quarter is in negative growth, with 7.5% shrinkage). The country will take a long time to recover post COVID.  There will be low investments post covid for the proposed FINTECH Park, but a great part of the forest will be depleted and destroyed by then.

RIICO’s latest stand: A RIICO official stated that the land is personal khatedari land bought by RIICO for industrial growth. He stated that the land does not belong to the forest department, and there has never been any official census of birds or count of trees. He said that in another case in which Subhash Sindhi Cooperative Housing Society was the petitioner, the Supreme Court ruled that present land can be used for industrial functions. So they would develop the FINTECH Industrial park as per their policy.

The Save Dol ka Badh Forest Campaign

More than 300 residents of Jaipur and several more from the neighbourhood of Dol Ka Badh forest have written to the CM of Rajasthan and Mr. Kuldeep Ranka, the Chairperson of RIICO requesting the relocation of FINTECH Park and protecting the Dol Ka Badh forest cover. We have also had telephonic conversations with both the CM and the Chairperson, who have said that they will look into it. The MD has not made himself available yet to us. But the aggressive pace with which RIICO is moving ahead, putting up huge boards, hiring companies for clearing the forest and doing a tree count shows that they are determined not to pull back.

The campaign continues to promote walks and bird watching initiatives for children and other nature lovers. More than eight eminent bird watchers are connected with the campaign along with botanists and climate change activists.  The documentation of the flora and fauna continues.  Engaging with the dwellers in other parts of the city on the situation of the depleting green cover in their areas and Saving Dol ka Badh also continues.

In order to weaken and discredit the campaign, the RIICO bureaucracy and some other authorities, are alleging that the campaign has come up to protect “individual interest in land” in that area. The campaign members are unambiguous, that the Save Dol ka Bagh forest collective is only talking of the RIICO enclosed area which has the forest and some barren land where trees were cut in the last few years, the area which was the erstwhile Gem stone park, which has no constructed area presently, except for some ramshackled buildings of the Gem stone park and the Mamu Bhanja Dargah and Bhomiyaji ka Mandir, which are registered properties with Government agencies. The campaign is clear that if there are any outstanding legal issues that RIICO has with the societies that distributed the plots or the residents of the colonies around the Dol Ka Badh forest, that between the two parties, the campaign has nothing to do with any of these issues.