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I have often spoken at various forums about the numerous initiatives that I and Karma Lakelands, my current company, have been taking up on environmental issues. Though I was a nature lover since childhood, it was a long and winding path that led me to become the committed environmentalist that I am today. I’d like to reflect on how I reached this point and how various experiences helped shape my journey.
My parents were migrants from Pakistan and my father tried his hand at a number of businesses before finally starting a lottery business. As a young student in an Anglo-Indian school in South Delhi, I suffered from a major inferiority complex. I was the only student whose parents did not speak English, and to make matters worse, I was bullied and called ‘Raffle Man’ by a particular teacher, this triggered it to become a browbeating weapon used against me by fellow students. The bullying took its toll and my grades plummeted along with my self-confidence. At one point I was convinced that things could not get any worse. And then, as if overnight, after failing and repeating grade 9, my perspective towards life changed. I began looking at things from a different point of view. Fortunately, this turning point had worked to make me better and not bitter. I overcame my complexes and resolved to take up my father’s lottery business – the very thing that had made me suffer so much humiliation.
At the age of 21, I became the youngest of five partners in the lottery business my father set up for me. Within the next ten years, I became the managing partner of K & Co, the firm that began its operations from a meagre 200 square feet shop. Eventually, it had a pan-India presence with offices in various cities. At 28, I was lauded by the Indian government as the highest tax-paying individual in the country. I was heading India’s largest lottery company, promoting the enormously successful Sikkim Lotteries, and was referred to as the ‘Lottery King’ of India.
But I soon learnt a humbling lesson about the delusion of the power of money when I lost my brother to a road accident while I was away on a business trip to Sikkim. As they say, no amount of resources can help at times. I went through a huge emotional turmoil. Despite my willingness to spend any amount of money to charter a plane, as regular flight timings would not work, I could not reach in time to attend his funeral. This was one difficult lesson in life that I always bear in mind and has caused me to be the person that I am today.
Meanwhile, though the success of the lottery scheme led to massive growth in business for the Sikkim government, our tenure ended abruptly when a rival lottery company filed multiple litigations in cahoots with powerful people, challenging exclusive rights of the state government’s lottery schemes. Even though I won all the cases, the situation became so murky that I shut shop and declared myself a retired businessman. At this point I was all of 40. However, I have declared myself unretired and working again since age 61!
Prior to winding up the lottery business, during 1979-80, while business took me to Chandigarh, I happened to meet Nek Chand Ji, a self-taught artist who built the famous Rock Garden in the city. Interestingly, he collected waste materials of various kinds and created beautiful forms of sculptures from recycled material. Over the years my association with Nek Chand Ji, a recipient of the Padma Shree Award, grew immensely. In 1985, he helped in landscaping our residence in New Delhi. We converted our home into a model on green practices and responsible living – a microcosm of the bigger Karma Lakelands dream. I can say that my association with Nek Chand Ji turned me into an environmentalist and in 1986 I began by setting a target of planting one lakh trees in Delhi over the next ten years.
This ten-year target meant that I had to plant 10,000 trees in a year. I began with my own house, my driveway and garden, and moved on to public parks and areas surrounding my commercial and residential establishments. This marked the beginning of my romance with social plantation, which I realized was my true calling. Schools and colleges began approaching me for funding their annual festivals and I would convert the discussions to tree lining their campus! It mostly worked.
After few years of tree planting, but not being able to meet up with my 10,000 a year target, I was struck with the idea that to plant more trees the best option was to buy suburban and rural lands. By 1989, I had started major land banking. In hindsight, it was a smart move and in real estate business parlance, what was happening meant ‘investing in horizontal real estate’. The land acquisition for our eco-resort Karma Lakelands also began around that time.
At one point, there arose a cause for concern. In the mid-nineties, the Government of Haryana was planning and significantly expanding the industrial township in Manesar. It came to my notice that if we kept our lands dedicated only to growing trees, these lands would soon be acquired by the government and incorporated into the ever-expanding industrial township. We needed a substantial plan to deal with the situation. A think-tank comprising international project appraisal companies, local tourism officials and golf, real estate and hospitality experts was created to come up with sustainable use of the land, and that is how Karma Lakelands – an eco-responsible golf resort with luxury living options – came into being. As for reaching the target of planting one lakh trees within a decade, I have eventually surpassed that mark. I continue with the practice but without stressing myself in the pursuit of achieving any particular target number. More the better!
In fact, we have planted more than two lakh trees and plants over the past 20 years. We are also committed to a number of other eco-friendly practices, such as bio-composting, rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment, solar energy harnessing, kitchen, plastic and e-waste management, use of eco-bricks, organic agro, bee farming and the whole campus is a strict ‘No Honking Zone’ – The guards respond to sight and not to sound.
As a society, we have all collectively contributed to the destruction of our natural resources and are now paying for our actions with atrocious levels of soil, air, and water pollution. As an entrepreneur, I feel it is our duty to go the extra mile, to work towards improving our surrounding environment by taking the initiative and doing as much as we can. One of the biggest take-aways from the coronavirus pandemic that has dismantled all our lives, perhaps is that we should not mess with nature. Today, the need for responsible living and making our lifestyles sustainable has never been greater. We all should rise to be citizens of a conscious planet as Sadhguru, my spiritual master, says. I feel that we need to inculcate good habits among our next generation and over time they will grow into responsible citizens. Segregating waste and ensuring that nothing gets to the landfills via the municipal waste management system should be our ultimate aim.
- The article was originally published in Career Ahead January 2022 issue.
Environmentalist and green-hospitality crusader Ashwani Khurana is the Chief Executive of Karma Lakelands – a green and serene destination in Gurugram, Haryana. The eco-responsible development comprising luxury residencies, Klub Karma, The Grand Ball Room, indoor and outdoor spaces supported by multiple F&B outlets and the golf course is ideal for corporate retreats, conferences, golf tournaments, getaways, private parties, destination weddings and romantic sojourns. Years after its inception, Karma Lakelands continues to stay true to its core principles and values – Rest. Relaxation. Responsibility. www.karmalakelands.com