Ashwani Khurana: A businessman who builds sustainable societies

- October 26, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

On World Sustainability Day, meet enterprising Ashwani Khurana, the country's highest tax-payer in 1989, who is now making money by building an environment-friendly society around him

GREEN COVER: The bamboo forest nurtured by Ashwani Khurana

After becoming the country’s highest tax-payer in 1989 at just 28 when he was heading Sikkim Lotteries — a business he has since exited – eco-entrepreneur Ashwani Khurana is now winning accolades for being an exemplary advocate of environmental stewardship.

Today, the founder & CEO of Karma Lakelands in Gurugram helms a unique green township built around an award-winning golf course that he has meticulously developed as an eco-responsible golf resort and residences.

Since its inception, Karma Lakelands has been earning rave reviews due to its myriad sustainable practices and rich biodiversity.

Ashwani’s deep commitment to crafting a more sustainable and inhabitable planet has resulted in him being nominated for the Padma Shri Award. If the honour comes through, Ashwini says it will be “a big impetus to my work because recognition goes a long way towards encouraging replication. Any recognition draws more attention of people and paves the way for others to follow”.

There is little doubt that Ashwani Khurana, 63, transcends the conventional roles of a businessman. He is, at his core, an environmentalist with an unwavering determination to make a substantial difference. His transformation into a practitioner of ‘Responsible Living’ is emblematic of his commitment to a sustainable world.

Pointing to the acres of green expanse at Karma Lakelands, Ashwani talks of his bonding with nature which started early. “When I was just a teenager, my mother, Kailash Khurana encouraged me to plant trees not just outside our New Friends Colony bungalow but also around the entire neighbourhood. The desire and commitment to plant more and more trees is at the core of all my projects.”

His deep connect with nature since childhood was reinforced by an encounter with the legendary Nek Chand, creator of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh and the close friendship that grew between them. This bond led to Ashwani pioneering ecological and sustainable initiatives at his villa in the Green Avenue of Vasant Kunj and also around the neighbourhood which has benefitted from his sustainable efforts of water harvesting, organic agriculture, waste recycling, and bio-composting.

LUXURY CLASS: Karma Lakelands, the green township developed by Ashwani Khurana, with an award-winning golf course

Ashwani traces his roots back to Pakistan, from where his immigrant parents arrived. By 1989, he was the head of India’s largest lottery company, Sikkim State Lotteries, propelling its resounding success.

His remarkable feat of being the highest tax-paying individual earned him commendation from the government, a distinction he maintained for years.

He recalls, “It was this financial success of the 1980s that helped me transform into an eco-entrepreneur. My investments included one of Delhi’s earliest city garbage-to-bio-composting plants, encompassing nearly 300 acres of land and 500 metric tonnes a day, which is now known as Karma Lakelands in Gurugram. It is a place where responsibility meets luxury.”

Ashwani adds, “I call myself an accidental businessman. I was blown by Nek Chandji’s work and philosophy and I made a resolution to try and plant 10,000 trees every year. For this I needed land, so I started buying cheap land in far-off rural and semi-urban areas with the money earned from my lottery business. That was way back in 1981.”

Today, the value of that land has multiplied.

“I believe in doing my karm with clarity and courage. The unique sustainable and innovative practices I follow seem like common sense, like turning waste to compost but unfortunately they are not common. If all of us adopt whatever eco-friendly practices we can, the planet would be so much more liveable.”

Ashwani recalls that he has planted trees wherever possible.

As he puts it, “Greening, like charity, begins at home but should not end there. For me it has become a lifelong commitment and my vision is of a place abundant in biodiversity, rooted in responsible practices, and featuring distinct themed forest zones.”

Since 1986, Ashwani embarked on an ambitious goal of planting 100,000 trees in Delhi within a decade.

As of September 2023, nearly 280,000 trees have already been planted & his recent partnership with Peepal Baba of the ‘Give Me Trees Trust’ is expected to yield impressive results.

SELECT BAND: Ashwani Khurana (left, standing) with colleagues

Ashwani’s environmental activism has resulted in the harvesting of an astounding 360 million litres of rainwater annually at the Qutub Golf Course in New Delhi.

Karma Lakelands, his golf resort-residences space incorporates bio-composting, organic agriculture, rainwater harvesting, water recycling, solar energy, kitchen and plastic waste recycling, e-waste segregation for responsible disposal, and eco-bricks. Moreover, it proudly stands as a ‘no-horn’ zone, where guards respond to sight rather than sound.

The unique composting process, utilising plant clippings mixed with cow dung and sewage, not only enriches the soil but also serves as a natural repellent for flies and mosquitoes. The lush green landscape and pristine air of Karma Lakelands provide a haven for countless birds, bees, butterflies, and insects, creating a vibrant tapestry of flora and fauna.

The eco-entrepreneur’s resolve to leave behind a greener world was further reinforced after the loss of his mother a few years ago. In a gesture of respect for trees and the environment, he ensured her funeral was, as also planned for himself, combustion-free, opting for a dignified burial instead of a cremation, a process he aptly termed “soil to soil, smokelessly”.

This tribute led to the establishment of the Kailash Sacred Forest at the place where his mother was buried. As of now 10,000 trees have been planted in this area and shall stand tall in the coming years, he says with justifiable pride. He explains this decision too “as always is my attempt to prioritise human wellness and the well-being of our nurturing Earth”.

Ashwani has garnered numerous distinctions and honours through his work with environment. These include the Kotler Award of Excellence for Lifetime Achievement at the World Marketing Summit in 2018, the Champion Award from the Responsible Tourism Society of India, recognition as the number one golf club in the Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Category from the Golf Industry Association of India (October 2022), and the title of Best Golf Resort in Delhi NCR from Today’s Traveller.

As Ashwani puts it, “Whatever my achievements, I see them as a testament to the power of individual commitment in shaping a greener, healthier, and more harmonious future for all.”

As the earth grapples with the devastating effects of climate change, hopefully Ashwani and others like him will show the way to a better world.”