In what may act as a catalyst to the rampant practice of illegal felling of trees, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (Huda) has declared that the city's green belts can now be used for any purpose that serves public interest.
The declaration came as a reply to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by environmentalist Vivek Kamboj, the founder of NGO Haryali.
Answering the RTI application dated June 7, executive engineer, horticulture, Huda, VK Nirala wrote, "The green belts identified can be used for any purpose in public interest with the approval of the competent authority."
With the pace and manner in which Gurgaon is growing, this reply given by Huda ascertains the depletion of the city's green cover. On an average, 6,500 trees are legally chopped down in the city every year.
According to the Haryana Forest Development Corporation (HFDC), in the last 10 years, 61,050 trees were cut, out of which more than 13,000 were cut in 2002 for the construction of National Highway-8.
But this is just legal felling. The count is skyrocketing when it comes to illegal felling. One reason behind this is because green belts are governed by Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900.
The Act is outdated as it has a very less penalty — Rs. 500 — for illegal felling of a tree. There was a proposal made recently by the Gurgaon forest department to increase the penalty to Rs. 25,000, but is still in the pipeline.
At present, Gurgaon has just 3.4% of tree cover, according to the forest survey of India. Environmentalists in the city anticipate a sharp decline of this figure, with the rate at which the green belts of Gurgaon are being misused and under-maintained.
The violations can be seen at all major junctions of the expressway. For instance, at Rajiv Chowk, the green belt has been occupied by CNG and share auto-rickshaws.
The spot is less than a kilometre from the forest office and yet the violation remains unchecked. Another glaring example is that of Iffco Chowk and also along the expressway, where trucks are perpetually parked on the greenbelt, with hardly any trees growing there.
Although these violations are of encroachment, the city has seen graver ones this year. One was the felling of trees on the campus of the National Media Center (NMC) for the widening of the sector road from Ambience Mall to sectors 55 and 56.
Environmentalists have attributed such unorganised tree felling to the poor town planning of Gurgaon. Chetan Agarwal, environmental analyst and a resident of Gurgaon, has suggested a two-stage green buffer across the city.
"Town planners should consider upgrading the present green buffer to a two-stage one. This will make some portions of the green belt reserved and protected from developers, while the rest can be used as a short-term green belt, which can be used for infrastructure development," explained Agarwal.
In the short-term green belt, fast-growing trees should be planted.