The Haryana government has decided Faridabad’s Mangar Bani green belt cannot be classified as a forest, drawing criticism from environmentalists who say the decision to free up about 80,000 hectares of land was influenced by the builder lobby.
Long considered the last remaining virgin forest in Delhi NCR, the grove in the Aravalli range, held sacred by local villagers, has been repeatedly targeted for big-ticket infrastructure projects because of its proximity to Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad.
About 100,000 hectares of land fall under the Aravallis in southern Haryana. Of this, just 20,000 hectares are identified as forest under sections 4 and 5 of Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) while the rest is unprotected.
The forest department that last month decided to keep the Aravalli range under the “forest” category— going against a list prepared by the town and country planning department—reversed its decision recently.
In a letter issued on Monday of which HT has a copy, the department made its stand clear about recording of forest areas through the process of ground truthing, or gathering objective data, and said only areas qualifying as “forest” under the two sections of PLPA will be categorised as such.
Mangar Bani does not meet the criteria.
“The decision goes against at least four Supreme Court orders and is a possible contempt of court,” said lieutenant colonel (retired) Sarvadaman Oberoi, an environmentalist. “Such decisions have usually been taken by revenue or town and country planning departments. However, the forest department taking such a step despite knowing this is wrong, shows it has been pressurised into it.”
Principal secretary of Haryana’s forest department, Amit Jha, refused to comment on the matter.
Most of the Aravallis have either been privatised over the years and sold to developers as well as corporate groups, or they fall under community and government land.
The ground truthing process to determine forest areas was prescribed by the NCR Planning Board (NCRPB), but experts say the forest department’s decision to go by the book defeats the whole purpose.
The forest department’s letter adds an explanatory note that says the union ministry of environment and forests is formulating criteria for identification of a “forest” based on its dictionary meaning. Once these parameters are finalised and approved, the status of the “not forest” areas may undergo changes.