Even as the Haryana government issued a gazette notification to demarcate Mangar Bani in the Aravalli hills and create a 500-metre buffer area as a no-construction zone on June 13, skepticism prevails over the long-term safety of the region.
Green activists allege that a lot of the Aravalli commons are now under private ownership, giving the owners the right to sell forest land.
The land falling under Mangar Bani core area and 500 metres buffer around the bani fall in the revenue estate of three villages — Mangar and Kot in Faridabad district, and Bandhwari village in Gurgaon district. These areas are to be treated as a no-construction zone, as mentioned in the notification issued by the state government.
Environmentalists say the dubious process of privatisation of the Aravalli commons of Mangar village started in 1970s. In 1960s, the area was owned by the village panchayat and recorded as panchayat deh (community land). It was categorised as gair mumkin pahar, which is unfit for cultivation.
Later, the revenue records were altered with the help of the revenue department. The process involved transferring land ownership from the panchayat to individuals according to the ratio of agricultural land holding of villagers. Environmentalists say the Agricultural Land Act, 1948, was misused for this purpose.
The process initiated a major change in the region, as villagers sold their shares to outsiders at low prices in the 1980s.
In Kot village, the situation is slightly different as the land has not been fully partitioned yet. Aravalli land is still being sold to private parties, environmentalists say.
In Bandhwari village, the Aravalli gair mumkin pahar commons were privatised, but in a reversal of rules in the mid-2000s, it was restored back to panchayat ownership. This land is now with the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, which too over the panchayat assets.
Activists are suggesting that the Bandhwari example of restoring privatised commons back to the panchayat ownership can be effected in the Aravalli hills of Kot and Mangar villages too.
Activist Lt. col (rtd) SS Oberoi said that in January 2012, the Supreme Court, in the Jagpal Singh & others vs. state of Punjab & others judgement, directed that ownership of village common lands should be given back to the panchayats across the country. Subsequently, instructions were issued to all districts to implement the order.
Besides the gazette notification, activists are demanding corrective changes in the revenue records and inclusion of the area in subregional plan for Haryana NCR subregion.
“It is clearly an organised conspiracy to help the real estate sector flourish in the region. The lower judiciary, revenue department and government officials are involved in the process of changing the land records to privatise the Aravallis and change the land use,” Amit Chaudhery, a naturalist said.
The state’s notification of no-construction zone for the Mangar Bani and its essential buffer is a welcome move and it signals that the tide may be turning in favour of Mangar Bani, Chetan Agarwal, an environmental analyst, said.
Conservator of forests (Gurgaon circle) MD Sinha said that ownership of forest land was changed illegally in the past and it should be restored to community ownership.