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HindustanTimes Sun,31 Aug 2014

Kamal Nath pushes forest-to-funspot plan

Moushumi Das Gupta, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 26, 2014
First Published: 01:27 IST(26/4/2014) | Last Updated: 01:30 IST(26/4/2014)

With just 20 days to go before the UPA-II’s term comes to an end, the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) chaired by Union urban development minister Kamal Nath on Friday directed the Haryana government to incorporate a contentious clause in the state’s sub-regional plan.

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The clause will open the door to construction in the garb of “recreational” activity in up to 0.5% of the environmentally sensitive Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ). “Recreational activity” is a vague term that could include tourist complexes, adventure parks and resorts, say officials.

The board’s direction has come despite objections from the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the Union environment ministry.

Sources present at the meeting said that the Haryana government has committed to incorporate the clause allowing 0.5% construction in the NCZ before finalising and officially notifying its sub-regional plan. The urban development ministry, under which the NCRPB comes, did not hold a formal briefing of the meeting citing the Model Code of Conduct.

The NCZ comprises the ecologically fragile Aravallis, as well as forests, rivers, lakes and water bodies that are considered the lungs of the NCR. According to environmentalists working in the area, the approximate area of the NCZ in the NCR is 3,000 sq km. No wonder then that the board’s direction has set alarm bells ringing among conservationists.

They fear the move could pave the way for further dilution of the 0.5% cap on construction in the NCZ in the near future and result in rampant commercial exploitation and environmental degradation of the region.

“The NCZ needs to be protected. Ground water aquifers are a common pool resource and development in the Aravallis will dry up ground water recharge for Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad,” said Chetan Aggarwal, an environmental analyst.

Though UD ministry officials termed the meeting as “routine”, some government departments are irked at the haste with which the UD ministry has pushed this proposal days before a new government comes to power at the Centre.

“It’s not an issue of national urgency. Why could it not have waited till the next government is formed? Is the hurry because of apprehensions that the proposal could have been nixed by the new government? Or is it being done to favour a builders’ lobby in the state?” asked AAP leader and former Delhi transport minister Saurabh Bhardwaj.
 
The AAP government had opposed the clause allowing 0.5% construction in NCZ.

The Delhi chief secretary had written to the UD ministry earlier this month to not take a hasty decision on this matter.
 
The Union environment ministry, in several missives to the UD ministry, has also raised its concerns at the proposal.

Even the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had raised objections and earlier this week, the PMO directed the ministry to sort out the various objections to the proposal and send a compliance report to it. The UD ministry is yet to do so.

“Once the Haryana government incorporates the changes in its plan, we will send the compliance report to the PMO,” said an official who did not want to be identified.


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