It was in 2009 that the Punjab government de-listed thousands of acres of 'kandi' belt from the Punjab Land Protection Act (PLPA) to safeguard the local peasants' livelihoods. But the very purpose seems to have been defeated as these lands are being sold out to realtors.
Paharpur, 13 km from Anandpur Sahib in Rupnagar district, is one such village, where Nature Heights Infra Limited (NHIL) has set its sights on even the PLPA land covered with khair trees, paying the earnest money for land deals with the local owners.
Villagers here keep witnessing groups inspecting the green belts, and returning.
"They keep visiting in big cars, for the transaction of the lands covered with khair trees," said Bikram Singh, who lives in a 'kuccha' dwelling adjacent to one such sold-out green pasture. The landless peasant is at the mercy of forest rangers and those owning the landscapes protected under the PLPA for fuel wood.
"Hardly a couple of houses in the village have LPG cylinders," he said, when asked how many families were dependent on the vegetation for fuel wood.
Ram Chand has signed an agreement with NHIL to sell his 11 acres to the real estate company. He was paid Rs. 5 lakh as earnest money by the company to mutate the entire pasture covered with khair.
He is now looking forward to selling off another 7 acres, majority of which, he said, was not covered under the PLPA.
Ram Chand is not the only one to sell off his land, as he named three other local landholders who had the sale deed agreements of parting with their huge chunks that included the PLPA-protected green belts aswell. "Three to four more land transfer/mutation agreements have come up in the village in less than a year," he said, counting three chunks owned by different families - 35 acres, 70 acres and 12 acres that also included the PLPA lands, besides the de-listed land meant for agricultural purpose only.
"These three families have also received the earnest money amounts from a party in Ludhiana," he said.
Half a kilometre away starts the boundary of Simberwala village, carved out of Paharpur, before the panchayat elections this year.
Village sarpanch Karamchand has a somewhat different view on the real estate business in these green cover territories.
"When no construction can take place on such lands, I wonder what interest the buyers from the cities have here," he said.
He narrated an incident where the forest guards even stopped "a party" from cutting down the khair plantation for digging the land after a sale deed agreement.
"They (buyers) are buying the land at cheap rates and making money by proposing colonies," he said.
But, he added, the innocent villagers could not realise how the land prices were increasing in the process, making it difficult for the poor locals to buy a small chunk for their housing.
Floods in the absence of vegetation were another fear of Karamchand. "If you can see the slopes, imagine how fast the water would fall in case these slopes turn barren (on deforestation)," he pointed out at the green hillocks from his rooftop.