Citizens of Gurugram call on Haryana CM Khattar to save the Aravallis
Environmentalists want the amendments to PLPA, 1900, revoked and re-notification of the Act in areas where past notifications have lapsed.Updated: Jan 10, 2020, 11:40 IST
A group of citizens staged a silent protest outside John Hall on Thursday morning, where chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar was holding a public grievance redressal meeting. The group, comprising citizens and environmentalists, said they were appealing to the Haryana government to revoke its proposed amendments to the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, and also called for re-notification of the PLPA in areas where past notifications have expired.
In Gurugram and Faridabad districts, 88% of all notifications issued under the PLPA, 1900, have lapsed, as per the data obtained from the state forest department. This implies that 20,737 acres of Aravalli land spread across 36 villages of Gurugram and 12 villages of Faridabad are no longer officially notified under the PLPA, which accords them legal ‘forest’ status with protection under the Forest Conservation Act,1980.
In Gurugram, PLPA notifications for 16,168 acres of Aravalli land have expired and notifications for another 762 acres will expire in 2023. In Faridabad, 4,569 acres of Aravalli land are no longer covered under a valid notification, while notifications for another 5,876 acres are also set to expire in three years. The bulk of these notifications were initially issued in 1970 and were valid for 25 years. The last notifications were issued in 1998, and were valid for 15 to 25 years.
Forest department officials said that there are no plans to re-notify these areas, in light of Supreme Court directions which grant ‘forest’ status to PLPA lands in perpetuity. Subash Yadav, district forest officer, Gurugram, said, “In a 2002 order, the apex court clearly stated that regardless of the date of notification, PLPA lands are to be treated as forests indefinitely. Therefore, re-notifications have ceased.”
This view was also echoed by a senior member of the state forest department based in Panchkula, who did not wish to be identified.
Anil Hooda, principal chief conservator of forests, Haryana, declined to comment on the impact of PLPA amendment bill. Instead, reiterating Yadav’s point, he said, “PLPA areas are considered legal forests as per SC directions. Therefore no re-notifications have happened.”
Experts, however, pointed to neighbouring Punjab, where 21,000 acres of PLPA land around Chandigarh (most of it falling in Shivalik mountain range) were re-notified in February 2019, on the day that they were set to lapse.
“The same should ideally also be done in Haryana, particularly in Gurugram and Faridabad, where the encroachment of forest land is becoming rampant. While the Supreme Court order from 2002 stands, executive decisions about protection of forests are the purview of the state. It is sad to see that Haryana is not proactively making these decisions,” a senior bureaucrat and former forest senior department official, seeking anonymity, said.
Environmentalists have pointed out that Haryana’s reluctance to re-notify lapsed PLPA protections is part of a larger move to remove about 60,000 acres of PLPA-notified Aravalli land from legal ‘forest’ status. In February 2019, the Haryana cabinet passed the PLPA amendment bill, which will effectively circumvent the SC’s 2002 order and make all PLPA lands open to real estate interests.
The PLPA amendment also gives the state government authority to revoke any notification at any time. “So, one can see how issuing re-notifications would contradict the government’s long-term goals,” said Neelam Ahluwalia, a city-based environmentalist.
“Our demand is that the PLPA amendment act be revoked and that lapsed areas be renotified, as done in Punjab. This would send a serious message that Haryana intends to protect its forests,” said Sarika Verma, another protester.