Students demand protection of Aravallis, withdrawal of amendment to land act
Students of classes 11 and 12 on Sunday held a demonstration, seeking protection for the Aravallis and demanding the withdrawal of laws aimed at amending the protection afforded to the Aravallis. The protest was held from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at Galleria Market in DLF Phase-4.
“In your plans I cannot see any living beauty, I see mountains of trash higher than the Aravallis… I need trees, not toxic energy, because, I cannot breathe…,” recited by a 16-year-old during the protest, referring to the Haryana government’s amendment to the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA).
Anushka, another 16-year-old who was protesting at the market on Sunday evening, said, “Aravallis are the green lungs, climate regulator, water recharge zone and shield against desertification of Delhi-NCR. We need to save the Aravallis for a better future.”
Environmentalists echoed these sentiments and said they are awaiting the withdrawal of the amendment by the state government, as it puts 33% of the state’s forest cover at risk.
Lt. Col (Retd) Sarvadaman Oberoi, a city-based environmentalist and activist said, “It’s a shame that Haryana, with the lowest forest cover in the country, tried to get rid of the PLPA act with an amendment retrospective to 1966. Fortunately, the Supreme Court stayed the amendments from coming into effect. We are hopeful that the government which protected the Mangar Bani sacred grove in 2016 will take concrete steps to protect the Aravallis of south Haryana for future generations of humans and future generations of wildlife.”
The state government’s amendment to the PLPA on February 27, 2019, was stayed by the Supreme Court in March 2019, but in July 2019, the governor had approved the bill. However, the amendment is yet to be notified.
VS Tanwar, the principal chief conservator of forests, Haryana forest department, said, “There has been no development or movement in the PLPA amendment case so far, since the matter was stayed by the Supreme Court. The orders of the apex court are still enforced.”
On March 1, 2019, the Supreme Court had expressed concern over the bill, in a hearing related to the Kant Enclave judgment, and stated, “In order to get rid of this order, the state of Haryana has made certain amendments in Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, by virtue of that they are permitting construction in the forest area and PLPA region also [sic].”
The apex court also warned the state government against enacting the legislation without the court’s permission. The bill passed by the state cabinet removes legal ‘forest’ status for about 60,000 acres of Aravalli land in the state.
The law in discussion dates back to the 1900s, which was passed to protect common forest land from being bought under agriculture. In Haryana, the PLPA extends protection to forests and trees on private lands, community lands, panchayat and municipal lands in the uncultivable hills of the Aravallis in the south and Shiwaliks in the northern parts of the state.
The PLPA act has two major types of provisions — regional notifications under General Section 4 of PLPA that cover entire districts and merely restrict tree felling (equivalent to a tree preservation rule), and Khasra (plot) number specific notifications, under Special Section 4 and Section 5 of the PLPA that extends protection against land use change to certain specified Aravalli areas, forests and trees. These may be community (shamlat) lands, panchayat, municipal lands, or private lands. The PLPA area under Special sections 4 and 5 approximately cover 30,000 hectares, around 33% of the effective forest land in Haryana.
According to directives of the Supreme Court, the PLPA attracts protection under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which states that “no state government or other authority shall make, except with the prior approval of the central government, any order directing that any forest land or any portion thereof may be used for any non-forest purpose.”
Neelam Ahluwalia, a city-based environmentalist associated with the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement that has been demanding the withdrawal of the amendment for two years, said, “A total of 33% of Haryana’s measly 3.62% forest cover is at stake, which amounts to 74,000 acres of land, out of which 60,000 acres are in the Aravallis around Gurugram, Faridabad and south Haryana.”
She further said that if the PLPA amendment bill is notified, it can have “disastrous consequences for our air quality, groundwater, and Gurugram and National Capital Region will turn into a desert.”