More illegal tree felling in protected Aravallis, activists call for improved security

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Published on Dec 26, 2019 07:44 PM IST
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ByPrayag Arora-Desai

Gurugram Less than two weeks after a series of large-scale tree felling in the Aravalli forests of Mangar and Kot (in Faridabad district), more such violations have been brought to light in Faridabad’s Anangpur and Mewla Maharajpur villages. Following a field visit to the area on December 22, Faridabad-based activists lodged a complaint with Haryana’s principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) on December 24, calling for better protection of Aravalli forests in the region.

The complaint letter, authored by activist Vishnu Goel, notes, “Recently, during a trip to Aravalli areas falling under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad, and which are notified under special sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (1900), it was noticed that several non-forestry activities are taking place in contravention of orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

The complaint goes on to point out that lands notified under the PLPA are conferred legal ‘forest’ status and that there are several such land parcels in Anangpur and Mewla Maharajpur, which have been illegally encroached upon in violation of the Forest Conservation Act (1980). “In many places, trees have been cut en masse, roads have been built and boundary walls have been erected around upcoming structures,” the complaint notes, providing GPS coordinates of six such locations in the two aforementioned villages.

Goel’s letter also contains images from each of the six spots. A visit to four of them by a Hindustan Times team on the morning of December 25 confirmed these allegations.

According to Gurugram-based activist Vaishali Rana Chandra, they represent a pattern typical of the way in which Aravalli forest land is illegally diverted. “This is the first step in a pattern of encroachment that we have been witnessing for years. Trees are felled, then the land is cleared into a plot and eventually, taken over for construction,” Chandra said.

In September 2018, pursuant to an order upholding the forest status of PLPA-notified land, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of Kant Enclave, a housing society built illegally on Aravalli forest land, notified under special Section 4 & 5 of the Act. The apex court later ordered similar action against other such structures across the Aravallis. In October this year, the MCG partially demolished at least 40 unauthorised farmhouses in Anangpur, all of which were found to be built on PLPA-notified forest land.

“However, Anangpur is just one affected area. The forest department and municipal corporation need to take more stringent action in other Aravalli villages too. The Supreme Court gave official instructions for the same in September last year, but little has been done on the ground,” said Goel on Thursday.

The Faridabad Municipal Corporation, last year, had made a list of over 189 such violations throughout the district. However, a fresh report by the forest department only identified 66 such locations. The forest department and MCG officials have not clearly explained why the number was whittled down to half, despite being asked multiple times.

Both the MCG and the forest department have received multiple complaints against non-forestry activities in the Aravallis this year. On December 10, three Gurugram-based activists wrote to the state forest department, providing GPS coordinates of 15 locations in nearby Mangar and Kot villages, where land parcels had been cleared by cutting trees and levelling out the earth.

Officials of the MCF did not respond to repeated requests for comment. However, earlier this year, Faridabad’s chief town planner, Sanjeev Mann, had confirmed to HT that the PLPA lands are indeed treated as forests by the administration. “Sections 4 and 5 of the PLPA mean that land under question is forest land. We have not permitted any projects in such areas, and routinely reject requests for change of land use in these regions,” Mann had said.

According to the state forest department website, at least 5,800 acres of PLPA land is located in Faridabad, across eight Aravalli villages. Activists have attributed the violations to a lack of monitoring by the forest department, which, over the past two years, has cut down the number of check posts in these areas.

In an RTI response from earlier this year, it was revealed that the department has only six outposts in Gurugram, as opposed to a sanctioned strength of 11, which were operational in January 2018. It is unclear how many such outposts are operational in Faridabad.

“In the absence of forest guards patrolling the area, such instances do go up. We have seen it in the past. There is a definite need for more vigilance,” said Sunil Harsana, an activist from Mangar village.

“At least seven check posts which were active in Mangar, Bandhwari, Damdama and surrounding areas, until June 2017, were suddenly shut after an administrative reshuffle, and we immediately saw an increase in the cases of tree cutting as a result,” he said.

Suresh Punia, district forest officer, Faridabad, did not respond to requests seeking comment on Thursday.

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