Activists happy but sceptical if Supreme Court rebuke will save Aravallis
Given Haryana’s poor record of complying with Supreme Court orders on protection of forests, environmentalists are sceptical whether the Supreme Court’s rebuke on the amendment to Punjab Land Preservation Act 1900 (PLPA) Friday will ensure the Aravalli and Shivalik ranges in the state are not sacrificed to development.
Haryana has been dragging its feet on recognising its forests for over 20 years now. Even Mangar Bani, a dense forest grove in Faridabad with native Aravalli trees such as Dhau and Salai and a density of 400 trees per acre, is not protected as a forest in government records.
This is because Haryana has still not implemented the 1996 Supreme Court order in the TN Godavarman case — which began as a petition to stop illegal felling of timber in the Nilgiri Hills but expanded to cover many aspects of policy. The top court had, in its order, said the term “forest” is to be understood in dictionary sense and any area termed forest in government records, irrespective of ownership, would be considered a forest. The Haryana government didn’t make any effort to delineate “deemed forests” in compliance with the 1996 Supreme Court order even after the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), in 2017, directed that all NCR states will have to identify all deemed forests.
In December 16, 2002, in a case initiated by MC Mehta — initially looking at air pollution in Delhi but later covering illegal mining in Haryana in a related application — the apex court directed that no mining will be permitted in areas notified under Section 4 and Section 5 of the PLPA even if the notification period for the areas has expired. But Haryana overturned this in one of the clauses of the PLPA amendment passed on February 28 this year.
On September 11, 2018, the Supreme Court had, in the Kant Enclave matter pertaining to a case against mushrooming of illegal colonies in the Aravallis, said: “We have no doubt that the land notified by the state of Haryana under the provisions of the PLP Act must be treated as ‘forest’ and ‘forest land’ and has, in fact, been so treated for several decades by the state of Haryana.”
But in the recent PLPA amendment, Haryana exempted the entire Aravalli stretches in Gurugram and Faridabad from PLPA protection against real estate development, mining and quarrying.
Section 3(A) of the amendment states that provisions of the PLPA Act will not apply to certain lands which include final development plans of urban areas such as Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority Act, Faridabad Metropolitan Development Authority Act 2018, Haryana Municipal Corporation Act 1994 among others.
Before amendment, Section 4 and Section 5 of PLPA Act ensured prohibition of felling of trees, quarrying, cultivation or breaking up of land in areas listed under PLPA. The legislation was enacted to save the Aravallis and Shivaliks from soil erosion. Following the amendment, all of these areas ,which include some 38 villages and 17,000 acres of Aravalli land in Gurugram and 17 villages and 10,450 acres of Aravallis in Faridabad are left exposed.
The subversion of the Supreme Court orders by Haryana leaves environmental activists with little hope. “I will not be able to comment on the Supreme Court’s observations on the PLPA amendment. As far as identifying deemed forest is concerned, I think there is a committee looking in to it,” said SN Roy, secretary, forests, Haryana.
“If the amendment is implemented, 60,000 acres of Aravallis will be impacted, the worst hit will be the Aravallis in Gurugram and Faridabd, where real estate pressure is the highest and Aravalli common land have been privatised in some villages,” said Chetan Agarwal, a Gurugram-based forestry expert.
He added: “Despite numerous Supreme Court orders, instead of protecting the Aravallis, the Haryana government’s town and country planning department is subverting the orders and resisting efforts of the forest department in conserving the Aravallis. This amendment is a classic example of that.”