Amended land law contradictory to NCR board’s plan, allege landowners
Residents and proprietors owning land in areas notified under Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) in Gurugram and Faridabad have alleged the PLPA contradicts the National Capital Region Planning Board’s (NCRPB) Regional Plan, 2021, for the NCR. The Act, they said , provides ‘forest’ status to uncultivable Aravalli lands or ‘gair mumkin pahad’ whereas NCRPB recommends the same lands for urban expansion.
Several such property owners recently organised themselves under ‘PLPA Peedhit Haryana Jan Sangathan (PPHJS)’ to voice their support for PLPA amendment bill, which, if enacted, will open up 26,000 acres of Aravalli land in Gurugram and Faridabad for real estate development.
However, experts and environmentalists have cast a doubt over the PPHJS’s claims, saying it does not consider the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) component of the Regional Plan, which takes the opposite view of Aravalli ‘wastelands’, given their ecological importance.
Sanjeev Malhotra, who owns 12 acres of PLPA-notified Aravalli land in Anangpur, Faridabad, said, “The Regional Plan, ratified in accordance with the NCR Act in 1991, states there is a need to protect agricultural lands from urban sprawl, and that wastelands should be diverted for this purpose.” Most of the PLPA-notified lands in South Haryana, which are in the Aravallis, are uncultivable, he said.
According to the Regional Plan, a major reason for the decrease of agricultural land in NCR is due to the expansion of urban settlements, and “this requires utmost care so as not to convert fertile/agriculture land for urban development purposes and as far as possible utilisation of infertile/wastelands for this purpose”. Shyam Singh, a lawyer representing PPJHS, said, “With this in mind, the restrictions on development imposed under PLP Act are contrary to the objectives of the Regional Plan 2021 of NCR.”
Forest analyst Chetan Agarwal called this “a very selective reading of the Regional Plan,” saying it ignores the Planning Board’s concept of NCZ, which recognises all of the Aravallis as ‘forest’. While it is true that the Regional Plan suggests diversion of wastelands for development, the rules do not apply to barren land in the Aravallis, Agarwal explained. The Aravallis are important because they act as a ground water recharge zone and wildlife habitat, a sink for pollution, a preventer of desertification, and influence rainfall. “In fact, the Regional Plan of 2001 made a recommendation of increasing NCR’s forest cover by converting entire wastelands into forests,” Agarwal said.
Chapter 17 of the Regional Plan, which deals with land-use patterns, states, “The extension of the Aravalli ridge, sanctuaries and other ecologically sensitive areas are to be conserved and afforested with suitable species.”
It also states, “It is imperative to bring more areas under forest so as to maintain the ecological balance in this region. Accordingly, all wastelands are to be brought under forest cover.”
Thus, even if the PLPA amendment were to become a law, the NCZ serves as a second layer of enviro-legal protection for the Aravallis by limiting permissible extent of development activities.
Hence, environmentalists have been demanding that the state complete its delineation of NCZs, which has been pending for more than four years now.
There are at more than 25,000 acres of Aravalli land in NCR which have not yet been included in the NCZ after the Haryana government, in 2014, decided to slot them under ‘NCZ status yet to be decided’ category. At the time, the government proposed to conduct physical investigations of these areas to determine whether they conform to the criteria of NCZ.
“The fact that this hasn’t even been completed shows the scant regard we have towards protecting our forests,” said city-based activist Vaishali Rana Chandra.