Gurgaon: Green cover takes a hit as Haryana yet to define ‘forests’
More than half of the Aravallis in Gurgaon and Faridabad notified under Section 4 and/or 5 of the PLPA and these are the only Aravalli areas with a ‘forest’ tag. The rest of the Aravallis is not recognised as forest by the state government, experts said.Updated: Mar 01, 2018 22:56 IST
Despite a nominal increase in forest cover in Haryana, as revealed in the State of Forest 2017 report, the state still has the lowest forest cover in the country, which environmentalists feel is a cause for concern.
According to the report, complied by the Forest Survey of India, Haryana managed to increase its forest cover by 0.01%, while neighbouring Punjab improved it by forests by 0.13%.
Experts say one of the problems in Haryana is that the government failed to re-notify a large number of areas which were covered by the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) 1900, which protects the forests and green areas in the state.There is also no clear demarcation of forest areas, especially the Aravalli forests in Gurgaon and Faridabad.
PLPA protects forest areas as the Act curbs non-forest activities. The land is notified under PLPA for a specified period of about 15-30 years after which the notification has to be renewed. However, in the last two decades, Haryana has failed to re-notify PLPA areas as it is undecided about how much of the Aravallis should be protected, experts said.
“Notification of the Aravalli areas under the PLPA gives some basic protection in states such as Punjab and Haryana where the forest cover is low. In Haryana, where the government is still unable to identify forests, re-notifying PLPA areas, by including areas such as Mangar Bani that had hitherto been left out, will be crucial,” Suresh Babu, director, Centre for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, Ambedkar University, Delhi, said.
In comparison, the Punjab government on February 2, issued a notification under PLPA for 21,944 acres in Shivalik forests near Chandigarh. These areas were earlier notified under PLPA in 2003 for 15 years.
As per the data of the forest department, Haryana has 38 villages in Gurgaon and 17 in Faridabad notified under the PLPA.
In Gurgaon, notifications of 36 of the 38 villages have expired and the remaining two will expire in 2023. In Faridabad, notifications of more than half of the 17 Aravalli villages have expired and the rest will expire within the next decade.
More than half of the Aravallis in these districts are notified under Section 4 and/or 5 of the PLPA and these are the only Aravalli areas with a ‘forest’ tag. The rest of the Aravallis is not recognised as forest by the state government, experts said.
“The expired PLPA areas are currently protected in Haryana because of the judgments in the MC Mehta case in 2004, wherein the court said that these Aravallis PLPA areas have been treated as forest. The state cannot now claim that these areas are not forest. These areas will have to be treated as forest and will attract the Forest Conservation Act, which restricts non-forest activities,” Chetan Agarwal, environment analyst, said.
However recently, the state government set up a committee under the chief secretary to review the forest status of the PLPA notified areas as of 1980.
“Punjab, which has similar problems of privatisation of common land in the Shivalik hills around Chandigarh, went ahead and renotified the hills under the PLPA. Haryana needs to take note and renotify the entire Aravallis under the PLPA,” Lt Col (retd) Sarvadaman Oberoi, an environmentalist, said.
“While Delhi has protected most of the Aravallis falling within that state as reserve forests, and also the Asola wildlife sanctuary, the Aravalli areas of Gurgaon and Faridabad have no such protection. The least that Haryana can do is re-notify the Aravallis under PLPA,” Ankila Hiremath, a senior fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Delhi, said.
About 1,00,000 hectares of the Aravallis are in southern Haryana. More than 25,000 hectares are identified as forest under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA. Around 62,000 hectares have been identified as natural conservation zone (NCZ), while another 12,800 hectares have been put under the ‘yet to be decided’ category.
“We are in the process of identification of PLPA areas and we will be able to get a clear picture of forest areas after that,” SN Roy, principal secretary to the government of Haryana, forest & wildlife, said.