Haryana govt plays with rules as Aravallis lose green cover
Although the Supreme Court, through judgments in 1996, 1997 and 2011, directed the state to come up with a definition of forest, the government has failed to actgurgaon Updated: Dec 23, 2017 23:17 IST
As yet another year goes by, there’s still little or no clarity on the status of land in most areas in the Aravallis. Even as it awaited an official word on whether these areas are to be treated as ‘forest’, all that the Aravallis got this year were ‘broken promises’.
The year started with ground truthing (a process to find and define forest area) to assess whether parts of the Aravallis should be brought within the ambit of the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) and ended with another ground truthing on whether parts of the region ought to be treated as forest land. However, none could go to any length to determining the status with regard to parts of the Aravallis in Haryana.
With no clarity on the status of land in the region, tree felling continued across the forested terrain, leading to a loss of green cover in the state. Environmentalists voiced alarm over the rapid shrinkage in the state’s tree cover, as the state has less than 4% of green cover, the second lowest in the country after Punjab.
Environment activists also alleged attempts by the Haryana government to dilute the status of a vast portion of forested lands in the Aravallis. The ground truthing in January to assess if parts of the Aravallis should be brought within the ambit of the NCZ and, in the process, should have restrictions in place under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, failed to yield any result, as most areas in the region were kept out of the NCZ zoning. The forest department objected to the move to keep out large parts of the Aravallis outside the zoning process and called off the exercise in March.
In May, the Haryana government allegedly tried to dilute the status of Aravalli land by allowing felling of 90% trees. The move came after the Haryana government added Kikar and Mesquite in the list of trees exempted from provisions under the PLPA. However, the order was withdrawn in the light of opposition from environment activists.
In June, the Haryana government claimed that the Aravallis do not extend beyond Gurgaon.
In its letter to the Union ministry of urban development in June, the state government asked it not to extend the definition of Aravallis beyond Gurgaon, as the Aravalli Notification,1992 covers only Gurgaon.
The move dealt a blow to the process of determining the status of the Aravallis and drew strident opposition from environment activists. Facing flak, the government said that it could only determine the status of the Aravallis after coming up with a definition of ‘forest’.
“The state government has been trying to change the existing laws to enable real estate groups venture into the protected areas of the state,” Vivek Kamboj, an environmentalist, said.
On December 4, the Haryana government requested the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) to allow three months of ground truthing again to assess if the Aravallis could be brought under NCZ, as it is crucial to arriving at a decision on the definition of forest.
Environmental activists and concerned citizens said that promises that the state made, with regard to the status of land in the Aravallis, this year, weren’t fulfilled. The activists said that despite the Supreme Court, through judgments in 1996, 1997 and 2011, directed the state to come up with a definition of forest, consistent with its dictionary meaning, the state failed to act.
“Another year is coming to an end and yet, there’s no headway on the status of land in the Aravallis,” Chetan Agarwal, an environment analyst, said.
However, government officials said that work on coming up with a definition of forest is on the right track and they are trying to evaluate the total area under NCZ.
“We are in the process of examining the revenue records regarding the status of land for the ground truthing process to identify NCZ,” TL Satyaprakash, director, town and country planning department, Haryana, that carried out the forest survey.