Haryana to ignore 1981 satellite images while examining land status under PLPA
Environmentalists have raised concern that the criterion set for defining area under PLPA, i.e, relying only on government land record and not satellite imagery, goes against the SC’s judgment on definition of ‘deemed forest’.gurgaon Updated: Jan 14, 2018 23:34 IST
The Haryana government has called a meeting in Chandigarh on Monday to examine the status of land under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA).
The agenda for the meeting shows that the government is going to ignore the satellite images of land from 1981, and rely solely on the government record as maintained in 1980 in the process of defining forest land.
The outcome of the meeting would bring Haryana a step closer to clearly defining the nature of land in the Aravallis, and how much, or little, of the protected hills would be opened to builders.
The meeting comes in the backdrop of the NCR Planning Board asking the state, in November last year, to prepare a report on status of forest areas in Haryana. The report was sought as Haryana’s response on areas included in the Aravallis has remained pending after the December 2016 decision to include all of NCR, with 13 cities from Haryana, in the area of Aravalli notification, 1992. Earlier, only Gurgaon and Faridabad were notified as part of Aravallis.
It is important to note that the state has less than 3.7 % forest cover, mostly in Aravallis. How the state chooses to define forests on Monday may further reduce this area, environmentalists said.
“….on the same line of Punjab, the State of Haryana shall also initiate the process to identify the forest land…instead of dealing with the matter on case basis or only in eventuality of any orders passed either by the High Court or by the Supreme Court of India, based on the ‘Government record’ maintained as on 25.10.1980, the date on which the Forest Conservation Act 1980 came into being. The said exercise shall also be carried out as expeditiously as possible without relying on the satellite imagery taken on 17.05.1981,” the agenda for the meeting read.
Environmentalists have raised concern that the criterion set for defining area under PLPA, i.e, relying only on government land record and not satellite imagery, goes against the SC’s judgment on definition of ‘deemed forest’.
The ‘deemed forest’ terminology was derived from the December 1996 SC Godavarman judgment which stated that in addition to notified forests, areas recorded as forests in government records will be treated as forests for the purpose of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA). The judgment also stated that areas which meet the criterion of dictionary meaning of forest will also be treated as forest. These rules are applicable irrespective of land ownership, and to areas that were forests, but are now degraded, denuded or cleared.
“The starting time-period for reviewing whether an area is a forest is the current time period. If the site meets recorded or dictionary meaning criteria at present, then it will be treated as a forest for the purposes of FCA. It is only if a site does not meet the criteria of a forest at present do we have to go backwards, to see if the land in question was a forest in the past. The cut-off date for the look-back is October 25, 1980, i.e. if an area does not meet the dictionary meaning/recorded forest criteria presently, or in the past till October 25, 1980, then it will not be treated as a legal forest,” environment analyst Chetan Agarwal said.
Additionally, environment activists have also raised questions about state’s plan to follow the Punjab strategy—blanket notification against case-specific notification—to identify forests in Haryana.
Land status of Aravallis
About 1,00,000 hectares of land fall under the Aravalis in south Haryana.
More than 25,000 hectares are identified as forest under sections 4 and 5 of Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA).
Around 62,000 hectares have been identified as NCZ, while another 12,800 hectares have been put under the ‘yet to be decided’ category.