Congress makes Aravalli protection political issue ahead of Haryana polls
The Congress party’s general secretary in Haryana, Pradeep Zaildar, on Sunday held a press conference in which he attacked the state government over its alleged reluctance to protect the Aravallis. Zaildar criticised the BJP administration for allegedly dismantling important legal safeguards given to the Aravallis in Haryana. Drawing attention to recent developments impacting legal protection for the hill range, Zaildar highlighted the state government’s move to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (1900), which accords legal forest status to over 60,000 acres of Aravalli land in Haryana, with protection under the Forest Conservation Act (1980). This is in accordance with previous Supreme Court orders and judgements.
The PLPA amendment bill, passed by the Haryana cabinet in February, was later stayed by the Supreme Court. Haryana has not yet submitted the Bill to the Supreme Court for review or officially withdrawn it, sparking concerns among opposition leaders and environmentalists.
“Under the Act, 130 villages have been notified so far. The government wishes to end this notification so that the Supreme Court order could be made non-operative,” Zaildar said, explaining that it would result in thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive Aravalli land being opened up for real estate.
Another issue raised at the press conference was the state’s reluctance to identify the NCR Planning Board’s Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ), another important legal safeguard for the Aravallis. The NCR Regional Plan 2021 has categorised the extension of Aravalli ridge in Haryana as NCZ, where development activities are to be restricted.
It may noted that in 2014, the Haryana government reopened the status of these areas and proposed a ground-truthing activity to reassess whether they are eligible for protection. The ground-truthing exercise is yet to be completed. There are two categories of NCZ areas which are presently being reviewed by the government: “confirmed NCZ” and those areas that the government kept in a new category of “status to be decided”.
“The government is reluctant to designate the region as an NCZ, which is why it is refusing to accept the areas ahead of Gurugram as Aravalli zone so that thousands of acres could be handed over to industrialists,” the Congress leader said. However, Haryana’s claim that there are no Aravallis outside of Gurugram has been rejected by the NCRPB and the MoEFCC, which said that all areas originally included under NCZ are to be treated as Aravalli.
Given the status of both the PLPA Amendment Bill and the delay in demarcating the NCZ, Congress leader pointed out that the state’s move to consolidate Aravalli land in Faridabad’s Kot village—ordered in February this year—also lies in a legal grey area. “Amendments to the PLPA and refusal to identify NCZ will lead to entire Aravalli villages being sold off in this manner,” Zaildar explained.
BJP spokesperson Raman Malik, on the other hand, said the Congress should not point fingers at the Khattar regime given its own role in the degradation of the Aravallis. “Whether it was the licences given to a private company to construct on a 50-acre plot in Faridabad, or various permissions for change-of-land-use granted for real estate development in Ghata floodplains, they were all given when the Congress was in power. Due to these actions, the city gets flooded every monsoon. The Congress has destroyed the ecology of Gurugram,” Malik said without commenting on the status of PLPA Amendment Bill or the NCZ ground-truthing exercise.
As for the land consolidation being carried out in Faridabad’s Kot village, BJP officials pointed out that the first consolidation order was issued in 2011, before being withdrawn by the then Director General, Consolidation of Land Holdings, Ashok Khemka, in 2012. Khemka had observed that, “In case the consolidation exercise of the entire village… is carried out, it would wrongly benefit certain influential outsider-purchasers.” The second order was issued and withdrawn in 2013, also when the Congress was in power. Neither Congress nor BJP officials offered any comments on the legality of the consolidation order itself.
At the press conference, Zaildar also called for a notification of the entire Aravalli region in Haryana as a national park under the Wildlife Protection Act. “If we could convert the Aravalli areas into a national park, it shall be the best gift for our coming generations. The region’s situation has deteriorated to such an extent that rains are untimely, intolerable heat is getting worse and groundwater levels are depleting at an alarming rate. Animals and birds in the Aravallis are killed on an almost daily basis,” he said.
Congress leaders on Sunday also announced the launch of the ‘Aravalli se Jivan’ mission, under which they hope to mobilise citizens and gain their support in protecting the Aravallis. Zaildair clarified that the mission’s purpose was strictly conservation. “It is not against any political party,” he said.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, responded positively to the politicisation of the Aravalli issue. “Conservation of the Aravalis needs political support and will. It is good that the protection of the Aravalis has become one of the focus points of agenda in the forthcoming assembly elections. However, all parties should clarify their stand on the Aravalis,” said Col. (Retd.) SS Oberoi, a senior environmentalist.