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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

NGT order: Haryana told to ensure land use not changed in Faridabad’s Kot village

gurugram Updated: Nov 07, 2019 23:23 IST
Prayag Arora-Desai
Prayag Arora-Desai

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has instructed the Haryana government to ensure that permissible land use patterns under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1990 (PLPA) and the Forest Conservation Act (1980) are not disturbed in Faridabad’s Kot village, where the process of land consolidation is ongoing. In doing so, the court has upheld certain environmental protection accorded to the Aravallis, under the PLPA and the Aravalli Plantation Project.

However, experts and activists said the Tribunal’s instructions—and subsequent disposal of a petition filed by Sarvadaman Oberoi, a city-based environmentalist—did not address the alleged illegality of the consolidation process itself, which would affirm private ownership of commonly held forest land, and lead to land use changes and encroachment in the region.

“We make it clear that the process of consolidation should not result in disturbing the permissible land use... in accordance with the Forest Conservation Act (1980),” the Tribunal observed in its latest order on November 4.

Quoting the report the Tribunal had requested on August 29 from the secretary of the forest and revenue departments, NGT said, the report, filed on October 14, “is to the effect that while consolidation proceedings were being carried out, the provisions of Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1990 (PLPA) will be kept in mind”.

Land consolidation is a process wherein scattered parcels of private agricultural land are pooled and then reorganised into larger plots, and is intended for preserving agricultural productivity. The Haryana government had issued an order on February 1, under the East Punjab Holdings Act (1948), to “take up a scheme for consolidation of holdings under cultivation in the 3,184 acres” for “better cultivation”.

Environmentalists and locals, however, say there is very little cultivable land in Kot village. “It is a protected forest area with barely any agriculture. If the provisions of the PLPA or Aravalli plantation project is to be followed, as instructed by the NGT, one cannot initiate consolidation in the first place without permission from the Centre,” said Vivek Kamboj, a legal activist who has been a petitioner in cases for conservation of the Aravallis.

According to Oberoi’s petition, February’s consolidation order falls in a legal grey area on at least three counts.

The order, it says, ignores that 816 acres of the 3,000 acres is notified under special sections 4 and 5 of the PLPA, giving the land legal forest status with protection under the Forest Conservation Act (1980). Another 1,900-odd acres are a regenerated forest, restored under the Aravalli Plantation Project. These areas also have legal “forest” status, as per previous Supreme Court orders.

The remaining area, of about 1,000 acres, falls under the ‘gair mumkin pahad’ (uncultivable land), whose conservation status is yet to be decided in accordance with the NCR Planning Board’s natural conservation zone (NCZ) component under the NCR Regional Plan 2021. These lands meet the dictionary meaning of ‘forest’, as per the SC’s seminal Godavarman judgement.

“The Haryana government’s order is in contradiction of a 2015 undertaking by the state, in the Board meeting of the NCR Planning Board, in which assurance was given by the Chief Secretary and the Chief Minister that a status quo would be maintained on land whose NCZ status was put on hold. Without first delineating the NCZ and forests, how can consolidation of land be initiated?” questioned environmentalist Vaishali Rana Chandra, who has been following the matter.

This is the fourth attempt by the Haryana government to consolidate and privatise Kot’s protected Aravalli commons. The first attempt was made in 2011, but was quashed 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”. Khemka had then emphasised that the consolidation process is applicable only for agricultural lands and not for partitioning areas recorded as ‘gair mumkin pahad’. A similar order in 2013 was rescinded by the Haryana government itself, while a third order in 2018 was turned down after objection from the then director general, consolidation of land holdings.

“This attempt, like the others, is in violation of the Forest Conservation Act and other orders of the apex court relating to the forest status of the Aravallis. These details have not been addressed by the NGT at all,” Chandra said.

Experts also said that the consolidation order is in contravention of a 2011 Supreme Court verdict, in the Jagpal Singh case, according to which ownership of common lands must be restored with their respective panchayats. Following this judgement, villagers in Kot approached the revenue court in Faridabad to reverse the illegal sale of their commons. “The case is still being fought. The land cannot be consolidated when its ownership is still in dispute,” Kamboj said, adding that the area in question is extremely ecologically sensitive, contributes to groundwater recharge and provides a habitat for wildlife. The land is also contiguous with the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary.

Nikhil Gajraj, director general, consolidation of land holdings, and Makarand Pandurag, director, town and country planning, did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. However, a district forest department official in Faridabad, requesting anonymity, said, “Before the consolidated map of Kot is prepared, an opportunity will be given for parties to raise their objections. The NGT has not found anything illegal with the process.”