NGT seeks joint report on land consolidation in Faridabad village
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered the forest and revenue departments of Haryana to file a “joint factual and action taken report” relating to the ongoing consolidation of land in Faridabad’s Kot village by September 29.
The directive comes in response to a petition filed by Gurugram-based activist, Col. (retd.) SS Oberoi, which “is against the consolidation proceedings sought to be initiated in the Village Kot”, on grounds that they “will affect the forest area by change of land use”. A copy of the tribunal’s directive (dated August 29) is with the HT.
According to experts, the region is a relatively undisturbed Aravalli forest, and part of an important wildlife corridor that is contiguous with the protected Mangar Bani sacred grove and Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.
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 3,000 acres” for “better cultivation”. Land consolidation is a process which affirms individual ownership of land by carving out individual, privately owned plots, and is intended for preserving agricultural productivity.
However, the state’s land consolidation order for Kot elicited suspicion from environmentalists and locals, as most of Kot’s revenue estate (about 3,000 acres) comprises uncultivable rocky land. By consolidating the area, the experts said the Haryana government is facilitating the privatisation of ecologically sensitive Aravalli common lands.
According to Oberoi’s petition, the February’s consolidation order falls in a legal grey area. It states that 816 acres of land in Kot are notified under special sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (1900), giving them legal forest status with protection under the Forest Conservation Act (1980).
Another 1,586 acres of land is 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 1,000-1,200 acres, falls under the land use category of ‘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.
“Therefore, non-forestry activities – including consolidation of land – cannot be permitted here,” Oberoi said. The process of consolidation under the East Punjab Holdings Act includes pooling of fragments of agricultural land and re-distribution of the pooled agricultural land. “However, by expanding the scope of the consolidation process to include the already pooled gair mumkin pahad Aravalli hills, the Consolidation Act is being misused to fragment the forested Aravalli common lands,” Oberoi alleges in his petition.
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 emphasized 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 withdrawn after the objection from the then director general, Consolidation of Land Holdings. “This fourth 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,” Oberoi said.
Makarand Pandurang, director, department of town and country planning, did not directly comment on the contents of the petition or the NGT order. However, he said, “We are in the process of conducting a ground-truthing exercise to determine whether the lands in Kot are to be brought under forest cover. We will examine the NGT’s order and take appropriate steps.”
The present director general, Consolidation of Land Holdings, Nikhil Gajraj, and the Faridabad’s deputy commissioner, Atul Kumar, on Sunday did not respond to requests for comment on the development.
On August 30, HT had reported that the Haryana government is likely to exclude 1,126.8 acres of Aravallis in Kot village out of the natural conservation zone (NCZ). This move, environmentalists alleged, would legitimise the government’s move to consolidate the village’s revenue estate and severely undermine various environmental protections accorded to the land.