No long-term legal protection for Aravalli bio parks: Experts
HT had reported last week about a detailed project report being prepared for the creation of three new biodiversity parks in Kasan, Kukrola and Damdama, under the afforestation component of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan.Updated: Aug 22, 2019 09:18 IST
While activists and experts have commended the state government’s plans to create three new biodiversity parks in Gurugram district, they also expressed concern over the lack of legal protection for lands where these parks have been proposed — in Aravalli foothills of Damdama, Kasan and Kukrola.
Experts have demanded that these sites, along with the remainder of the Aravalli range in Haryana, be accorded protection under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (FCA), or the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA), to ensure that they are not vulnerable to infrastructure development projects in the future.
Citing the example of the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, which faces the possibility of being subsumed by a six-lane highway as part of the Gurugram-Manesar Connectivity Project, ecologist Vijay Dhasmana said, “What you are trying to protect today might be under threat tomorrow, therefore having strong legal protection for these sites is imperative.”
HT had reported last week about a detailed project report being prepared for the creation of three new biodiversity parks in Kasan, Kukrola and Damdama, under the afforestation component of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan. The lands identified for these are all panchayat land, confirmed officials in the forest department.
An environment expert, who chose not to be named, said that the state government has multiple options available to it — under the FCA or the WPA — to ensure permanent security for these proposed forests. It could create community reserves on panchayat land, oblique reserves on revenue land, biodiversity heritage sites, sanctuaries, national parks, protected forests, or reserved forests.
However, Subash Yadav, district forest officer, Gurugram, said these areas do not require further legal safeguards. “They are already protected either under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), or the Aravalli plantation carried out between 1990 and 1998.” According to various orders of the SC, land under PLPA and Aravalli plantations is to be considered as ‘forest’, with attendant protection under the FCA.
Activists, on the other hand, said that protection under the PLPA or Aravalli plantation puts these lands in jeopardy more than it protects them. Earlier this year, the state cabinet passed the controversial PLPA Amendment Bill, effectively denying ‘forest’ status to about 60,000 acres of Aravalli land in Haryana. While the apex court later warned the state from implementing amendments to the PLPA, the bill has not yet been officially withdrawn.
“If the bill is made into a law in the future, these new biodiversity parks will also become vulnerable to encroachment by real estate or infrastructure projects,” said city-based activist Vaishali Rana Chandra, emphasising the need for protection under a central law. “What we need is for these parks, and by extension the Aravallis, to be safeguarded directly under the FCA or WPA, which cannot be amended or repealed at the state level. The PLPA and Aravalli plantations only offer indirect protection, which is not as effective,” Chandra added, pointing out that PLPA-notified forests in Gurugram and Faridabad have already being encroached on by real estate, or have been dubiously privatised. Both scenarios could be mitigated if the Aravallis were brought under the ambit of a central law.
Experts also pointed out Haryana is the only state in which the Aravallis have to resort to ‘protection by proxy’. Rajasthan, for example, has notified multiple sanctuaries and national parks in its Aravalli regions, while in Delhi the Asola Bhatti forest was recently declared an ‘eco-sensitive zone’ by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, and is also a notified wildlife sanctuary.
“The Haryana government’s attempts to remove even this proxy protection, by amending the PLPA, is at odds with their intent to conserve the Aravallis in a few select areas in Gurugram,” said Sunil Harsana, an environment activist. Moreover, the state’s reluctance to define the NCR Regional Plan 2021’s Natural Conservation Zones (NCZ), and it’s reluctance to identify deemed forests in accordance with the Lafarge and TN Godavarman judgements of the SC, also indicate Haryana’s reluctance to protect the Aravallis, Harsana claimed. Asked about the state’s attempts to amend the PLPA, Yadav said, “The amendment is presently stayed by the SC, so there is no threat to these forests for now.” He did not, however, comment on the whether the bill would officially be withdrawn in the future.