Amended land bill, passed by Haryana, will impact on Delhi-NCR environment
The Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) amendment bill, 2019, passed by the Haryana assembly on Wednesday, will remove the legislative protection the Aravalis in Gurugram and Faridabad currently receive against real estate development, and mining and quarrying, in a move that environmental activists say will have huge consequences.
It also exposes large stretches of the Shivaliks in the north of Haryana to development and quarrying, further reducing forest cover in a state that already has the least, 3.59%, in the country.
The changes in the law will also have major implications for Delhi, which is already battling severe air pollution. The Aravalis in south Haryana act as a barrier against dust intrusion from Rajasthan and a large groundwater recharge zone for the entire National Capital Region (NCR) centred on Delhi.
Section 3 (A) of the act states that provisions of PLPA will not apply to land included in the final development plans of urban areas -- the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority Act, Faridabad Metropolitan Development Authority Act 2018, the Haryana Municipal Corporation Act 1994, and other such.
Under section 4 and 5 of PLPA before its amendment, the felling of trees, quarrying, and cultivation or breaking up of land was prohibited in areas listed under PLPA. The legislation was initially enacted to save the Aravalis and Shivaliks from soil erosion.
But following the amendment on Wednesday, all of these areas, including some 38 villages and 17,000 acres of Aravali land in Gurgaon, and 17 villages and 10,450 acres of the Aravalis in Faridabad, will be exposed to quarrying and real estate development. About 10,000 acres of the Shivaliks in Panchkula will also lose protection.
Another change means that the Haryana government will now have the power to amend or rescind any notification or order made under the provisions of the Act, giving it the power to exempt certain areas from the ambit of the Act if it has caused undue hardship to some people in the area.
“The amendment of this bill is effectively a repeal of PLPA because if the amendments become law then all previous PLPA notifications will be null and void in urban areas; further no new notification can be made in urban areas as the provisions of the act will not apply. The major beneficiaries of this move will be the people holding large land banks in Aravali areas. It is pertinent to note that virtually the entire Aravalis in south Haryana will be lost,” said Chetan Agarwal, a Gurugram-based environmental activist. He added that virtually no legal (notified in government records) forest areas will be left in the Aravalis in Haryana.
Among areas of ecological importance to be affected by the amendment are Mangar Bani (a sacred grove and its surrounding forests, perhaps the sole surviving stretch of the region’s original forests), Badhkal and Surajkund catchments in Faridabad, and the entire Golf Course stretch of the Aravali foothills in Gurugram.
“The Aravalis are the oldest fold mountains, about 3 billion years old. The landscape and soil here is all because of the mountains. Aravalis in south Haryana are also the biggest wilderness patch in NCR; we have great diversity of wildlife—leopards, hyenas, pangolins, porcupines, more than 300 species of birds, over 300 plant species. What is at stake is an air pollution sink and massive water recharge zone. Close to 80% of the Aravalis have been privatized, only PLPA was protecting it; now even that is gone,” said naturalist, Vijay Dhasmana.
Haryana is also yet to implement the Supreme Court’s TN Godavarman and Lafarge judgments pertaining to forest issues in 1996 and 2011 respectively. The judgments said that irrespective of whether an area is a forest as per revenue records or not, it will be covered by the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the area cannot be used for any non-forestry activity without the Centre’s permission if it meets the dictionary meaning of the word forest.