Haryana forest department recommends putting all of Gurugram Aravallis in conservation zone
The Haryana forest department has recommended that all parts of the Aravalli range in Gurugram, including the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, be categorised as natural conservation zone (NCZ) where construction is not allowed, in a move that will be cheered by activists, nature lovers and birders.
But another decision by the Haryana Town and Country Planning department could leave large stretches of Aravallis in Faridabad (over 15,000 acres) out of the NCZ.
The regional master plan 2021 restricts construction in NCZs, but Town and Country Planning department officials say they will go by a notification issued by the union environment ministry in 1992 to define the Aravallis.
That notification limited Aravallis only to Gurugram in Haryana, and Alwar in Rajasthan.
If the forest department’s submission of including all Aravalli areas in Gurugram – such as gair mumkin pahar (uncultivable land of Aravalis) areas -- under NCZ is accepted by Haryana’s Town and Country Planning department, then the move will ensure protection to areas such as Gurugram’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park from infrastructure and real estate projects.
The NHAI proposed two link roads—from Ambience Mall to Aya Nagar on Gurgaon Mehrauli road (NH 236), and another from Vasant Kunj to Aya Nagar on Gurgaon- Mehrauli road (NH 236) -- on its website as part of a plan to decongest Delhi. Both proposed roads would have cut across the park as per the current design. The projects were deferred following a public outcry but the forest department’s recommendation, if accepted, will provide the park a more permanent protection.
“We have internally communicated to the Town and Country Planning Department that all Gurugram plantation areas, including gair mumkin pahar areas, are in confirmed NCZ, but it will review our submission and then take a call,” a senior forest department official said on condition of anonymity.
Makarand Pandurang, director, Town and Country Planning Department said his department recently decide which parts of the state were Aravallis based on the Aravalli notification of 1992. “There is no legal document to say there are Aravallis in Faridabad or other districts. As per the 1992 notification, they are limited to Gurugram in Haryana.”
This could open up large parts of Aravallis in Faridabad for real estate development, activists fear.
“Recommending which area is to be categorised in NCZ is not the job of the forest department. It is a planning issue that the Town and Country Planning department is dealing with. Divisional forest officers have been included in a committee, which is conducting the ground-truthing exercise but that committee also includes planners, officials from mining department and others,” added Pandurang.
Ground truthing is an exercise where map or remote sensing data is matched with features on the ground.
The NCR Regional Plan 2021 has categorised the extension of Aravalli ridge in Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, forest areas, rivers and tributaries of Yamuna, Ganga, Kali, Hindon and Sahibi, sanctuaries, major lakes and water bodies such as Badkal lake, Surajkund and Damdama in the Haryana sub-region and Siliserh lake in Rajasthan as NCZ. But Haryana government in 2014 reopened the status of these areas and directed district level authorities to conduct a ground-truthing exercise .
There are two categories of NCZ areas which are being reviewed by the Haryana government: “confirmed NCZ” and those areas that Haryana government kept in “status yet to be decided” . On January 4, Haryana Town and Country Planning Department in a meeting with district town planners and forest officials recommended that NCZ areas with built-up structures should be excluded from NCZ category. It also directed district level committees to submit their ground-truthing reports by January 31. Another meeting on finalisation of NCZ was slotted for February 12 but it has been deferred.
The Haryana government last week proposed to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), a move which will open up more land for real estate development. The amendment involves excluding tracts of land included in the final development plans or town improvement plans from the ambit of PLPA. This development could affect the Aravalis, catchments of the Badhkal, Surajkund and Damadama lakes, and other forest areas in the state. Activists are concerned about the delay in finalising NCZ areas and the PLPA amendment as both could spell doom for the biodiversity rich Aravallis.
“Amending the PLPA Act is an underhand attempt to remove the tag of forest and therefore the protection of the forest conservation act to Aravallis. If Haryana also succeeds in its claim that there are no Aravallis outside Gurgaon -- then Aravallis in Faridabad and rest of Haryana will not be classified as natural conservation zone either. This will legalise illegal farmhouses banquet halls built in the past as well as open the floodgates to future construction,” said Chetan Agarwal, a Gurugram -based environmental activist.