SC on Aravallis: Judgment will have implications across country
The finalisation and approval of the draft RP-2041 was included in the agenda of the NCRPB’s 42nd meeting this July and according to that agenda, the board received 2,703 objections/suggestions to the draft plan.
The Supreme Court’s Thursday judgement that all land covered by the special orders issued under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act should be treated as forests and that the provisions of forest conservation act 1980 will apply to these -- ensuring that thousands of hectares of the Aravallis in Haryana will now have to be treated as forests.
“The Supreme Court judgment not only protects the forest of Haryana in general and Aravallis in particular, it also clarifies the legal position in terms of the interpretation of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 vis a vis the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It is significant that the Court has clearly concluded that the areas closed under Special Order have all the trappings of a forest. The Court’s order injects a fresh lease of life to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 which has been diluted by the Government. The judgment will have implications across the Country since the Court stated clearly that the term forest cannot be limited to areas notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 but will extend to other areas which qualify as forest irrespective of whether they are notified in government record or not,” said Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer who was representing Aravali Bachao Citizens Movement in SC.
The court’s ruling will mean around 30,000 hectares across the Aravallis and Shivaliks in Haryana will be considered forest land. “Twenty-five years of Aravalli jurisprudence has been reaffirmed and further clarified by this order,” said Chetan Agarwal, a Gurugram based environmentalist.
“Aravallis are geological features that are around 2 billion years old. They have shaped the whole drainage system in Delhi NCR. Most of our groundwater recharge happens through the Aravallis. It is a pollution sink and helps arrest desertification in the region. It is also a reservoir of biodiversity. In terms of biodiversity, we are still discovering new species. Last year we discovered 3 new species of trees in the Haryana Aravallis. There are trees that have been missing from our records and now being discovered. We have a good leopard population, jackals, hyenas, mongooses of two kinds, porcupines and a very good bird population,” said naturalist Vijay Dhasmana.
The order is particularly important because the proposed draft Regional Plan 2041 (RP-2041) of National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) has deleted key regulations that were meant to protect the Aravallis, rivers, water bodies and forests. Highlighting eight such deletions in the draft, experts said these could be detrimental to NCR’s ecology.
The deletions included clauses limiting construction to 0.5% of the area in natural conservation zones; ensuring a forest cover of 10% in the NCR; and bringing wasteland them under forest cove. A proposed land-use map for NCR was also deleted. Haryana’s attempts in the past to dilute the provisions that conserve the Aravallis have been red-flagged by several environmental and legal experts.
The draft plan was published by National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) on its website on December 9, seeking public comments. HT reported on January 18 that over 3,000 people objected to the removal of a clause limiting construction in natural conservation zones to 0.5% of the total area.
The finalisation and approval of the draft RP-2041 was included in the agenda of the NCRPB’s 42nd meeting this July and according to that agenda, the board received 2,703 objections/suggestions to the draft plan. Around 2,590 of them requested the restoration of the earlier NCZ (natural conservation zones) provisions. The agenda showed that Haryana did not want ‘hills’ to be covered in natural zones. It also did not want any reference to directions by courts and National Green Tribunal as they are appealable in Supreme Court. Haryana said the rights of private individuals cannot be taken away by provisions for natural zones under draft Regional Plan 2041. Haryana also submitted that any NCZ, approved by NCRPB, can be changed by a state based on revenue records, satellite imagery and ground truthing.
“The Supreme Court has upheld that land covered by special orders under Section 4 of the PLPA will have provisions of the Forest Conservation Act applicable to them-- that they can’t be used for non-forest uses without the requisite permissions from the Centre. It has also recognised that these areas have the ‘trappings of a forest’. It has asked for demolition of structures that have been made without permission and restoration and afforestation in these areas. It is most significant that the Court has highlighted the provisions of the PLPA which refer to the prevention of deforestation and soil erosion. In today’s era of climate change, saving our soil and preventing the cutting of trees are most urgent, which a 1900 Act was able to value. India is part of the Glasgow Climate Pact that calls for restoration and conservation of natural ecosystems, and the SC order will help us meet our climate goals,” said Neha Sinha, conservation biologist and author.