Two levels of protection, but Aravallis still heavily exploited | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Two levels of protection, but Aravallis still heavily exploited

Jan 06, 2023 08:10 PM IST

Over the years, in Faridabad and Gurugram, a large number of farmhouses, colonies, buildings, wedding halls, schools, even engineering colleges have come up on forest or commons land

Chandigarh Much of the Aravallis in Haryana have two levels of protection. They are village commons of Gair Mumkin Pahar. Then, in August 1992, the state passed an order under Section 4 of Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), which essentially provides protection to green areas and allows restricted development.

Trees felled in the Aravalli in Sohna. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Trees felled in the Aravalli in Sohna. (HT Photo)

Yet, over the years, in Faridabad and Gurugram, a large number of farmhouses, colonies, buildings, wedding halls, schools, even engineering colleges have come up on forest or commons land.

According to a June 15, 2020 report by a committee headed by the Faridabad deputy commissioner, about 5,011 hectares of area closed off under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA overlapped with an area of about 7,929 hectares under Gair Mumkin Pahar in Faridabad district, meaning that 5,011 hectares of Gair Mumkin Pahar in Faridabad is under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA, which means it is doubly protected.

Another report by a committee headed by the Gurugram deputy commissioner in 2020 said that out of 11,375 hectares of Gair Mumkin Pahar in the district, about 6,824 hectares are closed for developments under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA. Similarly, out of about 14,264 hectares of Gair Mumkin Pahar in Nuh (Mewat) district, 6,494 hectares is closed under section 4 and 5 of the PLPA. That such doubly protected land has been used for commercial and residential purposes speaks of active involvement of local officials.

“This is a case of conflict between two departments and failure of both in protecting Aravallis. The revenue department is responsible for common land categorised under Gair Mumkin Pahar while forest department is responsible for all land under PLPA sections 4 and 5. We have to remember that in government records, all Aravalli land in Haryana was recorded as ‘janglat’ or forest. When I came as DFO in 1990 they were all categorised as janglat. How can one register a sale deed for forest land? Obviously, officials from both departments colluded,” said RP Balwan, a former forest conservator of Gurugram.

In July, the Supreme Court ruled that land protected under Section 4 of the PLPA has all the trappings of forest lands within the meaning of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the state government cannot permit its use for non-forest activities without the prior approval of the central government.

Gair Mumkin Pahar, the Supreme Court in a February 1997 order held, is land which vests in the gram sabha and individuals do not have proprietary rights in it. Despite the court orders and clear definition of PLPA, several companies, entities and influential individuals acquired Gair Mumkin Pahar at some places such as Faridabad’s Mangar village, home to the oldest forest in the National Capital Region (NCR) and also the site where some prehistoric cave paintings were recently found. These include a company part of the Patanjali Group promoted by Yoga guru, Ramdev, Gaurisuta Building Solutions, a firm in the real estate business.

One of the company’s directors, Kishan Vir Sharma, who is also a director in Patanjali India Agro Private Ltd, said the group planned to set up a university on the land purchased in Kot and Mangar villages. “We have about 800 acres land in the two villages, including about 350 acres agricultural land in Kot. The rest is Gair Mumkin Pahar,’’ Sharma told HT.

When asked how the Patanjali Group bought Gair Mumkin Pahar, which is not allowed, Kishan Vir Sharma said there are numerous chunks of such land in Faridabad which have been developed over the years. “The state government, it seems, also does not have complete clarity about Gair Mumkin Pahar. We are unable to fathom that even after updating jamabandis (revenue record of land) and there being no objections from any quarters, the state does not want to carry out the consolidation of Gair Mumkin Pahar,” he said.

Haryana’s forest minister Kanwar Pal said the land may be in private hands but no construction and non-forestry activity will be allowed on chunks notified under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA.

“We have taken action against violators and demolished structures raised in violation of the law. We have acted as per the directions of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Consolidation of land means amalgamation and restructuring fragmented land parcels and redistribution of larger consolidated chunks to owners in exchange of their fragmented pieces to improve agricultural productivity and reserve land for common purposes of the village. The state government in 2021 refused to go ahead with the consolidation process in Kot village, arguing that it would wrongly benefit influential outsider purchasers of Gair Mumkin Pahar, according to Haryana government officials.

“Consolidation of fragmented land can only be allowed for agricultural land. How can forest land be consolidated? It will be completely illegal and misuse of power if Aravalli land is consolidated. The government tried in Roz Ka Gujar and Mangar but couldn’t carry it forward because it was bad in law,” added Balwan.

Then there are PLPA violations: Manav Rachna International School of Research and Studies, deemed to be a university, in Faridabad’s Mewla Maharajpur has come up on 13 hectares of forest land where construction is prohibited under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA, as per official documents.

According to documents, the permission for change of land-use (CLU) was granted to the institution in 1998 by the Faridabad municipal commissioner. It was also issued building plans and occupancy certificates by the Corporation.

The university obtained a no-objection certificate from the Haryana State Pollution Control Board, but it never applied for forest clearance, show documents.

The university did not respond to queries sent over email.

“Forest officers were never informed of such change of land-use permissions. Many times, when forest officers raised a red flag, they were shifted out,” said a forest official who remained posted in Faridabad.

Forest officials said Manav Rachna is now seeking permission from the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change for the diversion of about 13 hectares. In other words, the university is seeking approval for non-forest use of forest land where construction is prohibited as per Section 4 of the PLPA.

A senior Haryana government official said the law provides for seeking remedy for violation of the forest laws. “If the Union ministry refuses to grant post-facto approval, we will take action as per law,” said a senior Haryana government official, who was not willing to be named.

The state itself has also encroached.

A large number of government and private installations like a group centre of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Ferozepur Jhirka on 350 acres, sectors 21, 24, 26, 27, 37, 38 of the Haryana Urban Development Authority in Faridabad have come up on PLPA lands. An affidavit submitted by the forests department in the Supreme Court in 2021 said a number of critical establishments have come up on land notified under sections 3, 4 and 5 of PLPA.

These included Aravalli International School in Faridabad, Gymkhana Club in Faridabad, IT Parks in Gwal Pahari area of Gurugram, Tata Energy Research Institute, Gwal Pahari in Gurugram, National Institute of Solar Energy, Gwal Pahari in Gurugram, Shri Sidhidata Ashram in Faridabad, Shaheed Hasan Khan Mewati Government Medical College, Nalhar in Nuh. The Haryana government is deliberating legalising government-owned structures.

“We are considering how to legalise these structures in terms of Supreme Court orders of July 21 in PLPA case. No decision has been taken so far,” said a Haryana government official.

“There is no site-specific reason that these illegal structures should be built in the forest area. They shouldn’t be regularised. Further, Haryana has the lowest forest cover in India at 3.6%, so it should try and restore its forests rather than allow construction,” said Chetan Agarwal, a forest expert.

Tell us what your First Vote will stand for in a short video & get a chance to be featured on HT’s social media handles. Click here to know more!

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election Live , Election 2024 Date, Weather Today along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
Share this article

    Hitender Rao is Senior Associate Editor covering the state of Haryana. A journalist with over two decades of experience, he writes on politics, economy, migration and legal affairs with a focus on investigative journalism.

Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, May 19, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On