Climate and Us | Haryana's position on Aravallis will lead to disaster
If Haryana doesn’t see the value of the Aravallis as NCR’s biodiversity hotspot, groundwater recharge zone, and defence system against extreme heat and aridity, it could spell disaster for the entire NCR
Incident 1: Haryana deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Surender Singh was run over by a dumper truck while investigating illegal mining activity in Haryana’s Nuh district last Tuesday.
Incident 2: On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered that areas notified through special orders under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act are forestland and that provisions of the Forest Conservation Act will apply to them. A large part of the Aravallis will come under the ambit of this judgment. This will, therefore, have major implications for the people of the National Capital Region (NCR).
While these are two unrelated developments, they represent the state of Aravallis in Haryana, where the state has time and again tried to dilute its protection, while the courts stood guard with strong orders and judgments protecting a geological wonder which is over two billion years old. Haryana’s attempts to evade providing forest status to the Aravallis, and even claiming that Aravallis do not exist in the state, are, if nothing else, laughable.
In the past, the state has tried to muddle the concept of natural conservation zones (NCZ) in the regional plans for NCR which offer ecological protection to natural features of the region such as the Aravallis, rivers, streams, forests, and so on. These are also "no construction" zones under the zoning regulations of the regional plan.
A history of evasion
During the 35th board meeting of the NCR Planning Board (NCRPB) in 2015, the Haryana government claimed that it didn’t know what "forests" are, and hence, cannot ascertain the legal status of 50,000 acres of what may be forestland. Haryana then stated that it wants to maintain the status quo of forest areas until the environment ministry comes out with a definition for forests.
Again, during NCRPB’s 36th board meeting, Haryana said there are no Aravallis in the state beyond Gurugram, by citing a notification issued by the environment ministry in 1992, which was applicable only to Gurugram and Alwar districts. NCRPB and the environment ministry later clarified that the 1992 notification was to be used to identify Aravallis in the entire state and not limit the stretch of the Aravallis to only two districts.
What Haryana was trying to do was to leave out large parts of Aravallis — over 17,000 acres in Faridabad — from any protection. It's shocking that Haryana kept making these claims while the natural and geological features make it obvious that Aravallis in the state are stretched beyond Gurugram. Again, during the 37th board meeting, Haryana demanded that they delineate Aravallis only on the basis of the 1992 notification, and that there should be no 0.5% cap on construction in these NCZs.
These attempts have continued since.
Several red flags persist
More recently, in September 2021, Haryana suggested that there are no Aravallis in the state except areas categorised as gair mumkin pahar (uncultivable wasteland) in the revenue records of Gurugram district. Government officials cited the 1992 notification of the environment ministry.
An excerpt from the minutes of the meeting of a state-level committee, held under the chairmanship of the principal secretary, town and country planning said: “Definition of Aravalli may not be extended to other Haryana subregion areas which are not defined in the Aravalli notification dated 07.05.1992 unless the same is done by MoEFCC through a similar notification. So only specified areas in old district Gurgaon existing on 07.05.1992 may be part of ‘confirmed NCZ (natural conservation zone)’ by virtue of being ‘Aravalli’ and such areas of other districts may be excluded from the NCZ category that is from confirmed and yet to be decided.”
Now, Haryana wants no mention of Aravallis and even hills for that matter in the NCR Regional Plan 2041. The proposed draft Regional Plan 2041 of 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 a clause limiting construction to 0.5% in NCZs; a target for forest cover of 10% in the NCR; provision for allocation of wastelands for bringing them under forest cover; exclusion of terms such as "forests", "Aravallis", "groundwater recharge areas" among others, and the deletion of a proposed land-use map for NCR. 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 NCRPB on its website on December 9, seeking public comments. HT also reported on January 18 that over 3,000 people objected to the removal of a clause limiting constructions in NCZs to 0.5% of the total area.
The finalisation and approval of the draft RP-2041 were included in the agenda of the NCRPB’s 42nd meeting this July. 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 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 the National Green Tribunal as they are appealable in the Supreme Court. Haryana said the rights of private individuals cannot be taken away by provisions for natural zones under the 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. It has also proposed special developmental rights for natural conservation zones.
It gets worse
Haryana has also been trying to reopen mining in the state. In 2009, the Supreme Court imposed a blanket ban on all mining of major and minor minerals in the eco-sensitive Aravalli hills in Faridabad, Gurugram, and Mewat.
The order suspended all mining activities in the region till statutory provisions for restoration and reclamation were complied with, particularly in cases where pits or quarries were abandoned. Haryana had approached the apex court last year to allow the state to begin mining again in Gurugram and Faridabad.
“In view of pending litigation in the Haryana mining matters case, mining in Aravalli hill areas in the districts of Faridabad, Gurugram and Mewat is lying closed since May 2009… that on the one hand the state and its citizens are being disadvantaged of the benefit of its natural resources and at the same time it has to depend on mineral from adjoining states at [a] higher cost to its economy both public and private. The execution of infrastructural projects in the state is not only getting delayed but the cost escalation of the same due to higher cost of basic material has been a major concern affecting all new projects,” said Haryana’s appeal in the top court. The government’s plea has not been heard yet, but it shows that Haryana sees the Aravallis as potential mining zones and not geological features that should be conserved.
There is also immense pressure from the real estate lobby to open up these areas for development. If Haryana doesn’t see the value of the Aravallis as NCR’s biodiversity hotspot, groundwater recharge zone, and defence system against extreme heat and aridity, it could spell disaster for the entire NCR, which is battling severe impacts of the climate crisis and air pollution.
The views expressed are personal