HARYANA GOVERNMENT’S RECENT AFFIDAVIT SUBMITTED TO SUPREME COURT
Haryana government has recently gone to the Supreme Court and filed an affidavit in October 2021 stating that all land falling under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) in Haryana cannot be treated as “forest land” as a total of 1,739,907 hectares of land in the state has been notified under PLPA and this accounts for 39.35% of the geographical area in the entire state, including the whole of 11 districts – Gurugram, Faridabad, Palwal, Panchkula, Ambala, Yamunanagar, Rewari, Bhiwani, Charki Dadri, Mahendergarh, and Mewat. The affidavit further states that the land included under PLPA includes both government and private land and structures that have come up on these lands include schools, colleges, hospitals, police stations, roads, transmission lines, government buildings, defence establishments, infrastructure and residential houses. The demolition required is on a massive scale and beyond the capacity of the state government and is bound to create serious and unparalleled law and order problem.
HARYANA GOVERNMENT’S MOVE IS AN ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT RECENT SUPREME COURT RULINGS IN FAVOUR OF THE ARAVALLIS
On 23 July 2021, a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, directed the Haryana government to ensure that all unauthorised structures standing on Aravalli forest land should be cleared. “Our direction to remove all structures on forest land applies to all structures without any exception,” stated the directive. Abiding with this directive, Faridabad authorities demolished the slum colony of Khori Gaon, and issued show-cause notices to owners of 129 illegal farmhouses, banquet halls, schools, religious institutions and commercial structures.
Several among these 129 owners claimed that their properties fell outside forest area, but the Haryana forest department dismissed the objection on the ground that these lands were notified under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, and had to be considered forest land. The decision of the forest department was based on the September 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court which declared that land falling under PLPA was to be treated as forest land. It was on this reasoning that the top court in 2018 ordered the demolition of all buildings in Kant Enclave, a residential colony in Faridabad. Read more on this in this latest article by Hindustan Times: https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/gurugram-news/entire-gurugram-will-have-to-be-demolished-haryana-govt-on-forest-land-101634925042131.html
THROWING LIGHT ON RECENT CLAIMS MADE BY HARYANA GOVERNMENT
The 120-year-old Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) of 1900 is meant to protect areas ‘not notified’ under the Indian Forest Act as reserve or protected forests in the states of Haryana and Punjab. In Haryana, the PLPA extends protection to forests and trees on private lands, community lands, panchayat and municipal lands in the uncultivable hills of the Aravallis in the south and Shivaliks in the northern parts of the state. It may be noted that forest areas notified as per Special Sections 4 and 5 under the PLPA in Haryana which restricts breaking of land, construction etc amount to just 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) i.e. 33% of the effective forest cover in the state. About 60,000+ acres of these PLPA protected forests are in the Aravalli hills in South Haryana and 10,000 plus acres are in the Shivalik hills around Chandigarh. No non-forest activity (real estate development or mining etc) is allowed on forest areas protected under the Special Sections 4 and 5 under the PLPA in Haryana.
These are different from the General section 4 notification of the PLPA which only regulates tree felling and is applicable in 9 plus districts in Haryana but has no restriction on agriculture or construction. So, Haryana government’s claim that PLPA protected forests occupy 40% of the state is completely misleading. The truth is that Haryana state’s forest cover is the lowest in India, just 3.62%. Forest areas notified under Special Sections 4 and 5 which restricts breaking of land, construction etc only amount to 30000 hectares, not 17,39,907 hectares as projected by the Haryana government. The rest of the 17, 09907 hectares (17,39,907 – 30,000) of forest land would be covered under General Section 4 of the PLPA which only regulates tree felling and has no restriction on agriculture or construction and is applicable in more than 9 districts in Haryana. But General Section 4 is not relevant here. Encroachments on land protected under PLPA Special Sections 4 and 5 i.e. 30,000 hectares need to be demolished. These areas are primarily in the Aravallis in South Haryana i.e. Gurgaon, Faridabad etc and Shivalik hills in the North.
This short film explains the implications of the amendment to the Punjab Land Preservation Act with respect to illegal constructions on protected Aravalli forest land.
REGRESSIVE PLPA AMENDMENT BILL PASSED BY THE HARYANA GOVERNMENT IN 2019
In a move that shocked the citizens, the conservationists and the Supreme Court, the Haryana State Assembly on 27th February 2019 passed a bill to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) 1900. This amended bill seeks to make the act totally redundant in the state as it will open up 33% of the area treated as forest land (under PLPA) in Haryana for urbanisation, mining and real estate development. The Honourable Supreme Court was aghast at the amendment bill and has directed a stay order on its implementation.
PUNJAB LAND PRESERVATION ACT AMENDMENT BILL ONLY SEEKS TO BENEFIT THE REAL ESTATE LOBBY
In the 1970s, the Aravalli common lands of a few villages around Delhi were privatised through a dubious process by local revenue authorities, which is contested in courts. Builders, investors, miners and babus have got large holdings of privatised Aravalli lands which they could not construct or build on as a result of the PLPA protection.
However, the amended PLPA bill now says that all urban areas will be excluded from the PLPA and says that any area that has been notified in the past, present or even the future can be exempted and excluded from the provisions of this act, thereby removing the PLPA forest tag and opening up these areas to real estate and mining. This means that the government will be able to sell licences to real estate builders in the Aravalli hill areas in Gurgaon and Faridabad districts.
The amended bill will benefit the real estate sector at the cost of forests, wildlife, water security, air quality and the health and well-being of millions of men, women and children living in NCR cities including our future generations.
IMPLICATIONS OF AMENDING PLPA FOR THE FORESTS
The PLPA Amendment is nothing but the antithesis of the Forest Conservation Act. The amended bill subverts the directions of the Supreme Court to protect the Aravallis and treat PLPA areas as forests.
1) Forest areas notified under Special Sections 4 and 5 of the PLPA in Haryana amount to 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) i.e. 33% of the effective forest land in the state. Almost all of these will lose their forest tag due to the amendment and become open to mining, urbanisation and real estate development.
2) The implication of the amendment bill is that there will be no ‘legal’ forests left in the Aravallis of Gurgaon and Faridabad and the rest of south Haryana leading to massive forest loss and environment degradation. This government move seeks to open almost 60,000 plus acres of PLPA protected Aravalli forests to real estate and mining. Additionally, at great risk of destruction are around 50,000 acres of Aravalli forests in Haryana that do not currently have protection of the PLPA or any other forest law. This means that effectively the entire Aravalli range in South Haryana will get impacted by this government move to amend the PLPA.
3) The amendment will exclude urban areas in the entire state from the protection of the PLPA. For Gurgaon and Faridabad, PLPA will become non-applicable in urban areas where master plans have been passed and open up the entire zone of the Aravalli forests for real estate development. At complete risk of destruction are 16,796 plus acres of forests in Gurgaon district and 10,000 plus acres in Faridabad district.
4) This amendment will also negatively impact 10,000 plus acres of forests in the Shivalik hills around Chandigarh in Panchkula district.
IMPLICATIONS OF AMENDING PLPA FOR AIR QUALITY OF NCR CITIES
Many children and adult residents of the NCR, infamous for being one of the most polluted areas in India already face severe respiratory problems and other health issues due to the extremely poor air quality. Opening up the Aravalli forests, which act as the green lungs of this region for real estate development will further worsen the air pollution problem and put citizen’s health and quality of life at stake.
IMPLICATIONS OF AMENDING PLPA FOR WATER SECURITY OF NCR AREA
Aravallis with their natural cracks and fissures have the potential to put 2 million litres of water per hectare in the ground every year. Allowing rampant construction activity in the Aravallis which are critical for recharging our ground water will negatively impact water security in this region where the extraction is 300% more than the recharge. In Gurgaon city alone, the ground water is depleting at the rate of 5 feet per year.
DEMANDS OF THE ARAVALLI BACHAO CITIZENS MOVEMENT
1) Withdraw the PLPA Amendment Bill 2019 – Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill 2019 passed by the Haryana State Assembly on 27th February 2019 to amend the PLPA should be withdrawn. Even the Honourable Supreme Court was aghast at the amendment bill and directed a stay order on its implementation on 1st March 2019. Haryana Government must consult with experts within the government and outside it about this amendment bill’s real implications and withdraw the amendment which as it stands only seeks to benefit the real estate sector but negatively impacts the forests, wildlife, water security, air quality and harms the health and well-being of millions of men, women and children, including future generations.
2) Re-Notify Expired PLPA Notifications – All Aravalli forest areas around Gurgaon, Faridabad and the rest of Haryana which are protected under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) and for which notifications have expired should be re-notified at the earliest. About 88% of the PLPA notifications have already lapsed and these areas are currently being treated as forests only due to orders of the Honourable Supreme Court. The Punjab government re-notified 21,000 acres of Shivalik forests around Chandigarh under the PLPA in 2018. There is a pressing need for the Haryana government to re-notify lapsed notifications under the PLPA.
3) Declare All Aravallis as Deemed Forest – The Honourable Supreme Court has repeatedly directed the state of Haryana to identify forests as per the dictionary meaning as directed in the Godavarman (1996) and Lafarge (2011) judgments of the Supreme Court. Haryana government needs to identify forests as per dictionary meaning immediately. All remaining Aravalli areas (50,000+ acres) including Mangar Bani sacred forest, Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Gurgaon and other areas that have not been notified as deemed forests under the PLPA should also be brought under the protection of the law.
4) Demolish all illegal encroachments in the Aravallis – standing on areas notified under Special Sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act and Gair Mumkin Pahad areas in the Aravallis in South Haryana.
5) Retain all Aravalli areas in South Haryana as legal Aravalli areas and therefore in the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) and do not exclude them through the ground truthing exercise. Withdraw the decision to identify areas under Aravallis on the basis of the 1992 notification of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) taken in a meeting held in August 2021 for “Ground-Truthing of Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ)” in the Haryana sub-region of the National Capital Region.
6) Increase Haryana state’s measly 3.6% forest cover – Make a 3 year roadmap to reach 20% legal native forest cover (before next assembly elections in 2024) according to the Haryana forest department policy target and the all India average.
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