CURRENT ISSUES OF ARAVALLIS IN HARYANA AND CITIZENS ASKS FROM THE GOVERNMENT
1) FOREST COVER IN HARYANA IS THE LOWEST IN INDIA
Issue: The state of Haryana currently has the lowest forest cover in India and cities with the highest air pollution and water stress. While the forest cover is a mere 3.62%, the effective legally protected forest area is only about 2%. This is much less than the Haryana forest policy target of 20% forest and tree cover. Currently, the forest cover in Haryana is mostly concentrated in the Aravalli hills in the south (represented by the green bits circled in red in the forest map of Haryana below) and the Shivalik hills in north Haryana (shown as the green bits on the top of the map).
Citizens Ask: 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.
2) MINING IN ARAVALLIS
a) The Haryana government has gone to the Supreme Court in the beginning of 2021 with an appeal to legalise mining in the NCR Aravallis which has been banned since 2002 under the orders of the Honourable Supreme Court. Legalising mining in the Aravallis will lead to severe environmental impacts threatening the survival of millions of people living in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Delhi and the National Capital Region as well as the wildlife that calls these forests home. Mining has already destroyed 31 Aravalli hills out of a total of 128 in Rajasthan. Consequently, 25% of the hill range has disappeared from the face of the earth creating gaps for the Thar desert to inch closer to India’s National Capital region. A serious ecological impact of mining has been the puncturing of aquifers, which has disturbed the water flow and resulted in drying of many lakes and water bodies in Haryana and Rajasthan. Rivers like Banas, Luni, Sahibi, Indori and Sakhi, which originated in the Aravallis have disappeared as a result of mining.
b) Illegal sand and stone mining in Haryana Aravallis has not stopped for a day, even during the lockdown in 2020. Despite the ban on mining by the Supreme Court in Haryana Aravallis, damage done from illegal mining is clearly visible in the Aravalli belts of Pandala, Damdama, Jalalpur-Sohna, Mangar, Tauru, Nuh etc.
For more details, go to this page: https://aravallibachao.wordpress.com/mining-in-aravallis/
a) Increase number of forest check posts and guards patrolling the Aravalli forests and use the drones purchased by the Haryana forest department for INR 20 lakhs for surveillance to stop illegal mining activities.
b) Take strict action against the mining mafia carrying out illegal sand & stone mining and deal with them seriously under the laws of the land.
c) Take strict action against relevant officials who are supposed to stop the mining activities and are not taking action despite blatant violations of Supreme Court orders.
d) Stop illegal mining and do native Aravalli plantation to reclaim forest land.
e) Preserve the beauty of the Aravalli ecosystem by converting it into a destination for eco-tourism, wildlife tourism, forest bathing, adventure sports and have the local villagers earn their livelihoods by being trekking guides and running home stays. This will be a win win for the people and the forests and generate revenue for the state without destroying NCR’s green lungs, water recharge zone and wildlife habitat.
3) EXPIRED NOTIFICATIONS UNDER PUNJAB LAND PRESERVATION ACT
Issue: Hilly land covering about 30,000 hectares in about 130 villages in Haryana have been notified under special orders of Section 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) 1900 – mostly in the Aravallis and Shivaliks. These areas are erosion prone and are important for conserving sub-soil water. Over 115-120 of these notifications (80%) have lapsed. Punjab government re-notified 21,000 acres of Shivalik forests around Chandigarh under the PLPA in 2018 and again in 2019. Haryana government needs to do the same exercise.
Citizens Ask: Re-notify 115-120 lapsed notifications via special orders of Section 4 / 5 of the PLPA, 1900 in 130 villages of Haryana, primarily in uncultivable (Gair Mumkin Pahar) areas.
4) DILUTION OF THE PUNJAB LAND PRESERVATION ACT (PLPA)
Issue: PLPA Amendment Bill passed by the Haryana government in February 2019 will remove legal forest status for 30,000 hectares i.e 74,000 acres (60,000 plus acres in the Aravallis in South Haryana & 10,000 plus acres in Shivalik hills near Chandigarh) and open these forests for real estate.
For more details, go to this page: https://aravallibachao.wordpress.com/plpa-dilution/
Citizens Ask: Haryana government must withdraw the PLPA Amendment Bill 2019 which only seeks to benefit the real estate sector but seeks to cause irreparable ecological and environmental damage.
5) ILLEGAL ENCROACHMENTS IN NCR ARAVALLIS
Issue: Illegal farmhouses, cricket academies, gaushalas are thriving in Aravallis around Gurgaon and Faridabad. In the last few years, forest check posts have been reduced by 50% & simultaneously cases of illegal tree felling & encroachments have increased. Drones worth INR 20 lakhs have been bought for surveillance but they are not being used by the forest department.
a) Demolish all illegal constructions and do native plantation to reclaim Aravalli land.
b) Increase the number of forest check posts and guards patrolling the Aravalli forests.
c) Direct the Haryana forest department to use the drones that they have bought for surveillance.
d) Each district in Haryana must set up a help line number on which citizens can call and report illegal encroachments and mining activities in the forests.
e) Construction and demolition waste from the illegally demolished sites must be taken to the authorised C&D waste recycling centres.
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 and presents citizens demands for saving the Aravallis.
6) DILUTION OF NATURAL CONSERVATION ZONE TO TAKE OUT LARGE AREAS OF THE ARAVALLIS
Issue: The Regional Plan 2021 passed by the NCR Planning Board has zoned the entire Aravallis in the National Capital Region and South Haryana as a Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ), putting limits on construction of 0.5%. Real estate is not a permitted activity in the NCZ. The Haryana sub regional plan for 9 districts too does the same. In a move that has shocked citizens, environmentalists, conservationists and foresters across India, a state-level committee headed by the Haryana Principal Secretary, Town and Country Planning in a meeting held in August 2021 for “Ground-Truthing of Natural Conservation Zone” in the Haryana sub-region of India’s National Capital Region stated that revenue records of Faridabad district only identify “Gair Mumkin Pahar” (i.e. uncultivable hilly areas) and do not make any mention of the term “Aravalli”. The committee has asked officials to identify areas under Aravallis in Haryana on the basis of a 1992 notification of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) that only covers the areas of the old Gurgaon district (currently Gurugram and Nuh districts), thereby wiping out the existence of 20,000 acres of Aravalli forests in Faridabad. All the illegal farmhouses and other structures built in Faridabad Aravallis are in violation of the NCZ regulations and this recent move by the Haryana government to say that Aravallis in Faridabad do not exist because the revenue records do not mention the term ‘Aravalli’, is aimed at benefitting the illegal land mafia and the real estate lobby.
For more details, go to this page: https://aravallibachao.wordpress.com/ncz-dilution/
a) 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.
b) 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.
c) Retain all areas recorded as Gair Mumkin Pahad, Bhood etc in the revenue records as legal Aravalli areas as these are critical areas for ground water recharge. Delhi and NCR cities are already extremely water stressed and ground water tables are rapidly declining.
7) LARGE AREAS OF ARAVALLIS HAVE NO LEGAL PROTECTION
Issue: The Honourable Supreme Court has repeatedly directed Haryana to identify forests as per dictionary meaning in Godavarman (1996), Lafarge (2011) judgments of the Supreme Court but the government has failed to carry out this exercise. Aravalli forests cover less than 2% of the entire state of Haryana and are a critical wildlife habitat. They are also important for the environmental benefits these forests provide us in terms of being the climate regulator, green lungs, water recharge zone and shield against desertification for Gurgaon, Faridabad & other NCR cities.
Citizens Ask: Haryana government needs to identify all forests in Haryana including ‘ALL’ Aravallis according to their dictionary meaning as directed by the Supreme Court. All remaining Aravalli areas (50,000 acres plus) that have not been notified as deemed forests under the PLPA should also be confirmed as forest as per dictionary meaning and brought under the protection of forest or wildlife laws.
8) ARAVALLI COMMON LANDS
Citizens Ask: Set up a task force preferably under a retired judge to enquiry into how the Aravallis which were common lands were privatised in Aravalli villages in Haryana state and restore them to public ownership.
9) THREAT TO WILDLIFE FROM ROAD KILLS IN THE ARAVALLIS
Issue: Many tragic leopard and other wildlife deaths have been taking place on 3 highways in Haryana that fragment the Aravallis and bisect the corridors used by the wildlife to traverse from Asola wildlife sanctuary in Delhi to Sariska wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan. Despite the fact that the natural ecosystem of the Aravallis is home to the last remaining forests in South Haryana and are a critical wildlife habitat & corridor and a biodiversity hotspot with 400+ species of native trees, shrubs and herbs, 200+ native & migratory bird species, 100+ butterfly species, 20+ reptile species and 20+ mammal species including leopards, there is no wildlife sanctuary in the critical ecosystem of the Aravallis in Haryana.
a) Declare all Aravalli areas in Haryana from Asola sanctuary in Delhi to Mangar Bani, Damdama lake all the way to Sariska sanctuary in Rajasthan as a wildlife sanctuary.
b) Impose speed restrictions of 40 kms to 50 kms on the high-speed moving traffic on roads and highways cutting through the Aravallis.Imposing speed restrictions of 40 kms to 50 kms on the high-speed moving traffic.
c) Install speed barriers on the roads and highways cutting through the Aravallis.
d) Signages put up for wildlife on Gurgaon-Faridabad road cannot be seen clearly while driving. They need to be made more striking in terms of colours used and where they are placed.
e) Construct underpasses on highways for safe passage of wildlife like made on NH7 (44), which passes through the Kanha-Pench Corridor in Madhya Pradesh.
10) IMPACT OF BANDHWARI LANDFILL & PROPOSED WASTE TO ENERGY PLANT ON THE ARAVALLIS & HEALTH OF PEOPLE
a) 100s of trees were cut to pave way for the Bandhwari landfill in the ecologically sensitive Aravallis to dump Gurgaon & Faridabad’s 2000 tonnes of unsegregated waste daily.
b) There is already 35 lakh+ tonnes of legacy waste at Bandhwari which needs urgent treatment according to bioremediation process as per orders of the National Green Tribunal.
c) This landfill is put up on 30+ acres of Aravalli land and is part of the wildlife corridor connecting Asola Bhatti sanctuary in Delhi and Sariska in Rajasthan. Wildlife Institute of India has confirmed the presence of leopards, hyenas, jackals, nilgais, porcupines, palm civets, birds and other wildlife around the landfill.
d) Ecogreen, the waste vendor of the Municipal Corporations of Gurgaon & Faridabad has been illegally discharging toxic leachate from the Bandhwari landfill into the surrounding Aravalli forest. According to reports by official government agencies such as CPCB and NEERI, groundwater contamination from toxic leachate has increased from 3 villages in 2017 to 5 villages in 2019. 100s of cancer cases have been reported by the Bandhwari villagers in the last few years. Wildlife and cattle are drinking this poisonous water and dying.
e) On the basis of a faulty Environment Impact Assessment report submitted by the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, environment clearance has been obtained from the Ministry of Environment to construct a waste to energy (WTE) plant at the Bandhwari landfill site which will lead to more pollution in this eco sensitive zone.
For more details, go to this page: https://aravallibachao.wordpress.com/bandhwari-landfill/
Citizens Asks from the Haryana government & MoEFCC:
a) Withdraw the clearance given for a 15 MW capacity waste to energy plant at Bandhwari landfill site obtained by the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon by furnishing false information in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. No further clearance for a 25 MW WTE capacity plant to be given.
b) Eliminate 35 lakh plus tons of legacy waste at Bandhwari landfill by implementing prove, tried and tested techniques like Bioremediation and do native planting to reclaim 30+ acres of Aravalli land.
c) Scrap the 22 year old contract with the inefficient firm Eco Green. Integrate waste pickers and waste workers to replace Eco Green in Gurgaon and Faridabad.
d) Stop daily dumping of 2000 tons of unsegregated, mixed waste from Gurgaon and Faridabad at Bandhwari landfill and 200+ locations around the 2 cities and take the following steps:
- Strictly enforce Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules 2016 based on source segregation of waste in both the cities. If the SWM 2016 Rules are followed in its letter and spirit, a WTE would not be required.
- Make it mandatory for all bulk waste generators in the 2 cities to set up composting and / or bio gas plants. This will take care of more than 50 to 60% of the food and horticulture waste of both the cities at source itself.
- Set up composting or bio-gas facilities at sector / ward / cluster level to process the biodegradable and horticulture waste generated by sector houses, individual shops and other individual non-bulk waste generators.
- Impose heavy fines and penalties on individuals and bulk waste generators not implementing Solid Waste Management Rules 2016.
- Set up material recovery centres for dry waste and electronic waste recycling in all the wards of Gurgaon and Faridabad. This will sustainably take care of 20% of the cities’ recyclable waste.
- Send the non-recyclable, non-compostable waste of both the cities (about 15% of a city’s waste) for co-processing to an already functioning cement plant as this technology burns waste at very high temperatures so pollution is much less. Cement plants are already functioning, so there is no point in setting up capital intensive waste to energy plants. Municipalities just have to incur transportation cost to take the waste to the nearby cement plant.
- Make a sanitary landfill and biomedical facility away from eco-sensitive zones and human habitation areas to deal with 10% of the reject and sanitary waste of both the cities.
It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that people’s Right to Life (Article 21 of the Constitution of India) is fully protected, which includes citizen’s right to clean air and water security. Further, the Directive Principles of the State Policy, Constitution of India (Article 48A) directs the state to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife. We hope that the state governments of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat fulfill their responsibility and takes necessary steps to protect the Aravalli forests for the well-being of the present and the future generations.