The Aravallis in Haryana are spread across seven districts of Gurugram, Nuh, Faridabad, Palwal, Mahendragarh, Rewari and Bhiwani. 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). Real estate is not a permitted activity in the NCZ. As of now, construction can be allowed only in 0.5% of an area (0.5 acre in a 100 acre area) but if these areas are brought out of the purview of the NCZ, there will be no such restrictions.
ATTEMPTS TO DILUTE NATURAL CONSERVATION ZONE
Haryana state has been doing ‘ground-truthing exercise’ since 2014. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) final report in the matter, submitted to the National Green Tribunal in November 2019, recommended a 47% decrease in Haryana’s NCZs across nine districts. From an original area of 1,22,113 hectares, the ground-truthing exercise recommended retention of just 64,384 hectares in the Natural Conservation Zone. This amounts to a massive loss of 57,728.64 hectares i.e. 47% of forests across Haryana. Removing these areas from NCZ, where construction is permitted on only 0.5% of the land, will open thousands of hectares of Aravallis to the real estate lobby. This will result in adverse consequences for air quality and groundwater recharge in Gurugram, Faridabad and Delhi and the rest of Haryana.
HARYANA GOVERNMENT’S MOVE TO REMOVE 20,000 ACRES OF ARAVALLIS IN FARIDABAD FROM NATURAL CONSERVATION ZONE
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 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.
This move of the Haryana government is contrary to several Orders and Directions passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court over the last 2 decades which have called for the “protection of Aravallis at any cost” and where the Apex Court has considered area beyond Gurgaon also as Aravalli land. In the M.C. Mehta Vs Union of India (2004), the Honourable Supreme Court stopped all mining activity in an area up to 5 km from the Delhi border on the Haryana side which includes Faridabad.
IMPLICATIONS OF REMOVING FARIDABAD ARAVALLIS FROM NATURAL CONSERVATION ZONE
Aravallis in Faridabad are crucial for groundwater security and are also an important wildlife habitat adjacent to Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi. In a research study done by the Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR) in 2019, it was found that mammal diversity and abundance in the non-protected areas of Gurgaon and Faridabad Aravallis were higher than in the protected Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi.
Haryana already has the lowest forest cover in India, barely 3.6%. Most of this is concentrated in the Aravalli hills in South Haryana which act as the last remaining green lungs, water recharge zone, barrier against desertification, biodiversity hotspot and wildlife habitat of the highly polluted and water stressed National Capital Region (NCR) of India. If 20,000 acres of the Aravallis are removed from the Natural Conservation Zone and built up on, it will be detrimental for the health and well being of millions of residents living in NCR cities.
IMPLICATION OF TAKING OUT FARIDABAD ARAVALLIS FROM NATURAL CONSERVATION ZONE FOR MANGERBANI
If this move of the Haryana government to remove Faridabad Aravallis from the Natural Conservation Zone is implemented, 90% of the sacred forest of Mangerbani will be lost. Only 10% of the Mangar Bani sacred forest that falls in Gurgaon will remain in the Aravallis, but the 90% that is in Faridabad district in Mangar village will not be in the Aravallis anymore and will lose the protection of the Natural Conservation Zone.
For centuries, residents of Manger village have revered the vegetation in the grove and abstained from cutting the trees. As a result, the grove hosts the best-preserved vegetation of Aravallis in Haryana such as native forests of Dhok, Salai etc. Manger Bani is hugely significant says botanist Pradip Krishen and author of Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide. “Any conservation-minded agency worth its salt would recognise Manger for what it is—a jewel in Delhi’s natural landscape, something we ought to do everything we possibly can to recognise and protect.”
Mangar Bani is also the primary pathway for the north-south movement of wildlife. It connects Damdama lake in the south of Gurugram to Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary in the north. Signs of leopards have been spotted regularly in the valleys and paths of Mangar Bani.
Apart from mammals, Manger Bani boasts a rich diversity of birds reflecting its “high conservation value”. A year-long survey of birds carried out in 2019 by the Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR) found that the forests of Mangar host 219 species of birds in an area of only 17 sq km. Most of these are not very frequently seen in other dry forests in NCR. These include rare species such as the Grey-Bellied Cuckoo, Crested Bunting, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Eurasian Wryneck, Crested Serpent Eagle, Indian Pitta, Red Munia, White-Bellied Drongo and Common Woodshrike. Five “nationally endangered raptor species” including King Vulture and Egyptian Vulture, and six bird species that have been showing a “national-level decline” including the Yellow Crowned Woodpecker and Short-Toed Snake Eagle are also found to be “thriving” in the Mangar landscape. Conservation of Mangar Bani, along with the surrounding Aravalli forests is critical for maintaining NCR’s native flora and fauna biodiversity.
FAULTY APPROACH OF THE HARYANA GOVERNMENT
Stating that Haryana government’s move is completely illegal, Ritwick Dutta, Environmental Lawyer and Founder, Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment makes a very strong objection in the 16th September 2021 thewire.in article:
“For natural entities, you don’t need a notification, and the government must understand this. There is no notification saying ‘this is the Himalaya’ or ‘this is the Brahmaputra’. For the government to claim that revenue records don’t say ‘this is Aravalli’ is a very wrong interpretation of the 1992 MoEFCC notification. All the 20,000 acres in Faridabad district qualify under the definition of ‘forest’ as per Supreme Court orders. As long as the land comes under the definition of ‘forests’ under the dictionary meaning, it will be treated as a protected area. Therefore, no non-forest activity is permissible under the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act.”
RP Balwan, a former Forest Conservator of Gurgaon stated, “Aravali Afforestation project funded by European Union was implemented from 1990 to 1999 by government of Haryana in the Aravalli hills spread over Faridabad, Gurgaon, Rewari, Mahendergarh, Bhiwani districts with working plans and district gazetteers describing the Aravali hills extension. Geological Survey of India, Central Ground Water Board, Haryana Mining Department all mentioned Aravalli extension in Haryana. Are all these records wrong?”
The NCR Planning Board held a special meeting in December 2016 to discuss definition of the Aravalli hills. Its members decided that “a meeting shall be convened by the Ministry of Urban Development with the Environment Ministry to resolve the issues related to definition of forests and Aravalli hills at the earliest”. The state of Haryana is yet to complete the exercise of defining and marking forest land according to the Supreme Court’s 1996 judgment in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union Of India which states that:
“The Forest Conservation Act 1980 was enacted with a view to check further deforestation, which ultimately results in ecological imbalance; and therefore, the provisions made therein for the conservation of forests and fore matters connected therewith must apply to all forests irrespective of the nature of ownership or classification thereof. The word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning. This description covers all statutorily recognised forests, whether designated as reserved, protected or otherwise for the purpose of Section 2(i) of the Forest Conservation Act.”
Just because the Haryana government has not conducted the exercise to identify forests in the state, it does not mean that the area does not have forests, states Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer strongly.
CITIZENS ASKS FROM THE HARYANA GOVERNMENT
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) Notify all remaining Aravalli areas (50,000 acres+) in Haryana that have not been notified yet as deemed forests as per dictionary meaning and bring them under the protection of forest laws. The Honourable Supreme Court has repeatedly directed Haryana state to identify forests as per dictionary meaning in Godavarman (1996), Lafarge (2011) judgments.
SIGN EMAIL PETITION TO SAVE 20,000 ACRES OF FARIDABAD ARAVALLIS
Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement along with Let India Breathe is running an email campaign addressed to the Haryana government to revoke this decision which is aimed at destroying 20,000 acres of Aravallis in Faridabad by opening them for real estate.
Urge people to share this petition link widely in their circles. Email inbox of Chief Minister of Haryana, Forest department and administration must be flooded with thousands of emails from citizens demanding NO DILUTION of the Natural Conservation Zone and saving the Aravallis.