WHAT IS THE PUNJAB LAND PRESERVATION ACT?
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. Forest areas notified as per Special Sections 4 and 5 under the PLPA in Haryana (which restricts breaking of land, construction etc) amount to about 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 districts in Haryana and has no restriction on agriculture or construction.
The Aravalli areas notified under PLPA have been treated as forests following Supreme Court judgements in 2002 and 2004, reiterated in 2008 and 2009 (MC Mehta case) and again clarified in 2018 (Kant Enclave matter).
LARGE AREAS OF ARAVALLIS ARE NOT UNDER PLPA OR ANY OTHER FOREST LAW
Around 50,000 acres of the Aravalli forests in Haryana do not have protection of the PLPA special sections 4 and 5 notifications (which restricts breaking of land, construction etc in forest areas). These areas include most of the Mangar Bani sacred forest, 400 acres of Gurgaon’s city forest – the Aravalli Biodiversity Park created by a partnership between corporates, government and citizens and many other areas. The Honourable Supreme Court has been directing the Haryana state to declare forests according to their dictionary meaning according to orders passed in the Godavarman case in 1996 and the Lafarge judgement in 2011, but the government has not carried out this critical exercise.
NON RENEWAL OF EXPIRED PLPA NOTIFICATIONS BY HARYANA STATE
The PLPA notifications are usually for 15-30 years and were earlier renewed on expiry. There are about 130 notifications under PLPA in the Aravalli region out of which 115 have already lapsed i.e. 88% of the PLPA notifications have lapsed. Gurgaon district has 16,930 acres of Aravalli forests notified under PLPA in 38 villages. Out of these, notifications in 36 villages have expired. Faridabad district has around 10,400 acres of Aravalli forests in 17 villages – notifications for about half of these have expired.
Haryana government has made no move so far to protect the Aravallis by renewal of these PLPA notifications. These notifications were extended only due to the order of the Supreme Court in 2002. This means that these areas are only being treated as forests due to the orders of the Supreme Court.
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. Despite this, the Haryana government got the amendment bill signed from the Governor in June 2019. The only thing left for them to do is to notify the bill. Once the PLPA Amendment Bill is notified, it will become a law.
The process of passing of the bill raises a very pertinent question: Why has there been no public consultation on a bill that will negatively impact people’s ‘Right to Life’ as enshrined in the Constitution of India?
KEY PROVISIONS OF THE PLPA AMENDMENT BILL 2019
1) Retrospective Effect – The retrospective provision (since 1966) nullifies all notifications made under the act since 1966. The bill will come into force from 1 Nov 1966, the date of formation of the state of Haryana, thus nullifying all actions under the act since the date of formation of the state (Para 1(2)).
2) Blanket Exclusion of Urban Areas – The amendment bill has blanket provisions that will make the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) redundant in current and future urban areas. The provisions of the PLPA will not apply to all urban areas in Haryana state including master plan areas and municipal areas (Para 4, amending 3A of act, and Para 10, adding sec 23 to the act).
3) Discretionary Power to Exclude – The state government may notify by any act, order or statute, that the PLPA shall not apply on any specified area. (Para 4 (a) (viii)). As a result, any land notified under the act in the past, present and also in the future in the state can be exempted by a simple government order – notwithstanding orders of the Supreme Court, the Forest Conservation Act, or any similar legislation.
4) Discretionary Power to Rescind – Any notification under this act can be rescinded by the state (Para 8) i.e. revoked, cancelled or repealed.
5) Discretionary Power to Exempt – Any area can be exempted by the state government (Para 9).
6) Limits Notifications to 30 years – All notifications under the PLPA will be limited to 30 years and after expiry the regulations, restrictions or prohibitions will cease to exist. This subverts the Supreme Court direction that PLPA notifications will continue to have force even if expired.
IMPLICATIONS OF AMENDING THE PUNJAB LAND PRESERVATION ACT
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 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.
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.
IMPLICATIONS 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 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.
WHO STANDS TO GAIN & LOSE FROM THE PLPA AMENDMENT BILL?
1) Withdraw the PLPA Amendment Bill 2019 – Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900 should be kept as it is and NOT amended. 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.