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Haryana 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. Without the Aravallis, life for millions of residents living in NCR cities is not possible. The latest attempt of the Haryana government to remove large tracts of Aravallis from the Natural Conservation Zone is contrary to the Honourable Supreme Court orders given in the last 2 decades for protection of the oldest mountain range in India.
FAULTY APPROACH OF THE HARYANA GOVERNMENT
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) in the Aravallis but if these areas are brought out of the purview of the NCZ, there will be no such restrictions. 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. This decision of the Haryana government if implemented will not only open up 20,000 acres of Aravalli forest land in Faridabad for real estate but also negatively impact 55,000+ acres of Aravallis in Mahendragarh and 8000+ acres in Palwal.
This move of the Haryana government is contrary to several Orders and Directions passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein the Apex Court has considered area beyond Gurgaon also as Aravalli. In the M.C.Mehta Vs Union of India (2004) 12 SCC 188, the Hon’ble Supreme Court stopped all mining activity in an area up to 5 km from the Delhi border on the Haryana side which includes Faridabad.
Stating that the Haryana government’s move is completely illegal, Ritwick Dutta, 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.”
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 word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning.”
Just because the Haryana government has not conducted the exercise to identify forests 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 the 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.