Aravali Deforestation: Real estate over life breath? Mr Khattar needs to make a choice now

While real estate projects in Haryana can get the state world-class infrastructure, what worth is it if the people in those cities are not able to breathe?

 |  4-minute read |   13-03-2019
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The Haryana government is not having much smooth sailing with the judiciary lately.

The most recent run-in with the law was when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) rapped sharply on the government’s knuckles, ruling that the Aravallis in Faridabad district will be considered as deemed forest while hearing a plea against the Haryana government permitting the felling of more than 7,000 trees for a group housing project, to be undertaken by a major real estate developer.

This case comes in the backdrop of the bigger issue that the government — led by CM Manohar Lal Khattar — has been facing.

On February 27, the Haryana Assembly passed the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) amendment bill, 2019 — which in effect opened up the Aravalis to real estate development, much to the chagrin of environmentalists and residents. Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar had defended the move, saying it was the “need of the hour", and had added that it was a "very old" Act and much has changed over time.

main_aravalli_hills_031219030521.jpgAbused by mining, real estate, illegal tree felling and urbanisation, the forests in the Aravali still try to provide clean air to the NCR. (Photo: India Today)

About 74,000 acres of acres of forest land in Gurugram, Faridabad, Nuh, Mahendragarh and Rewari were offered apparently on a platter to the real estate sector and other non-forest activities in the area — the land that was protected for over a century from the axe of urbanisation. To put this in perspective, this is roughly one-fifth the area of Delhi and 40% the area of Gurugram. 

The Aravalis are often referred to as the lungs of the NCR.

Barely two days after the Haryana Assembly passed the PLPA amendment bill, 2019; the Supreme Court came down heavily on the government on March 1 — it ruled that the state would not act on the Bill or the proposal to divert forest lands to real estate without the apex court's permission.

The ruling was reportedly sidestepped within days. The Haryana government went ahead with permission for the felling of over 7,000 trees in the 52-acre land in Sarai Khwaja village for a group housing project by Bharti Land Limited. In response, green crusader and environmentalist Lt. Col. (Retd.) Sarvadaman Oberoi filed a petition to the NGT, contending that the Haryana government’s permission for the project was in violation of Supreme Court judgments.

The State government had contended that the 52-acre land in question was not “recorded as forest land” and hence, it should be considered as “non-forest.”

However, the green court held the government’s view as “erroneous in law” — it cited the previous judgments where the “status of the land is to be seen not only on the date of enactment of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 but also with reference to subsequent status.”

The Haryana government has never had a great track record in ecological conservation and preservation. In fact, according to the State of the Forest Report (FSI) 2017, Haryana has the distinction of being the state with the lowest forest cover in the country —3.59% of the total area of the state is under green cover.

As recently as November 2018, the NHAI had planned to construct a road through the Aravali Biodiversity Park — diverting and deforesting 10 acres of land for the 2-kilometre stretch. This was a part of the Greater Southern Peripheral Road (GSPR) project and mercifully thwarted after months of opposition and protests by residents’ groups and environmentalists. This project was announced soon after Gurugram was ranked the most polluted city in the world for 2018.

Mr Khattar and his government seriously need to rethink their priorities.

The Aravalis serve cleaner air to Mr Khattar’s and his cabinet’s lungs too, after all.

Also read: Want to continue living in Delhi? Then stop breathing!

Writer

Rajeshwari Ganesan Rajeshwari Ganesan @rajeshwaridotg

Assistant Editor, DailyO

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