HARYANA FOREST LAND OPENED FOR REAL ESTATE
The Haryana government opened up acres of forest land for development by amending the Punjab Land Preservation Act on February 26. According to activists, the amendment goes against the law, as the very name of the act suggests preservation.
TEXT: LEANDRA MONTEIRO
Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) was implemented in 1900 by the British to preserve land in undivided Punjab. The PLPA Act was applied in order to curb certain activities, like the clear-cutting of trees for the usage of timber, mining of rocks and minerals, agriculture, cattle-herding/ grazing and other pastoral preoccupations, on land informed under the PLPA. All non-forest activities in and along the Aravali hills have, for long, been prohibited, to preserve the ecology of these mountains. Haryana has the least forest land of just 3.59% in the country.
The government of Haryana passing the controversial Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Act (PLPA), 2019 has opened thousands of acres that of land that were protected as forest under PLPA since 1900 for the purpose of construction activities. As much as 60,000 acres of forests, which adds up to 50 per cent of the Aravali range in South Haryana in the districts of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Nuh, Mahendragarh and Rewari, is now open to commercial activities. While Gurgaon has over 16,000 acres of forests under PLPA, Faridabad has more than 10,000 acres of forests protected under the Act.
What looks to be the obvious motive driving the amendment of the statute is to legitimise the illegal encroachments and misuse of the Aravali forests. “The main reason behind this decision is the pressure for urbanisation from various sectors to promote growth. The government is trying to make more land available for housing which in turn will promote job opportunities. The government will also make revenue from these opportunities as to them the forest does not give any monetary return,” expressed Nidhi Dandona, Secretary of IUDI DNCR Chapter, Associate Professor-M.Arch, School of planning and architecture, New Delhi.
Indeed, if the development in the forest areas of the Aravalis continues, then this will be at the cost of the green lungs of Delhi-NCR. “As we are aware, Haryana has a very poor forest cover and getting rid of whatever little we have in this state will make the situation worse. The air pollution problem will worsen in Delhi-NCR. The depleting water table of Gurgaon will go down further with more interventions on the land,” Dandona added.
“There is a limitation to vertical growth making lateral expansion imminent for the real estate to flourish. Any town which has good availability of land has more opportunities for the real estate sector to propel. Rahul Singla, Director, Mapsko Group stated, “The accelerated urbanisation and rapid migration have led to a shortage of land in Gurugram. This has led to increased property prices of the city, making it difficult for a common man to own a property. More land available here at an affordable price will address the housing challenges. If we look around, there are scores of barren land across the city. It is time that the administration identifies such areas and takes steps towards afforestation of these areas which would help in restoring greenery within Delhi-NCR.”
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
The developers will completely benefit because it appears that this amendment has been done to favour the developers more than the citizens. The more vacant land at their disposal gives them more opportunity to build and take control of the market.
Giving a fair perspective on the matter Sanjay Prakash, Principal Consultant, SHiFt Architects said, “I personally think India has enough and more land for densification and expansion of cities as well as new cities but it is not politically convenient to get the bureaucrats to do the hard work of the identification and acquisition. That said, the bureaucrats claim that all land is private and so out of bounds except forest land.”
It is the need of the hour to learn from other cities around the world like New York, Milan, Athens and many more that are trying to make their cities green and get the pollution levels down as well as save soil from erosion and maintain the ground water levels in the cities. The Government of Haryana should ideally comply with the Supremes court’s order and withdraw the amendment to the PLPA. Currently, Gurugram has the lowest forest cover compared to the national average. The wildlife and flora fauna of the Aravalis once lost to the construction of a concrete jungle will never been obtained again.